How Universities Can Better Prepare Students for a Future with AI

In the future, every job will be an AI job. That was the main take away from an exclusive interview with Gwynedd Mercy University Professor Dr. Cindy Casey by Fierce Education. Dr. Casey discusses how universities can better prepare their graduates to face the future AI jobs. 

The future of higher education and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a shared future. In the coming years, every job will be an AI job. In this light, it is paramount to teach students how to learn rather than to teach specific technologies. Fierce Education sat down virtually with Dr. Cindy Casey, Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor for Gwynedd Mercy University’s Computer Information Science Program for the School of Arts and Sciences, to learn how she is incorporating AI into her courses. Professor Casey earned her doctorate in Artificial Intelligence from Capitol Technology University in Washington, D.C.. We discussed with Dr. Casey how universities can better prepare their students for a future with AI, when every job will be an AI job.

A year ago, Dr. Cindy Casey started a concentration in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in their Computer Information Science Program. What they did at Gwynedd Mercy University was to implement a hands-on teaching approach. “We did this with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning because we believe that students learn more by doing since it increases their critical thinking and creativity as opposed to just learning all theory; although this is not to say we do not use theory.” Dr. Casey explained.

Gwynedd Mercy University has dedicated lab spaces where students can work on projects. Last semester, they worked on a Xiaomi cyber dog. “[In the lab,] we have robotic arms, chips, and robotic kits with facial and voice recognition, so the students are actually getting hands-on experience when they are working with the technologies. They are not just reading about them, learning about them, they are actually working with the technologies.”

Fierce Education: How do you see the future of AI in higher education?

Dr. Casey: I believe AI will continue to play a role in higher ed, and educators need to incorporate Artificial Intelligence technologies into their curriculum and address not just the technology but the ethics and the risks associated with AI, like bias and privacy. On an institutional level, if technologies are not in line with the industry, or industry demands, and with other institutions, they are going to suffer; so it has to be incorporated at all levels.

Fierce Education:  Dr. Casey notes that more and more students who are entering university possess more knowledge on technology than the instructors. Because technology has changed and it is in a continuous and rapid evolution, those instructors who have not kept on top of it quickly fall behind.

Dr. Casey: When we got the cyber dog, for instance, I had never worked with it. So, rather than me sitting there for six months figuring it out, and then importing that knowledge onto the students, we all worked on it together, and it was really successful. I think education and teachers need to take a more hybrid kind of approach, a little bit away from the traditional TPAC (technology, pedagogy, and content) knowledge models and move toward a model in which students are getting more from learning hands-on.

Fierce Education:  Talking about future graduates and future jobs, Dr. Casey believes every job will be an AI job, and in fact, many of them are AI jobs already.

Dr. Casey: Knowledge about AI is now critical, but not just for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) professions but for all professions. If the students are not prepared, if they are not introduced to the technology they will be in disadvantage. A lot of universities and schools are hyper-focusing on one technology, and I’ll just use ChatGPT as an example. They focus on this one technology, and [faculty] might spend a whole year trying to use it and learn it quickly to introduce it to the students. By the time the students graduate, that technology has already changed. That’s why it’s important to teach them to learn rather than to just teach them to learn a technology. That’s what we’re doing at Gwynedd Mercy University; we’re not teaching our students to be a user of technology. We’re teaching them to be innovators and creators of the technologies.

Fierce Education: We might say that faculty can be divided into two groups. Some believe that students can use ChatGPT and similar technologies to cheat, write essays, and so on. Others, support the idea that letting students use the technologies is an opportunity to help them to develop more creative skills and critical thinking. To which group do you belong? 

Dr. Casey: Definitely the latter. If students are going to use the technologies to cheat, they are going to find a way to cheat. I don’t think that the majority of students are in that statistic. It reminds me of the United States in 1988 when there were a lot of math teachers that protested the calculators in class, and we now see that calculators are included in math classes. I say, if you have a technology, you should be using it because companies are using it. And when [graduates] get out into the work world, they need to know about the technology. It’s kind of like taking books away because the students might open the book and cheat. I think it’s important that universities need to use these tools and that they have to evolve with the technology. They have to be flexible enough to change the curriculum as the technology changes and recognize when change is necessary, because there’s a lot of competition from the massive open online courses where students can learn those technologies and get a certificate. 

Fierce Education:  Some members of faculty seem to be afraid of AI technology, becoming reluctant to use it, or accepting their students to use it. Do you think fear of AI is a real issue?

Dr. Casey: I do think fear is an issue. I think that there is a lot of fear of the unknown and of these technologies. But I think a lot of it is just a misunderstanding. 

Fierce Education:  Behind every technology there is always a human. People usually blame the technology but the technology is just the result of someone’s programming and training the AI model. What are some of your thoughts on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence?

Dr. Casey: It is important that we not only teach the technologies but also the ethics because there is bias. There can be bias in training Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. We have to be careful that we also have to look at privacy issues because we want students to be good stewards of the technology. For instance, when they had the AI soap dispenser that only dispensed soap to Caucasian hands, it wasn’t that AI was racist but that it was only trained with a Caucasian so it didn’t recognize an African-American. We have to make sure that when we are training the AI models we take all that into consideration. AI is what is going to be in the future and what is going to be mainstream, and that’s just a matter of time.

Fierce Education: A last piece of advice to faculty and universities?

Dr. Casey: Institutions should find a strategy just to push Artificial Intelligence forward, incorporating it into every single course, and let the students use it freely instead of having fears that they are going to misuse the technology, cheat, and so on. Introduce the technologies and allow the students to use it, and let them understand where these technologies are being used in their field, and what they need to know.

It is really important that all universities, all programs, and educators realize that AI is in all fields out there and they should be introducing it, or they are putting their students at a disadvantage.

On trust, there is a need for more trust. I think that we need to trust the students more. If they can’t be trusted at the university, where then? I mean, this is where they’re learning, where they are discovering themselves. I think it’s a sad thing to just assume that every student is a cheater. I think they can do marvelous things, and that instructors are professional educators who need to look past their own limitations in technology. Trust the students, because that’s the first thing, in my opinion. We need to trust the students.

For other articles on AI, ChatGPT in higher ed, see: 

Artificial Intelligence in Higher Education: Benefits and Ethics

Artificial Intelligence is The Future of Teaching and Learning

Artificial Intelligence Plays Key Role in Higher Ed's Future

Artificial Intelligence is Critical to the Future of Higher Ed

Student Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence in Academia

How to Integrate AI into Higher Education

AI to Play Instrumental Role in Future of Higher Education

ChatGPT: Reimagining Assessment in Higher Education

ChatGPT, Generative AI are Wake Up Calls for Higher Education