Six Ways to Maximize Authentic Learning in the AI Era

The release of ChatGPT in November 2022 marked one of the most profound technological advances I’ve seen in my 25 years in higher education. Every day we watch its unprecedented impact in real-time and examine its future potential.

Today’s educators are pioneers in classrooms where artificial intelligence (AI) is part of daily conversations and students are exploring new ways to write, research, brainstorm, analyze, and complete assignments. Initially, higher education responded to ChatGPT with a blend of apprehension and excitement. However, as we approach the nine-month mark, it becomes increasingly crucial for higher education to rededicate efforts equally towards creative and meticulous course design that leverages the power of AI, while still fostering human connection and meaningful learning experiences that cater to the needs of diverse student bodies.

In the classroom, AI can assist with personalized learning, real-time feedback, and help with administrative tasks. However, it can't replace the human element of teaching – building individual relationships, inspiring students, and serving as a mentor. Through course design, we can create learning experiences that provide opportunities for honest discussions around embracing AI as a learning companion, a co-author, or a teammate, and for engaging with AI-generated content in a deep and meaningful way. As Vice President at Champlain College Online, I’ve spent the last nine months working with my team to develop ways to create engaging student experiences in curricula that bring together technology’s fast-paced, deeply accessible knowledge base, and the human element of teaching. Here are six ways educators and administrators can tap into the best of both worlds.

  • Emphasize critical thinking, analysis, and metacognitive skills. Equip students with the tools to question and evaluate information critically. Encourage them to think beyond the initial responses provided by AI models and develop skills in analyzing sources, identifying biases, and evaluating the credibility and perspective of the source. Foster higher-level thinking through innovative assessment design, such as a comparative analysis between human and AI-generated texts. By emphasizing critical thinking, analysis, metacognitive skills, reflection, and innovative assessment design, we prepare students to excel in an AI-driven world.
  • Focus on creativity and problem-solving. Incorporate activities and assignments that require creative thinking and problem-solving skills to extend beyond AI information to human reasoning. Engage students in hands-on projects that require the development of unique solutions and out-of-the-box thinking, helping build skills that AI models like ChatGPT or other large language models (LLMs) cannot easily replicate. Assign research prompts that require engagement with niche or local topics/issues. For example, incorporate research connected to campus or other communities students belong to, library materials requiring login credentials, current legislation, or collect observational data as a basis for work.
  • Foster collaboration and communication skills. Counter the singular nature of technology-focused learning by providing guidance and scaffolding to support effective group communication and collaboration – assign discussions, debates, collaborative projects, and peer feedback with review. Promote collaborative learning activities, facilitate meaningful discussions, and encourage peer interaction to help create a sense of community and engagement. Encourage students to participate in activities that require them to articulate their thoughts, listen actively, and build upon each other's ideas. Building strong relationships between students and instructors through personalized feedback and mentoring will also enhance the learning experience.
  • Prioritize ethical considerations. The methodology behind assessing the effects of AI technology on individuals and society is being developed in real-time. There is an urgent need for more informed education and conversations around the societal impact and ethical concerns of AI. Teach students about the ethical implications of AI and its limitations. Discuss the potential biases, privacy concerns, social impacts, and evolving ethical considerations associated with relying heavily on AI for information and decision-making. Weaving philosophy, ethics, and social science content into pedagogy will help frame technological advances appropriately and ensure students remain human in an increasingly digital world.
  • Integrate real-world applications and experiences. Connect the curriculum to current scenarios and practical applications, tying back to the human element of teaching whenever possible. Provide opportunities for students to engage with professionals in relevant fields through informational interviews, participate in internships or apprenticeships, and gain hands-on experiences. Inviting professionals from relevant fields into the classroom to share their expertise, real-world experiences, and insights encourages a dynamic exchange of ideas and perspectives. By applying knowledge in real-world contexts, students develop skills and perspectives that AI models cannot replicate.
  • Promote multi-literacy. Educate students on the significance of digital literacy. Create assignments that help students develop skills in locating, evaluating, analyzing, and utilizing information from diverse sources. Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their research, enabling them to showcase their research journey and how it evolved. Use detailed guidelines to help students locate academically appropriate sources in their field of study. Incorporate projects that require source evaluation, research proficiency, ethical information use, and critical thinking to promote well-informed decision-making.

The role of AI technology in higher education has already proven to be transformative and impactful and will continue to shape student experiences. With these strategies, we can begin to acknowledge the place of AI in our rapidly changing world and start to harness its potential.

The strongest curricula will create opportunities for meaningful education and student engagement as the industry continues to be influenced by new and evolving technologies. Successful educators will embrace tools like ChatGPT and broader AI to improve, rather than impair, their curricula and pedagogy, empowering students to thrive in a world influenced by AI.

Chris Montagnino has nearly 25 years of experience in adult and online higher education, building successful leadership teams and launching and scaling online programs. As Vice President, Montagnino leads the online division of Champlain College, which features more than 60 career-focused degree programs in business, cybersecurity, healthcare, and information technology.