3 ways colleges can use AI on campus

Aside from assisting with instruction, artificial intelligence can also help colleges organize and share information and streamline back-end processes, writes Natalie Schwartz for Education Dive.

In fact, in the future, these adaptations of AI will be critical to a college's success, according to predictions from Paul Freedman, CEO and co-founder of investment firm Entangled Group, and Richard Boyd, CEO of machine learning company Tanjo. "Those who get it right are going to prosper," says Boyd. "Those who don't won't be relevant for very long."

That's one reason why the North Carolina Community Colleges System (NCCCS) is rolling out a custom AI "brain." "With so much content available to us across our network, it became apparent that we could do a better job of organizing and sharing that knowledge when and where needed more efficiently and effectively," says NCCCS CIO Jim Parker.

Here's how AI will assist the system's faculty and staff:

1: Map and organize digital content

NCCCS has thousands of files stored across all of its 58 campuses, making it difficult for faculty to find relevant resources, writes Schwartz. But the new AI system will move the digital files to a central location, allowing faculty and staff to find learning resources with ease.

"Say a faculty member goes to a conference and learns about cloud computing... and comes back with stuff they can use to build a new curriculum," says Boyd. "That has been captured, it's mapped and it's made available to anybody else who's trying to do something similar. That's extraordinarily powerful."

2: Streamline operational tasks

While companies have used AI for years to streamline back-end tasks, higher ed has been slower to follow suit, says Freedman. "[That] is somewhat surprising if you compare the progression of higher education to other industries, where we're seeing a lot of people put their hands up saying how much money they've saved through these kinds of process improvements," says Freedman.

Also see: 5 things presidents need to know about IT

When colleges adopt AI to complete tasks, they save not only money, but also time. For instance, faculty at NCCCS will likely spend far fewer hours tagging and searching content, writes Schwartz. And as the AI system grows its knowledge, the more valuable it becomes.

"The more things it connects to, the smarter it gets and the more valuable it becomes to everybody," says Boyd. "That's going to be the difference between the winners and losers in the corporate environment. But certainly, among higher education, it's going to be who is most efficient at bringing the best resources to bear on these problems."

"The result," suggests Parker, "is a uniquely secure, cost-effective, data-intelligent system that we all benefit from and evolve with."

3: Academic planning and advising

When it comes to student success, AI has been used predominately for student-facing services.

Jim Mathews, EAB's CTO, suggests that AI can help solve "decisions like, 'which students should we focus extra attention on to prevent them from dropping out'...or 'where can we make the most impact by adding an additional course section."'

"These are the kind of use cases where AI can add tremendous value because individuals might not have an opportunity to make that decision frequently enough with clear feedback to learn from their choices—and mistakes could be costly," adds Mathews (Schwartz, Education Dive, 2/27; Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, 3/11).

Related: The promises and perils of student success predictive modeling


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