Co-hosted by the Global MOOC and Online Education Alliance (GMA), Tsinghua University, XuetangX, and UNESCO International Institute for Information Technologies in Education, the second Online Education Dialogue (OED) of 2024 was successfully held from 8:00 PM to 9:15 PM Beijing Time on May 14th, 2024.

Speakers for the session including Proadpran Punyabukkana (Chief Learning Innovation Officer; Associate Professor of Computer Engineering, Chulalongkorn University), Francesca Purcell (Faculty Co-Chair, Higher Education Concentration; Faculty Co-Chair, Online Master’s in Education; Senior Lecturer on Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education), and Hongyi Wen (Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Shanghai New York University) shared their insightful remarks around the theme of “AI-Empowered Higher Education.” Brian (Yifan) Li, Assistant Secretary-General of GMA and Senior Manager of Tsinghua University’s Online Education Center, hosted the session. The dialogue was broadcast live on XuetangX with a global audience of over 10,000 views.

(From left to right) First row: Brian (Yifan) Li, Francesca Purcell
Second row: Proadpran Punyabukkana, Hongyi Wen

Punyabukkana discussed Chulalongkorn University’s initiatives regarding AI, focusing on empowering faculty members and students to responsibly utilize this rapidly developing technology. Punyabukkana emphasized the importance of understanding and integrating generative AI into teaching practices. As a leading university in Thailand and in the world, Chulalongkorn University has implemented policies and guidelines emphasizing on the modification of teaching and assessment processes for the creative and ethical use of AI tools. Punyabukkana introduced Chulalongkorn University’s proactive approach including organizing discussion sessions including “Chula Lunch Talk” series and allocating scholarship and funding for students to purchase ChatGPT Pro licenses. Her insights underscored the importance of preparing educators to navigate the transformative potential of AI in education while upholding ethical standards and academic integrity.

Purcell provided a comprehensive overview of Harvard Graduate School of Education (HSGE)’s online master’s program in education and shared insights on implications for integrating generative AI in higher education. Purcell explained the online education master’s program’s three main components: a strong online learning component, an on-campus summer session for community building, and practical applications for students’ professional lives. Purcell further underscored the importance of building a robust sense of community among students and faculty, and the need for intentional program design and setting clear expectations for students, especially in the AI era. HGSE places a great emphasis on learning goals and using AI as a tool to enhance educational outcomes, and Purcell shared her call for educators to explore how AI can be effectively deployed to recognize and address the diverse and complex identities and experiences of students. Purcell also highlighted the importance of faculty experimentation with AI. By actively exploring AI’s potential uses in their teaching, faculty can better understand how to leverage these tools to enhance learning outcomes.

Wen shared his ongoing research projects and experimentation on AI-integrated curriculum at Shanghai New York University (NYUSH), focusing on personalizing teaching programming with the latest generative AI. Wen highlighted the growing use of AI tools like ChatGPT among NYUSH students, especially in contexts such as an introductory programming class. However, Wen also identified several challenges with existing AI tools, including limited interactivity, lack of integration with course materials, and difficulty in providing personalized guidance. To address these challenges, Wen presented a framework that integrates course materials with a multi-modal language model to provide contextualized responses and personalized exercises, allowing students to interact with a chatbot to ask questions, receive hints, verify answers, generate exercises, and even obtain step-by-step instructions for coding. Wen noted the positive feedback provided by students including the system’s efficiency, contextual explanations from course materials, personalized exercises, and the convenience of an all-in-one interface. To conclude, Wen underlined the necessity for sustained research and development efforts to address extant challenges and further refine the efficacy of AI applications in educational contexts.

During the panel discussion, Punyabukkana acknowledged the need for faculty readiness across disciplines, advocating for a toolkit for faculty development and considering institutional context in AI integration. Punyabukkana encouraged higher education to focus on AI literacy development for faculty as well as provide reassurance. In terms of assessment, Punyabukkana expressed concerns about AI’s role, emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between students merely obtaining answers versus understanding concepts. Developmental assessments that encourage students to ask meaningful questions, Punyabukkana stated, should be comprehensively utilized. However, Punyabukkana urged educators to be aware of AI’s potential to undermine the learning process by focusing solely on providing answers rather than fostering understanding. Punyabukkana emphasized the importance of assessing student comprehension through qualitative measures and designing assessments that go beyond mere knowledge recall.

Purcell emphasized the importance of understanding the disciplinary differences in adopting AI technology. She noted that faculty members from humanities may harbor more suspicion towards AI compared to those from technical fields. Purcell also underscored the need for experimentation and open-mindedness across all disciplines. Echoing Wen, Purcell expressed an optimistic view of AI’s potential to enhance student learning experiences, especially for international students. A possible scenario discussed was utilizing AI-powered translation tools to support non-native English speakers. In addition to language barriers, Purcell emphasized the need for collaborative efforts to explore AI’s potential in diverse cultural contexts, among diverse student populations, and in diverse learning environments.

Wen discussed the potential of AI to empower higher education. He stressed that AI should augment rather than replace instructors, helping them to deliver content more effectively. Hongyi envisioned AI as a tool to facilitate personalized learning experiences and empower educators to rethink and critically re-examine their teaching approaches. He also highlighted the importance of considering AI’s multilingual capabilities, especially in diverse international contexts where AI can aid collaboration among students from different linguistic backgrounds. In connection with Purcell’s call for personalization, Wen also discussed how AI’s natural language processing capabilities, which enable more seamless interactions and data collection for tracking student progress, could ensure personalized attention to student progress and status.

At the end of the discussion, panelists were asked to use one verb to describe how they think AI will impact higher education. Purcell stated that AI may complicate higher education for the better and for the worse, depending on how we approach and handle it. Punyabukkana chose “disrupt” and “revolutionize” and shared her interests in observing the future progression. Wen believed AI would empower higher education to think about what we should teach and how to teach it in a better way, without completely changing or disrupting the field.

Through informative keynote speeches and dynamic panel discussions, the dialogue delved into the integration of generative AI in higher education, the transformative potential, and the challenges of this emerging technology. Panelists emphasized the need for careful consideration and collaboration to harness AI’s power effectively, highlighting its role in promoting inclusivity, personalized learning, and collaboration across diverse cultural and linguistic contexts. With a focus on empowerment, collaboration, and ongoing adaptation, the discussion underscored the pivotal role of generative AI in shaping the future of higher education globally. Please stay tuned for OED Session 3.

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