As post-secondary institutions grapple with GenAI in education, a report from the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association provides insight into where we are today and what the future could look like. The report’s findings and recommendations can help post-secondary institutions develop policies, develop support systems for educators, and create opportunities for ongoing discussions about ethical practices for GenAI in higher education.
Post by Amanda Coolidge, executive director, BCcampus
A new report, Generative Artificial Intelligence in Canadian Post-Secondary Education: AI Policies, Possibilities, Realities, and Futures, authored by Royal Roads university professor Dr. George Veletsianos, digs into some of the details of how faculty, staff, and institutions are developing policies, regulations, and guidelines around the use of GenAI. The report includes 438 responses from administration and faculty across 126 Canadian institutions with 68 responses originating from British Columbia.
Below are the findings from the report.
- The development of policies, regulations, and guidelines relating to AI at Canadian institutions of higher education is at an early stage.
- Faculty members and administrators express varying levels of optimism, concern, and uncertainty about AI.
- Use of AI appears to be ad hoc, uneven, unequal, experimental, and largely guided by individual faculty, while supported by some institution-wide initiatives such as workshops and working groups.
- Faculty members and administrators:
- Anticipate AI becoming a normal and common part of higher education.
- Emphasize that its value depends on numerous factors.
- Anticipate that it may lead to further questions around the cost of education.
- Are concerned about the biases and limitations of AI, including the potential dystopic futures that it makes possible.
Recommendations from the report include the following:
- At the institutional level, leaders should further publicize the institutional stance, guidance, and/or policies to faculty members and administrators. Such guidance would be most useful if it supported faculty, staff, and administrators in learning about and experimenting with the technology, rather than controlling and penalizing its use.
- At the institutional level, leaders should develop plans and initiatives around AI that account for institutional and disciplinary contexts, including ways in which the institution will support effective, creative, equitable, and responsible use/nonuse.
- At the disciplinary, institutional, provincial, and pan-Canadian level, continue engaging in conversations around the limitations and biases of AI, and seek ways to engage with AI designers and developers in order to proactively impact the future of this technology.
- At the disciplinary, departmental, and institutional level, continue engaging in conversations that address the question “What does ethical AI practice look like?”
- At the institutional, provincial, and pan-Canadian level, continue engaging in conversations that centre the question “What do preferable education futures look like?” that account for the emergence of AI, as well as the myriad of other challenges that higher education is facing.
- At the pan-Canadian level, develop a database of institutional regulations, policies, and guidelines pertaining to AI.
While the development of AI-specific policies is at an early stage, many British Columbia post-secondary institutions do have policies related to academic integrity. The University of British Columbia has included guidelines surrounding AI and ChatGPT into the Academic Integrity FAQs. British Columbia Institute of Technology created the Introduction to Generative AI Tools that includes a policy statement in alignment with their academic integrity policy: “If you use generative AI tools, you must acknowledge use. Undeclared use of the tool/technology are considered a violation of the academic integrity policy.”
Countering Concern and Uncertainty
The emergence of AI in education has appeared to be fast and furious. Combined with a lack of understanding of the tool and its implications, the varying levels of concern and uncertainty around AI are ever-present across post-secondary institutions. Dr. Sarah Eaton and Lorelei Anselmo of the University of Calgary offer an alternative consideration of how AI can be used in the classroom: “Artificial intelligence apps, such as ChatGPT, can be part of our educational toolbox just as dictionaries, calculators, and web searches are.” They continue, “If we think of artificial intelligence apps as another tool that students can use to ethically demonstrate their knowledge and learning, then we can emphasize learning as a process not a product.”
In her blog post on GenAI, Dr. Gwen Nguyen, advisor, Learning + Teaching, at BCcampus, adds “instead of banning or dismissing these technologies outright, begin with an open, curious, confident, and intentional mindset. Experiment with them and learn how to use them without causing harm or negatively impacting others. After your initial experimentation, if you choose to integrate generative AIs in your courses, you will be better prepared and more confident to provide learners with the necessary support or know how to connect them to the resources they require.”
AI Professional Development Opportunities
When new educational technologies emerge in post-secondary environments, the pedagogical use of technologies and tools are often guided by individual faculty. BCcampus supports educators in learning about and experimenting with educational technologies, including AI, through the Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) Series. These are openly licensed courses that can be reused, revised, and remixed for use at any institution-wide workshop or working group. Courses on AI that BCcampus is currently offering include:
- FLO MicroCourse: Musing Around with Artificial Intelligence and Pedagogy
- FLO MicroCourse: Future Facing Assessments: How to Use AI in the Design of Alternative Assessments
Creating Educator and Student Support Systems
While policy creation and guidelines centred on use of AI are important, so too, is the consideration of the institutional support system designed to support educators and students through the usage of AI tools. The report’s recommendation 2, “including ways in which the institution will support effective, creative, equitable, and responsible use/nonuse,” involves support mechanisms from the library, student services, teaching and learning centres, research ethics, etc. For example, if academic integrity is a concern, how will the institution help educators learn about alternative assessment design practices? Are there workshops designed to educate and inform the educators at the institution on ways to use AI in the learning environment? We know AI is not going away, so what mechanisms are in place on an institutional level to ensure educator and learner success?
Practitioner Focused Recommendations
While the majority of the recommendations in the report focus on the departmental or institutional level action, BCcampus has been offering recommendations focused on the practitioner and ways educators can effectively use AI in their courses.
In the blog post Generative AI in Teaching and Learning: The Least You Need to Know, Gwen Nguyen offers these pedagogical approaches to GenAI:
- Embrace a human-centred approach to teaching with GenAI that values human imagination and creativity as well as other core human values.
- Determine GenAI uses for your course activities and assessment that promote thinking process, creative endeavours, and extracurricular engagement with topics of interest.
- Update your course syllabus to clarify your expectations regarding how GenAI may be used in your course.
- Design assessments with GenAI in a way that aligns with your course’s learning outcomes and serves their intended purposes.
- Continue to reflect and discuss with peers and students what it would mean to teach and learn about AI tools alongside students.
Future of AI and Post-Secondary Education
Post-secondary’s journey into teaching and learning with AI is a dynamic one. As Dr. M’hammed Abdous writes in his article How AI is Shaping the Future of Higher Education, “Paving the road ahead for the future of AI in higher education requires a strategic and holistic approach that integrates education, planning and research.”
As the report recommends, moving ahead, institutions should explore methods for incorporating guidelines and policies, establishing robust support systems for both educators and students, and facilitating discussions about ethical practices and the future of AI in higher education.