The world around us is getting “smarter.” Artificial intelligence (AI), data, and natural language processing have enabled Alexa, Siri, Pandora, Netflix, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Waze, and other platforms to become part of our lives. Both AI and robotics are projected to have a massive impact on the global economy. While anticipated improvements in GDP and efficiency are positive, some fear that jobs will be lost through automation. What will AI and robotics mean for higher education? Will automation affect colleges and universities?

Chatbots have been used as teaching assistants (TAs)—so effectively that “Jill Watson” was nominated as the best TA her first semester. Admissions offices are using chatbots to handle thousands of calls per day during peak periods. Other uses of AI are being explored, such as intelligent tutoring systems. But these uses are more about question-answer agents than replacing human interaction.

New fields of study are just the beginning
AI and robotics, as areas of study, are catalyzing the creation of new majors, minors, and certificate programs in our colleges and universities. Beyond the study of AI or robotics are the complexities of how our work as professionals changes alongside increasingly capable machines. As our roles change, educational needs will change. The real challenge for higher education is to look beyond the delivery of higher education to how AI, big data, analytics, robotics, and wide-scale collaboration might impact the substance of education. What students learn, what college credentials signify, and how we keep abreast of changes may all shift.

About the Author:

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger is president emeritus of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association of 2,400 colleges, universities, and education organizations whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. Previously, Oblinger held positions in academia and business, including the University of North Carolina system, IBM, and Microsoft. She is known for her leadership in information technology, particularly its impact on enhancing learning and improving college readiness and completion. Oblinger has received outstanding teaching and research awards and holds three honorary degrees. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of Ellucian.

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