Faculty Perspective on AI in Higher Education: An Interview with University of Rhode Island Adjunct Professor 

3 min read
April 16, 2024

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become an integral part of our lives, and its influence in education is no exception. In a recent interview, Nicole Jones from Infused Innovations spoke with Jim McGwin, an Adjunct Business Entrepreneurship professor and chair of the education technology advisory committee at the University of Rhode Island (URI), to gain insights into the faculty perspective on AI in higher education. 

AI as a Tool for Critical Thinking 

Professor McGwin believes that AI can be a powerful tool for enhancing critical thinking among students. He encourages students to engage in debates with AI, challenging its responses and seeking specific examples. This approach was exemplified when a doctoral student used AI to challenge his thesis, leading to its approval and the student’s successful attainment of his doctorate. The process confirmed some aspects of the thesis and led to the discovery of new research areas. 

“I think that students can use AI to increase this critical thinking and they can I encourage students to debate AI and keep on going down deeper and deeper and getting answers. When it comes up with a very general thing you ask for specific examples and challenge it.”  

Adapting Education to AI 

In response to the rise of AI, Professor McGwin has adapted his teaching methods. He no longer assigns tasks that can be easily completed using AI. Instead, he encourages students to work with AI, focusing on both quantitative and qualitative questions. This approach has led to insightful responses from students, demonstrating their ability to critically evaluate the information provided by AI. 

“I’ve adapted the curriculum so that they can use AI, but I no longer do assignments where I want them to just broadly produce something that you could get from AI.”  

Faculty Use of AI 

AI can be a valuable tool for faculty members, aiding in tasks such as curriculum development and assessment. Professor McGwin uses AI to create slides, images, and to condense written content. He also uses Grammarly, an AI-powered writing assistant, to improve the clarity and grammar of his emails, making it a valuable productivity tool.

AI in Administrative Processes 

When discussing the use of AI in administrative processes such as admissions and advising, Professor McGwin expressed caution. He believes that while AI can be a useful tool, it should not replace human wisdom, especially when dealing with students’ futures. He suggests that AI could be used to map out the path for fulfilling requirements but advises that it should be used as a tool, not a replacement for human wisdom. 

“I would be very wary of advising. I always say AI is another voice in the room that has to be challenged with trusted sources of information but particularly human knowledge and wisdom.”  

Data Privacy and AI Policies 

Professor McGwin believes that universities need to have a thorough understanding of the ethics around AI and the impact on students to develop effective data privacy and AI policies. He emphasizes the importance of reviewing the ethics associated with AI and understanding the law to develop these policies. 

The Future of AI in Education 

Despite the fears associated with the integration of AI into the education system, Professor McGwin is not afraid. He believes that AI is part of life and that every job that students are graduating into is looking for AI literacy. He also mentioned the upcoming influence of quantum computing in education, suggesting that students need to start thinking about science in a different way to prepare for this future. 

“No, no it’s part of life I mean every job right now that students are graduating into, I’m telling you right now they’re looking for AI for students to whatever disciplines that they’re comfortable in there you know with AI.” – Jim McGwin 

In conclusion, Professor McGwin views AI as another voice in the room that needs to be challenged with trusted sources of information and human wisdom. As AI continues to evolve and become more integrated into our lives, its influence in education will continue to grow. 

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