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Institutions Must Plan for AI to Go Mainstream, Says 2023 Educause Horizon Report

Higher education technology association Educause recently released the 2023 Teaching and Learning Edition of its annual Horizon Report, forecasting the trends, technologies, and practices that will shape the future of postsecondary education. AI is a significant theme throughout the report, both appearing in the top technological trends for 2023 as well as factoring into the key technologies and practices impacting colleges and universities going forward.

The report called out three technological trends as the most influential factors in teaching and learning this year:

  • The potential for AI to become mainstream is growing. As AI technology becomes more sophisticated, the report said, these tools can help streamline workflows, address enrollment challenges, impact the teaching and learning experience, and more, the report emphasizes, noting that questions of academic integrity, accuracy, and equity remain unresolved. "Moving forward, institutions will need to plan for how to leverage AI in a way that improves efficiency and simultaneously promotes learning, creativity, innovation, and growth, all while ensuring that fairness and equity are maintained."
  • The online versus face-to-face dichotomy is being disrupted. Horizon panelists noted "a blurring in the distinction in course delivery formats." Both faculty and students now expect more flexibility and choice in learning modalities, and learning experiences often incorporate both online and face-to-face, all in the same course. "This blurring of lines presents an even greater imperative to equip faculty with information, knowledge, training, and skills related to best teaching and learning practices so that they can teach across modalities while ensuring that all students have an accessible and high-quality learning experience," the report asserted.
  • Low- and no-code technologies that simplify complex processes are enabling more people to create digital content. AI plays a role here as well: "Recent advancements in generative AI create a potential for a drastic change in creative endeavors for faculty, staff, and students," the report noted. "With these technologies, people can create audio, images, text, simulations, and video with little to no coding/programming knowledge. With this come opportunities for the democratization of app development, giving more people opportunities to participate in the digital economy."

For the "Key Technologies & Practices" section of the report, Horizon panelists highlighted six areas:

  • AI-enabled applications for predictive, personal learning;
  • Generative AI;
  • Blurring the boundaries between learning modalities;
  • HyFlex;
  • Microcredentials; and
  • Supporting students' sense of belonging and connectedness.

These technologies and practices reflect an essential dichotomy between human and machine, noted Kathe Pelletier, director of the Educause Teaching and Learning Program. "In this year's Teaching and Learning report, discussions oscillate between two seemingly polar ideas: the supplanting of human activity with powerful new technology capabilities, and the need for more humanity at the center of everything we do. This juxtaposition is particularly striking, for example, when you see 'generative AI' and 'supporting students' sense of belonging and connectedness' side by side in the Key Technologies and Practices."

In forecasting what emerging AI technologies might mean for the future of higher education in the report's "Scenarios" section, Horizon panelists reiterated that human-machine tension: "With the new capabilities in content generation and the operational efficiencies afforded by these technologies, higher education might find AI to be not only an opportunity for more freedom and time to focus on the most important aspects of education but also a potential competitor vying for some of the same core functions and human activities that make up the foundations of higher education."  

While it's impossible to know what impact technologies like AI will have in the future, the report concluded, "The best we can do in the present day is … get better at anticipating and planning and to practice creative thinking about our future, grounded in the best information we have available to us, so that we can be more prepared to face whatever future does eventually arrive."

The full report, including in-depth explorations of the 2023 trends, technologies, and practices, future scenarios, and reflections on implications for the present, is available on the Educause site.  

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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