AI is Fundamentally Changing Higher Education, AI in higher education

AI in Higher Education: A Fundamental Paradigm Shift

During the first year of my undergraduate degree, I performed terribly as a student. I came from a very small, rural area, and being in a larger school and town was overwhelming. To make matters worse, I didn’t have good research or study habits. In that first year, I remember writing nearly every paper or essay the night before. And I did this not just for the short ones.

I wrote a ten-page research paper for an intro-level history class in one evening. As I said, I was a terrible student in that first year. But I eventually learned how to study and research so that everything wasn’t waiting until the last minute.

Increasingly, higher education is turning to Large Language Model (LLM) technology.
Students are relying on AI-powered tools like ChatGPT to assist them in their research and writing processes. These tools offer students valuable resources. They assist in information gathering and idea generation.

However, there is a significant concern that a majority of students are using AI to produce generic fluff rather than original and thoughtful work. There’s also the problem of AI hallucination, which means that everything AI generates for academic purposes should be thoroughly researched and vetted.

AI in Higher Education: The Balancing Act of Academic Integrity and Technological Progress

To combat the rise of AI writing tools, teachers and professors are leveraging AI in the form of detection algorithms to identify papers that have been written using AI. These detection programs intend to uphold academic integrity. They ensure students don’t plagiarize or rely solely on AI for assignments.

Ensuring the reliability of these detection algorithms continues to be a major challenge. Many students face accusations of using AI. However, they have not. In fact, running the Declaration of Independence through some popular AI detectors will give a false positive.

As I keep up with the rise of AI, I wonder if it would have made me a better student or if I would have used it to avoid learning how to do the work myself. I’m afraid that my first-year student self wouldn’t have been able to adapt to using AI responsibly. How do we help students in higher education learn to navigate the world of AI?

Obviously, AI makes certain parts of learning easier, but it also creates a greater impetus for the student to learn fundamentals in new ways. So, what’s the best way forward? Students are obviously going to continue using AI to help research and write papers. Does it make sense for professors and universities to spend time attempting to discern whether or not those papers used AI?

This article argues for a three-pronged approach. First, help students learn to prompt AI correctly. Second, require transparency about AI usage. Third and most importantly, teach proper research methods to maintain content integrity.

How Should Universities Respond?

Ignoring the widespread use of AI in higher education won’t benefit anyone. It is essential for educational institutions to recognize that the toothpaste is out of the tube and AI is here to stay. Instead of trying to prohibit the use of AI, it is crucial to address its implications and find effective ways of incorporating it into the educational system.

The widespread use of AI in higher education significantly influences how educators evaluate students’ work and the development of critical thinking skills. By acknowledging and embracing the use of AI, including learning how to think critically about what AI generates, institutions can shape the future of education and ensure that students are well-prepared for the challenges and opportunities that AI presents.

Some schools and professors are doing this already.

Princeton University urges professors to outline ChatGPT’s applications in syllabi. They suggest utilizing it to enrich and facilitate smaller group discussions, as well as utilizing it as a tool to compare students’ personal essay drafts with a version generated by ChatGPT. 1.

Ethan Mollick is a professor of entrepreneurship at Wharton. He is an early adopter of AI technology in the classroom. He doesn’t shy away from AI usage. Instead, he encourages students to use it with certain guidelines. For example, his students are required to acknowledge when they use AI to help write their papers.

“I think everybody is cheating … I mean, it’s happening. So what I’m asking students to do is just be honest with me,” he said. “Tell me what they use ChatGPT for, tell me what they used as prompts to get it to do what they want, and that’s all I’m asking from them. We’re in a world where this is happening, but now it’s just going to be at an even grander scale.”

Chun, Carolyn. “Why Some College Professors Are Adopting CHATGPT AI as Quickly as Students.” CNBC. CNBC, April 17, 2023. Last modified April 17, 2023. Accessed July 6, 2023.

This policy is much the same as getting information from another source; it must be cited as such.

Fundamental Shifts in Research

Mastering effective topic research is a great skill and is necessary for any academic pursuit. I didn’t master this skill until my second year as an undergraduate, mainly because I had to write lots of papers. That’s the main reason universities require students to write papers: to force them to learn how to research a topic, craft a point of view, and communicate that point of view within the context of their research.

When I was taught to research, Google was the de facto starting point. Eventually, I’d find articles in academic journals and books, but finding the right sources and search terms could be difficult.

This was radically different than how my professors were taught to research; they began with a card catalog—searching for book titles that sounded close to what they wanted to research. Then they’d use those books’ bibliographies to find more books about the topic. And then they’d spend hours and days pouring over the material to find relevant sections.

From their perspective, I must have had some kind of cheat code.

AI: The New Era of Academic Research

Today, AI is quickly becoming the de facto starting point. Most educators today were taught the same starting point as I was, and to most of them, AI is definitely a cheat code. Students can turn to AI to prompt their research ideas and gather information. AI tools can provide valuable insights and suggestions, making it easier for students to explore different angles and perspectives on a given topic.

Students use AI tools like ChatGPT for research. But, AI-generated hallucinations make it crucial for students to separate real data from AI fabrications. While this can be a much more comfortable starting point, it is up to the student to critically evaluate and analyze the information generated by AI. They must identify what is real and what the AI has fabricated, a skill that is increasingly important in the age of AI and social media.

This change obviously represents a shift in the traditional approach to research, and it’s within this shift in research that we should help students to learn the fundamentals of research. It is a significant departure from traditional research methods, but so was the advent of the starting from Google.

Teaching Students How to Use AI

Higher education institutions should incorporate AI education into their curriculum to address the widespread use of AI. As students increasingly rely on AI tools for research and writing, it becomes crucial for educators to adapt their teaching methods to equip students with the necessary skills to navigate this new landscape.

One important aspect that needs to be emphasized is the ability to evaluate claims and facts. As I said above, the starting point for research is shifting radically from Google to AI. By teaching students how to effectively and responsibly use AI tools, institutions can ensure that these students are still gaining fundamental research skills. Furthermore, providing students with a comprehensive understanding of AI will enable them to leverage its potential while avoiding its pitfalls.

By incorporating AI education into the curriculum, institutions can foster a culture of responsible and ethical use of AI. Students should be taught not only how to use AI effectively but also how to critically analyze and validate the information generated by these tools. This will ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills to leverage AI while maintaining academic integrity.

Creating clear guidelines for students to follow when using AI tools is also crucial. These guidelines should promote responsible and ethical use of AI, emphasizing the importance of citing AI assistance and acknowledging its role in the creative process. By treating AI as a tool rather than a replacement for original thought, institutions can ensure that students are using AI in a manner that aligns with academic integrity.

Further Benefits of Teaching AI Use

Teaching students how to use AI effectively offers an important benefit beyond academics. It prepares them for a world in which it is trivial to produce authentic-looking forgeries, fake news stories, and misinformation. We must equip the youth with tools to distinguish reality from falsehood.

AI education can enhance students’ critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. AI tools can provide insights and suggestions, but it is up to students to evaluate and analyze the information effectively. By teaching students how to navigate and leverage AI tools, they can develop stronger critical thinking skills and become better problem solvers.

Responsible and ethical AI use is an important issue for today’s students. As AI becomes more prevalent in society, it is crucial to educate students on the ethical considerations and potential biases associated with AI. We can’t assume that our societal biases haven’t infiltrated our LLMs. By teaching students to use AI responsibly, institutions can contribute to the development of a more ethical and inclusive AI ecosystem.

The use of AI in higher education is a reality that cannot be ignored. Instead of resisting its presence, educational institutions should embrace it and find ways to incorporate AI effectively into the learning process. AI is the next leap in academic research. By teaching students how to use AI responsibly, institutions can maintain the evaluation of original ideas and uphold academic integrity.

It is essential to prepare students for the future while ensuring that they develop critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. By responding to the widespread use of AI and integrating AI education into higher education, institutions can equip students with the necessary skills to thrive in an AI-driven world.


  1. Chun, Carolyn. “Why Some College Professors Are Adopting CHATGPT AI as Quickly as Students.” CNBC. CNBC, April 17, 2023. Last modified April 17, 2023. Accessed July 6, 2023.
  2. Wood, Patrick, and Mary Louise Kelly. “‘Everybody Is Cheating’: Why This Teacher Has Adopted an Open Chatgpt Policy.” NPR. NPR, January 26, 2023. Last modified January 26, 2023. Accessed July 6, 2023.

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