The world of education is rapidly changing with the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation. As AI begins to infiltrate academic institutions, what implications will this have for academic jobs?
It’s essential to understand what’s happening, and how to prepare ourselves and our students for a future in which AI plays an increasingly important role.
Overview of AI and Academic Jobs
AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is a technology that can be used to automate tasks and augment decision-making. AI has the potential to revolutionise many aspects of life, and education is no exception.
Conversations are currently focused on how AI could ‘potentially’ replace some tasks which have traditionally been carried out by academics, such as grading papers or providing feedback on student work (see my earlier post: raising concerns about academic integrity).
Thoughts are also directed to how AI could help educators in other ways such as providing personalised learning experiences for students and helping teachers better manage their workloads.
We’re already seeing educational content being delivered by AI tools. I’ve embraced this idea and now run an AI-generated teaching assistant in my online Freelancing and Small Business class, as shown below.
Impact of AI on Academic Jobs
The introduction of AI into academic settings may have both positive and negative impacts. On one hand, AI could lead to more efficient processes. This could free up time from teaching tasks, allowing more opportunities for professional development and research.
But how likely is it that institutions will grant that free time back to staff?
On the other hand, we might see displacement due to increased automation leading to some positions becoming obsolete over time.
As articulated by a teacher interviewed for a New York Times article, it can lead you to wonder, “Am I even necessary now?”
Will AI kill your research career?
David Maslach, an Assistant Professor of Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at Florida State University, posted a personal reflection on YouTube (embedded below) about how he expects AI models, like ChatGPT, to impact his research career. The opening line of his video is, ‘Academic research is dead’.
“Academic research is dead”– David Maslach, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship
He notes that quantitative researchers will be the first hit. AI will become more and more sophisticated and able to replicate core skills involved in the processes of collecting and analysing quantitative data and writing up findings in the form of journal articles.
Qualitative research should endure a little longer, as it often requires human-to-human interaction. AI isn’t currently good at this. However, in the foreseeable future, AI models will develop a greater capacity for ‘compassion’ and personalised interactions. So there goes qual research too.
Where does that leave us?
His advice is to just “keep doing awesome things, and exciting things… that you personally love to do.” Then wait and see what happens… it’s anyone’s guess as to what 5 years from now looks like.
But it might not be such a guess for Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI (the company responsible for ChatGPT).
Altman’s writings on the impact of AI lay out a pathway that leads to a system of Universal Basic Income.
Challenges for Educators
The introduction of AI into educational systems presents a number of challenges for educators. Besides the potential for job losses and displacement, changes will take place to teaching methods and curriculum design.
Job Losses and Displacement: The use of AI can lead to job losses for teachers who are replaced by automated systems or robots. If you consider this fanciful, it is worth knowing that AI robots are already being used and show great promise. This could result in a decrease in jobs available for qualified educators. Lower-paid teaching assistants may end up replacing traditional lecturing staff (as the content they previously delivered is now captured and dispensed through AI).
AI was predicted to first replace jobs that have traditionally been perceived as requiring lower levels of education.
The opposite has occurred.
We’re seeing AI impacts to be most profound in higher-paid jobs involving knowledge work, and/or creative work (e.g. writing, data analysis, design).
Extending AI-related redundancy to academia, while also taking into consideration labour costs, AI is likely to erode the academic pyramid from the higher tiers down.
This likely means that academics with more senior titles (e.g. Professors and Associate Professors) are at far greater risk of redundancy than those at the lower ranks (Levels B and C).
It is important that measures are put in place to ensure that displaced workers have access to new opportunities or retraining programs so their working lives can move forward.
Changes to Teaching Methods and Curriculum Design: With the introduction of AI comes an opportunity for educators to rethink academic practice in the context of AI. This includes how we teach students and design curriculums. Educators might consider ways that technology can be used effectively within classrooms while also ensuring that it does not replace human interaction between teachers and students completely. For example, using virtual reality simulations could help bring lessons alive while still allowing instructors the chance to interact with their students on a personal level during class time.
As AI technology continues to become more advanced, educators must be prepared to face the challenges that come with it. It is unrealistic for higher-education institutions to build a wall to keep AI out.
By understanding and utilising strategies such as developing new skill sets, enhancing professional development opportunities and leveraging existing resources, educators can better ensure they are equipped for a successful transition into an AI-driven education system. At least in the short term.
How Educators Might Prepare for the (short-term) Future of AI-driven Education Systems
As educators, it is essential to prepare for the future of AI-driven education systems. To do this, two approaches could be taken: developing new skillsets and expertise in technology integration, and enhancing professional development opportunities for teachers.
Developing New Skillsets and Expertise in Technology Integration: Educators need to develop their own understanding of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies so they can effectively integrate them into their teaching practice. This includes learning how to use educational software applications such as chatbots or virtual reality simulations. Additionally, educators should strive to understand the ethical implications of using AI in classrooms.
Enhancing Professional Development Opportunities for Teachers: Professional development opportunities should focus on providing teachers with a comprehensive overview of AI technologies and best practices for integrating them into classroom instruction. Educators could also be shown how these technologies could lead to efficiencies in their own work outside the classroom.
In order to ensure that educators are prepared for the future of AI-driven education systems, it is essential to develop new skillsets and expertise in technology integration, enhance professional development opportunities, and leverage existing resources.
Educators must also be supported through this transition with institution-provided resources.
As the world of education continues to evolve with the introduction of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), educators will be faced with adapting their roles in order to keep up.
In the short term, embracing change and innovation will be essential for educators, as AI-driven systems will become increasingly commonplace in classrooms and throughout all aspects of academic practice.
Reimagining the role of teachers in an age of automation and AI will help us remain relevant while also leveraging technology to better support students’ learning needs.
Long-term, maybe we can look forward to futures that will be funded by an Altman-style vision; we receive a stipend and just get on with doing the research we love.
“The changes coming are unstoppable. If we embrace them and plan for them, we can use them to create a much fairer, happier, and more prosperous society. The future can be almost unimaginably great.“-Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI https://moores.samaltman.com/
I hope that’s the case.
Because if David Maslach is right, and I tend to think he’s onto something (!), we might all soon be out of a job.
Whatever happens, it is certain that change has arrived.
It’s time to start planning what we do next.