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Fail Forward Together with Generative AI: The 2024 AI in Higher Education Symposium

Guest Post: Written by Carmen Vallis. Images by Dr Linus Tan.

Did you catch the 2024 AI in Higher Education Symposium that was recently held at the University of Sydney Business School? It was organised as a collegial, and collaborative sharing of practice for educators. Like many others, I attended because, well, it’s been a wild ride since ChatGPT hit higher education and was curious to see how generative AI (GenAI) tools are being used. As a sector, we have come a long way since 2023.

Time to tinker

There was a lot to learn from educators’ experimenting and thinking.

Dr Kaz Grace showed a tool for real-time synchronous drawing with AI (Lawton et al., 2023). In his design course, AI is both subject matter and a teaching tool in computational creativity. Students figure out how to approach a task and articulate their creative collaboration. One slide really struck me:

“Should Al be used for one, both, or neither?

Productivity, or creativity?

Perspiration, or inspiration?”

Dr. Linus Tan

I chatted with Dr Linus Tan about his session on helping students visualise and narrate scenarios with AI-generated images. Linus asks students to generate images with Midjourney to speculate on designs or adapt precedents and then to analyse their generated futures.

Banner Image generated by Dr Linus Tan from the prompt: a photorealistic shot of university lecturers learning about Generative AI, meeting, informal, hyperrealistic

Visualising design with AI opens up possibilities, without having to model and render prototypes. This is particularly useful in speculative design and for visual representations of concepts. Such tools and processes help students as future leaders imagine different futures. His motto?

“Let’s fail forward together. After all, we’re here at university to try out things, to learn.”

Dr. Linus Tan

While students have fun with GenAI, if you study the images below, it’s not hard to see that large language models (LLMs) have inherent data biases, including sexist, racist and ageist stereotypes (Navigli et al., 2023). Some even ask if ChatGPT is just an automated mansplaining machine – a pressing for responsible business leaders and educators to address. 

 Images by Dr Linus Tan

Don’t blame it on the moonlight

But as Dede says, AI is just a reflection of ourselves. Algorithms process and reflect the data and instructions created by human intelligence. GenAI can provide guidance and insight within limitations but lacks the full spectrum of human understanding.

Images generated by Dr Linus Tan

Still, as an educational community, we can help students (and ourselves) gain the skills that AI can’t replicate and engage with critical debates around technology. We can’t outrun AI. But educators can work alongside and with AI rather than against it, augmenting human intelligence

Productivity hacks

At the symposium, educators showed how AI can be a productivity tool in various ways. For example, ChatGPT can save time by generating assessment ideas and rubrics. Dr Olga Kozar from Macquarie University uses ChatGPT AI as a teaching assistant to streamline lesson planning, creating role plays and case studies, among other everyday teaching hacks. She shared 11 ways ChatGPT can save you time. There were plenty of other practical strategies shared throughout the symposium on avoiding AI errors and biases, similar to current studies on prompts for learning (Mollick and Mollick, 2023). 

Engaging assessments with AI

Quite a few sessions shared their assessment tasks using GenAI. I think we all agreed GenAI gives higher education a much-needed push away from traditional assessment methods to approaches that actively engage students (Swiecki et al., 2022).

Many AI assessment strategies concentrated on assessment process rather than the product. A/Prof Ari Seligman shared examples of such learning with AI as a process of ‘Curation, Orchestration and Collaboration’. The University of Queensland has a project to evaluate the strength and vulnerability of assessments based on cognitive skills and inquiry values so educators can change them accordingly.

AI as partner

Interestingly, some educators spoke of AI as ‘collaborators’.

In a session titled ‘Aristotle meets AI’, A/Professor Susan Thomas outlined an approach to co-writing with text generators that busts the myth of writing as a solitary activity. This use of AI returns to some classical ideas about how we learn. For example, how different is it to ask a friend for feedback on your assignment, compared to asking a LLM chatbot? AI complicates academic integrity, assessment, and authorship (Wise et al, in press).

In another brilliant session, Martin Brown spoke of helping to develop AI characters to allow healthcare students to practice unscripted interactions with aggressive patients in a hospital ‘code black’. This technique, based on ‘productive failure’, provides a safe space for students to learn verbal de-escalation skills (Moore et al., 2022).

Was AI a collaborator on this post?

Yeah-no. Maybe?

You can read my attempts to get an engaging title for this blog post from this ChatGPT thread. (Spoiler alert: I quickly got bored with the suggestions about robots and chatbots.)

Throughout the symposium, I took photos of presentation slides, then converted image to text with my iPhone, and searched items. I fed my notes and the program description into a text generator and asked for a summary that was better organised. (I didn’t like the result and rewrote it.)

It was productive to use my Zotero database to link research to the practice ideas I heard. Grammarly was my writing friend. Plus I fine-tuned the final text for readability and Search Engine Optimisation with WordPress plugins.

So, productivity hacks or collaboration? To be honest I collaborated just as much with generous colleagues who contributed images and edits to this post.

Reasons to be cheerful about AI

Insights and discussion at the symposium signal hope for the future of education. International communities of educators are growing too, such as this collection of teaching reflections on AI and writing. Community, educators sharing, learning, and integrating their knowledge into their teaching practices; that’s always inspiring, with or without AI.

Need to know more? Check out Artificial intelligence and education at Sydney and other posts on this blog. Enjoy!

Guest Post Contributors

Thanks to Carmen and Linus for sharing this post with readers. To learn more about their work and connect, check out their details below.

Carmen Vallis is a Lecturer (Educational Development) at the University of Sydney. She leads co-design projects with business academics and a multidisciplinary team, with the goal of making learning better for all. As an educational designer, developer, and researcher, she explores how learning, teaching, creativity, and technology intersect. Contact via X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, or University Profile Page.

Dr Linus Tan is a Lecturer and architectural researcher in the School of Design and Architecture at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, with research expertise in the theory of Reflective Practice (in Design) and Team Learning (in Organisational Learning), to help designers articulate and translate their tacit knowledge to team members. Linus now specialises in architectural experience, architectural allegories, design cognition, and Generative AI for design. Contact via University Profile Page.

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