November 16, 2017

VSU Explores Future of Higher Education with Artificial Intelligence Symposium

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University’s Office of Extended Learning recently hosted the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Symposium to explore how emerging technology is transforming higher education. The event examined what colleges and universities should expect in the future in regards to AI, which is the capability of machines to imitate intelligent human behavior.

Participants gathered in person and virtually from across Georgia and the Southeast. The event featured speakers and panelists from VSU, the University System of Georgia (USG), Georgia Institute of Technology, and Georgia State University (GSU).

“This is an excellent time to begin thinking about AI,” said Jon Sizemore, the USG assistant vice chancellor for distance learning. “There’s already quite a bit of work going on utilizing artificial intelligence to improve the student user experience and to improve the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of higher education.”

The Artificial Intelligence Symposium keynote speaker was Dr. David Joyner, a computer science lecturer at Georgia Tech and product lead at Udacity, an educational tech company. He discussed how AI is already being used at certain colleges and universities in the form of chatbots that answer common questions in large classes, give automated feedback on student exercises, and help students transition from high school to college.

While AI is poised to bring significant improvements to higher education, Joyner said it also poses potential threats to student privacy and current jobs.

“There’s a lot of work we have to do to make sure the opportunities are realized and the threats are minimized,” he said. “Figuring out what works takes time.”

Joyner stressed the importance of remembering that education is a process, not a product, and said AI products should adjust to the needs of education instead of the other way around.

Joyner also presented the argument that, for the most part, AI and humans are not competing for higher education jobs. He believes AI will only improve — not replace — current education professions.

“The real value of AI in education comes from cooperation between humans and AI agents, not a competition to see what AI can do just as well as humans,” he said.

“There are things that AI does well, and there are things that humans do well. The real strength comes when we combine those.”

Dr. Michael Evans, political science lecturer at GSU, and Megan Tesene, adaptive learning program manager at GSU, shared with attendees their experience with using adaptive learning technologies to improve student learning and outcomes. Adaptive learning is a sophisticated, data-driven approach to education that focuses on adapting to each student’s individual needs and preferences in the classroom, acknowledging that every student learns differently.

The event ended with a panel that discussed how AI could open up more opportunities for students by easing time and location restraints that currently exist in higher education. The panelists included Joyner, Evans, Sizemore, and Brian Haugabrook, chief information officer at VSU.

“We’re still working out the nuts and bolts of what AI really is and discovering how it fits into our university system,” said Sara Jalilnasab, learning design developer at VSU and one of the event coordinators. “We wanted to get everyone in on the conversation to really focus on what’s working and what’s not. It’s so important for everybody to meet at the intersection of education and technology.”

Anthony Sheffler, interim associate vice president for academic affairs at VSU, predicted that higher education professionals will, in the coming years, “use artificial intelligence more than probably any other entity on this planet in regard to preparing the next generation of individuals.”

Please contact Sara Jalilnasab at (229) 245-6490 or to learn more.