From Pathify Magazine

At this point in my life there are two daily certainties — one of which I’m sure I share with you. The first — I’m just a bit more excited than I was the day before about where Pathify is headed. The second — my news feed includes plenty of content devoted to how AI will ruin/fix/revolutionize/metamorphosize/save/destroy/deflate…or elevate higher ed. 

So when our magazine’s editor asked me to write an AI themed article for this edition, I cringed at the prospect of rinsing and repeating the same tired story. At its core, much of this exhausting (but critical) debate seems to revolve around cheating and the moral, ethical, practical and logical puzzle the AI revolution will force schools to solve. So that got me thinking about cheating.

Oxford Languages provides two definitions for cheating:

  1. Acting dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain advantage, especially in a game or examination. (Not what I’d like to write about!)
  2. Avoiding (something undesirable) by luck or skill. (BINGO!)

So let’s have a different type of discussion around how (cheating) AI will ruin/fix/revolutionize/metamorphosize/save/destroy/deflate…or elevate higher ed. Let’s talk about how schools will avoid all sorts of undesirable inefficiencies by skillfully leveraging technology, making early-adopting institutions more competitive in acquiring, retaining and graduating students.

The Good Kind of Cheating

IT departments have enormous amounts of internal data available for their students. And this data makes perfect material for generative models.

Although institutions deal with ethical, moral and educational questions from an academic standpoint, these same questions simply don’t exist on the administrative side. 

Administration within a teaching institution is entirely task focused. Students and staff must learn available capabilities and use them effectively. Certifications don’t exist for learning a skill, rather, it is an immediate end to performing a job more effectively. For example, although it is necessary to understand how to interact with the scholarships department for some people to succeed in their philosophy degree, that knowledge is not part of the degree.

In fact, obtaining this information provides a win-win proposition for both institutions and students alike. While students more easily discover how to apply and receive scholarships, the AI reduces the amount of work required in answering routine questions — allowing employees to focus on more meaningful work.

Rather than hundreds of students calling the department to ask for the application deadline, they instead ask an AI and allow employees to focus their efforts on advising applicants through the required essay.

By making this scholarship easily accessible through a generative model, the institution decreases the likelihood of losing the student to summer melt. In today’s competitive environment, this unprecedented ability to retain students while increasing employee efficiency creates a meaningful and impactful advantage for IT departments willing to explore the power of generative AI.

This also makes personal gain at an institution much easier. Although it is good for students to successfully interact with the administrative side of a school without creative, deeply embedded learning, they do not need to intrinsically build skills in regards to filling in a particular form.

Higher education administrations should eagerly pounce on this extraordinary chance to revolutionize student customer service and minimize the financial burden of implementing processes and instructions. It’s a golden opportunity to unleash a wave of exhilarating improvements leaving students awestruck and delighted. 

Administratively, a school has a lot more in common with a hardware store than it does academically. Hardware stores utilize tools such as automated call centers and chatbots to suggest common inquiries and deflect manual support tasks away from front-line employees. 

This strategy is entirely appropriate to the administrative side of the school. Rather than bogging down employees with mundane questions during student appointments, generative AI has the potential to free them from meeting purgatory and perform work more meaningful to the institution by allowing a bot to exist as the frontline. 

At the same time, students receive a more consumer-like experience making them more likely to trust and value institutions willing to adopt this technology.

It’s time for institutions to start using their knowledge base advantageously -– to help their students “cheat” where it’s not a question of academic rigor, but of convenience and clarity.

24/7 IT Support

If it feels like your IT team needs a productivity boost, AI serves as the ideal antidote to helping staff work more efficiently. The biggest detriment to getting the real work done on a day-to-day basis is our students.

We value them dearly and want to do everything possible to make them successful, but it probably isn’t the best use of time for employees to explain policies clearly written on the IT website or help students reset their passwords for the fifth time in a week. Although a typical institution’s IT department might work 8-5, students still send frantic emails in the middle of the night about an easily resolvable “crisis.”

The good news: AI lifts a tremendous burden by offering students responses at all hours on topics you shouldn’t be answering anyway. Instead of spending time compiling FAQs students will never read or allocating half the day handling the same questions over and over again, AI provides a virtual assistant perfectly capable of handling these areas.   

Since a growing number of students already accept AI, transitioning them to a bot will not be nearly as problematic as it might have been just a few years ago. Plus, students don’t care who answers their questions — they just want them answered quickly. 

With generative AI, IT departments no longer need to provide a bot with every permutation of question and answer. The bot instead ingests already existing content like frequently asked questions and connects the dots to provide completely new answers it never trained on. Think back to the example of the student applying for a scholarship and now imagine they need a video interview, but the institution requires students to create passwords on Zoom for security purposes.

The student forgot to set a meeting password and asks the bot for help creating a meeting code instead of a password. Unlike previous iterations, it understands the context for the student’s request and provides step-by-step instructions on creating a password, in addition to other security reminders for the student to adequately cover their bases from an IT perspective.

This change not only provides students with better customer support, but allows your department to work on more technical projects. It’s not only for the betterment of the entire institution, but empowers employees to perform more meaningful work. 

Creating Technology RFPs

Pathify responds to our fair share of RFPs (and you probably don’t need a CTO to tell you this), but the process often seems to be entirely broken at many institutions. Most problems with RFPs occur because the RFP writer struggles with incorporating all the stakeholders “must-haves” into a singular document.

Even worse, at times it’s clear institutions use the same RFP template for landscaping projects, food service contracts — and of course — software purchases. I’ll save my dissertation on tech purchases in higher ed for another day, but for those seeking a less painful and more streamlined process for crafting RFPs, AI is the answer.

If the RFP writer is a skilled interviewer, they only need a few conversations with key stakeholders to record all of the requirements needed for their particular project. Most digital meeting software like Zoom and Teams are fully capable of handling detailed transcription. After feeding these transcripts into an AI, simply provide a few prompts regarding the format of the RFP, key areas of the interview to focus on and any other requirements.

With very little effort, the AI spits out relevant and succinct questions, and a truly painful process takes significantly less time to finish. Not only will AI make writing RFPs much more efficient, it will also enable the writer to spend more time on the meaningful work (gathering critical requirements), hopefully resulting in better decisions.

Take a few minutes to think about other “dirty jobs” an AI might excel at. Where could you fit a tireless, affordable, hyper-intelligent resource to help your team work better?

Administrations need not cower in complete fear of generative AI, even though its place in greater academia raises existential questions. But outside the academic context, there is undoubtedly a shimmering silver lining for institutions eager to enhance customer service while arming employees with a competitive edge.

The gains awaiting institutions are as plentiful as a well-stocked buffet. It falls upon administrations to seize the full smorgasbord of possibilities generative AI presents, or risk being outshined by cutting edge IT teams at competing schools. In this fast-paced world, staying ahead is the name of the game, and the power of AI is simply too tantalizing to ignore.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what Pathify has to do with any of the above — we’ll likely have something pretty amazing to show at this year’s EDUCAUSE Conference. We’re hoping to further revolutionize the IT department’s capabilities, while dramatically improving how students obtain personalized information at any time, in any place…and on any device. Stay tuned.

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