August 28, 2023

Apprehension of Generative AI in Higher Education Overstated, Cengage Survey Finds

The rise of Generative AI (GenAI) tools like ChatGPT has sparked heated debates about the potential impact on education. From plagiarism concerns to promises of personalized learning, GenAI has sent shockwaves through higher education. But what do instructors actually think about this rapidly evolving technology?  

Cengage set out to determine just that. Our newest research provides insights into U.S. higher ed instructors’ views. Our goal is always to take an informed, research-driven approach to understand what administrators, instructors and students want from new technology. Research and customer insight are crucial to make sure we’re effectively leveraging GenAI and building tools that truly benefit the teaching and learning experience. In addition, the feedback and insights we receive from pilots of our student and instructor facing GenAI tools this fall will continue to inform our AI strategy and product enhancements. 

And our research has revealed some interesting instructor insights. There is a mix of apprehension and openness to GenAI among teaching faculty, with a majority of instructors (82%) agreeing that GenAI will play an increasingly important role in higher ed in the coming years. While there is some trepidation, many instructors say they plan to use Generative AI to automate certain administrative tasks which would free up time for what instructors do best – teaching and connecting directly with their students.  

 

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The survey, which ran from May 31 through June 7, 2023, polled approximately 600 U.S. higher education instructors who taught during the 2022-23 academic year. The results highlight the fact that instructors hold nuanced views on GenAI’s emerging influence. While recognizing its potential benefits, respondents also harbor understandable concerns about academic integrity, quality of learning and its impact on their own roles. The stakes feel high, as instructors weigh how best to incorporate GenAI into their courses and prepare students for a changing world.  

Dispelling a Myth: Faculty are Against GenAI in Higher Education  

When ChatGPT launched publicly in late 2022, sparking GenAI mania, fear ran through the higher education community, causing various institutions to initiate blanket bans on the platform and other GenAI-related technologies. In actuality, many instructors have chosen to experiment with the technology rather than fight it, with four in 10 (40%) stating they are familiar with GenAI, and roughly one quarter (24%) reporting having used it in their academic role. In addition, more than half (58%) of instructors are planning or considering using GenAI in higher education.  

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What’s behind the changing attitudes? Respondents said they were testing GenAI’s ability to increase their efficiency (52%), to help them become a more effective instructor for their students (44%), to be an early adopter of new technology (42%) and to boost their creativity (42%). Furthermore, top use cases for which instructors are or would consider using GenAI include assessing whether students are cheating, creating quizzes or other assessments, supporting language learners and supplementing lectures. While instructors see value in GenAI’s use from a teaching perspective, only a third (33%) are allowing their students to use the technology for graded assignments. 

Barriers: Lack of Training and the ‘Unknowns’ of AI in Education

Although many instructors are open to experimenting with GenAI in education, they want more training, use case examples and technological verification to feel ready to integrate the technology into their teaching – once again, dispelling the myth that faculty are against AI in higher education and slow to adapt. In reality, instructors believe in the thoughtful and safe use of this technology and are looking to their institutions to guide them through this journey.  

Their institutions, however, have not kept pace: most colleges and universities have not adopted GenAI policies, causing instructors to seek more guidance as GenAI impacts education. The majority (80%) of instructors say their institutions have not put GenAI policies in place (or they are unsure if they exist). To fill this gap, instructors are calling for leaders across the institution - administration, instructional design, teaching and learning centers - to institute training for all levels.  

 

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Most instructors who reported not using GenAI yet said it was because they are not quite sure how to use it (62%), with 42% feeling they do not know enough about it to use it. More than two-thirds (68%) of instructors said knowing GenAI would be an effective teaching tool would increase their consideration of using the technology, while more than half said reliability assurances (54%) and confidence in their ability to use it (53%) rounded out the top three barriers to adoption.  

Safety, Accuracy and Ethics Are Instructors’ Top Priorities for GenAI in Education  

GenAI clearly has its benefits, but it’s not perfect, and instructors have valid concerns. Top of mind for most faculty is whether GenAI’s outputs are accurate, safe and ethical. To ease these concerns, instructors are looking for GenAI systems that are monitored, have a clear code of ethics and are transparent and explainable.  

 

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Academic integrity was cited by 84% of instructors as their most concerning risk of Generative AI in education. This was followed by the potential for inaccurate outcomes (52%), manipulation or harmful use (40%) and the potential for bias (40%). Factors that would increase instructors’ willingness to trust GenAI in an educational environment included:  

  • Monitoring of the system for accuracy and reliability (72%) 

  • Adoption of an AI ethics code of conduct for their organization (68%) 

  • Adherence to standards for explainable and transparent AI (65%) 

  • Review of the system by an AI ethics board (59%)  

  • Certification that the AI system was ethical (45%)  

Overall, the survey highlights that instructors hold uncertain views on AI’s emerging influence. While recognizing potential benefits, they also harbor understandable concerns about academic integrity, quality of student learning and its impact on their own roles.  

As GenAI capabilities accelerate, instructor perspectives will remain crucial to shaping its responsible use. While more research is needed to understand how teaching faculty across disciplines, institutions and learning formats are grappling with the AI wave, this survey provides an important early snapshot of instructor attitudes and apprehensions during this dynamic time.  

 

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