What we learned from the ARES Spring Conference Panel on Innovation in Education

In May, we attended the ARES Spring Conference in San Antonio, Texas, where we had the pleasure of joining a panel on 'Staying on the Cutting Edge of Technology and Real Estate Education'. Here's what we learned.

ChatGPT is changing the landscape of higher education very quickly!

ChatGPT is a tool that writes content really fast, and, sometimes, really well. That said, content written by it, and similar tools, is often poor-to-mediocre. Though it may change the way students write material, it won’t change the need for students to gain the underlying knowledge. Without an understanding of the material, students won’t be able to write the most suitable prompts. Critically, they won’t know how good the quality of the output from ChatGPT is.

Such tools save time by summarizing information, enabling students to write material more quickly than they otherwise might have been able to. Used well, these tools can give students more time to think creatively and constructively about what they're trying to say with their work.

We need to think about these tools not as a threat to education, but as a set of resources that can evolve the way that we interact with students, similar to the way that higher education has been talking about flipping the classroom for many years. These tools can be leveraged to enable educators to spend less time on helping students build basic knowledge of a subject, and spend more time on things like encouraging discussion and debate and exploring the application of knowledge in real-world scenarios. 

But, there are challenges:

These tools are new, and their use in an educational setting is already creating friction. Both students and educators are still learning how best to use them. Educators and administrators  are deciding how their use should be regulated, with some arguing that their use shouldn’t be regulated, and instead, students should be taught how to use the tools effectively.

On one end of the spectrum, these tools can be clunky, writing in a verbose manner, and it can be difficult for students to train them to write in a suitable tone of voice. On the more troubling end of the spectrum, these tools have been known to create fake references. Though fake references are concerning, both of these are more minor examples that, with improvements to the tools, and training for students on how to use them, will likely diminish in the near future.

That said, there are greater issues for higher education to consider. There’s wide variation between institutions’ views on the use of these tools. Some allow their use, and structure assessments accordingly. Others consider them tools that can be used for cheating and try to limit their use. Universities must shift the way that they teach and assess students, and do so quickly, as technology advances at a rapid pace. An arms race is already beginning: Educators have begun using tools to detect whether or not a piece of work has been written by ChatGPT. Meanwhile, students are learning which prompts to use to avoid detection by these systems.

These tools are increasingly being used across industries, and students will need to learn how to use them to be successful in their careers. There’s a strong case to be made for not only welcoming their use but for teaching students how to use them effectively.

In a world where AI tools are commonplace, 21st century skills are more important than ever

AI has enabled the creation of highly accurate fakes, questionable news articles created en mass, and sheer volumes of information available at your fingertips. Now, more than ever before, students need to learn how to think critically, and to consider the biases that might lie behind the creation of anything found online. 

In addition to critical thinking skills, students need to build collaborative skills, communication skills, leadership skills, and creativity. In a world where the importance of knowledge is diminished because of the availability of information, these skills are increasingly important! A related trend is that people are changing careers and changing industries in ways that they didn’t even just 10 years ago. 21st-century skills are transferrable, and set students up for success in today's workplace.

Communication Skills in particular are lacking

The in-person experience that takes place in a physical classroom is so valuable and is incredibly hard to replicate online. That is such an important part of what students are  learning when they're coming to a classroom

Just being around other students, educators, and industry professionals helps students build insight into how to communicate; how to change their communication style, based on who they’re speaking with, how to ask questions, how to engage an audience, and so on. There’s so much to learn, and the best way to learn is through continued, deliberate practice.

The first time a student stands up to present to a group they tend to do a terrible job, but then given some pointers, they get better and better! It’s hard to do this well with 150 students in a class, but there’s an opportunity for technology to help educators provide this kind of experience to students. For example, requiring them to practice their presentation on a zoom recording and write a critique. AI models can also potentially be trained to provide feedback in real time, or at the very least, reduce the burden on the educator.

Many thanks to our panel's Chair, Elaine Worzala, and to the brilliant panelists; Cliff Lipscomb, Demetrios Louziotis, and Steve Hood.