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Arizona State & OpenAI’s Partnership Marks a Pioneering Step in the Intersection of AI and Education

OpenAI Announces First University Partnership with Arizona State University:

Within the past few years, the reality of artificial intelligence has crept upon us with lightning speed. In the realm of higher education, students have found solace in AI in a variety of ways, whether it be through the honest asking of questions to advance their comprehension or through a less moral means of getting that last discussion post done before the 11:59 p.m. deadline.

Regardless of the motivation, it’s no surprise that AI has found its way into the world of education, but what happens when the institution as a whole charges toward experimentation? My soon-to-be alma mater, Arizona State University, seems to be taking the lead on answering this question.

This year, ASU has become the first higher-ed institution to partner with OpenAI, an exciting venture that begins this month after nearly half a year of deliberation between the university and the creator of ChatGPT.

February marks the project’s active launch, providing university members full access to OpenAI’s ChatGPT Enterprise, the AI chatbot’s business tier offering ChatGPT-4 with no usage caps and highly improved performance. Plans for the new tool within university use are expansive yet vague, including a creative AI tutor tailored to students’ courses, the ‘AI Innovation Challenge’ and lecture classroom use.

Read ASU’s Official Statement Here.

As a higher-ed marketing professional and a senior at Arizona State University, I’ve found myself in a unique position with the reveal of ASU’s monumental news.

The university’s established reputation as a “leader in innovation, research, and global impact” makes this collaboration an obvious one. ASU has been the top contender in the “innovative universities” category for 9 straight years, and a move like this makes it clear that they’re committed to keeping the title for a decade.

While dedicated to upholding that earned honor, ASU seems to have fallen flat in educating their community on the partnership. Multiple professors and students, including myself, find it hard to comprehend the intricacies of the project this early on as its nature has become so sensationalized. Emma Frow, associate professor for ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, has made remarks that there is very little information presently available for us to fully understand the project’s long-term implications. 

Echoing my own thoughts, the response from the student body has been varied, save for the beloved “#1 in innovation” quips. Students not yet proficient with ChatGPT are left worried that AI hallucinations will hinder their learning and user trust. Other students who have previously used AI tools to advance their learning are looking forward to gaining an enhanced understanding of their curriculum that was previously considered unattainable by technological standards.

I’ve found myself somewhere in the middle of these perspectives – excited for the opportunity to learn through new channels and experience increased efficiency in my endeavors, but worried that AI produced work could eclipse thoughtfully crafted creative work and blur the lines between human thought and generated code. 

Despite differing opinions, a general consensus among many is the hope that this partnership will lower financial barriers within the realm of higher education as well as expand the academic reach into diverse communities. Much of the reality surrounding this partnership remains hazy, and will not be revealed until actual implementation begins.

What does this mean for the Higher Education Community?

The specifics of this partnership may be unknown, but the creation of this union alone has made waves in the higher education community. It is clear that AI is only becoming more and more prevalent in higher-ed communities, and it may become a permanent facet as it continues to rapidly gain traction. The new digital frontier will actively be explored through ASU’s efforts, and it has set the stage for progressive technological breakthroughs and ethical deep-dives. 

Prior to this collaboration, efforts have been made to push the needle on comprehending AI’s role in the educational sphere. A 2023 Stanford University study revealed that, despite common belief, ChatGPT doesn’t increase cheating in high schools. That same year, the New York City Department of Education reversed their prohibition of ChatGPT in schools and opted to embrace the game-changing technology under the guise that “our new world” would inevitably expose young generations to AI regardless of preliminary actions. ASU’s current involvement in the world of AI furthers these initiatives at the university level, emphasizing the notion that the use of AI in our daily lives may soon be an unavoidable proposition.

Many of ASU’s initial public proposals are student-facing, but it’s likely that we can expect transformations on all ends on a greater scale. The key to this being successful, however, is ensuring that AI enhances the processes and faculty that assist learning experiences, but does not replace them. This falls into the ambiguous depths of AI ethics, which will undoubtedly be explored further in the ASU/OpenAI partnership for better or for worse. Ideally, with AI, back-office workflows can be streamlined, grading procedures can be reimagined, and admissions processes can be revolutionized. 

The operating phrase in these expectations is “ideally”. Despite the notion that computers are always correct, AI tools can be wrong if they’re not programmed correctly or experience hallucinations. MIT proved the danger behind AI grading tools by creating a poorly written essay that still included all necessary prompts that an AI essay reader searches for – in response to this input, the AI gave a high score. With this in mind, it’s imperative that actions such as this are proactively met with training, guidelines, and conversations on how to catch errors in order to use these tools ethically and effectively.

Ultimately, new strides for AI within the higher ed sphere won’t simply come from the creation of this alliance, but rather in coexistence with the strategic ideas from organization members themselves. A revolutionary output can only be developed with inputs of the same caliber. Eric Wang, the senior director of AI at Turnitin, explains this concept wonderfully in his quote “[AI] is a mirror that reflects us to us, and sometimes in very exaggerated ways.”

Successful AI utilization can best be viewed as a two-way street between technology and its user – with this in mind, I look forward to seeing where this path takes ASU and the higher education community as a whole.

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