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HashtagHigherEdUS: Embracing AI in Higher Education: Top 5 Insights

The voice and vision of higher ed marketing and communications professionals from around the country came together at George Washington University in Washington DC for the inaugural HashtagHigherEdUs conference. I was privileged not only to attend HashtagHigherEdUS, but also to contribute as a panelist. Our discussion revolved around how professionals in higher education can optimally utilize AI tools like ChatGPT.

Hosted by Bart Caylor from the HigherEd Marketing Podcast, I was joined by Gil Appel, a marketing professor and AI researcher at George Washington University. Although our backgrounds and perspectives varied widely, the discussion with Bart and Gil was incredibly enlightening. In just two days, I gained more insights than I had accumulated over the past two weeks.

Here are 5 key takeaways from our conversation:

1. The Dawn of AI in Higher Ed

The AI era in higher education is still in its nascent stages, filled with uncertainties, learning curves, and an abundance of potential. As Bart Caylor eloquently set the stage with a quote from Alvin Toffler.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and re-learn.”

This quote encapsulates the essence of our evolving discourse on AI. While many may perceive the capabilities of artificial intelligence as a threat to knowledge workers (think marketers and educators), I believe that it is critical for leaders to promote learning and continuous improvement through digital agility.

2. AI: Beyond a Fad

Whether AI makes you feel eager or apprehensive, turning a blind eye is not an option. Whether your audience consists of lukewarm leads or prospective students, it’s likely that it is difficult to get (nevertheless, sustain) their engagement in this economy of attention.

“Content is king,” but heavy is the head that has to post consistently. AI, then, becomes a tool we can leverage to mend the cracks in our messaging – to improve the cadence and quality of our work. Truly ‘future-proof’ education necessitates the incorporation, adaptation, and application of AI tools.

It’s vital not to overlook ethical questions, but rather to actively engage them and shape policy in accordance with your institution’s values. This AI revolution in higher education is not a transient phase; it signifies a transformative shift in the creation, curation, distribution, and enhancement of information.

3. Experiment Liberally. Adopt Prudently.

Consider AI as a powerful tool to augment efficiency and content quality. Just like a mathematician uses a calculator or an artist a digital medium, AI content generation tools equip the modern marketer to spend more time working on what really matters: messaging the unique value of her organization.

For instance, a social media manager can streamline her work by developing her post ideas or copy vis a vis prompt engineering and Chat GPT- or she could utilize the AI-powered features of Grammarly, Hootsuite, Canva, or Adobe to streamline the ‘busy work’ that comes with editing copy or images. AI can provide easy entry points for drafting, editing, proofing, and brainstorming, making it a compelling technology for newcomers to explore. However, exercise caution and discernment when integrating AI-generated content into your communication flow.

4. The Unmatched Value of Authenticity & Human Connection

Despite AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard enhancing content quality, authentic communication retains its unmatched value. AI lacks the capacity for true ‘originality’, instead drawing from a vast pool of existing content.

Originality embodies authenticity, a quality that keeps us humans connected, healthy, and engaged. In the same way even the least musical folk can detect a dissonant note, so too can prospective students pick up on messaging that isn’t congruent with a school’s mission, voice, or values. Be wary of AI-powered content may create noise and dissonance instead of harmony.

5. The Excellence of American Higher Education

Experiencing HashtagHigherEdUS in our nation’s capital reminded me of the promise and potential of education. The global standing of America is indebted to our nation’s investment in education. The greatness that higher education contributes to America’s global standing. A morning jog around the national mall left me feeling inspired and grateful for the opportunities available in this great nation. I realized that it is upon us to ensure that we advance the truth by articulating and illustrating the value of these institutions well.

As HashtagHigherEdUS concluded, it was evident from the numerous conversations with higher ed marketing professionals across the country that there’s a pressing need for professional development training around AI. With this technology still in its infancy, there are more questions than answers about how AI can be ethically and effectively adopted, advancing our workflows and professional practices.

[L to R] Bart Caylor (HigherEd Marketing Podcast), Raffi DerSimonian (VP, Chief Strategy Officer ERI), Gil Appel (Assistant Professor, Marketing & AI Researcher at The George Washington University).

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