This piece originally appeared on EdSurge on July 14, 2023, and is authored by Abbie Misha.
As educators, we know the potential that artificial intelligence (AI) has for our profession. Generative AI, a subset of AI that can generate new and original content, serves as a technology that amplifies our capabilities as educators and learners. Its ability to swiftly transform and transfer information surpasses previous boundaries, albeit with some initial apprehension from educators. Yet by employing generative AI, educators can explore aspects of education that were once challenging or inaccessible, accelerating the pace of learning and enabling students to gain confidence in uncharted territories.
As generative AI gains traction in the private sector, its impact on institutions is poised to be transformative. By automating tasks that humans may not excel at, generative AI empowers individuals to focus on their strengths, such as creativity, empathy and engagement. This shift in focus fosters adaptability and flexible thinking, employee skills that are crucial for organizations to thrive in today’s dynamic business environment.
For educational institutions, embracing generative AI not only prepares students for a future where it will play a central role in their workplace but also opens doors for highly adaptable employees who can navigate uncharted territories with confidence. Institutions must seize this opportunity by collaborating with AI experts, starting with small-scale implementation and integrating generative AI where it can have the most significant impact. For higher ed, this means fostering critical thinking and soft-skills development in students to ensure that they are prepared for the unknown challenges of tomorrow. Recently, EdSurge had the opportunity to speak with Jenny Maxwell, head of Grammarly for Education, about how generative AI is revolutionizing the world of education.
EdSurge: What is generative AI in the context of educational experiences?
Maxwell: Generative AI is really a technology that allows us to augment our capabilities as human beings. Most educators are in the space because they love teaching and helping, and they love the process of transferring information. Generative AI is excelling in this transfer process, allowing it to happen at a rate that none of us has ever seen. And because of that, educators may come into these conversations with a lot of trepidation and fascination.
Imagine, as an educator, you have gone from point A to point B by riding a beautiful cruiser bike through the French countryside, and you’re telling people how great it is to ride this bike. Generative AI is an electric bike. You’re still going to be able to see the French countryside. You still have to understand how to ride a bike. There are still components of balance and shifting. But generative AI allows you to experience pieces of the French countryside that you might not have been able to enjoy because you were pedaling up a hill or you didn’t have the cardiovascular capacity to enjoy the distance.
Generative AI in the context of education means that we’re pushing things forward. I think the reason that we’re disrupting things is because we’re trying to make things better. We’re trying to go faster. We’re trying to improve the human experience. And in doing so, we’re unlocking more uniquely human capabilities.
We see that there’s already been adoption of generative AI in the private sector. What are your thoughts on how generative AI will reshape how organizations work?
Generative AI truncates some things that humans are not necessarily good at so that we can spend more time where we excel: being highly creative, highly empathetic and highly engaged with the experience around us. Generative AI is reshaping these organizations to have highly adaptable employees with flexible thinking. We’re seeing that companies that adapt are also those that survive; there is this adaptability quotient. What will we do as a society to be better prepared to handle the next new thing?
What does this mean for today’s students?
I hope it gives students the motivation to unlock opportunities for the rest of their lives. Education isn’t just the means to a job; the educational experience is really about developing flexibility and metacognition. The fact that you become these powerful thinkers and get creative and build a network of colleagues—both students and faculty—can inspire you to come up with really great ideas that you can leverage post-university. That’s exciting!
Institutions need to prepare students for a new world of work where generative AI will play a central role. How might they approach this?
First, institutions need to work with a partner that can ensure security parameters are in place. For Grammarly, this is foundational. Then, I suggest institutions just start; this big journey starts with a single step. Pick your passionate people who are excited about this change and motivated by innovation, and get them to help reach across various departments to bring colleagues along the way. Change is hard. Find your catalysts on campus and look to integrate generative AI in the places where it will have the most significant impact.
There is no shortage of conversations happening right now in educational institutions. There is this fear that institutions might have analysis paralysis around generative AI. But I’m very optimistic that universities are rallying around this, quickly deploying these tools and adjusting policies to meet students where they are now.
Generative AI is not perfect. Grammarly helps guide students toward using this technology responsibly to enhance their education. We want students to be prepared for an evolving workforce. We want them to be proficient in things that haven’t been created yet, and that comes down to soft skills. How do we create highly empathetic adults who are highly adaptable? We may not be able to train them for the technology that doesn’t exist yet, but we can train them to be flexible and willing to try and even fail.
What do you think are the biggest benefits and challenges to incorporating generative AI into the educational experience?
One immediate benefit for students is comprehending topics quickly and finding a place to start. This can accelerate the rate at which students get going on an assignment and also accelerate the information transfer from educator to student. I think back to my analogy of the electric bike. Students have the ability to use generative AI as a tool that lets them explore areas about which they otherwise would lack confidence. There is an untapped potential to get people passionate about new territories.
A challenge of generative AI is that we don’t know exactly what we don’t know about it. Clearly, we need to be conscious of integrity and make sure we don’t trust everything that is generated. We need guardrails for the electric bike. But I think we will see faculty and students come together on this journey. I think faculty will be seen more as the coaches of the course instead of the holders of knowledge. I think that shift is overdue and will be welcomed by both students and institutions.
Every faculty member I have met who is truly passionate about what they do tells me they have experienced these transformative moments in their careers when they see this journey in their students. This tool will help bridge the perceived power dynamic between who has all the information and who doesn’t.
Grammarly is committed to the responsible innovation and development of AI that encourages students to apply academic integrity that facilitates learning and education. The following resources explore Grammarly’s approach to generative AI in education and how institutions can navigate this new technology.