Andrew Brim: How AI is transforming higher education

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

This is part of a series in which Utahns share their insight on AI. Read more here.

Universities have always offered knowledge acquisition, skill development and personal growth. These institutions have bestowed degrees, certifications, personal networks and diverse experiences upon students — ranging from teamwork and leadership to community service and mentorship by faculty.

However, as artificial intelligence (AI) continues its ever-growing reach, universities stand at a critical juncture. It’s imperative to acknowledge both the indispensability of universities and the potential of AI. Universities must not resist AI but embrace it, use it and build with it.

At the heart of universities lie multifaceted offerings — knowledge, skills, degrees, networking and immersive experiences. The purview of their influence now extends beyond disseminating knowledge to encompass a broader spectrum of holistic development. AI’s capacity to swiftly analyze vast pools of data and generate insights with exceptional accuracy, AI is poised to redefine the acquisition of information. Universities must acknowledge this seismic shift and discern that AI’s prowess in knowledge impartation is a potent tool that can be harnessed to augment their educational endeavors. In light of the AI abilities, universities operating exclusively online should be very nervous about becoming obsolete to AI.

AI can not only present content, but AI can also be used in a way to explore, experiment and dive deeper into this content.

However, even as AI penetrates higher education the distinctive university experience remains unrivaled. Consider, for instance, the Huntsman School of Business Department of Data Analytics and Information Systems at Utah State University. While AI can undoubtedly complement the learning process, the department acknowledges that AI cannot supplant the experiential elements intrinsic to university education.

In teamwork, for example, the intricate dynamics of human collaboration are outside of AI’s capabilities. Effective communication is founded upon an understanding of contextual nuances, tonal variations and nonverbal cues — facets that often elude machines. Universities offer an environment where students can refine these skills, honing the ability to convey ideas persuasively and coherently.

Mentorship is also an invaluable part of the university experience. The insights, wisdom and personalized guidance imparted by mentors surpass the realm of AI-generated responses. The unique rapport between a student and a mentor is an intricate dance of empathy, experience and individual growth, fostering connections that continue to mold students well beyond graduation.

Human networking, too, is an integral aspect of university life. While AI can expedite connections, the nurturing ground for friendships, professional associations and mentorships lies within the university’s physical space.

Utah State University’s Huntsman School of Business Department of Data Analytics and Information Systems exemplifies the fusion of AI with traditional pedagogical principles. By incorporating AI’s capacity to generate code, the department pioneers an approach that combines AI with traditional information technology education. Students’ experimentation with AI-generated code provides insights into AI’s capabilities and short-comings. The department is currently developing a new course “Building software with Artificial Intelligence,” which will cover software engineering principles, architecture principles, software development with AI-generated code, AI code testing, AI code deployment and documentation.

This is the future of coding, and we are leaning into it.

Andrew Brim

Andrew Brim is a professional practice assistant professor of data analytics and information systems in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. Prior to his doctoral work, Andrew was a software developer for Bank of America, Global Markets Trading Technology division.