College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

Universities Meet Demand as Adoption of AI Accelerates

October 9, 2023

This article, quoting Dean Ingrid Guerra-López and Professor Jered Borup, was originally published in the 2023 Washington Post Fall Guide to Graduate Education.

AI adoption more than doubled from 2017 to 2022, according to McKinsey, and the global artificial intelligence market, valued at $95.6 billion in 2021, is predicted to double to $1.8 trillion by 2030, according to Next Move Strategy Consulting.

The average number of AI capabilities that organizations use also doubled—from 1.9 in 2018 to 3.8 in 2022. Less than a year after the debut of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT, one-third of the global organizations surveyed by McKinsey say they are using generative AI in at least one business function.

“AI is changing how we live, how we work and how we learn,” said Ingrid Guerra-López, dean of the George Mason University College of Education and Human Development. “We rely more and more on AI to help us get through the day, from avoiding construction traffic, to extending your professional network, to buying groceries, and even helping your fourth grader with homework. The way we live influences products and services, but also how industries and employers deliver those products and services, and by extension, work expectations, tasks and policies, as well as talent recruitment and development.”

“AI systems, particularly Generative AI, have evolved fast and will get better and more ubiquitous,” said Prabhudev Konana, dean and professor of Information Systems at University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “We should embrace, not resist, AI, and be aware of the strengths, weaknesses, dangers and opportunities.”

AI’s ready availability has created opportunities in graduate and executive education. Evolving programs and courses are available to prep professionals to successfully incorporate AI-based content into their careers.

For example, North Carolina State University’s AI Academy is a workforce-development program which started in March 2020 and leads to two certificates for participating computer science professionals, one in data science and the second in AI, executive director Carla C. Johnson said. Courses in the all-virtual program include Python, data mining, introduction to AI, and machine learning, Johnson said. Students work in diverse teams to explore and apply AI concepts and build their AI competencies. ChatGPT is a topic of conversation within and across the coursework.

“AI is becoming infrastructure,” said Collin Lynch, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at N.C. State and a member of the leadership team of the university’s AI Academy. “In a sense computer science is the new math, and AI is now core to computer science. New, large and generative models have created new possibilities—and new hype—in every field. With this comes pressure for professionals to use AI where possible and investments across the board. For new graduates this means they should all be equipped with an understanding of what AI is, how to use it, and how not to.”

As AI becomes ubiquitous, professionals, regardless of their field of study, will be expected to use AI in a variety of ways across all settings, Guerra-López said. GMU’s College of Education and Human Development is preparing graduates by promoting digital literacy, staying on top of trends and incorporating the ethical use of relevant technologies to support teaching, learning and work, Guerra-López said. Students participate in a minimum of two internships to enhance their understanding and practical skills, and provide them with real-world experience using technology, she said.

“Employers are excited to collaborate and help us continually re-assess the skills we’re developing through our academic programs to ensure they remain relevant and responsive to their needs,” Guerra-López said. “They are looking for graduates that not only possess the relevant disciplinary and practical competence for the position but are also comfortable with a range of technologies, knowing those technologies may quickly be replaced by new ones.”

“We encourage faculty to embrace generative AI for its pedagogical value,” Konana said. “Students must learn to use AI to drive their creativity and recognize AI limitations on societal and ethical issues.”

At GMU, students learn more about AI by using it in their coursework, said Jered Borup, associate professor, associate director of the Global Online Teacher Education Center and co-coordinator of Learning Technologies in Schools, Learning Technologies Design Research.

“Faculty throughout our college have begun to integrate generative AI into their courses and other efforts,” Borup said. “For example, Angela Miller in our Research Methodology PhD specialization models ways to use generative AI to create or check code needed to run statistics in the statistical software for her students. Just as taking an online class has been shown to be one of the best ways for teachers to improve as online teachers, we believe students who take courses that effectively model the use of generative AI will benefit by better understanding how to use it in their own future practice.”

For example, Konana said, students should learn to use ChatGPT for simple, low-level text while focusing on higher-level thinking—as they’re likely to do in their jobs someday. “You don’t use exactly what ChatGPT gives you; you use it like scaffolding and create on top of it. Any generative AI produces content based on past work,” he said. “It is not forward-looking. Students must learn to be forward thinkers, recognize flaws in AI output, and understand limitations.”

At the University of Maryland-Smith, “We’re evolving our curriculum to address AI in the context of marketing, supply chain, finance, problem solving, and adoption strategy—including risk and algorithm development ethics,” Konana said. “To accelerate this, we hired information systems professor Balaji Padmanabhan, who specializes in contextual AI and designed one of the first technology-focused MBA electives while at the Wharton School.”

But AI also has key limitations. “And this extends to learning to understand Generative AI as trustworthy, which is critical to its usefulness and a learning process in itself,” Konana said.

“While AI outperforms humans by processing vast amounts of information fast, it lacks creativity and critical thinking for decision-making, particularly decisions that involve ethical implications,” Konana said. “Thus, AI is contextual—not monolithic. AI simply cannot address situations where there is no right answer or where decisions are subjective and evolving.”

For example, AI in an autonomous vehicle that detects objects becomes more of a challenge when that same AI is expected to make a decision on whether to brake or hit the obstacle since there are consequences of both actions, Konana said.

“AI is not taking over all professions, so students also need to learn the fundamentals of their work so they can continue to be good professionals,” Lynch said.

At GMU, “We are also promoting critical thinking that enable graduates to apply technology as they engage in collaborative problem-solving across disciplines, institutions, sectors, and a wide range of stakeholders,” Guerra-López said. “We encourage them to understand the functionality and value that various technologies bring, so as the technologies evolve, they feel comfortable and prepared to embrace emerging technologies through a growth mindset and a commitment to lifelong learning.”

Students must develop and retain a creative mindset.

“When user preferences change, an analytical and creative mind may exploit to create new value to the customer with a whole new service or product line,” Konana said. “Competitive spirit drives and creates value in distinctive ways. We need to teach in a way that fosters this spirit. Students trained just to use technology increasingly add little value and are replaceable. If you teach them to creatively approach problems, jobs will always be available for them, because they will always be able to create value.”