University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee


Fall 2023

Campus Magazine

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Emerging technologies in education

A conversation with Karen A. Holbrook, PhD

USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook has been on the front line of change at many institutions and is always interested in learning more about emerging trends that impact education. Recently, artificial intelligence sparked her interest and how it is impacting virtually every field, but in particular, how it is being employed in education.

The emerging technologies-artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), speech recognition, robotics, the internet of things (IoT), virtual and augmented reality and even blockchain-are so infused into all domains of society that we rarely recognize them as anything unusual. AI is often how we order food, call for a car (Uber), play our choice of music, get answers to questions, check into an airport or hotel and provide surveillance for our homes. Collectively, these “tools” are designed to accelerate and increase the accuracy of decision-making through analysis of massive amounts of data. In education, these technologies ease administrative processes, increase efficiencies and prepare students for a new world order of work.

Q: How are AI and other emerging technologies being adopted in education?
A: First of all, adopting emerging technologies in education is not new, but only recently has become more commonplace in K-12 education, and in higher education, an array of new technologies has grown beyond “novelty” to becoming mainstream.

What is amazing is how AI has been adopted in the elementary grades. Several companies have designed minicourses and projects for K-4 students to use teachable machines, pattern radio and even semi-conductors to learn through AI. Squirrel AI Learning® was the first company to create adaptive learning allowing a student to focus only on new material, advance at a customized rate and add tutoring as needed. AI4K12, an open learning platform, has developed a full set of guidelines for teaching AI in kindergarten through high school, and AI-in-a-Box uses project-based learning and team-based problem solving to use AI to explore real-world challenges. The learning analytics from these large educational projects can model student misconceptions, identify students at risk of failure and provide real-time feedback.

AI benefits higher education in both administrative and academic areas. Georgia State University, for example, uses Pounce, a chatbot, to personalize support for each student from initial request through graduation. Many other universities, including USF, automate messages to students, provide targeted instruction, intelligent tutoring and career services.

AI is also driving innovation in the classroom through new programs. The University of Utah, for example, has developed an AI concentration on entertainment arts, engineering and games, and UCLA Law has received funding to study potentially disruptive societal and legal changes. AI is a component of new media training in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University. The University of Florida (UF) has just announced a $70M partnership with NVIDIA to provide the fastest artificial intelligence supercomputer in higher education. Every UF student will have a class that exposes them to AI concepts.

All 40 of the top AI programs have created research groups, programs, centers and institutes that involve student researchers. Examples of such programs are robotics and cyber-physical systems, robots learning to cook by watching YouTube, intelligent transportation systems and machine learning for Alzheimer’s predictions. An intelligent system at UGA rapidly determines which cancer drugs are likely to work best on patients who express specific genetic markers.

Many of the AI programs collaborate with industry. Stanford AI, for example, has partnerships with Google, Panasonic and Samsung. MIT has been on the cutting edge of AI research since the 1950s.  In 2017, the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab was developed as a partnership to promote the evolution and universal adoption of AI, and in 2019 opened the Schwarzman College of Computing with a focus on computing and AI, policy, economics, and the ethical dilemmas of technology.

Adopting AI and other emerging technologies is also high on the agendas of other counties. The United Arab Emirates adopted a National Artificial Intelligence Strategy to position the Emirates to become a global leader in AI by integrating it into business, education, community and governmental services. This month the Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), the world’s first research-based graduate AI university, will open. It has established partnerships with some of the world’s top-ranked universities as well as with many local businesses and government.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the UK has developed a nationwide program at 200 universities to offer master’s degrees and 16 universities to offer PhDs in AI to as many as 1,000 researchers, business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Q: Blockchain is an emerging technology that is recognized for its role in powering cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin.  Are there benefits in education?

A: Blockchain is typically associated with cryptocurrencies, but it is also being applied to virtually every field and industry. In higher education it is both a useful tool as well as a component of the curriculum.

Blockchain is a transparent, peer-to-peer distributed network of computers, a decentralized shared platform and a democratized global ledger of transactions organized in the cloud. It is immutable and cryptographically secured. No single entity can enact changes or is in charge. An attempt to remove or add a false document to a blockchain will break the chain and immediately render it invalid.

Blockchain is being used to help students consolidate information about educational and training programs into a single, universal, secure, permanent and unified record. The student has access to an identifier that can be provided to a future employer, for example, to validate credentials. Georgia Tech’s Blockchain Credential Project coalesces student academic information into an immutable transcript, and MIT Media Lab has registered a system of digital credentials on the bitcoin blockchain.

Universities are also promoting courses on blockchain technology. Berkeley has an open-access online blockchain certification course. Columbia University has launched the Columbia-IBM Center for Blockchain and Data Transparency and created an incubator for startup businesses. Columbia also offers several interdisciplinary courses that focus on the technical, legal, social and regulatory aspects of blockchain. Job postings requiring blockchain skills increased 500 percent year-over-year.

The state of Wyoming is an international leader in blockchain technology because of its progressive laws around blockchain and cryptocurrency. A Blockchain Task Force works to enhance blockchain business and recruit blockchain companies to the state. IOHK, an international technology company, has funded the University of Wyoming to establish an Advanced Blockchain R&D Laboratory that will focus on the role of blockchain in solving world problems.

A few universities have accepted cryptocurrencies as philanthropic gifts. Harvard was the first university to invest endowment funds in cryptocurrency tokens, Florida Gulf Coast University accepted a single bitcoin donation in 2014 and New College of Florida pioneered a bitcoin donation system.

Q: What are your observations about the pace of acceptance of emerging technologies in higher education?”

A: Every day new programs and applications are designed where emerging technologies help academics take a leap forward to increase communications, efficiencies, predictions and data analysis and to prepare students for a new workforce. With the many opportunities for students to learn with and about these technologies, universities, such as ours, do not need to ask whether students are ready for college, but rather are our colleges ready for the students?

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About Sarasota-Manatee Campus Magazine

Momentum is published by USF Research and Innovation and the Office of University Communications and Marketing on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. The University of South Florida, a member of the Association of American Universities, is a high-impact research university with campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee.