Beyond the buzz: Unmasking the realities of AI adoption for teaching staff in higher education
The rapid and transformative innovation brought about by Artificial Intelligence (AI) is reshaping our world, impacting how we learn, communicate, and work. Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President of Microsoft aptly described this change: “AI developments we had expected around 2033 would arrive in 2023 instead… It’s now likely that 2023 will mark a critical inflection point for artificial intelligence”. Consequently, the landscape of higher education (HE) is undergoing significant changes, necessitating a corresponding evolution in the skills and knowledge of individuals.
Numerous articles have addressed the need for HE institutions to adapt to this ongoing transformation, placing emphasis on staff members to reinvent their learning and teaching processes, in addition to exploring assessment methods, challenges, advantages, and current and future applications of AI in HE. However, one aspect that has received insufficient attention is the wellbeing of teaching staff and the challenges associated with the adoption of AI.
Studies indicate that counselling and occupational health services for UK university staff increased by 50% to 300% between 2009 and 2016! The struggle to achieve a work-life balance due to the escalating expectations resulting from the ‘massification’ and ‘marketisation’ of the HE sector has contributed to this rise. The challenges have been further exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic, which required staff members to rapidly adapt to unconventional teaching methods that required new technological resources. Additionally, academics are further challenged with the reoccurrence of sudden technological disruptions, leading them to future proof the effective integration of AI in HE learning. These sudden changes significantly impact the mental health of teaching staff. Some examples include:
Ambiguity/uncertain environment: Most universities lack clear vision and policies regarding the integration of AI in learning and teaching. Consequently, staff members are uncertain about academic integrity cases arising from students' use of AI, given the lack of efficient detective tools.
Time demands: Staff members face increased time pressures as they need to learn and practice the use of different AI tools in their teaching. Additionally, time is required for module renovation to align with the knowledge and skill sets necessary for effective AI integration.
Technology literacy: The transformation from face-to-face to online teaching proved challenging, especially for staff members who lacked prior training in using technology for educational purposes. The same challenges apply to the use of AI and proficiency in utilising AI tools. Age plays a significant role, with older staff members facing more difficulties due to limited interaction with technology and lower acceptance of e-learning compared to younger colleagues, while inadequate support for new technological learnings remaining a challenge in many universities.
Attitudes towards AI: Just as staff members initially expressed scepticism about online learning and its efficiency, similar speculations exist regarding the use of AI in education. Negative attitudes have also emerged due to ethical considerations, such as the perception that AI could facilitate student cheating. Concerns about job security and the fear of being replaced by AI tools further contribute to negative attitudes.
Given the aforementioned challenges, which can increase stress levels, workload, and negatively impact staff wellbeing, HE institutions should consider the following measures to overcome these challenges:
Provide clear policies: Institutions should establish clear guidelines regarding the use of AI, including expectations for staff and students, as well as the consequences of unauthorised AI use.
Consider workload implications: The time required for redesigning teaching pedagogy, assessment methods, and learning how to integrate AI tools should be accounted for as part of staff workloads.
Offer proactive training: Conduct workshops that not only introduce staff members to various AI tools but also provide opportunities to practice using these tools and engage in personalised discussions on their application in different teaching contexts.
As HE institutions continue to embrace the integration of AI, it is essential to acknowledge and address the challenges faced by teaching staff. By implementing clear policies, considering workload implications, and providing proactive training opportunities, institutions can support staff well-being while facilitating the effective integration of AI in teaching and learning.
Dr Doaa Shohaieb, Lecturer in Marketing, Aston Business School, Aston University.
Dr Iftakar Haji, Lecturer in Marketing, Aston Business School, Aston University.