Chat GPT: Is It Time to Make It Your New Student Affairs Friend?

ChatGPT—the acronym for Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer—is not coming for your job. In fact, it may even make it easier, according to a number of researchers looking at how the artificial intelligence-driven chatbot tool is being used through higher education. With its ability to digest and provide direct information to individuals, just like the chatbots we have seen for years being used in areas like customer service, the advanced artificial intelligence tool is now providing answers to endless number of queries, from how to lower monthly bills, create a nutrition and exercise plan, and even simulate an interview for jobseekers, according to David Lumb’s article on CNET. 

EDUCAUSE reports that in higher education, ChatGPT is currently used most frequently to preserve academic integrity using plagiarism software and to provide automated proctoring apps, but it is also being implemented to enhance student success, providing opportunities to better serve student with disabilities, keep students informed about academic progress, and provide instruction on better communication and job skills. 

It is true that colleges and universities have felt the impact of ChatGPT as numerous students turned to the tool to write essays and term papers, spurning new conversations regarding academic integrity and plagiarism, but the same tools are more frequently being implemented to combat those inappropriate uses. Embracing the tool and its many uses, as is the case at a number of universities, seems to be the prevailing voice on campus.

The University of Florida has been offering introductory courses on AI literacy to all of its students since 2020, and now some departments and schools make it a requirement, particularly in courses teaching analytics. Georgia State University and Elon University are some of the schools promoting student success through AI tools, including outreach to student who fail to attend class. And in Canada, the AI tutoring tool Studnt is providing real-time, one-on-one support.

These uses of virtual assistants have expanded into providing residence life information, library hours, campus activity information, and even dining information. Saint Louis University has distributed the Amazon virtual assistant Alexa Dots throughout campus buildings and established an Ask SLU personalized information center; others like Northeastern University and Arizona State have also implemented Alexa on a smaller scale. Whether it is Siri, Cortana, Alexa, or other coming virtual assistant tools, it would seem that AI is here to stay on campuses, whether institutions are prepared or not.

There remains an issue with academic integrity, AI, and the student population, but the numbers show that students are going to continue to use the tools no matter. The Time for Class 2023 study by Tyton Partners reported that instructors placed concerns about student cheating as the top instructional challenge in 2023, up from tenth a year ago; yet only 3% of institutions have a formal policy on AI tools. Turning to students, 51% said they would continue using AI tools even if it is prohibited.

Research indicates that an ongoing exploration of the potential of AI in businesses is influencing the demand for skills needed in new hires, making clear that the increase in use of artificial intelligence will result in an increased demand for employees with knowledge of “communication skills, thinking, and problem-solving,” according to Hamid Nemati, professor of information systems at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro. This is quite encouraging for those students who complement their educational experience with engagement in student activities, centers, and student unions. 

There is no doubt engagement within our student communities will result in the development and enhancement of these types of skills, and student activities and employment within student centers and unions have long been a place where students can grow in ways outside the classroom. While AI may be changing the manner in which education is delivered, the importance of that work will continue, and failure to find ways to adopt this disruptive technology may well be disadvantageous.

The EDUCAUSE poll found that 36% of the respondents were using chatbots on campus, specifically in admissions, student affairs, career service, and other student support services. They were also being used for tech support, answering human resource benefits questions, service desk questions, parking questions, and social media analysis.

But the same research noted that campuses seem ill-prepared to implement the use of AI within their operations, as two-thirds of the respondents noted they have institutional deficiencies that prevent adoption and maintenance. Three-quarters responded that ineffective data management and integration (72%), insufficient technical expertise (78%), financial issues (67%), immature data governance (66%), and insufficient leadership support (56%) are the leading challenges. There are also concerns about ethics of AI use (68%) and algorithmic bias (67%).

At the University of Colorado–Boulder, the Division of Student Affairs openly directs students on how they can use AI to improve job search capabilities and increase job proficiency. The recommendations include use of the resume tool VMock, cover letter preparation, assistance with writing effective emails, interview preparation, and how to understand how companies are using AI.

Student affairs professionals need to develop a comprehensive understanding of the applications for ChatGPT to empower not only their students, but also themselves and their coworkers. Imagine the way these capabilities could assist with event planning and production, student employment and analysis, diversity and inclusivity practices, and general assistance:

  • ChatGPT can remember previously provided information that can be used to create future connected and coherent responses.
  • It is programmable for tone, vocabulary, and
    multiple languages, in addition to spelling and grammar checking.
  • It can be programmed and reprogrammed with updates to identify and deny responses to inappropriate requests from users.
  • Since it has technical, computational, and mathematical skills, it can provide data analytics and respond to questions about room capacities, square footage, temperature changes, and other environmental issues.

When looking for new ways to streamline processes, enhance student engagement, or reevaluate budgets, exploring the potential for AI to become a tool in addressing these challenges could be critical. Automating some tasks can free up time for engagement and innovation; new data-driven insights may translate into richer student experiences; and discovering cost savings may result in the implementation of higher-value activities.