AI and The Future of Learning: Conversations with Pioneering Scholars

Feb. 28, 2024
An Image depicting a hand writing "AI" on a screen.

"If you're not both totally excited and totally terrified about what's going on in AI, you're not paying attention."

This captivating statement set the tone for a thought-provoking “AI in Teaching and Learning" conversation about the intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and education. The discussion, moderated by Darcy Van Patten, Chief Technology Officer at the University of Arizona, focused on how AI tools can revolutionize teaching and learning experiences.

Voices from the Panel: Pioneering Scholars in AI and Education

Panelists included Greg Heileman, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who brought his experience in academic administration and strategic planning to the discussion. Emily Jo Schwaller, Assistant Professor of Practice, University Center for Assessment, Teaching, and Technology (UCATT), contributed her expertise in technology, future faculty development, and writing practices in academia. Dawn Hunziker, Associate Director for the University of Arizona's Disability Resource Center, shared insights on digital and physical accessibility in academia. Bryan Carter, Director of the Center for Digital Humanities and Associate Professor in Africana Studies, provided expertise on the use of immersive technologies in education. And Jackson Grove, a student majoring in Information Science, offered his perspective on AI applications in student engagement programs.

Historical Insights and Modern Parallels: From Calculators to AI

Grove drew an analogy between early responses to calculators and current perceptions of AI. Calculators were once seen as cheating devices, but they’re now considered to be indispensable learning tools. His comments struck a chord; they reminded me of what Dean Kirsten Limesand had to say on this when I interviewed her in the Fall 2023 semester. The comparison to calculators shed light on debate about integrating AI into education and the necessity of adapting policies and practices to harness technology effectively. Panelists emphasized the importance of teaching students how to use AI tools responsibly, how to evaluate critically the results generated by these technologies, and how to encourage students to engage with AI as a learning aid rather than a definitive answer provider. With these strategies, educators can empower students to navigate the complexities of modern academic environments.

Equitable Access and Inclusivity: AI's Impact on Academic Opportunities

Just as past technological advancements have created divides in access and opportunity, the integration of AI in education presents both challenges and opportunities for ensuring equity and representation. Ensuring access to AI technologies is essential to promoting inclusivity and diversity in academic settings. As graduate students, this is something we should not simply leave to the authorities. In order not to be left out by technologies as they advance, we need to explore their responsible application to our learning and research, and we should consider how they can be used for more inclusive classrooms. Engage with educators, peers, and administrators about AI — for example, the Artificial Intelligence Working Group on campus. Fortunately, the University Libraries have computer labs that all students can make use of if they do not have their own devices, and the University’s AI Working Group has resources on these tools, training, information, and ethical guidelines.

During the panel discussion, Schwaller noted, "AI isn't solely writing, and writing isn't always just text. It's the link between images and text. It's all these different things.” This multifaceted nature of AI is good news for graduate students across the board, as AI will benefit not only those in writing heavy fields but also those who work with images, audio, video, and even mathematics, statistics and computer languages.

AI Technologies and Accessibility: Leveling the Playing Field

Hunziker added that for students with disabilities, AI technology holds the promise of leveling the playing field and providing new opportunities for academic success. By embracing inclusive design principles and accessibility standards in the development and implementation of AI tools, institutions can create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment that benefits all students, including those with disabilities. 

AI tools use deep learning techniques to improve text-to-speech translation for visually-impaired students, and speech-to-text for those who are hearing-impaired. is one such tool that can be useful for text-to-speech. It is one example of AI’s ability to make positive impact and improve both learning and work experiences.

Consult the AI Work Group for their recommendations on tools you can use for your needs. 

Challenges and Solutions: Equipping Educators and Graduate Students

AI is revolutionizing the field of education by reshaping traditional teaching methods and offering new opportunities for personalized learning experiences. As AI technologies continue to evolve, educators are exploring innovative ways to leverage AI tools to enhance student engagement, promote critical thinking, and adapt instruction to meet the diverse needs of learners. 

On that note, Carter highlighted the transformative impact of AI on teaching methods: "Text engineering or prompt engineering teaches a student how to write, teaches them how to be very descriptive in their writing, but also then requires them to really creatively and critically reflect on how the image that was generated relates right back to the class.” This underscores the role of AI in fostering creativity, critical reflection, and deep learning among students, demonstrating the potential of AI to augment traditional teaching approaches. 

However, one of the challenges of AI in education lies in ensuring that educators are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively integrate AI into their teaching practices. As Patten notes, "…if I start to incorporate AI into my pedagogy, then I've got to keep up with that, right?" Professional development and training to support educators in leveraging AI technologies on behalf of student learning outcomes are important. Furthermore, graduate students will also have to keep up. I imagine a requirement for experience with AI tools will become more common in teaching, research, and outreach assistantship job postings, which are an essential source of funding and experience for graduate students. So we quite literally can not afford to let these technologies leave us behind, regardless of our field of work. Let us make use of available resources to learn about AI and get some form of training or practice so these changes do not catch us by surprise.

Personalization of Learning: AI's Influence on Tailored Education

One of the key ways that AI is reshaping teaching methods is through the personalization of learning experiences. I recently came across an article on LinkedIn that covered advances in AI-Enabled adaptive learning and how it is transforming the education system. I learned that AI-powered tools can analyze student data, preferences, and learning styles to deliver tailored content, feedback, and support. By providing individualized learning pathways, educators can address the unique needs of each student, promote self-directed learning, and enhance overall academic performance.

In addition, the future of AI in education offers exciting opportunities for graduate students to engage in collaborative projects and innovative research initiatives that fit their individualized professional pathway. By embracing AI as a tool for creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving, students can develop skills that are highly valued in the digital age.


If you want to learn more about AI, you can access the full panel discussion here. You could also join the AI Access & Integrity Working Group, which is comprised of small teams of faculty, staff, and students from across campus who are examining different aspects of AI at the University, specifically Education, Industry, Research, and Society. Their mission is to facilitate campus-wide conversations focused on access equity and academic integrity. Graduate students should be part of this inclusive dialogue as the rapid emergence of new technologies is creating opportunities and concerns that affect us.

Anesu Samuel Masango