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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson launches AI working group to discuss the future of AI in higher education

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kemper/Unsplash.

The newly established artificial intelligence (AI) working group at Emerson College will be meeting for the first time on Thursday to discuss the future of AI in higher education.

The group, which was launched this semester and is led by Assistant Provost for Faculty Affairs Brooke Knight, will primarily be made up of faculty and a select number of staff members.

Currently, the group will consist of the School of Communication Dean Brent Smith, the Chief Information Officer Brian Basgen, and various other faculty members like communications professor Russell Newman.

The goal of this initiative is to give members a space to discuss pressing questions surrounding AI and its changing role in higher education. It will operate parallel to President Jay Bernhardt’s broader plan for the future of Emerson and will inform the college’s policy on AI for the foreseeable future, Knight said.

Students will not be a part of the working group for the time being, but there will be information-gathering surveys that they can fill out in the future, Knight said.

However, Knight made it clear that student’s input was going to be important in the decision-making process, and that once the working group officially meets, there will be more information about student participation.

Knight was recently appointed to this role by Bernhardt and said that he intends to help shape the college’s strategic plan around this revolutionary technology through the group’s discussions and decisions.

“In the past year, the faculty’s initial reaction towards AI was worried and a little defensive,” he said. 

Last school year, he explained, faculty members were operating in uncharted territory. For the first time in history, students were a few clicks away from reliably and conveniently cheating on any assignment handed out by a professor.

Beyond the advent of using AI to cheat, Knight said faculty members worry that students are often using AI as a source of information instead of their professors, which “fundamentally challenges” their role as educators.

However, Knight said that this semester, Emerson professors are increasingly using AI as an educational resource, stating that over a quarter of the classes at the school have started to intentionally engage AI as a part of the curriculum. 

“Especially this semester, a number of faculty members have started thinking about the possibilities of AI,” he said. “They are asking themselves: what can AI do to help enhance student’s learning in my class?”

In the spring semester, Emerson will offer two AI-specific classes, including “Topics in Business Enterprises: AI Critical Explorations” and “Topics in Interdisciplinary Studies: AI: Critical and Creative Explorations.”

Knight said that he expects Emerson will begin to offer more major-specific classes that prominently feature AI in the course material, like an “AI in journalism” course. Tentatively, he said that these classes could be offered during fall 2024.

Currently, Emerson has a basic framework for the use of AI in the classroom, allowing faculty members to assign one of three designations to every assignment, according to Knight. These options include: working with AI, working around AI, and working against AI. Details about each designation, as well as a general description of the current policies, are available on Emerson’s webpage

Perhaps more importantly, it has also become abundantly clear to Knight and Bernhardt that the institution has a responsibility to their students to adapt curriculum to fit the changing circumstances.

“Especially as a college of communication, AI is going to have a significant influence on the fields that our students are going to enter,” Knight said. 

Knight said that he has been working closely with Bernhardt throughout his transitional process, and was the lead convenor for the “Future of Emerson” project, a series of recommendations for the new president. 

He recounted many conversations that he had with Bernhardt about the prospects of working alongside AI both inside the classroom and in everyday life. 

“I knew that [Bernhardt] was going to be working on a strategic plan,” he said. “So, I just had ChatGPT draw one up for him.”

He said that Bernhardt has been challenging faculty to think about the institution’s role in preparing students for “a world where artificial intelligence is a part of their everyday life.”

Although Knight was enthusiastic about the possibilities of incorporating AI into student life at Emerson, he also made sure to clarify that the working group is still in its infancy. Knight said that the first meeting next week will likely just set the stage for more important action in the future.

“This is just the initial launch,” he said. “We will have a much larger meeting at the beginning of next semester.”

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About the Contributor
Jack Burns
Jack Burns, Staff Writer
Jack Burns (he/him) is a junior journalism major at Emerson. He is currently a staff writer for the Beacon. Aside from the Beacon, Jack is a member of the men’s lacrosse team at Emerson and enjoys taking pictures of the city in his free time.

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