How to Lean In on AI in Higher Education Without Leaving Human Connection Behind

Developing a smart strategy with your institution’s goals in mind.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dave Marshall


Generative AI is having transformative impacts on many industries, but when it comes to higher education, practitioners need to be even more thoughtful about how they implement tech tools.

What do ChatGPT and AI-based communications tools have to offer higher education settings? How might these tools enable or complicate the task of building relationships with students? And how can educators and institutions keep prioritizing empathy and human connection as they increase student engagement?

‘What do ChatGPT and AI-based communications tools have to offer higher education settings? How might these tools enable or complicate the task of building relationships with students?’

Let’s start with that first question.

What Can ChatGPT and AI-Based Communications Tools Add to Higher Ed Environments?

Firstly, there are many kinds of tools that fall under the umbrella of “AI for communication.” From student engagement software to CRMs, ERP systems to fundraising platforms, AI tools can add to the educational experience in many different ways.

Perhaps the most important thing to realize about AI in higher education is the time element. Time is education’s most powerful (and scarce) resource. More time means more individual attention for students. More time means learning consolidation and lessons that move beyond the basics. More time means less stress for everyone. Using AI for communication can carve out more of this precious time.

For example, administrators who incorporate ChatGPT into their communication with students can use the tool to practice more proactive message-sending. Making updates to class locations or parking instructions automatically — this instantly saves an administrator a lot of time, which they can spend on conversations that need more detailed attention.

At the same time, AI can also make personalization easier to achieve. In an environment where time is so valuable, establishing personal contact between educators, administrators, and students can be challenging. AI can ease the way for relationships to be built by offering institutions easy ways to hyper-personalize their messages.

3 Strategies to Successfully Harness AI in Higher Education Communication

These benefits show that it is worth investing in AI for communication, but how should institutions balance investment with caution? When cyber safety, security, privacy, and originality are so vital in a higher education context, what strategies can providers use to keep student well-being top of mind?

1. Integrate tools into the whole plan.

The more integrated tools are into the broader strategies and goals of an institution, the better able teachers will be to follow AI recommendations without overstepping their duty of care.

Education providers will need to balance the need for automation and proactivity with the need to be present and responsive in the moment. They will need AI-assisted decision-making to slot into their human-led decision-making strategy, not the other way around. Teachers will need to evaluate tools according to their institutional values and ethics — blending tools into an integrated engagement strategy that keeps AI’s influence visible and manageable.

2. Check in for mental health.

It will be very important for educators to start using AI not just to make their jobs easier but to improve well-being in their institutions. If AI’s major benefit is about saving time, how can practitioners use this extra time to help, soothe, reassure, and check in with students to make their lives better?

Here’s where higher-ed texting can come in extremely useful. We’re increasingly looking at generations of students who use mobile as their primary form of communication. Meanwhile, institutions are over-busy, sending out letters, emails, and bulletins. Texting can break through the noise of mass communication and make valuable, personal contact with a student: Check-in, see how their day is going, collect pain points and concerns, give guidance, and receive prompt feedback.

3. Play the long game.

One of the most impactful AI strategies for higher-education planners is sending proactive messages that solve problems before they arise. Using their student-engagement software, administrators can discover moments of friction or distress in students’ journeys.

‘One of the most impactful AI strategies for higher-education planners is sending proactive messages that solve problems before they arise.’

For example, you might discover that transfer students are losing engagement and getting lost when trying to transfer credits from one institution to another. Armed with this information, you could use ChatGPT to draft a one-stop piece of content, clarifying the processes where people are getting stuck. You can then use your higher-ed texting tool to proactively send this out to potential transfers before they need the info.

In what feels like a race for better communication with students, higher-education providers can get lost in the abundance of tools and tips out there. When using AI for communication, it is important to first understand what your goals are. How could student engagement software help a student feel more able to cope with the demands of higher education? How could texting develop educator empathy? These are the kinds of questions to pose as you grow your institution’s generative AI strategy.

A serial edtech entrepreneur, Dave Marshall is passionate about revolutionizing how colleges and universities motivate, engage, and grow individuals and communities. The way he sees it, a balance of automation and human interaction is the key to a more connected higher ed, and a more connected higher ed is the only way to a thriving global community. Dave founded and is currently President of Mongoose, which partners with over 4,000 departments across 950+ institutions.


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