Are Kenyan varsity lecturers ready for AI challenges?

Wednesday, April 17th, 2024 07:00 | By
A past graduation ceremony at a public university.
A past graduation ceremony at a public university. PHOTO/Print

We live in a world that is virtually run and controlled by Artificial Intelligence (AI), which uses algorithms to perform several tasks for us. AI is a replica of human intelligence that allows machines to think and learn like humans. It accomplishes this by absorbing large amounts of data for training. This data is analysed for correlation and patterns to create predictions based on the command prompt.

I’ve seen videos online where university graduates credit ChatGPT, an AI tool, for helping them accomplish their academic courses. This raises the question of whether our university instructors are prepared for this major paradigm shift in which technology has made it easier for a student to write a world-class essay with the help of AI.

Not only in Kenya, but around the world, there are many instructors from the analogue age who are more comfortable with basic computer literacy in Microsoft Office. This stands in stark contrast to university students who were born in the digital era and are well-versed in fundamental computer programming and information technology.

The question is if Kenyan lecturers have the knowledge to spot an essay prepared by AI. Should universities shift their assignment format from fewer takeaways to formal essay writing in an exam-controlled setting?

In Hong Kong, for example, educational institutions are encouraged to teach students how to use AI responsibly so that it does not deplete their critical thinking abilities. It is consequently vital that institutions in Kenya begin by upskilling their lecturers with IT and AI knowledge.

For example, Singapore’s budget for 2024 includes initiatives to boost AI training for its workforce, recognising the necessity of providing persons with AI skills. This initiative intends to equip the workforce for the growing demand for AI-related occupations while also ensuring Singapore’s competitiveness in the digital economy.

For a long time, in Kenyan universities, some graduates had their projects and thesis done by ghostwriters who could be unemployed graduates. You will often find someone with a master’s or doctoral degree lacking the substance and content of their specialty. This brings into question if some lecturers are aware of Turnitin, the plagiarism checker, or whether their universities have subscribed to it. These AI-generated essays, as well as those that rely on ghostwriters can be eradicated using advanced AI technologies.

To eliminate the ghost authors, institutions should convert from Ms Word to Google Docs, which are open to anyone with a Gmail address. Students will be required to use Jamie Todd Rubin’s programme, “Google Docs Writing Tracker”. This logs the day-to-day progress of a project, including word count and time spent working on each document. The progress is documented individually on the Project Progress tab, making it easy to see the overall progress and time spent on the project.

Other key AI tools that institutions can train their instructors on include PERPLEXITY AI, which combines search engine and ChatGPT chatbot capabilities. It analyses real-time web data during AI interactions. It also significantly reduces search and compilation time. It outperforms the most recent online search plugin from ChatGPT in terms of stability and reliability.

Another key AI technique to learn is prompt engineering, which is the discipline of creating and refining prompts to efficiently employ language models (LMs) for a wide range of applications. A prompt is an order you give an AI, such as ChatGPT, to provide you with the information you seek.

Finally, a Hong-based AI startup has created an assessment called Pregrade. It gives students meaningful essay criticism using a specified rubric. It seeks to speed up the essay evaluation process by initially grading essays and creating personalised feedback for each student.

The lecturer simply scans the essay and uploads it to the Pregrade website, where it is graded using the lecturer’s criteria. Of course the lecturer must check and add comments to the final product. If we want to become Africa’s premier academic research centre, all lecturers must be prepared for the future AI by embracing technology.

— The writer is teacher based in Hong Kong —[email protected]

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