Ferris State University is breaking new ground by enrolling AI students in its courses. This innovative experiment aims to blend AI technology with the traditional student experience, but it raises critical questions about privacy, bias, and the authenticity of the student journey.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Ferris State University is enrolling AI students to explore the intersection of technology and education, offering insights into AI’s role in academia.
  2. Concerns regarding student privacy, authenticity of the student experience, and potential intellectual property issues have been raised by academics.
  3. The university is committed to addressing these concerns while leveraging AI to complement, not replace, the traditional education experience.

Ferris State University in Michigan is pushing the boundaries of education by enrolling two AI students, Ann and Fry, in their courses. While this experiment promises to offer valuable insights into AI’s role in academia, it also sparks concerns among academics and experts about privacy, bias, and the authenticity of student experiences.

Balancing Innovation and Ethical Concerns

Ferris State University stands out as one of the few institutions in the United States offering an undergraduate degree program in Artificial Intelligence AI. Keen to explore the potential applications of AI in education, the university embarked on a unique experiment, enrolling AI students to evaluate their curriculum and refine program offerings.

To “build” these AI students, human students played a pivotal role. They were asked to provide insights into their experiences, anxieties, and emotions during their time at the university. Ann and Fry, the AI students, were intentionally designed to be neutral, devoid of race, political affiliation, or gender, serving as a blank canvas for researchers.

While the pilot program has not yet fully launched, Ann and Fry are set to be enrolled in a general education course this semester. Initially, they will participate by listening to online classes. However, the university has grander aspirations for them, envisioning AI students becoming classroom robots capable of interacting with other students.

There are many cases where in academia we haven’t caught up to the changing student environment—the pressures students are under, the expectations of students post-COVID, the delivery of faculty to these students. This will help us stay abreast of those needs and identify gaps to deliver excellence in online and hybrid environments.

Ann and Fry will undergo the full student experience, receiving grades, homework assignments, and engaging in class discussions. The ultimate goal is to have these AI students complete their Ph.D.s and potentially work as teaching assistants or tutors in the future, expanding their role in education.

Elise Mueller, associate director of teaching innovation at Duke University, suggests a practical application for AI students: “Part of what could get implemented is feeding information into a course, where students can ask [the] AI questions and get clarification.

Concerns and Skepticism

While the prospect of AI students is undeniably intriguing, it raises a series of valid concerns among academics. The primary apprehensions include:

  1. 🕵️‍♂️ Student Privacy: Many academics worry about the potential invasion of student privacy. Stephanie Fiore, senior director at Temple University’s Center for Advancement and Teaching, questions whether students would participate in discussions if they knew their data was being gathered. Privacy remains a significant ethical concern in the integration of AI into education.
  2. 🎓 Authenticity of Student Experience: Fiore and Stephen Aguilar, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, express skepticism about the AI students’ ability to authentically replicate the student experience. They argue that genuine insights into the student experience can be best obtained by directly engaging with real students.
  3. 💼 Intellectual Property: There are concerns about the intellectual property of professors. Integrating AI students into classrooms could potentially lead to the misuse or misappropriation of a professor’s teaching methods and materials.

Kasey Thompson addresses these concerns, particularly focusing on privacy and bias issues. She emphasizes that privacy safeguards and mechanisms will evolve alongside Ann and Fry’s roles. Thompson acknowledges that this initiative is a continuous learning process and an open research endeavor from the outset.

YETi CGI, a local Michigan company, is collaborating with Ferris State University in the research and development of the AI students. Josh Freeney, YETi’s co-founder, assures that students will give ongoing consent to learn alongside the AI students, ensuring transparency and respecting privacy.

Thompson underscores that the intention is not to replace the human experience with AI but to leverage technology to identify patterns, trends, and data points more efficiently. The goal is to complement traditional education with AI’s capabilities.

While some experts remain skeptical, Ferris State University sees this endeavor as an opportunity to push the boundaries of education, exploring the intersection of AI and academia in the ever-evolving landscape of higher education.


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