AI in higher education – A tool for better learning?

Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into education has sparked a dynamic discussion about the potential gains and drawbacks of this technology. Benefits could include more personalised and efficient learning experiences and increased accessibility to information. Challenges may well centre on privacy concerns, ethical considerations and the potential for AI systems to preserve existing biases.

Given the complex issues surrounding AI in education, it is crucial to carefully weigh these benefits and challenges to make informed decisions, for instance, about incorporating ChatGPT into the education system.


ChatGPT, like any AI language model, has limitations regarding its accuracy and handling of complex or abstract concepts. It may still produce incorrect or biased outputs despite advanced training on a large text repository.

ChatGPT, like any AI language model, is only as good as the data it has been trained on, and it may not have been exposed to a diverse range of cultural perspectives and experiences. As a result, it may not always respond in a culturally sensitive manner and it may be affected by bias.

It is thus argued that fostering a culture of inclusion and respect within organisations and communities where AI systems are developed and used is essential. In a multicultural environment, lecturers need to be aware of these limitations.

Despite its limitations, the accessibility of information through ChatGPT has led to a shift in educational approaches, emphasising a more skills-based and problem-solving focused approach. In today’s fast-moving, technology-driven world, the accessibility of information through sources like ChatGPT has changed how we approach education.

Learning by rote is no longer enough; students must be equipped to apply and use the information they can access effectively. A multi-faceted approach, incorporating various effective pedagogical methods, is needed.

On the one hand, ChatGPT can provide students with instant access to information, but, on the other, there are concerns that it could be used to maintain the trend of ghost writing and papermills, which have long been damaging academic integrity in education.

The impact of ChatGPT in the jobs market will depend on how it is employed and implemented, as well as the broader economic and technological context. In keeping ahead of technology, universities should consider incorporating robotics, data analysis, artificial intelligence and digital ethics into their courses, allowing students to develop the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in a digital world.

Teaching needs to change

Bloom’s taxonomy emphasises understanding and remembering knowledge in the first year, analysing and applying it in the second year, evaluating and creating new knowledge in the third year and so on.

While there may be limitations to this simplified approach and it may not adequately capture the full range of learning outcomes and experiences in higher education, it is clear education must shift towards teaching students how to effectively apply and use the information they access rather than just memorising it.

This shift towards a more skills-based and problem-solving focused approach to education is crucial in preparing students for the rapidly changing and technology-driven workforce. It also encourages critical thinking and creativity, essential 21st century skills.

In tertiary education, it is imperative that a student can create their own meaning from learned material by actively engaging with the content, critically reflecting on their own experiences and perspectives, connecting the material to their personal and professional goals, and synthesising new ideas and information.

Activities include discussing the learning content with peers, applying what they have learned to real-world scenarios, creating visual aids or summaries and writing about their understanding. Furthermore, seeking out diverse perspectives and intentionally exposing students to different viewpoints can help broaden their perspective and deepen their knowledge.

AI considerably impacts upon traditional teaching and learning methods, and this advancement has created a shift towards more student-centred and experiential learning methods.

Examples include project-based learning that essentially encourages students to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world projects and problems. Project-based learning therefore provides students with a context for their skills and helps them understand how to use them in the real world.

Another concept, collaborative learning, is achieved through group work and collaboration. The premise of working with others allows students to learn from one another and apply their knowledge in a supportive and dynamic environment. Experiential learning (work-integrated learning) methods also empower students to use their knowledge in real-world settings through hands-on and practical experiences such as job placements, simulations and field trips.

And lastly, integrating technology – like gamification, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality – into the educational process is an added element in achieving this change, as it might be argued that technology can indeed be used as a tool to facilitate learning and problem solving.

Assessment also needs to change

This shift towards student-centred and experiential learning methods highlights the importance of reimagining assessment methods to evaluate student learning and progress accurately.

Traditional, memorisation-based assessments should be replaced by more project-based assessments focusing on applying knowledge. Project-based assessments allow students to demonstrate their ability to use the information they have learned and think critically and creatively.

Also, AI-powered tools for grading and scoring assignments have made assessments more objective, efficient and scalable. They have mainly been beneficial in large classes where manual grading can be time consuming and human resource intensive.

In contrast, relying solely on AI for assessment can lead to a lack of human interaction and personalised rich feedback, which is crucial for student development and growth. There are also concerns about the accuracy and fairness of AI-powered assessment tools, particularly regarding subjective tasks such as essay writing.

Therefore, lecturers could challenge students to learn and develop critical thinking skills using ChatGPT in several ways.

First, prompts such as “How could you use your prior knowledge and skills to tackle this new challenge?” and “What strategies would you use to overcome any obstacles?” encourage students to think critically and solve problems.

Second, by using ChatGPT to create quizzes and assessments that test students’ understanding of the material, teachers can regularly assess students’ strengths and areas for improvement.

Third, ChatGPT can generate differentiated assignments tailored to each student’s needs and abilities, providing increasingly complex tasks to challenge each student. In addition, ChatGPT can create examples of high quality responses to assignments and tasks to provide students with quality examples.

Academic integrity

Academic integrity is the ethical foundation of education, and students and lecturers must be fully aware of its importance. To avoid AI undermining academic integrity, universities must implement clear guidelines and policies on using AI in education and academic work. This involves educating students about academic integrity and the dangers of depending too heavily on AI systems.

A lecturer’s primary goal is to help students learn and grow. But in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world, it is not enough to transmit information and expect students to absorb it. Instead, we must approach teaching tailored to each student’s needs and experiences. This approach is where humanised pedagogy comes in.

Embracing a humanised and transformative approach to education supports promoting academic integrity among students. In an African context, it recognises everyone’s story, given the rich histories and diversity.

A humanised and transformative methodology creates a personalised and meaningful learning experience that inspires students to engage with the learning material more deeply. By emphasising the values of critical thinking, ethical decision-making and individual responsibility, a humanised and transformative approach can help students understand the importance of academic integrity.

It also fosters a supportive learning environment where students feel comfortable asking questions, seeking clarification and leaning in, reducing the likelihood of academic wrongdoing and thus empowering students to take ownership of their education and encouraging a sense of pride and responsibility in their academic achievements.

By using instances of plagiarism as opportunities for learning and growth, students are given a chance to reflect on their actions and develop a deeper understanding of what constitutes academic integrity.

A humanised transformative pedagogy can be crucial in preparing students for successful futures, both in and outside the educational setting. It can involve using plagiarism detection software, such as Turnitin, to educate students on proper citation and reference of sources. This can help students understand the importance of original work in the academic setting and encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and strive for academic integrity.

Luckily, free tools like, for example, ChatGPT, Zero, AL Content Detector and AI Detector, can assist lecturers in detecting AI-generated text. Some are, however, more accurate than others.

Still, it is worth noting that AI language models have progressed drastically, and it might be tough to distinguish between AI-generated text and human written text in some cases. However, various methods can identify AI-generated text, including looking for specific patterns or stylistic variations, analysing the text’s semantic logic, or using AI detection tools.

Using similarity detection software like Turnitin can be a valuable tool in supporting the goals of a humanised and transformative pedagogy by fostering a deeper understanding of academic integrity and promoting student engagement and growth.

To this end, Bell Hooks’ pedagogy taught valuable lessons in creating a learning environment that prioritises critical thinking, self-reflection and empowering students as active participants in the learning process.

She wrote: “The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility, we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality, even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.”

Learning thus provides an opportunity to create an ultimate environment. Notwithstanding the limitations of a classroom, it still offers a place of potential where individuals can work towards gaining freedom through the openness of mind and heart, facing reality and imagining ways to break boundaries; therefore, a means of practising freedom.

If education means practising freedom, we must prepare students for the fourth and fifth industrial revolutions, which requires a holistic education approach incorporating effective pedagogical methods.

By focusing on applying knowledge, thus making new meanings of known knowledge and developing 21st century skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving, students will be equipped with the skills they need to succeed in the technology-driven world of tomorrow.

A tool to enhance learning?

Rather than resisting advances, universities must embrace technological advances and find creative and meaningful ways to incorporate them into their educational project. We should perhaps rethink how we teach and how we can achieve learning outcomes better in an ultimate effort to thrive in a digital world.

The integration of ChatGPT into education has the potential to bring about significant benefits and challenges. While it is essential to be aware of the potential pitfalls, ChatGPT in education can also be leveraged as a tool to enhance the learning experience for students and lecturers alike.

By embracing new technologies and innovative teaching methods, the education system can remain relevant and effective in preparing students for future challenges.

Jacques Viljoen is a well-respected educational psychologist and academic, recognised for his expertise in the fields of quality assurance, staff and student support, and development in education. He is affiliated with the South African College of Applied Psychology, a premier higher education institution accredited by the South African Qualifications Authority and the Council on Higher Education.