COVID-19’s Effect on the Higher Education Landscape and the Rise of Artificial Intelligence

We live in reality where rules are revised and limits are reviewed to accommodate a dynamic environment. COVID- 19 is no exception and it has necessitated new ways of thinking and shifts in perspectives. One of the sectors significantly affected by the COVID-19 crisis is higher

The crisis has revealed many challenges and gaps in higher education delivery. Technology has stepped in to fill in these gaps and many universities across the globe are compelled to adapt to the available technologies in order to continue their daily operations.

The crossing point of disruption and unpredictability caused by COVID-19 has given educators time to rethink the sector. While some are really struggling, the shift in the approach to learning will hopefully inspire a variety of innovations and eventually encourage the re-adjustment of educator and student engagement.

Through this experience, educators are encountering new approaches in education delivery that offer a lot of flexibility and benefits to students. During restricted movement directives issued by authorities across the globe, the number of educators and students who encounter learning interruption increases every day.

The forced adoption of technology-based remote learning delivery can be problematic without proper preparation and structure. The remote learning environment provides an option for education to be delivered on demand. It can be on or off line based on need, and enables connectivity and remote engagement with education content from homes.

In the event of crises or prolonged emergencies, the demand for a traditional classroom-setting evolving into a remote learning environment is unavoidable given safety aspects that need to be considered for both educators and students. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of transferring from face-to- face to remote learning is very much reliant on mindset readiness, technological proficiency and a strong student support mechanism.

For successful implementation of a remote learning environment, one should consider a proper communication protocol between the educators and students, clear guidance and instructions with established procedures, and a dynamic lesson design. In addition to transformation of classroom setting and education delivery to meet the requirements of a remote learning environment, the role of educators must change too.

Future education is profoundly intertwined with the development of technology. Hence, there is a strong call for educators to embrace the knowledge of trending technology and to keep themselves updated with the latest innovations.

The traditional roles as well as functions of an educator to share information, impart knowledge and instill values to their students is to innovate with ICT learning environment and system.

In today’s context, any form of information can be acquired with just one click of a mouse. This could mean that the role of educators is relieved from the traditional teaching requirement to a more technically savvy approach.

In other words, educators need to facilitate students to build their resilience and adaptability to face professional life post- graduation. In this ever-changing environment, self- resilience, self-learning and versatile to adapt will be critical for students to excel later in their professional fields.

COVID-19 has demonstrated how much we are universally interconnected. Although we are unable to travel across borders or inbound, we quickly adapt to the available technology in achieving certain objectives. Most universities like other sectors have banned all non-essential travel, meetings and gatherings for employees and students. Online video conferencing has been predominantly used as an efficient alternative.

From meetings, classroom tutorials, workshops and seminars, video conferencing has become a popular method of real-time interaction while observing personal safety through social distancing.

The artificial intelligence or AI application in education has become more relevant due to the prolonged requirement of social distancing, even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. In other sectors AI has quickly become a powerful new technology. The education industry deals with a huge amount of data; hence this is where AI becomes ultra-significant as it can develop many beneficial applications and programmes to empower both educators and students in achieving the desired learning objectives.

The development of e-learning content to promote conducive learning environment could include AI interactive interface platforms such as chatbots, AI content creator and AI video-based learning. The AI technology can examine and interpret huge data fields much faster than humans’ abilities.

It has the capability to focus on identifying student performance and subsequently developing a personalized curriculum and learning plan for each student. This student-centric approach would allow learners to choose their own pace and learning objectives based on individual interests.

Further to that, many other applications of AI in education can be developed to benefit both educators and students such as the intelligent tutoring systems, content delivery systems, virtual facilitators and smart learning platforms. The AI system works very well if it is placed in an environment that has a lot of data or in a process where the task is repetitive.

The administrative task undertaken by educators is usually menial and time-consuming. As a result, the quality and relevance of educational objectives and purposes are becoming hard to achieve. AI is designed to make administrative tasks easier and faster as well as more efficient to execute and complete.

There is a huge amount of time spent grading assignments and project papers that can be automated with the use of AI, allowing educators more time to concentrate solely on teaching. There is even an attempt to develop an application that can evaluate students’ essays. AI is perfectly placed to support educators for administrative tasks, personalize learning curricula development and lesson content production. All these can be achieved at an economical cost in the long run.

AI can also become a critical tool to increase productivity and efficiency in many aspects of university management and organization. While human resources continue to oversee the planning for the strategic operation of the university, the tracking of schedules and resources, as well as monitoring and reporting, can be outsourced to an AI system.

In terms of marketing and promotion of university’s education programmes, AI systems are able to digest vast amounts of marketing data analytics from respective platforms such as the social media, emails, and the Web in a relatively quick turnaround time. With this level of time efficiency, the university can make quick decisions to boost its marketing
strategy and plan. The student enrolment and admission process can be
significantly improved with the application of an AI system.

Admission department or personnel in the university can utilise a more powerful platform to create algorithms that can predict applications with the best fit for offer of admission into different study programmes. These algorithms can also determine students who are most likely to progress, excel, graduate and ultimately be employed.

The benefit of using an AI enrolment system for prospective students includes faster turnaround time and more personalized experience.

As the conventional learning process is disrupted by orders of restricted movement and educators and students are bound to work from home, it leaves us with only limited or no choice at all aside from embracing a new landscape in the education ecosystem. The advancement of new technologies such as artificial intelligence in the education sector gives us a new glimpse of hope to continuously encourage the healthy growth of this

Technology will continue to play a significant role in creating new landscapes in higher education. This new and dynamic education system will evolve and improve as it accumulates more learning data which will be processed, analysed and applied.

AI technologies and big data in the hands of well-equipped educators will be the new frontier of the higher education ecosystem in the future.

Razi Pahlavi is the Managing Director of Amanie Holdings, Honorary Secretary of Mercy Malaysia & Executive Board Member of International Council of Islamic Finance Educators (ICIFE)

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