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“Meeting the charging elephant”: Global leaders convene to discuss AI in higher education

Worldwide, higher education leaders are grappling with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and questions of ethical use, regulation, and privacy – but also of new opportunities. The “charging elephant” of AI is forcing the education community to face their own adaptability – will we flee, fight or freeze? To discuss these topics and find collective solutions, ICDE and Globethics were delighted to welcome over 120 participants from 35 countries to the ICDE Leadership Summit 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Participants of the ICDE Leadership Summit 2024. Photo credit: Peter Kenny

Facing the big questions

What defines ethical use of AI in higher education? Should educational institutions move towards integration of AI tools, or distance themselves from it? What actions and decisions can educational leaders take to ensure AI is implemented and used in an ethical manner? 

These were just some of the questions the ICDE Leadership Summit 2024 sought to answer over three conference days, between 5-7 June 2024. 

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

The spirit of collaboration and collective reflection was set from the opening session, with the quote above introduced by Amélé Ekue. 

During his opening address, ICDE President Mark Nichols described AI as “a charging elephant”, and educational leaders being faced with a choice to fight, flight or freeze. This metaphor struck a chord with the conference delegates, and was referenced often in the days that followed.

Participants were asked to give their input on the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities of AI in education, which were summarised in two word clouds. 

These keywords were reflected in the talks of the opening panel speakers. Maha Bali (American University of Egypt) spoke on the biases and inequalities present in AI, and the importance of critical AI literacy, while Santiago Bellomo (Universidad Austral, Argentina) explored “the paradox of the crutch and the oar”: generative AI has the potential to be an oar, propelling our innovation and growth, but could also become a crutch, leading to dependence by replacing human capabilities. 

ICDE’s global network in action

ICDE members were well-represented in the conference programme, both in plenary and parallel sessions. 

Left to right: Richard Powers (University of Stuttgart), Ratna Selvaratnam (Edith Cowan University and ICDE Individual Member), Mpine Makoe (UNISA and ICDE Board Member) and Ebba Ossiannilsson (ICDE Board Member)
Wang Xiangxu presents the work of his institution, the Open University of China
Left to right: Mark Nichols (Open Polytechnic of New Zealand and ICDE President), Dr Mansoor Al Awar (Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University), Mary Morocho Quezada (Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja) and Ebba Ossiannilsson (ICDE Board Member)

We were also thrilled to see so many members engaged in fruitful networking and discussions for future collaborations.

Left to right: Antonio Martínez-Arboleda (University of Leeds), Geraldine Meyers-Mashamba (North-West University) and Fabian Basabe.
Dr Mansoor Al Awar (HBMSU) and Jacqueline Geddes

#DearFuturesOfEducation – Collectively creating a Living Letter

On Thursday 6 June, conference delegates gathered for the ‘Engagement and Call to Action Session’, in which they shared personal insights and recommendations to create a Living Letter on Ethics of AI in Higher Education. 

Using an interactive platform accessed via a QR code, participants were asked to provide input on:

  • Their concerns and promises on AI and Higher Education
  • Their recommendations on ethics of AI in Higher Education
  • Their commitment to shaping the future of education

Some of the concerns shared were: loss of accountability, lack of control, perpetuated biases and exacerbated inequity, unethical implementation, accentuation of digital divides, and forgetting about the human element of education. However, there were also concerns about how slowly we are transitioning into using AI – with some arguing that we should be further along in 2024. 

The concerns, recommendations and commitments have been compiled in the Living Letter intended for educational stakeholders.

Launching the ICDE Technology and Innovation Network (TIN)

After a full conference day on Thursday 6 June, ICDE hosted a launch reception for the newly-established ICDE Technology and Innovation Network (TIN)

One of the aims of this network is to explore the impact of AI for learning and teaching innovation on a global scale, and the Summit offered a perfect opportunity for network members to meet for the first time – with fresh input on the topic of AI in education. Welcoming words were offered by ICDE Secretary General, Torunn Gjelsvik, and Network lead, Dr Julie Lindsay, before attendees engaged in meaningful discussions and networking.

Left to right: Torunn Gjelsvik (ICDE Secretary General), Mark Nichols (ICDE President), Santiago Bellomo (Universidad Austral) and Dr Julie Lindsay (University of Southern Queensland and TIN Lead). Photo credit: Peter Kenny
Attendees of the TIN reception. Photo credit: Peter Kenny

#ICDELS24 podcasts by JFI Radio

Learning Specialist Consultant and ICDE OERAC Ambassador, Józefa Fawcett, attended the conference equipped with her podcasting gear. She recorded multiple podcast interviews with conference delegates, discussing their take-aways and reflections from the conference. 

Listen to the #ICDELS24 podcast episodes here

Józefa Fawcett (left) interviewing Divya Singh (Globethics Board Member). Photo credit: Peter Kenny

Moving forward

“We cannot stop believing in the human capacity of tackling a “wicked problem” such as AI, because you can use the term also on education itself. We will never be finished. We will always need to deal with new developments that challenge our current practices and ourselves as human beings.”
Torunn Gjelsvik, ICDE Secretary General

While it is hard to draw any definite conclusions on how AI should be used in higher education, what stood out for all as the conference came to a close was the need for collaboration – to draw on the experiences of others and learn from our peers. Not least, we learned that we need to try – to meet the charging elephant with courage and calm – and accept that failure will be part of the process. 

The outcome report of the ICDE Leadership Summit 2024, produced by Globethics, ICDE and UNESCO-ICHEI, will be published in September, detailing the dialogue and decisions explored during the event. 

“We are conscious of the world’s diverse approaches and stances on AI and education. There will never be a definite conclusion. However, as educational leaders we take our responsibility in sharing the future(s) of education seriously, not only for the benefit of learners but for our societies.”
ICDE Leadership Summit Living Letter

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