Doug Lederman and Susan D’Agostino
May 5, 2023
CHICAGO—When hundreds of college administrators and education technology company officials gather at a conference on the theme of the “digital campus,” many a faculty member might suspect—or fear—that the conversations wouldn’t be to their liking. Overly optimistic about all the great ways technology can improve “efficiency,” say. Ignoring potential problems such as invasion of privacy or prioritizing corporate profits over learning.
Digital Universities U.S., a conference co-hosted by Times Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed here this week, had its share of technology enthusiasm in hallway discussions and on the agenda, with sessions heralding the possibilities of learning in the metaverse, harnessing data for student success and promoting well-being in online environments.
But the event was far from a pep rally, with many speakers expressing worries about the rapid emergence of generative artificial intelligence, bemoaning the tendency to embrace the latest “bright shiny object” and cautioning against use of technology that isn’t directly in service of institutions’ core missions.
Some of the ambivalence, if not outright skepticism, came from expected sources, like the philosophy professor who was specifically recruited to raise potential ethical questions on a panel about the use of virtual reality in the learning process.
As the CEO and co-founder of VictoryXR described how his company’s software brings elements of hands-on experience into virtual learning environments, Nir Eisikovits, a professor of philosophy and founding director of the Applied Ethics Center at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said he appreciated how the technology might make learning more engaging for many students.