Blog post

The future of learning – preparing for the AI revolution

The use of AI is increasing fast and it is likely to have a huge impact on our working and personal lives in the future. Professor Ian Turner, from the College of Science and Engineering looks at what AI is, and how we can prepare to live with it and get the most out of it.

By Professor Ian Turner - 11 March 2024

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a term that describes the theory and application of using computer systems to perform tasks that usually require human intelligence. It is actually a very common part of our daily lives in applications such as web search engines, recommendation systems on video streaming platforms, and the voice and face recognition features on your mobile phone. It is a rapidly advancing field and has many exciting industrial applications from improving productivity, to optimising processes and performing predictive analysis.

Generative AI

A particular focus has been on Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI) which is any type of AI that can create new content such as text, images, video, or audio. GenAI models learn patterns and structures from data they are trained with to generate new, unique outputs. GenAI does not ‘think’ or ‘understand’, at least in human definitions of these terms, but uses statistical properties to predict the output. There are many GenAI tools publicly available but some more commonly heard include the text generation tools ChatGTP, Gemini and Copilot, and the image generation tool DALL-E-2.

Despite negative headlines – and many examples of AI being used to generate fake imagery and messages (most recently by supporters of Trump’s Presidential campaign) - GenAI has enormous potential. At the University of Derby, we recognised this very early in its high-profile public rise and have been working with a range of stakeholders to maximise the opportunities it presents. We already have an established code of practice to guide staff on using GenAI in learning, teaching, and assessment, alongside guidance on how to conduct research in a GenAI world.

Talking point

The use of GenAI in higher education is a real talking point. I and my colleagues are now regularly being invited to attend conferences on this topic – two recent examples are the Advance HE Artificial Intelligence Symposium where we spoke on a range of related subjects, and a professional development conference, Maximising AI in Learning and Education.

One of the main questions I am asked with respect to AI is ‘What impact will it have on the world of work and jobs of the future?’ Predicting the future is always difficult but it is safe to say that AI will continue to have a profound impact. We exist in a data-enabled world and it will be a requirement of many graduates to manage, analyse and act upon large quantities of data. Data literacy is already a key employability skill demanded of our graduates. In the future, with the widespread use of AI tools, graduates will need to move beyond this to become data proficient and be equipped with the analytical judgement to evaluate the data and analysis of such tools.

Human vs machine

Does this mean AI will take our jobs? Although it is inevitable that specific job roles will shift and change focus, the Hollywood dark images of autonomous robots and evil supercomputers are a long way from reality. AI can do some wonderful things, but humans are still essential to prompt and interpret the output. A graduate still needs to be highly skilled and competent, and I see AI as a way to help you be successful in your chosen path. In fact, I believe being human is more important than ever and a recent think tank ranked emotional intelligence as one of the key employability skills required in AI workforce.

I am delighted to have played a part in the development of a suite of new AI programmes launched by the University of Derby, which are set to start in September 2024. These courses offer students the skills, knowledge, and expertise to maximise all that AI offers. They provide enormous opportunities to explore AI in specific contexts, answering big questions about its application in their chosen subject areas and careers.

The new programmes include:

The very nature of these courses means that they will evolve and develop over time to keep pace with the tools at our disposal. To give just a sense of what they might include, students studying on our new AI in Criminology course will experience how machine learning and automated technologies will revolutionise the investigation and prevention of crimes; while our AI in Healthcare students will focus on the use of cutting-edge science and data to contribute to digital transformation in healthcare.

To me it is clear AI will have a positive impact on our future society and transform a wide range of sectors. Humans are still essential to this future, so if you are new to AI then now is a good time to learn more.

Find out more about studying AI at Derby

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About the author

Professor Ian Turner
Professor in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

As an Associate Professor in Teaching and Learning, Dr Turner supports teams and individuals across the University with their learning, teaching and assessment activities. He also teaches on biology and forensic science courses and has won external recognition for being an outstanding teacher.

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