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OPINION: Preparing students for the future means incorporating AI into classrooms 

Fred Lokken
Fred Lokken

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to capture national headlines, Nevada’s educators have begun the process of exploring and implementing generative AI in support of instruction, student services and more. Higher education recognizes that it has a responsibility to prepare students for the future by equipping them with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed. AI’s growing importance and value to our workforce underscores the need to prepare the next generation to use it. All of Nevada’s higher education institutions will play a pivotal role in that process. 

Four-year universities in Nevada and around the country have already formed partnerships with the AI tech industry, assisting in generative AI’s evolution and maturation. Community colleges, on the other hand, are more about the practical aspects of generative AI: preparing students to have the AI skills needed by employers and the workplace. As generative AI evolves, so too must AI skill development and training at community colleges.

While Truckee Meadows Community College has been using AI to help students for several years, this past year the college worked to develop a measured plan for implementing generative AI skills development that balances concerns with issues of academic integrity with the need to ensure that no student gets left behind in learning how to leverage the technology.

Beginning last fall with an address from our president on the disruptions presented by emerging technologies, our institution has worked to prepare faculty and administrators to take on the critical role of teaching students how to leverage generative AI. Our leadership subsequently established a task force to research generative AI and develop recommendations on how to proceed.

After evaluating the generative AI landscape within the context of higher education, the task force formulated several recommendations to guide our approach to exploration, professional development training and adoption. These included reasonable measures such as adopting initial institutional policies to provide guardrails for the exploration and use of generative AI, creating a permanent oversight committee, identifying the specific needs of our student body and promoting transparency, dialog, collaboration and buy-in as institutional values.  

With guidelines and guardrails in place, Truckee Meadows Community College began the implementation phase, opening our doors to off-campus professional development experts to assist with initial training. By working with these experts and closely coordinating with the standing committee on generative AI and emergent technologies, the college has been able to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the technology, ensuring there are no gaps in access among students and faculty.

As we continue to work with our students, faculty and staff to develop tailored plans for generative AI, we also hope to expand curiosity, engagement and exploration by hosting a Tech Day of vendor-supported hands-on experiences, a schedule of professional development sessions, guest speakers and dialogue sessions with the community we serve. What generative AI skills are needed? How do we develop those skills and how do we effectively validate that with employers?

We have not ignored the understandable concerns raised about generative AI. Truckee Meadows Community College plans to host a campus forum each term to listen to any concerns of our faculty, students and staff as concerns academic integrity, training, exploration and adoption. 

Generative AI represents a paradigm shift, not just for Truckee Meadows Community College’s students but for our faculty, staff and economy as well. Educators at every level will play a critical role in identifying and providing the foundational abilities and skills each generation needs to leverage AI to their advantage. To be successful, higher education will need adequate resources and will necessarily have to become more adaptive to constant change and evolution of these 21st century technologies.

Additional challenges include the cost of generative AI — it will be significant — and the critical need to provide equal access for our faculty, students and staff.  Frankly, many faculty and staff will need to be trained before they can in turn help students. We also know that generative AI and associated emergent technologies are evolving quickly. In other words, we are dealing with a moving target that may redefine itself every two years.

This situation may appear formidable — if not insurmountable — but generative AI offers opportunities as well as challenges. It is important that higher education focuses on the many benefits of these emergent technologies as well as the need to adequately prepare our students — and our community — for the many changes to come.

AI represents a paradigm shift, not just for Truckee Meadows Community College’s students and staff, but for everyone. Schools of every level will play an essential role in establishing the foundational knowledge the next generation needs to leverage AI to its advantage. 

That said, I hope that as lawmakers return to Carson City next year, they will take a similar, methodical approach to establishing innovation-friendly legislation that enables educators and their students to pursue new opportunities. 

Fred Lokken is chair of business, history and political science and paralegal studies at Truckee Meadow Community College. He is also a tenured professor of political science.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].


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