Voices of Innovation: A Q&A Series on Generative AI - Part 5

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Using technology to improve teaching and learning is in Pearson’s DNA. As the first major higher education publisher to integrate generative AI study tools into its proprietary academic content, Pearson is excited to be harnessing the power of AI to drive transformative outcomes for learners. We are focused on creating tools that combine the power of AI with trusted Pearson content to provide students with a simplified study experience that delivers on-demand and personalized support whenever and wherever they need it.

In this multi-part blog series, you’ll have a chance to hear about AI innovations from Pearson team members, faculty, and students who have been involved with the development and rollout of Pearson’s AI-powered study tools.

In Part V, step into the shoes of Pearson sales team members as they share their unique perspective on what it's like to introduce cutting-edge AI innovations to their higher education faculty partners.

Join Anakira GabriellaDeGraft JohnsonJane DawsonRobert Stahlinksi, and Ryan McHenry as they offer a glimpse into their campus conversations and share their thoughts on Pearson’s new AI-powered study tools for MyLab, Mastering, and Pearson+ eTextbooks.

As a Pearson higher ed sales rep, you spend a lot of time speaking with faculty on several campuses. Are you able to gauge the sentiment among faculty regarding AI technology and its diverse applications across college campuses? 

Jane D.: Like the use of any new technology in higher education, feelings about AI technology vary widely.

Some educators embrace it enthusiastically, seeing the potential benefits for themselves and their students to personalize the learning experience and provide timely support and feedback.

Others approach AI with skepticism. They are concerned about job displacement and the quality of the AI-generated content. Some educators are worried that AI could replace human interaction or traditional teaching methods. Their perception of AI is it allows students to cheat or be given the answers without the use of critical thinking skills.

Overall, attitudes are largely influenced by their familiarity with existing generative AI like Chat GPT. I have also found that their institutional policies and support of AI adoption, as well as their professional development opportunities, have informed their feelings about AI.

I appreciate that Pearson continues to involve faculty in discussions about the development and use of AI as it helps address these concerns.

Robert S.: At first, it was met with reservation. As time went on, and instructors started to experience it for themselves, attitudes changed, and skepticism was replaced by curiosity and a desire to understand more.

Now instructors want to know how they can best use AI to help themselves and their students, and this is where we (Pearson) fit in.

DeGraft J.: This has mirrored my experience back when courseware was new to higher education. Some faculty embrace it fully and dive in, others are late adopters and are a bit more cautious to see how the technology is proven over time.

I find the most exciting group to be the one right in the middle that wants to learn more and become a part of the conversation. These conversations impact how we are shaping these innovations to enhance teaching and learning in the years to come.

As you've now had the chance to introduce many faculty to Pearson's AI-powered study tool, can you share some feedback you've been getting from instructors? Do they seem optimistic or encouraged by Pearson innovating in this way?

Jane D.: Most faculty have been excited by the potential of the AI-powered study tool to enhance learning for students.

The benefits that seem to resonate with faculty are the personalized learning experience, immediate feedback, and the ability to identify areas where students need additional support.

They really like that the AI study tool is trained from our author-vetted titles and content, so it reinforces the same “voice” that aligns with what they chose for the course.

Busy educators like the idea of multiplying themselves by simulating the office hour experience with the AI study tool.

Robert S.: So far, instructors seem to be very optimistic when we talk about our AI-powered study tool, and they get even more excited once they see it in action. Overall, instructor feedback has been positive, and there is an eagerness to see our AI study tools evolve.

Ryan M.: I've seen instructor reactions fall into two camps: excited curiosity or initial skepticism.

Most of my interactions have been met with excited curiosity. Instructors seem to know AI is coming quickly, and we all must find a way to work with it. They remind me very much of the same instructors that embraced courseware in the early days and see its potential as a tool for teaching and learning.

For those who are a bit more skeptical, it is helpful to be able to share how Pearson’s AI-powered study tool is tied to our trusted content and trained to guide student learning in a scaffolded approach. By providing a demo of our AI study tool, faculty can see that it is intuitive, it simplifies studying, and most agree that students would use it.

I've taken to describing the Study Tool in the eTextbook as "turning what used to be a search into a conversation.”

Anakira G.: Many who were originally skeptical about incorporating AI into their classrooms see the benefit of incorporating an AI study tool built right into the courseware. Faculty appreciate how it reinforces learning, pulling primarily from content that they have chosen for their course, and aligns with the materials they have adopted.

DeGraft J.: It’s been exciting as many instructors I work with want to use AI in their course but have no idea of how to implement it in a thoughtful way.

They love the idea that our AI has the guardrails in place and is trained on our content, which helps reinforce interactions with the students. One of the professors I met with described our AI study tool as a "low risk dive into AI with the backing of a proven partner.”

Being the first publisher to implement AI in this thoughtful way has been received very well.

While new technologies and innovations like ChatGPT often evoke varied reactions, what has been most exciting during this time in higher education and at Pearson?

Jane D.: By embracing new technologies like AI, Pearson is leading the charge in the creation of more effective and engaging course materials and platforms that better meet the needs of students and educators.

We are leveraging AI responsibly and ethically to contribute to positive advancements in higher education, improving learning outcomes, and supporting lifelong learning for students.

Ryan M.: Instructors are used to publishing reps that show variations of fairly similar features. The AI study tools are one of several new features we promote that open very meaningful conversations. It's very fun to sell when you have an opportunity to surprise and delight your customers.

Robert S.: This is a very exciting time to be in both.

As a company, I'm excited to see where we can take AI to help advance the education landscape, while at the same time making sure our products make the most sense for our customers at this moment.

Speaking with instructors after they have seen and experienced our AI-powered study tool, they are already asking “what’s next” and wondering how we plan on shaping tomorrow.

DeGraft J.: What's been the most exciting is being able to walk into faculty offices and talk about something new that ties directly into everything they are seeing in the world around them.

What potential impact do you foresee tools like Pearson's AI-powered study tool having on student learning and engagement?

Anakira G.: I have the unique perspective of working at Pearson as a sales rep, and I am also a college instructor.

A much-discussed topic in education is the mental health of our students and anxiety around learning.

I teach Sociology, and my course has an entire module on education, which includes a Lifelong Learning project. As part of the project, students discuss experiences with learning throughout their lives and how lifelong learning can benefit their careers and enrich their lives.

Students often describe loving the learning process at a young age, but many begin to develop anxiety, fear, and a lack of confidence along the way.

The AI study tool could help students build back confidence with learning and aid in better critical thinking and remediation on subjects and topics with which they struggle.

Pearson is also beta testing AI-powered instructor tools in MyLab and Mastering, to see how AI and the trusted depth and breadth of Pearson content can be combined to provide instructors the ability to create efficient and engaging assignments while saving them time. What are your thoughts on using AI to help empower instructors?

Anakira G.: Many instructors are overwhelmed by all they can do with our products and platforms.

An AI-powered instructor tool built into our courseware that helps make recommendations to align assignments with their educational goals for students would be a great resource for instructors. Whether you’re new to our learning platforms or have been using them for years, using AI to help streamline processes within our systems would be great.

I am also excited about a future where AI can help inform faculty about how students are engaging with the content and performing toward learning outcomes. Using AI to provide greater insight on student learning would be very meaningful for educators.

If you had to describe Pearson’s AI-powered study tools in one word, what would it be?

Jane D.: Empowering

DeGraft J.: Adaptable

Robert S.: Engaging

Anakira G.: Personalized

Ryan M.: Innovative