Artificial Intelligence (AI) in
Swiss Higher Education
What do students want to know about AI and why?
Survey completed at the University of Basel in April-May 2020
about the project
The why. Understanding the expectations of our students and junior researchers. Due to the increasing importance and its diverse uses in multiple areas, AI is a relevant issue for members of all disciplines at higher education. It will bring about profound changes in the labor market and influence personal lives., We want to understand how students and junior researchers perceive AI and what motivates them to learn more about it. Furthermore, we are interested in their preferred learning formats to acquire this knowledge. As the topic of AI is starting to appear in the course offering at higher education institutions, we believe that understanding the expectations from the demand side is essential for the design of our future learning opportunities.
The how. One way to figure this out is by asking the current university members. A group of master's students, together with Prof. Aya Kachi at the University of Basel (Faculty of Business and Economics / Master's Program in Sustainable Development), have developed an original survey about "AI in Swiss Higher Education". The survey is the result of a collective class project (as part of their methodological learning) in the colloquium "Survey Research Methodology (Spring 2019)" led by Prof. Kachi.
The what. In April 2020, an online survey was circulated at the University of Basel. In the future, the anonymized results will be integrated in a larger project by Aya Kachi (University of Basel) and Umberto Michelucci (co-founder of TOELT GmbH and head of the AI competence center at Helsana Insurance), which connects AI at universities with the professional world. The scope may also be extended to other Swiss universities.
If you are a researcher at a higher education institution and want to run a similar survey, feel free to contact Prof. Aya Kachi, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Basel. We are happy to share the survey draft.
Here is a sneak-peek of our findings. Check back later for more results and publication information.
Our sample consists of 351 participants with an average age of 26 years. 50% are undergraduate students, 36% master students, 14% postdocs and doctoral students combined, belonging to the Faculties of Medicine, Business and Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences, Science, and Theology. We received several responses also from Psychology and Law.
The word clouds are based on the following question: What pops into your mind when you hear artificial intelligence (AI)? Please describe your thoughts in a few words. These words appeared at least twice in the responses. The first is based on responses in German (N=284) and the second in English (N=67).
The image of AI
At the beginning of the survey, the participants were asked to mention a few words that come to their minds upon hearing the word "artificial intelligence". Among the 284 respondents who took the survey in German, "robot(s)" was by far the most frequently mentioned term, followed by expressions such as "computer", "algorithm", "machine learning", "future", and "self-learning". Similar concepts appeared also among the 67 people who took the survey in English. Questions about risk and benefit association indicate that AI is still in its nascent stages of growth in people's minds. While 92% of the participants claim to think of benefits first when they hear the word "innovation", the percentage drops to 54% when it comes to the word "AI".
Perceptions about AI
Such an association between risks and AI might be in part explained by the the following findings. The majority of the participants have the feeling that they do not know or understand much about AI. They also believe that this is not only the case with themselves. Half of the respondents assume that less than one third of the Swiss population knows what “AI” stands for. However, almost 70% of the participants are motivated to learn more about AI. Moreover, the students and junior researchers expect that their professional and personal lives will be profoundly influenced by AI in the next 10 years. Interestingly, this opinion is shared among all students at all levels and all faculties. These findings clearly indicate the need for an appropriate curriculum to provide students the possibility to train themselves further in AI and to prepare them for their professional but also personal future lives.
Learning of AI
The survey asked what aspects of AI (technological, ethical, economic and legal) the participants want to learn about, why, and how (semester course, 3-day intensive course, 1/2 day course, informal learning (e.g. YouTube), and no interest in learning). For their professional life, the results can be summarized by saying that the students and junior researchers are interested in learning about the aspects of AI that directly inﬂuence their own studies; for example, most of the students in Business and Economics want to learn more about the economic aspects. It is important to note that the technological aspects are of interest to many participants independent of their fields. Due to personal interests or for holding an opinion, besides the technical aspects, the ethical aspects are of particular interest. The respondents do not agree on how they want to learn about these four aspects. Except for the technological aspects, the results do not show any clear preference which also emphasizes that learning styles vary greatly from person to person.
Check back later to learn more about what the students and junior researchers think about applications of AI in medicine, transport, and higher education.
Colloquium: Survey Research Methodology (Spring 2019)
Fathima Abdul Rahman