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Resilience Reflection #30: AI literacy and the future of academic work

In this issue of Resilience Reflections, Maarten Renkema appeals for the active promotion of Artificial Intelligence literacy among academics to improve their work.

In this regular series by the Resilience@UT and 4TU Resilience, UT researchers share their personal reflections on current events and trends that impact our daily lives, exploring their implications for resilience. The series is just one of many UT initiatives responding to the urgent need to respond to rapid societal and environmental change. As an academic institution, we have a role to play in strengthening the resilience of the social, technological and environmental systems that support us. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. 

AI literacy and the future of academic work

“As Artificial Intelligence (AI) advances, schools must keep a cool head”

This statement was the headline of a recent newspaper article in Dutch newspaper NRC. However, it is not just institutions that must keep their heads cool. The educators themselves who are at the heart of these institutions face a test of resilience in the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Resilience of academics

It is important to strengthen the resilience of academics, which to me embodies the capacity of scholars to effectively respond to sudden and gradual disruptions that affect our work. Currently, the world seems to be in a permanent crisis mode, marked by pandemics, inflation, climate emergencies, energy shortages, and wars and conflicts. These developments demand diverse and often quick responses from the academic community. They have implications for what we study but they are also impacting our work practices (e.g., how we carry out research and how we teach).

For example, the shift to remote education during the COVID-19 pandemic had profound consequences for our work. Similarly, political debates on the pros and cons of the internationalization of universities have caused uncertainty, particularly among international scholars. Furthermore, we must deal with the university’s financial situation, where our colleagues with temporary contracts are negatively affected.

Consequences of Generative AI

Moreover, we have created but also have to cope with technological breakthroughs, such as the emergence of Generative AI (GenAI). This technology, capable of independently producing text, images, audio, and video, poses severe challenges for the academic workforce. Technologies such as this demand resilience and the capacity to effectively respond to these rapid changes while making use of the opportunities they provide to enhance education.

My current research is focused on understanding how AI technologies are shaping the world of work, particularly that of knowledge workers [1]. Unlike previous technological disruptions that primarily impacted lower-wage blue-collar jobs, AI has the potential to also shape the work of highly skilled professionals, including those in academia. Our recent exploration into the use of AI in academic work, featuring a social robot called Furhat, highlights some of the challenges and opportunities [2]. For instance, academics struggle with assessing the authenticity of (student) outputs and detecting AI-generated text, while they may also be supported by AI in generating educational content – which of course should in turn be checked!

A call to action: developing AI literacy

One avenue to build resilience to these emerging technologies is to develop AI literacy. The University of Twente and all universities should invest in the AI literacy of its employees and students, which means that we should gain a better understanding of the inner workings and capabilities of these technologies, their limitations, and how to deploy them ethically, safely and effectively [3].

The future is impossible to predict, but I believe that AI technologies can be a force for good within our higher education institutions if we carefully consider where and how (not) to use them. Developing AI literacy can contribute to the resilience of knowledge workers by providing the knowledge and skills that help to address ethical challenges and alleviate the sense of being overwhelmed by new technologies. By doing so, academics, who are being subjected to a major disruption with the introduction of GenAI, may adapt and even transform these challenges into opportunities. Now is the time to start experimenting with ways to use AI to improve our academic work!


[1] https://www.pwnet.nl/46243/samenwerken-met-kunstmatige-intelligentie-hoe-het-werken-met-ai-verandert

[2] https://www.utwente.nl/en/bms/iebis/foe/HRM/research_hrm/SAMKIN/

[3] Long, D., & Magerko, B. (2020, April). What is AI literacy? Competencies and design considerations. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 1-16).

About the author

Maarten Renkema is an assistant professor of Human Resource Management, Technology and Innovation in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Business Information Systems.  His research is focused on the intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI), human resource management, and innovation.

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