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February 1

Generative AI for Higher Education: Future-Proof Your School’s Marketing Tools


by | Feb 1, 2024 | Featured, Podcast, Tools

The market for public-facing generative AI tools has exploded since ChatGPT’s launch in November of 2022. But is there a use for generative AI for higher education marketing?

Lots of higher ed institutions are still trying to wrap their heads around AI’s potential, for better or worse.

But the truth is that the rest of the world is going full speed ahead with generative AI, and it’s time for higher ed marketers to catch up.

Canva has integrated advanced AI text and image generation technologies into its user interface. 

Spotify introduced a personalized playlist feature with AI DJ, sorting through the latest music and revisiting old favorites based on the user’s history.

And the way brands are personalizing social media ads is nothing less than astounding.

So, in what ways can we use generative AI for higher education?

In this episode on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, we talked about the endless possibilities with Gil Appel, Assistant Professor of Marketing at The George Washington University School of Business, and Raffi DerSimonian, VP and Chief Strategy Officer at ERI

This conversation was kind of a follow up on Gil, Raffi, and my presentation from the HashtagHigherEdUS Conference in June 2023 about AI tools in higher ed marketing.

There’s some really good stuff here that I didn’t want my readers to miss out on. Read on and see how you can stay ahead of the curve!

Understanding Generative AI for Higher Education

One of the biggest barriers to adopting generative AI for higher education is how little people know about it.

If I ask you if you’ve ever used ChatGPT before, you’ll almost certainly say, “yes.”

But if I ask you if you’re subscribed to ChatGPT, it’s more likely that you’re not. 

Gil Appel joins us on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast to discuss generative AI for higher education. That’s because most people are treating it more like I did at first, like a cool party trick where you get to see AI talk like Yoda (not that I ever did that 😉).

But when you go deeper in exploring the potential of generative AI, you’ll begin to see just how much of a game changer it is.

Gil explains that going deeper requires more than one conversation with ChatGPT.

So the “Aha!” moment [happens] with people on their second [conversation], not [necessarily] in the [first] conversation. 

So once they understand it’s a conversation with AI, they can say, “This was not good, I want this way.” 

Then you [understand] that the AI is not just something with an input and an output. It’s something that’s iterative that you can talk to and improve over time. 

A lot of people that are disappointed with Chat GPT put a prompt, they get a result they’re not happy with, [and then] they say, “I’m not an expert in this,” and move on. 

[The concept that this is an] iterative process is the biggest aha moment people get, at least in chat. 

Raffi DerSimonian joins us on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast to discuss generative AI for higher education. Generative AI for higher education is unlike other tools in that it requires persistent interaction with you in order for it to learn what you want it to do.

Raffi explained how this isn’t unlike our collaborations with other professionals in our daily work.

Similar to working with a colleague, similar to working with an agency or a firm, it requires back and forth to really get it right. 

[The biggest advantage from generative AI comes from] whatever extent folks can get comfortable leaning in, experimenting, pushing it in different ways, and really teasing out some of the usable nuggets and threads that can help elevate what we do.

In other words, it will take some time to understand how you can leverage generative AI for higher education.

But once you’ve had some time with ChatGPT and other AI tools, you’ll begin to see the advantages start to kick in as the AI begins to learn exactly what you’re wanting it to do.

The biggest benefit [of using generative AI is that it] frees us up to do more complex tasks, to do more meaningful work. 

Case Studies of Generative AI for Higher Education

Personally, I’ve been using generative AI for some time now for my work in higher education marketing.

In fact, I even invested in getting certified in prompt engineering.

Here are some case studies of how I and our guests have been using generative AI for higher education. 

Art and Image Creation

First off, you can do some amazing creative things, even if you’re not an artist!

I’ve been doing a lot of creative art with Midjourney, and even Canva has some built in tools. 

Also, I’ve been playing a lot with Photoshop AI photo editing. It’s really amazing! Gil Appel shared how even he’s getting creative using AI.

I have zero creativity. For one of our projects, I’m creating real life images that have diverse racial profiles of people that we’re using to test bias in AI. 

And we’re telling [our human] subjects—these are real people!—and they believe [the images are of real people]. Only 10% [of our human subjects realized the images] are not real people. 

That’s something I could have never done before! 

Coding and Data Analysis

I do work with an accreditation organization that lists about 190 schools. Each of the schools have different majors available both undergraduate and graduate. 

One member school of that organization is an institution that I also work with. It’s a faith-based organization. 

It occurred to me one day that we’ve got this undergrad program that a lot of the schools have, but we also offer a graduate program. 

Then, I thought of a marketing strategy to build relationships with all the schools in the accreditation organization that have the undergrad but not the graduate level. 

I knew that the data was there, but the only thing I had available to me was the public information on their websites. 

Combing through their websites would take far more hours than I had available. Researching each school, and then copying and pasting the data I collected into a table would take me weeks with all of my other responsibilities.

However, I knew it’s possible to scrape data from a website, but I didn’t know how to do it. 

So I asked ChatGPT, “How do I get this data?” 

Immediately, it gave me six points about how to go into Chrome, go into developer mode, go to a certain tab, put this in, copy what I found and paste it into a simple text file. 

ChatGPT then asked if I understood everything. Of course, I didn’t. “I’m having trouble with number eight.”

Then, it gave me more details. I kept telling it about the parts I didn’t understand, and it kept teaching me what to do.  

When I finished, I inserted the prompt I had created with ChatGPT into Claude AI, and in 3 seconds I had all the schools that offered that undergraduate major that did not have the graduate major.  

The total amount of time it took for me to learn how to do that with ChatGPT? Twenty minutes.

That’s right. It took me the whole of twenty minutes to do something that otherwise would have taken me weeks to do!

Then, with the data firmly in place, we were able to move forward on our marketing strategy. 

Gil Appel then shared with us how he is using generative AI to save massive amounts of time.

For another project, we were analyzing shopping cart abandonment. 

The first time I analyzed a database like this to make it work and make it fit the code, it took me half a year. 

Now [with AI tools], I did it in three days. [This is] unbelievable because I know what [needed to be done]!

Content Creation Assistance

Another important area where generative AI for higher education will prove helpful is in content creation. 

It’s important here to emphasize that the AI tools we have available today should be considered more like assistants for you as a content creator. 

They simply cannot replace a good writer, designer, or marketer. 

Part of the reason for this is that it just makes things up sometimes to meet its prime function of giving you an answer. In other words, even if the answer is wrong, it has to give you something if you ask it for something. 

Raffi gave some great advice for content creators at this point.

One thing I’m noticing is more and more people are using AI writing tools in lieu of Google, including myself. 

I’m finding that I’m getting more substantive [and reliable] responses versus having to sift through curated links [on the results page]—[especially when] many of them are sponsored links. 

It is a much more streamlined way to get quick info fast. 

I would say using it as a writing assistant to help [in content creation is] really where it excels in tasks of that nature.

For example, I will generate a letter and then ask ChatGPT if there’s a way to improve the letter for clarity or brevity or reduce word count. [Also, I can] take a bio and [ask it to create a] 100-word version of it.

There’s so much more if you listen to the whole podcast!

But to sum it up, generative AI for higher education is an absolute game changer in terms of saving higher ed marketers time and empowering them to get more done. 

Know, however, that you’ve got to be patient with the AI tools that are currently available. To get the most out of them, you have to be willing to have a conversation to help the AI tools learn what it is that you’re looking for. 

As you and your AI tools learn how to work together, you’ll find yourself doing way more than you ever thought possible!

Listen to our interview with Gil Appel and Raffi DerSimonian to get even more insights into:

  • How AI literacy will be a benchmark for the workforce of the future (2:24)
  • Why ChatGPT is like an Ironman suit for higher ed marketers (11:09)
  • Arguments against AI tools and the intellectual atrophy fallacy (26:27)
  • What part AI plays in proving the value of college education (35:57)

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Featured image via business.gwu.edu

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