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Experts from Academia, Business and the Public Sector Meet at Esade to Examine the Impact of AI on Education

Experimenting, sharing and learning together were some of the main ideas for making the most of AI in the classroom suggested by professors from international universities, business executives and the director general of Industry at the Generalitat de Catalunya, Oriol Alcoba.

Cultivating curiosity, flexibility and the desire to experiment is one of main ways of making the most of the benefits that AI can offer education. This was one of the proposals shared by experts from academia, business and the public sector during the “AI for Teaching Day”, a conference held at Esade to examine the impact of one of today’s most disruptive technologies in the world of teaching. “The world is changing very quickly. My advice is: use AI for everything,” recommended Ethan Mollick, associate professor at Wharton School and a foremost thinker about AI and education. “This will radically change how we teach at business schools. And the change will be noticeable rather quickly”.

During his remote talk, Mollick highlighted three factors to bear in mind regarding content produced with new generative AI models. “Firstly, it’s undetectable. The tools designed to detect it don’t work well. Secondly, since 2023 there’s been no content on the internet that isn’t contaminated by AI. We’ve entered a new post ‘just-human’ era. Thirdly, it’s transformative. No one knows where we’re headed. No one has the answers or a secret instruction manual on how to make AI work better,” explained the author of the best-seller Co-intelligence.

The international experts invited to discuss this subject concurred about the transformative power of AI, albeit with certain nuances. Leonardo Caporarello, associate dean of Online Learning at the Bocconi School of Management, shared his experience of using AI “agents” to anticipate the exchange of ideas and discussion in his classes. “That’s what I do every day now, but I don’t know what will happen later. Don’t be too much scared now, we just must be prepared. In five years, I expect I’ll be teaching differently. How? I don’t know, but I’ll continue learning because I love teaching and trying out new ways of doing it.” David Lefevre, a professor at Imperial College Business School, believes that AI will become part of everyday life at university, “but this will happen rather gradually.” “What we must really do in order to remain relevant is to watch what’s happening and carry on learning constantly.”

Experiment, share, learn

This “experiment, share, learn” model defines the Esade approach to generative AI, explained Mar Vila, Deputy Dean of Faculty at Esade Business School: “We need a lot of flexibility, a new mindset. We must be willing to try new things and adapt.” Joan Rodon, dean of Esade Business School, noted that the challenge of change “can be a complicated, far-reaching task.” “But I’m still very optimistic: one thing that characterizes Esade is our ability to approach classes in a way very similar to what students will do at work. Along this line, we must now keep an eye on what companies are doing and then think about how we want to train our students.”

In this context, the conference organized by the Esade Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CTL), complemented the academic viewpoint with a panel discussion about the impact of AI upon the corporate world, featuring business executives such as Pere Nebot, CIO at CaixaBank; Albert Mayol, partner at NTT DATA, and Oriol Alcoba, general director of Industry at the Generalitat of Catalunya. This was followed by another panel discussion during which professors Carles Torrecilla, David Murillo, Gloria Batllori, Ivanka Visnjic, Marc Cortés and Valentina De Marchi shared their experience of AI and good classroom practices.

Bringing the event to a close, Xavier Mendoza, director general of Esade, championed a”spirit of curiosity and experimentation as key factors when adopting AI, a challenge that he deemed to be “a collective effort.” He also recalled Esade’s mission to train not only competent professionals, but persons of integrity, highlighting the need of an ethical approach to AI. “We’re here to make a positive impact.”

This conference was part of the “AI for Teaching” venture, a program of activities that will continue during the 2024-2025 academic year with a training plan for teachers aligned with the commitment to technology being one of the cornerstones of learning at Esade. The business school was a pioneer when, in 2022, it launched the joint Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Artificial Intelligence for Business, which combines management training with the development of skills such as algorithmic thinking, computing, digital transformation and AI in the business world. Esade has cooperation and training agreements with entities such as the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) and takes part in innovation projects such as Challenge-Based Innovation (CBI) in conjunction with CERN, thereby enabling students to learn and apply the latest technologies at some of Europe’s most pioneering scientific laboratories.