South African University Students’ Use of AI-Powered Tools for Engaged Learning

16 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2023 Last revised: 17 Oct 2023

See all articles by Tanja Bosch

Tanja Bosch

University of Cape Town (UCT)

Marenet Jordaan

Stellenbosch University

Job Mwaura

University of the Witwatersrand

Sisanda Nkoala

University of South Africa (UNISA) - Department of Communication Science

Alette Schoon

Rhodes University, South Africa

Alexia Smit

University of Cape Town

Chikezie E. Uzuegbunam

Rhodes University, South Africa

Admire Mare

Independent

Date Written: October 8, 2023

Abstract

The 2023 release of ChatGPT (GPT4) has resulted in many conversations and moral panics about the use of Artificial Intelligence-powered tools in teaching and learning. Some scholars argue that rather than banning tools like ChatGPT, we must think about its potential to revolutionize education by serving as a powerful classroom aid, teaching media literacy, generating personalised lesson plans, saving teachers time, and teaching students how to use them responsibly. However, there is a growing concern that academics and educators will need to change assessment tools, as students can easily use tools like ChatGPT to write their assignments.

South African higher education is an interesting and relevant site of study in light of challenges and opportunities associated with technological adoption broadly and AI integration, more specifically in this context and others in the global South. There are 26 public higher education institutions with differing student demographics and levels of technological access. Examining AI's role at South African universities sheds light on the potential for these technologies to bridge or worsen existing educational disparities between and within institutions, particularly in a nation marked by historical inequalities in access to quality education. We focus on five South African higher education institutions: The University of Cape Town (UCT), Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Rhodes University (RU), The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), and Stellenbosch University (SU). This paper presents and discusses the findings of an online survey conducted with undergraduate students to answer the central research question: How are South African undergraduate university students using generative AI in their academic practices?

This study reveals insights into the unique cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic factors that influence the adoption of AI among South African students and educators. These factors take on particular significance in our context, given that many of these technologies originate in the global North and may not seamlessly adapt to or align with the needs of global South contexts.

Our study sheds light on the uses and understandings of AI tools by students from a global south and multilingual context and therefore contributes to broader ongoing conversation on the potential and pitfalls of these tools for their education and learning. Our study is significant since it is student-focused and foregrounds young people's voices and views, particularly within a society that often does not acknowledge and value young people's perspectives in decision and policy-making. This study potentially raises awareness in the South African context among educators and learners towards a youth-centered approach to the use of AI tools and the importance of involving perspectives from diverse stakeholders.

We caution against framing the use of AI with a moral panic perspective, and argue that we should factor in students’ perspectives because the way educators and researchers view AI use differs from how students perceive their use of AI tools. We argue for the need for balance, and an opportunity for educational institutions to contribute to policy and offer new pathways for assessment of learning and assessment for learning at universities.

Keywords: generative AI, student learning, AI, chatGPT, South Africa, online learning

JEL Classification: 123, 120

Suggested Citation

Bosch, Tanja and Jordaan, Marenet and Mwaura, Job and Nkoala, Sisanda and Schoon, Alette and Smit, Alexia and Uzuegbunam, Chikezie E. and Mare, Admire, South African University Students’ Use of AI-Powered Tools for Engaged Learning (October 8, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4595655 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4595655

Tanja Bosch (Contact Author)

University of Cape Town (UCT) ( email )

Centre for Film and Media Studies
AC Jordan Building
Cape Town, Western Cape 8000
South Africa

Marenet Jordaan

Stellenbosch University ( email )

Private Bag X1
Stellenbosch, Western Cape 7602
South Africa

Job Mwaura

University of the Witwatersrand ( email )

1 Jan Smuts Avenue
Johannesburg, GA 2000
South Africa

Sisanda Nkoala

University of South Africa (UNISA) - Department of Communication Science ( email )

South Africa

HOME PAGE: http://www.sisandankoala.com

Alette Schoon

Rhodes University, South Africa ( email )

School of Journalism and Media Studies
Rhodes University
Grahamstown, 6139
South Africa

Alexia Smit

University of Cape Town ( email )

Cape Town
South Africa

Chikezie E. Uzuegbunam

Rhodes University, South Africa ( email )

School of Journalism and Media Studies
Rhodes University
Grahamstown, 6139
South Africa
0632791466 (Phone)
6139 (Fax)

Admire Mare

Independent

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Downloads
306
Abstract Views
1,492
Rank
178,204
PlumX Metrics