The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

Generative AI and the Roles of Business School Teachers

The roles of generative AI
Should AI be treated as a threat or an opportunity within the education community? This timely question can be addressed by looking at teachers’ various roles in students’ learning – expert, facilitator, mentor, curator of learning resources, bridge-builder between theory and practice and between related disciplines, and gatekeeper as judge of student competence. The authors argue that AI is unlikely to fundamentally change the role of the facilitator. However, AI will have an impact on most roles and opens new opportunities for students to enhance their critical thinking skills. Teachers need to focus less on knowledge acquisition and more on knowledge application, and students should be assessed on what they can do, rather than on what they know. Likewise, teachers need to develop themselves to be able to seize the opportunities offered by AI.

With more than a year’s worth of generative artificial intelligence (AI) experience under our belts, what has been its impact, we wonder? Is generative AI an existential threat to the education industry as we know it? Or does it bring an abundance of new opportunities to enhance or accelerate our students’ learning? Or both? In our view, answering these questions requires examining the roles that we teachers play in our students’ learning journeys.

Arguably, the essence of what we do, hence our main overall role, is to support our students’ learning. After all, apart from our research, what really counts in our craft as business school professors isn’t our teaching, but our students’ learning. To examine our questions in more granular fashion, in this article we outline six different roles that business school teachers play. These roles provide lenses through which we can better discern whether generative AI is likely to turn out to be a blessing or a curse for business school teachers and learners.

First, we briefly outline these six roles; then we discuss them in light of the recent developments in AI. Is AI a threat or does it provide new opportunities? Finally, we highlight the need for our continuous development as teachers and where and how we might access it.

The six roles

Expert

The first and perhaps most obvious role is that of an expert. As a teacher we need to know our subject and subject matter. There needs to be a theoretical or experiential knowledge platform on which our teaching is based. In some cases, our expertise is within a narrow subject area, while in other cases our expertise may span a broader arena. Regardless of the breadth and depth of our knowledge, we teachers need to know our fields.

Facilitator

As teachers, it is not enough for us to be experts. We also need to master the classroom environment, whether it’s a physical classroom or a digital Zoom or WebEx screen. Without a teacher’s facilitation skills, our students’ attention quickly strays. If our expertise is derived from knowing our subject matter, our ‘content’, one could say that facilitation is about managing the process within which the learning is taking place. By being skilled and comfortable in our role as a facilitator, we can create and maintain a learning atmosphere where learning happens.

Supervisor/Tutor/Mentor/Coach

In addition to being an expert and a skilled facilitator, we often play another role as supervisor/tutor/mentor/coach – a role with different names in different contexts. In this role we help the individual learner, or a small group of learners, to advance their thinking, their projects, or their theses. This role often plays out over an extended period of time.

Designer/Curator

Ideally, much learning takes place before and after the scheduled sessions. This means there is a need for a carefully designed learning journey. There is input not only from the teacher but from other sources, including books, articles, cases, videos, simulations, exercises, and so on. That input may come in different formats and at different points in time. Some material may be mandatory, and some may be optional. Curating the very best and most useful and relevant material is crucial.

Bridge-builder

When we as teachers know our subject matter, know how to facilitate in the classroom or to serve our students in a supervisory or mentorship role, have designed a rich and compelling learning journey, and curated the material therein, there remains another important role to take on, that of the bridge-builder. This means building bridges between our own subject area and other related areas, and between theory and practice. Our own topic should not only be an island on its own, but placed into a wider context.

Gatekeeper

As teachers at business schools, we often need to serve as gatekeepers. We are asked to assess the level of knowledge, skills, and capabilities acquired by learners to assign them different grades. We evaluate the fulfilment of a programme to judge whether the learners have earned certificates or degrees. Only those learners who have demonstrated proficiency of one sort or another are allowed to pass through the gate.

In summary: We add value

At the end of the day, the totality of our roles as teachers is to add value to our students’ lives. To help them be employable. Competent. Curious. Inquisitive. Ethical. Good citizens, good for the world. And much more. To what extent, we ask, might the recent developments in AI augment or detract from our efforts to do so in each of our roles? We address this question in the next section.

The impact of AI role by role

AI and experts

Does the arrival of AI diminish the importance of expertise? Did the arrival of the internet diminish it? The smartphone? Wikipedia? Answers: All no. Does AI’s arrival create opportunities for students to compare and contrast what AI offers up versus what an expert’s insight can reveal? Indeed, it does, with clear benefits for students’ critical thinking skills. As today’s AI pulls from sometimes unreliable and inherently biased sources, today’s business school students need to enter the workforce equipped with the critical thinking skills to identify inaccuracies and biases in the output that AI generates. As Lehigh University Vice Provost of Library & Technology Services Greg Reihman says about generative AI, “Like it or not, it’s going to shape our lives. Our students are going to look to us for guidance in whether and how to use it.”1  An opportunity, for sure.

AI and facilitators

The role of the facilitator is crucially important, of course, and here new tools have been added to the teacher’s toolbox during the last decade or so, from Mentimeter to polling tools, to many more, giving us a rapidly growing variety of options to use when facilitating learning in the classroom. Will AI be among them in enhancing our facilitation role in business school settings? We suspect not.

AI and supervisors/tutors/mentors/coaches

With AI tools available, one could now say that some learners have their own tutor to ‘discuss’ with whenever they want. A supervisor who is available 24/7 and can always offer ideas or advice. This provides, of course, opportunities for learners, but also highlights the importance of the critical thinking skills – what’s the quality of the advice? As teachers in this role, we can help learners to reflect and learn from advice when using ChatGPT or similar tools. There are opportunities for further learning and some parts of the supervision process may be carried out with the help of AI tools. More opportunity here.

AI and designers/curators

Perhaps another role where AI will stand out is what it offers to the curator. Students can be asked to become curators in their own right and use AI to assemble information about a particular topic. That information can then serve as input into a lively classroom discussion of the merits and drawbacks of what they uncover and how those merits and drawbacks might best be assessed. Here, too, AI offers opportunities to build critical thinking skills, as well as other skills – asking well-formulated questions, then further follow-up questions – for using ChatGPT and similar tools effectively. Big opportunity here!

AI and bridge-builders

Building bridges between knowledge in one area and its applicability in another, and between theory and practice, is a key role the best teachers play. AI offers an opportunity to ask students to gather AI-generated material about one theoretical perspective, for example, and then apply it in the context of a case discussion where a manager is tasked with a crucial decision. Instead of ‘lecturing’ to ‘teach’ the theory, for example, we can ask students to let AI help them learn the theory, with classroom time then devoted to applying it to real business settings. This kind of ‘active learning’ is likely to not only enhance student engagement in what’s going on in the classroom but also build skills in using AI effectively. Another big opportunity here.

AI and gatekeepers

It’s in our roles as gatekeepers where AI has raised the greatest concern, and it’s causing most of us to rethink how we assess student performance. Says Suzanne Edwards, an associate professor of English at Lehigh University, “If you’re giving an assignment in your class that a student can turn in an AI-generated response and pass, then it’s not a good assignment.”2 Perhaps one outcome of the arrival of generative AI will be less emphasis on examining and testing what students know, versus what they can do. Says Kirstie Papworth, Executive Director of Experiential Learning at AI and designers/curators London Business School, “Our world is going to be much more experiential now.” Have we all got some work to do to better carry out our gatekeepers’ roles? Indeed, we have! We probably all need to review assignments that should have been reviewed a long time ago! A threat here, for sure; but opportunity, too.

In summary: Threat or opportunity?

On balance, what have we learned? While AI presents real challenges in our gatekeeper’s role, elsewhere we see far more opportunity than threat. So how might we as teachers seize the opportunity at hand?

Sharpening our teaching and learning tools

Let’s face facts. Whether we like it or not, generative AI is here to stay and is poised to play an ever-increasing role in how people think and act. As Lars Strannegård, President of the Stockholm School of Economics, says, “Artificial intelligence and machines will, as time goes by, gradually outperform our human cognitive abilities in many ways. But machines will never be fully human. […] The human capacities for curiosity, moodiness, emotions, irrationality, analysis, creativity, calculation, and criticism are – when used collectively – the key to future growth.”4  It’s our duty as teachers to equip our graduates to bring to their future work all their human capacities together with the resourcefulness and potential efficiency that AI will likely offer. But how?

For too long, in our view, too many teachers and too many business schools have been concerned more about the knowledge they impart to their students – the ‘content’ – than about those same students’ capabilities for putting that knowledge into action. Given the opportunities that generative AI has now begun to offer – opportunities for students to learn to think critically about knowledge, about how it is sourced, and about what it means for the world of practice – we see an opportunity to shift the focus of our teaching from what our students ‘know’ to what they can ‘do’.

As we’ve seen, the opportunity that AI brings to our work as teachers arises in different ways across our different roles, but it shares commonalities in providing opportunities to strengthen our students’ critical thinking skills and connect theory with practice. Even better, these opportunities may offer business schools a path toward resolving what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, in their best-selling book The Knowing-Doing Gap, call “the knowing-doing problem, the challenge of turning knowledge about how to enhance organizational performance into actions consistent with that knowledge.”5  Do we all have work to do, and not only in our gatekeeper’s role? Of course, we do. Lest we forget, we’re learners, too. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So how might each of us set forth on our own learning journey to make the most of what generative AI and related developments offer across our various roles, today and tomorrow? We suggest that now is the time to step beyond our own institutional boundaries and grasp the opportunity to become forward-thinking teachers who take advantage of the latest tools.

There are programmes of all kinds to help us become great teachers, with or without AI and the opportunities and threats it brings: programmes on participant-centred learning offered by business schools with vibrant case-publishing operations; programmes like the International Teachers Programme (ITP, in which both authors of this article happen to have been involved for many years) and its new, more accessible and affordable online cousin, The Essentials of Teaching and Learning (itp-essentials.com), both designed to encourage active learning and to help faculty become their best selves as teachers. In short, there are plenty of opportunities for all of us to find what is most suitable. The main thing is to do something – now!

And maybe the most important thing of all is this: to keep a dialogue about teaching alive among our colleagues. That is, to discuss our experiences in our different roles as teachers. To share what we have learnt, tried, failed, and succeeded in when it comes to bringing generative AI and other new tools to our varied roles as teachers. To celebrate successes and learn from failures together. Or to borrow Amy Edmondson’s words: “When we venture into new territory … failures are inevitable. […] But we do need to learn to appreciate the value of experimenting in our lives so as to embrace the lessons from intelligent failures in novel contexts”.6  This is important – and it’s not rocket-science.

In the department where one of us works (PM), we have simply started to have regular ‘Teaching fika’ (fika being a Swedish word for a social coffee break). There is no agenda for these meetings, no topics; simply sharing and discussing new ideas that we have come across, challenges we have faced in our varied teaching roles, and more. It does not have to be more complicated than that. The opportunities are out there. Let’s grasp them!

Generative AI and the Roles of Business School Teachers


Footnotes:

1 Christina Tatu, “Harnessing Generative AI,” Lehigh Alumni Bulletin, Fall 2023, p. 37.
2 Ibid, p. 39.
3 Personal conversation with one of the authors (JM).
4 Lars Strannegård, Senses of Knowing: A celebration of the pursuit of knowledge, Mondial, Stockholm, 2021, p. 233.
5 Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, The Knowing-Doing Gap, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 2000, p. 4.
6 Amy Edmondson, Right Kind of Wrong: Why learning to fail can teach us to thrive, Cornerstone Press, London, 2023, p. 220.

Pär Mårtensson is an Associate Professor at the House of Innovation at the Stockholm School of Economics, where he is also the Head of Pedagogy and Faculty Development. He is the Chair of the International Schools of Business Management, a consortium running faculty development initiatives, including the International Teachers Programme (ITP).

John Mullins is an Associate Professor of Management Practice at London Business School. A best-selling author of four trade books, including his latest title, Break the Rules: The Six Counter-Conventional Mindsets of Entrepreneurs That Can Help Anyone Change the World. His teaching and his research and writing are focussed on helping entrepreneurs and their businesses grow.

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