How UF developed a model for AI across the curriculum

Artificial intelligence has lurked behind the scenes in technologies people use every day, but the University of Florida is integrating AI into curriculum across disciplines to make it a core competency for students. UF professors and administrators, in a paper recently published in Computers and Education: Artificial Intelligence, explain how other traditional research universities might craft similar paths.

“The AI Across the Curriculum initiative being developed at UF will make AI education a cornerstone opportunity for all students,” the authors write in the abstract for the article. “The ultimate goal of AI Across the Curriculum is the creation of an AI-ready workforce covering the essential 21st-century competencies identified as workforce and government needs worldwide.”

Those authors include Jane Southworth, chair, Department of Geography; Kati Migliaccio, chair, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; Provost Joe Glover; Ja’Net Glover, senior director of career services in the Career Connections Center; David Reed, associate provost and curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History; Christopher McCarty, associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of the Bureau of Economics and Business Research; Joel Brendemuhl, associate dean in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences; and Aaron Thomas, data scientist for UF Information Technology.

The focus of the position paper is on how the AI initiative at UF engages with undergraduates, although the AI paradigm shift includes students and faculty at all levels.

The authors note that while AI has moved from a theme in science fiction to a reality that is rapidly changing the world, it has been largely missing from the university curriculum outside the STEM disciplines.

“As AI becomes more prevalent in the workplace, those who understand and interface with AI will have a distinct advantage over those with less developed AI skills. Integrating AI into higher education is therefore essential for preparing students for the 21st-century workplace,” the paper states.

The AI Across the Curriculum initiative was spurred by the launch of HiPerGator, a room-sized supercomputer that is the eighth most powerful system in higher education and the 22nd most powerful in the world. That, in turn, has drawn over 100 AI faculty hires across all 16 colleges with the goal of extending that literacy to all UF students.

AI literacy, as explained in the paper, is “the knowledge and understanding of AI that is necessary for individuals to participate in the broader discourse around AI and make informed decisions about its use and implications.” That can include its capabilities but also its limitations and ethical considerations.

While AI literacy can extend from novice level to expert – with majors, minors and certificates within all 16 colleges -- UF has also created a certificate that spans the entire university: AI Fundamentals and Applications Certificate. It is available to any undergraduate regardless of their major.

Another initiative – the Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience, or CURE – can feature AI as a core component, creating I-CURE courses. I-CURE teams are composed of students from various disciplines, led by a faculty member, to explore challenges presented from private industry.

“Student and faculty experiences, linked directly to engagement with our industry partners, while learning essential real-world, transferable skills, will benefit our students immensely, and will be open to ALL undergraduate students regardless of background,” the authors write. “This is truly an innovative and timely AI Across the Curriculum approach to learning.”

Douglas Ray January 30, 2023