Dockens addresses AI in higher education through research and training

Dr. Ashley Dockens began her professional journey with a deep commitment to audiology. However, her career trajectory has taken an unexpected turn, leading her to become a prominent figure in the field of generative artificial intelligence (AI) in higher education.  Ashley Dockens

"I am an audiologist by trade. I have my clinical doctorate; I have my Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders, and never even expected to be in higher education," Dockens said. "I ended up in higher education because there were things out in my field that I didn't love, and I didn't know how to fix without simply teaching other people not to do it. I decided that I would take my Ph.D. and go teach, so I came to Lamar a little over 10 years ago." 

Her problem-solving nature soon led her into administrative roles,  

"I also didn't expect to end up in administration, but I'm a problem-solving person, and so I ended up as director of the audiology program within just a few years of starting here and was Director of Audiology for a long while," she said.  

Dr. Dockens' current role as the Associate Dean of Policy and Procedure for the College of Graduate Studies, but even more so as the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Enhancement (CTLE) at Lamar University became a catalyst for her deeper involvement with AI. 

"Around January or February of last year, there had been a lot more [news] coming out about generative AI and its applications in higher education. The fear was growing because people were worried that it would cause students to cheat or that it would take away people's jobs and those kinds of things," Dockens said. "But we were still pretty early on, and not everybody really knew very much and the more I was talking to people on campus, the more I realized no one's educating them; not because the university was avoiding it, but because it was just so new." 

Dr. Dockens saw an opportunity to bridge this knowledge gap.  

"I thought at the very least what I'd do was start posting articles that exist out there on our CTLE social media,” she said. 

When questions began to arise from both the community and the Office of Academic Affairs about the university's policies, Dockens noted the increasing curiosity and concern surrounding the matter and acted.  

"I thought I could at least put out maybe some fact sheets and information about what it is and help people kind of build a sense of information and calm,” she said. “I initially put together a factsheet on ChatGPT and other generative AIs and what they can and can't do. I started having more and more calls coming in asking for more information, and it kind of just hit me. People were starving for information." 

Dockens quickly moved to meet this demand.  

I started creating guides, and one of them, probably the thing I'm asked for the most, is the first one I created last summer. It's a giant guide that had 100 different ways you could essentially redesign your class assignments to make them either resistant to AI or to make them inclusive of AI," Dockens said. "That document has been used now by universities all over and they've contacted me about it. It just tells ways to make assignments much more authentic, much more hands-on, much more experiential, even if it's an online course."  

Her expertise began to expand beyond healthcare, exploring how generative AI could revolutionize various sectors. Dr. Dockens started publishing information and presenting at conferences, showcasing how AI could augment human capabilities, enhance research methodologies, and transform educational practices. 

"I started attending every possible higher education webinar training that I could possibly attend. I’ve easily attended 60 plus trainings. I've done every course I could possibly find and became certified in generative AI with Blockchain Council. I am a lead for my field," Dr. Dockens said, “the national, well, international accreditor is the Council for Academic Programs and Communication Sciences and Disorders. I became the chair of their AI Task Force to create policy and procedure for our field in the academic sector. My research and grants have shifted to AI. Essentially, I eat, sleep, and breathe generative AI." 

Now, Dr. Dockens' expertise in generative AI extends beyond her presentations; she is also actively involved in and leading policy and guideline development. Notably, she has and is contributing to the creation of policies and guidelines for the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders, Lamar University, and the College of Graduate Studies, among others. She also consults with other universities and K-12 school systems on building their trainings, policies, and guides.  

Moreover, Dr. Dockens is at the forefront of research in AI in higher education. As the primary investigator on multiple grants, including grants from the Lamar University Center for Resiliency, she is dedicated to enhancing faculty attitudes and self-efficacy in AI integration for post-disaster higher education resilience. Additionally, she is conducting ongoing research surveys to gauge both faculty and student knowledge, usage, ethics, and beliefs about generative AI tools. Her research will be used to create more informative training sessions for faculty at Lamar University and beyond.  

“I've found that the best way to get faculty excited about it and get over the fear is to show them how they can use it in their own everyday workflow. Once they realize it doesn't have to be evil, it becomes a useful tool – once they get past that fear of it. That's been helpful,” Dockens said.  

By demonstrating practical applications in their daily workflows, Dockens found that faculty members began to overcome their initial apprehensions. 

“I think it's upon us to show our value and how we can leverage these new tools to improve higher education,” Dockens said. “It helps faculty improve and support their teaching goals. It assists in meeting all the hectic requirements of expectations of faculty work. I also think it's going to help with accessibility because it can create alternate outputs to make accessible aids and formats for various needs.”  

As AI becomes increasingly prevalent in various industries, Dockens underscored the necessity for students to develop AI literacy within a safe and conducive learning environment. 

“Now that AI is out there, it's not going anywhere. It's starting to become a part of the industries in the workplaces where our students are going to go. I think there's starting to become an expectation that you as a person who will be in the workforce later needs to be AI literate," Dr. Dockens said. For that reason, you must learn how to use it. And you can only want to use it if you use it in a safe space, and to me, that's where the classroom is; it should be a safe space to learn."