Orfalea College of Business Faculty are Teaching the Future by Incorporating Artificial Intelligence into Lessons

Photo illustration with students and a teacher in a classroom with an artificial intelligence background

Catherine Hillman, a lecturer in the Marketing Area, is one of several Orfalea College of Business faculty to incorporate AI into their lessons. Here, HIllman, center, checks on a project with Nicole Neale and Ashley Gerken. (Photo/Jahan Ramezani, graphic, Megan Stoneson)

Written by July 1, 2024

Standing at the front of her digital media class, marketing lecturer Catherine Hillman offers students a fun challenge: Using artificial intelligence, brainstorm a new product that merges two existing, unrelated products, then create an image of the product and promote it on social media.

In 15 minutes.

“I want you to find the most bizarre, odd, humorous combination you can come up with,” she tells her class. “There’s no limitation to what you can create.”

The four student teams take the challenge and come up with some curious combos, including a deodorant that pairs Old Spice and Red Bull and Crocs that have a Lego theme.

“You’ve come up with great brands,” Hillman jokingly tells the class later. “You’re going to make millions, I’m sure.”

While Red Bull deodorant is not likely to make a splash on the market, the exercise showed students how they can use AI for product development and promotion. Despite the negative potential AI poses – cheating, deepfakes and job losses, to name a few – Hillman is one of several Orfalea College of Business faculty members who are embracing AI in their classrooms.

A faculty member spezaks to other faculty in a workshop about artificial intellignce

Finance associate professor Hamed Ghodussi spoke about AI with fellow faculty and staff. AI was also the focus on a Summer Under Graduate Research project he mentored in the summer of 2023. (Photo/Jahan Ramezani)

“There’s considerable excitement and energy around AI, including how it’s transforming teaching and learning,” said Stern Neill, professor of marketing. “We’re all keen to understand its personal and economic impacts – new efficiencies, jobs, industries, and as-yet unimagined opportunities.”

Broadly speaking,  AI is technology that enables computers and machines to simulate human intelligence and problem-solving capabilities. Some familiar AI uses include facial recognition, autonomous vehicles, and autocorrect functions. In the business world, some AI uses include work with cash flow projections, investment portfolio management, payroll and supply chain efficiency.

While both Hillman and Neill have used AI in their marketing classes, other areas have embraced it as well.

At an AI presentation for faulty and staff this year, Neal King, a lecturer in the Management, Human Resources and Information Systems area, said faculty need to provide students with AI tools for their careers.

“What we need to do is teach the future,” he said.

Of course, educators still need to teach the potential downside of AI.

One of the projects in last year’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) explored generative artificial intelligence in business schools.  The project, conducted with Hamed Ghoddusi, associate professor of finance, concluded that educators need to approach AI with caution – something Ghoddusi warned faculty about during the AI meeting last fall.

“Generated AI will give you misinformation,” Ghoddusi said, speaking about AI in general. “There can be all sorts of legal and ethical challenges.”

On the other hand, AI can yield positive results, something Hillman noticed when she began discussing AI in her classes five years ago. As AI improved, she incorporated it more in her lessons.

“I continually reimagined my course and brought AI into almost every single assignment I was doing,” she said.

In the summer of 2023, she unveiled an AI workshop for faculty.

Students use laptops for an assignment in a marketing class

Students in Stern Neill’s marketing class worked on AI assignments with students from Switzerland. Pictured are, left to right, Sara Dada, Macey Hardridge, Yeilen Fernandez-Ortiz, and Aiden Velasquez. (Photo/Jahan Ramezani)

In marketing, AI can be especially effective in promoting brands on social media, she said. With a few prompts, she said, AI apps can promote things in a voice that appeals to key demographics.

“I am always going to speak as an educated white female who was raised in a certain part of the United States, and that is always going to be my voice,” she said. “If I have AI speak for me, it’s going to pull from a much larger data set and vocabulary.”

AI, for example, might know how to speak to American cisgender, 18-year old males, she said, or West Africans who speak in a unique pidgin dialect.

However, the human element is still needed, Hillman said, as marketers need to instruct AI.

“You always want to tell an AI bot what its role is,” she said. “AI works better if you give it a narrow scope. Tell it exactly what you want it to answer. Like, if you just say, ‘What are some ways that I could improve my marketing?’ it’ll give you 20 answers, and they’re going to be all across the board, but if you say, ‘What are the top three things a university can do to increase engagement on Tik Tok with incoming freshmen?’ it will narrow down the answers really nicely.”

Macey Hardridge, a marketing student who graduated this spring, created her senior project with Hillman, using ChatGPT to promote her successful jewelry business, Lucky Lucky, and then comparing it to human promotion.

“Through my project on comparing AI-generated and human-created content in social media marketing, I tested six areas of focus within social media marketing,” she said. “Segmentation; day of the week; captions; hashtags; time of day; and collaboration.”

The metrics she used to compare the results included accounts reached, accounts engaged, profile activity, likes, comments and saves.

In the end, she found that AI performed better for boosting posts, or paid Instagram ads, while human decisions were better for creating captions and hashtags and picking the best time of day to post.

She recommends a mix of AI and human promotion for businesses, though each case should be tailored.

“Living through the digital revolution is exciting – witnessing a new era before our eyes. AI offers many ‘ah-ha’ moments to look forward to as we further integrate and learn from its adoption.”

Marketing Professor Stern Neill

“I currently use AI, namely ChatGPT, to promote by small business in a collaborative way to help make captions for social media posts,” she said. “I also use it to assist in making decisions regarding boosting my Instagram posts.”

Hardridge also used AI in Neill’s New Product Development course (BUS451), which was a virtual exchange with students from Switzerland. The course blended business and technology to address a significant social issue: creating AI-driven innovations that advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Students use a laptop to work on an assignment

Chloe Wu, left, and Sanjana Dadi, students in Catherine Hillman’s marketing course, use AI to combine two completely different brands.  (Photo/Jack Sann)

In that course, students engaged in a design sprint process where they generated, prototyped, and tested their ideas. One group, for example, created an app, FreshFashion, that would allow consumers to manage their wardrobe, promoting sustainable consumption.

For marketing students, Neill said, AI is helpful in several ways.

“It helps them innovate and find solutions to problems,” he said. “Practically, they learn how to enhance data-driven insights, personalization, and automation through AI.”

AI is likely to continue to evolve, Hillman said, with greater specialization. And, as AI improves, she said, expect the industry to monetize more.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more companies saying, ‘Hey, if you really want to use our product, you’re going to have to pay for it,’” she said.

Yet for Neill, who has been teaching marketing since 1998, embracing AI represents opportunities to enhance careers and perform social good.

“Living through the digital revolution is exciting – witnessing a new era before our eyes,” he said. “AI offers many ‘ah-ha’ moments to look forward to as we further integrate and learn from its adoption.”

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