Two Takeaways from ICDE’s Leadership Summit on Ethical Leadership in the Age of AI


Dr. Madeline R. Shellgren (Director of Global Outreach, Online Learning Consortium)

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I recently attended the International Council For Open and Distance Education (ICDE) Leadership Summit 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland (hosted by Globethics), where educational leaders from around the world gathered to discuss ethical leadership in the age of AI. Truthfully, the event was so rich with dialogue and opinion, any number of the sessions I went to, conversations I took part of, or questions I left with could have served as inspiration for this post-event reflection. That said, here are two things from the event that still weigh heavily on my mind: 

  • Whether those working in Higher Education like it or not, Artificial Intelligence is here to stay (and is only going to grow in use and integration). 

I’ll remind you, before I expand here, that the ICDE Leadership Summit 2024 drew leaders from around the world (and working at various levels) to one physical location to discuss ethics, leadership, AI, and education. When I say “from around the world,” I don’t mean this performatively; I convened with someone from every continent except Antarctica, learning, yes, about what the world is doing with AI in the context of education, but more importantly about the global worldviews and stances on AI in the context of education.  

Nearly every speaker commented in some way on the ethical considerations and potential dangers of AI adoption. Most compelling among them (in my opinion) were those discussions that centered the ways in which AI might perpetuate and even deepen the inequities and larger systems of oppression which we face both locally and globally. 

Some in attendance were very for AI; others, while perhaps not against it, certainly took pause to reflect on the world’s rapid adoption of AI and question the criticality (or perhaps lack thereof) with which we are approaching this rapid adoption. It did become clear that the onset and integration of AI has been so rapid and pervasive that the global community hasn’t had the time nor the space to dialogue around the potential implications and consequences of this rapid adoption (whether those be good or bad). Moreover, it became clear that the world of education is behind when it comes to AI, and while each region of the world represented is trying to plan proactively, many are challenged with the realities of functioning in a state of reactivity to the larger global economy and global market of AI. This tension is, of course, not new for education…the education community faces it regularly with the onset of new technologies. That said, the conversation around AI was certainly different, as though governed by the overwhelming sense that even though we don’t know what the entirety of the future of AI brings, we know it will be more transformative than anything we have seen in a while. 

  • Events like these never cease to remind me of the importance of international dialogue around online learning…we need more of it. 


Did I really have to travel all the way to Geneva or attend a global event like this to know that AI is here to stay, will continue to have an impact on education, and if we (in education) don’t embrace it, we will be left behind? Well, no. I suppose I already had come to that myself simply by the conversations I have had with my US colleagues. However, I nevertheless find it profoundly helpful to be surrounded by global debate, disagreement, and community discourse. While we might have all agreed that AI is here to stay, this is not to say that everyone agreed on everything. There was plenty of debate around specific topics like cheating and authentic assessment, infrastructure, digital literacy, the future of thought leadership, the role politics, power, and the economy has played in the rate and direction of AI adoption, and the future of the education sector, to name a few. 

In the US, I feel like I am often surrounded by so many of the same dominant opinions and in academic communities where debate tends to actually translate to volatile discourse. So it is tremendously refreshing to be in a space of productive disagreement. 

In particular, one thing I left thinking about was how we as a global educational community orient around the concept of ethics. During this event, several calls were made for more work in definitions (I even made a few myself in sessions I led). What do we actually mean when we say ethical? Ethical to whom? Which culture? Ethical as defined within which worldview? Ethical according to whose standards? The truth is, the lived experiences that guide our respective definitions of ethics needs to necessarily be globally contextualized at a local level. That is also to say that ethical leadership will look different depending on where in the world you are. So as we advance our thinking and understanding about the implications of AI for the educational landscape, we need to continue to do so globally and make space for genuine disagreement, as the ICDE Leadership Summit 2024 did. 

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