In the late 1990s, teachers and professors worried that the Internet would soon undermine the future of education. Having vast amounts of information at their fingertips would negatively affect their ability to research. Then, Wikipedia was introduced in 2001, which raised an entirely new set of fears related to plagiarism. Students could literally copy and paste materials into their essays and present them as their own. Within a few years, however, schools adapted, and now these threats are nearly non-existent. Now, a new concern has emerged with advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and AI content writers like ChatGPT. Specifically, educators fear students using ChatGPT to cheat will usher in a group of lazy and poorly educated individuals. Are they right? Or is this simply another case of premature worry?
ChatGPT is OpenAI’s version of an AI content writer that is particularly adept at long-form content. That means that it can easily be used to write essays and papers along with other materials with the right user inputs. As such, students across the globe are already experimenting with the software to reduce their academic workloads. Many are using it to write papers and assignments. Some involve students using ChatGPT to cheat on examinations and multiple-choice tests. Therefore, it’s not surprising that academic institutions are scrambling once again to come up with solutions. Many are changing rules, policies and even educational practices in the process. This reflects the latest battle between technology and the future of education.
“I think we’ve been in a version of this [technology-based plagiarism] territory for a while already. Students who commit plagiarism often borrow material from a ‘somewhere’—a website, for example, that doesn’t have clear authorial attribution.” – Alice Dailey, Chair of the Academic Integrity Program, Villanova University
AI Technology Forcing Change
With students using ChatGPT to cheat and write assignments, schools and colleges are in a new dilemma. Existing policies and rules prohibit plagiarism when it comes to writing essays. But plagiarism has always been defined as the practice of representing another person’s work or ideas as one’s own. What happens, however, when the work and ideas are not that of another person but a machine? This is the issue that many educators are now debating in relation to AI content writers. If the use of AI-created content isn’t actually against policy, then what’s to stop students from using it? And if this is the case, what does this mean for the future of education in general?
In some instances, schools are proactively making changes in their own academic integrity rules. New York City and Seattle have banned the use of AI content writing programs on school computers and networks. But working around these rules is relatively easy. Students using ChatGPT to cheat or write their essays have become adept at solutions. This has led other teachers to change the way they teach altogether. Instead of take-home assignments or computer-generated documents, they are going “old school.” That means handwritten work, oral exams, and group projects. In this regard, some of the current strategies see the future of education moving backwards instead of forwards.
“Calling the use of ChatGPT to pull reliable sources from the internet ‘cheating’ is absurd. It’s like saying using the internet to conduct research is unethical. To me, ChatGPT is the research equivalent of Grammarly [software]. – Jacob Gelman, Sophomore, Brown University
Varied Perspectives Among Teachers and Students
While many teachers and academicians are concerned about students using ChatGPT to cheat or “plagiarize,” others aren’t. In fact, some are taking this opportunity to educate students about the use of technology. For example, some teachers have students compose their own written work and then compare it to content created by ChatGPT. The process allows students to appreciate the technology’s shortcomings while improving their composition skills as well. These pursuits could be improved further if teachers show student how AI content writers can be a support tool. This type of approach is certainly a more constructive for the future of education.
Several articles have reported instances of students using ChatGPT to cheat while bragging to their friends or on social media. But they do not highlight those who believe AI content writers are too flawed for this purpose. Perhaps, the quality of the writing is adequate for middle or high school settings. But in college, plenty of students have described awkward phrases, lack of complexity and poor quality writing with some AI content writers. At least for these students, they cannot see how AI content could replace student compositions. Thus, for them, they do not see it as a threat to the future of education. Regardless, enough students have used ChatGPT to shortcut assignments. And this is why most teachers believe solutions moving forward are needed.
“While these large language AI-generative writing models like ChatGPT are general purpose, the AI systems to detect their statistical signatures need to be specially built.” -Eric Wang, Vice-President of AI, Turnitin
The Most Likely Solutions in the Making
In pursuing solutions currently, educational institutions are taking a few different approaches. Some believe that students using ChatGPT to cheat will prompt new teaching methods in the classroom. But requiring oral exams, handwritten work, and group projects will demand greater teaching resources that are lacking. Other institutions are trying to redefine plagiarism to include claiming work generated by AI content writing programs. While this may be appropriate, simply changing definitions won’t be enough. As always, detection and enforcement measures will need to be included. And this is where the future of education in relation to AI content writing will likely go.
Understanding this, the most obvious solution will be a technology-based one. Several companies are already working diligently on detection software for AI-created content. CrossPlag is one such startup based in Europe that states it can detect AI-based writings. Another exists in Australia as well. And of course, the industry’s leader in plagiarism detection, Turnitin, will be rolling out their own product soon. Given that Turnitin is already in thousands of educational institutions, they certainly have an advantage. The future of education in managing AI content will definitely include these types of solutions. And they’re likely to be available sooner rather than later. Thus, the battle for student’s souls between educators and AI will likely be short-lived. And either way, AI technology will be the clear winner.