Written assignments are one of the ways for students to demonstrate their understanding of course content and meeting of learning objectives. Certificates, diplomas, and degrees declare that students passed enough assignments and courses required for the credential. In order for those credentials to carry academic value, schools have policies prohibiting plagiarism and other forms of cheating, and teachers are tasked with making sure, as best as they can, that students’ work is authentic.
Cheating is not a new concern in academia and probably will always be an issue in some form or another. One of those cheating forms that has emerged is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, such as ChatGPT and other bots that produce an essay in a matter of seconds after typing in an assignment topic, title, or prompt. Because the responses from those bots are created, not copied, there is concern that plagiarism checking software cannot detect when students have used a bot to complete their assignments. So rather than focusing on trying to detect AI-generated text after an assignment has been turned in (tools to do so are already being developed), this blog post presents three methods that can help deter students from using those bots in the first place.
1. Provide a definition of plagiarism to students that addresses the use of AI bots.
Currently, dictionaries tend to define plagiarism as using the ideas or words of someone else without citation. Since bots are not people, students might think or argue that using a bot is not plagiarizing. In order to make sure students are aware of what constitutes plagiarism, a more comprehensive description is needed that is not limited only to copying from another person. For example, a definition included in course syllabi or institutional policies could be as follows: Plagiarism is the use of ideas or words from another source without citation.
2. Specify sources students should use.
A clever feature of AI-created essays is the inclusion of references that are formatted correctly and look authentic even though they are fake. One of the ways instructors can encourage students to do their own research and writing could be to specify some, or all, of the sources they must use and cite in their assignments.
3. Design assignments to be completed in stages and within a reasonable amount of time.
AI Bots create a final product. Therefore, consider implementing deadlines that require students to submit assignments in stages of development and completion, such as outline, annotated bibliography, rough draft, etc., and requiring that they incorporate instructor feedback from each stage throughout the process. Working on assignments in well-paced stages not only helps students focus on doing their own work, but also it facilitates practicing and learning good time management. One of the top reasons why students intentionally plagiarize is lack of time. By designing assignment completions in stages with sufficient time for each step and feedback along the way, instructors can help students to not procrastinate and resort to cheating.
These three methods do not comprise an exhaustive list of ways to deter cheating, but are intended to prompt thinking about how to improve teaching so that students are learning. Technological innovations that challenge the status quo provide an opportunity to re-evaluate and revise teaching methods and assignment designs for the better.