'The textbook definition of plagiarism': Educators mobilize to counter essay-writing app ChatGPT
The internet has provided numerous tools that students and others can take advantage of — from auto-correct and grammar checks to Google searches and Wikipedia.
The concern comes when the tool moves from being a push in the right direction to plagiarism. That's the debate sparked by ChatGPT.
"ChatGPT is what one of my colleagues calls ‘auto-correct on steroids,’" says Luke Stark.
Stark is a professor with Western University's Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS). One of his research focuses is on the ethical and social impacts of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). He says that, with just a few prompts, ChatGPT will scan the internet, collect information on a topic, and formulate an essay or other written work.
"We've already seen some cases at Western and across the country of people submitting essays produced by ChatGPT and claiming them as their own work,” says Stark. “This is, from my perspective, the textbook definition of plagiarism. Plagiarism is passing off somebody else’s work, somebody else’s words, as your own.”
Stark says there are ways for university professors and other educators to identify ChatGPT content and to curtail its use.
Institutions at all levels of the education spectrum are already taking steps to address the issue. The initial focus is on the identification of papers produced with AI.
Meaghan Shannon is manager of academic integrity for Fanshawe College. She says there are ways to identify ChatGPT content.
"We'll look at writing style. We'll look at if they've gone beyond or outside the assignment or the course content,” she says. “There's usually peculiarities with citations and references that will, kind of, come up as red flags."Home page of the ChatGPT website. The program allows users to input bullet-points on a subject and the application will scan the internet for information and produce an essay on the subject.
Western University leadership declined an interview on the subject, but Susan Lewis, Vice-Provost (Academic Programs), issued this statement to CTV News:
“Western has a scholastic discipline policy in place to address all forms of academic integrity and the university monitors all forms of scholarly misconduct through annual reporting to Senate.
Institutions of higher learning have an opportunity and obligation to play a role in examining and answering the complex ethical questions that come along with these new technologies. ChatGPT is adding a new layer to conversations about learning and assessment that were already underway.
We recognize that there will be some disciplines and topics where ChatGPT can be used ethically to enhance and support learning and other instances where ChatGPT could negatively impact learning. Instructors are best positioned to determine the assessment practices and learning outcomes for their courses and to clarify with students their expectations around the use of tools such as ChatGPT.
We also recognize there is immense potential for AI technology in academia, and we have seen those applications through groundbreaking work our researchers are doing here.”
Luke Stark says the effort to stem bot-written homework starts before the assignment is even given, "there are ways you can structure classes and assignments to make them less amenable to being affected by ChatGPT. For my assignments, I tend to ask my students to bring a lot of their personal, subjective perspective to their analysis. So, you know, you can't really get a chat-bot to do that."
Stark says there can be a role for ChatGPT in assisting students. One Fanshawe College student who spoke with CTV News says he simply uses the program to help generate ideas.
"Whenever I'm short on ideas, because it happens every day that a person can't create ideas in the moment, the AI helps. But it doesn't always work,” he says.
The reason it doesn't always work may highlight why educators are paying such close attention to the issue. The student said it’s because of the volume of use.
“It's so overloaded. So overloaded that every half hour or every two hours the server is down,” he says.
Of course, it's not just students using ChatGPT. It’s clear professionals are using it as well. Earlier this week internet media company BuzzFeed announced it would be using the company ‘OpenAI’ to generate some of its content. OpenAI is the creator of ChatGPT.
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