Lecturers at UK universities have been urged to review the way in which their courses are assessed amid concerns that students are already using a potent new AI tool capable of producing high-quality essays with minimal human input.
ChatGPT, the latest chatbot from OpenAI, founded in 2015 by Elon Musk, Sam Altman and others, has only been publicly available for a matter of weeks, but has already triggered concerns about the potential for hard-to-detect plagiarism and questions about the validity of the essay as a future form of assessment.
It has been described as “a game changer” that will prove a challenge in universities and schools. Although GCSE and A-level courses are assessed through traditional end-of-course examinations, experts are concerned pupils who use the technology to do their homework will become dependent on AI-generated answers without acquiring the knowledge and skills they need.
Working groups have been set up in university departments to assess the challenge of this latest iteration of AI text-generating technology, with the expectation that methods of assessment in certain courses will have to be updated. Experts admit to feeling both excited and alarmed.
In one case, staff in the computer science department at University College London recently decided to change an assessment. Previously students were offered a choice between an essay-based or skills-based assessment as part of the final coursework, but the essay option has been removed.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, meanwhile, acknowledged that schools would have to get to grips with how to utilize ChatGPT’s benefits while guarding against negative implications.
“As with all technology, there are caveats around making sure that it is used responsibly and not as a license to cheat, but none of that is insurmountable,” he said. In contrast, New York City schools have already banned the use of ChatGPT on all devices and networks, because of concerns it will encourage plagiarism.
Dr Thomas Lancaster, a computer scientist working at Imperial College London, best known for his research into academic integrity, contract cheating and plagiarism, said it was in many ways a game changer. He said: “It’s certainly a major turning point in education where universities have to make big changes.
“They have to adapt sooner rather than later to make sure that students are assessed fairly, that they all compete on a level playing field and that they still have the skills needed beyond university.
“There’s been technology around for several years that will generate text. The big change is that this technology is wrapped up in a very nice interface where you can interact with it, almost like speaking to another human. So it makes it available to a lot of people.”
Because ChatGPT is capable of coming up with countless original combinations of words, Lancaster said it would be more difficult to spot and prove plagiarism, although work is already underway to improve detection software. “It’s an incredibly tricky problem because this has almost appeared out of nowhere… I would be completely shocked if there weren’t students already using GPT for assessments.”
Australian universities have already signaled a return to greater use of in-person exams to try to protect the integrity of assessment. Lancaster said, however, a wholesale return to exams was not the answer, suggesting instead the use of oral presentations and vivas to enable students to demonstrate their grasp of a subject.
Although ChatGPT marks a huge step forward in the evolution of AI text generation, it is not infallible. “It may sound very plausible, but the more detail or facts you need as part of your question, the more likely it is that the algorithm will produce something that looks good, but is completely wrong,” said Michael Draper, professor in legal education at the University of Swansea and an expert on academic integrity and cheating.
He said universities could try to ban it, as they ban other forms of cheating like essay mills, which students pay to produce an original piece of work that they then submit. Draper said: “The other alternative is that you allow students to use it. lf we’re preparing students for the outside world of work and if in the workplace this sort of technology is given to us, then I think we need to embrace it rather than ban it.”
Michael Webb, director of technology and analytics at Jisc, which provides network and IT services to higher education, agreed. He said: “The knee-jerk reaction might be to block these tools in order to stop students cheating, but that’s neither feasible nor advisable. We should really regard them as simply the next step up from spelling or grammar checkers: technology that can make everyone’s life easier.
“We don’t need to revert to in-person exams: this is a great opportunity for the sector to explore new assessment techniques that measure learners on critical thinking, problem-solving and reasoning skills rather than essay-writing abilities.”
A ChatGPT essay
Q to ChatGPT: Write a university level essay about the causes of the first world war. The essay should be written from a UK perspective and use UK English.
A: The first world war, also known as the Great War, was a global conflict that lasted from 1914 to 1918 and resulted in the deaths of millions of people. The causes of the war are complex and varied, but can be broadly categorized into long-term, short-term, and immediate causes.
One of the main long-term causes of the war was the competition for colonies and resources between the major European powers. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the British Empire and other European nations were expanding their empires and seeking new territories to exploit for resources and markets. This led to tensions between the major powers, as they competed for control of the same areas.
Another long-term cause was the arms race between the major powers. In the years leading up to the war, countries such as Germany, France, and Britain had been investing heavily in their military capabilities, including building large armies and navies. This arms race led to an atmosphere of mistrust and fear between the major powers, as each feared that the others were becoming too powerful.
Short-term causes of the war include the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in 1914, and the system of alliances that existed between the major European powers. The assassination of the Archduke, which was carried out by a member of a Bosnian-Serbian nationalist group, led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia, which in turn led to other countries getting involved as a result of their alliances.
Immediate causes of the war include the mobilization of armies by the major powers in response to the outbreak of war, and the Schlieffen Plan, which was a military strategy developed by Germany to quickly defeat France before turning its attention to Russia.
In conclusion, the causes of the First World War were complex and varied. The competition for colonies and resources between the major European powers, the arms race between the major powers, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the system of alliances, the mobilization of armies and the Schlieffen Plan all contributed to the outbreak of war in 1914.