In recent months, Scottish universities have witnessed a concerning surge in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) by students to complete their coursework. The availability and accessibility of AI programs like ChatGPT have made it easier for students to automate the writing process, leading to a growing academic integrity issue. Lecturers across institutions have expressed their concerns over this escalating problem.
AI’s threat to academic integrity
Academic staff at Scottish universities have reported that many students rely on AI to generate all or parts of their assignments. ChatGPT, one of the most popular AI programs, can produce articles within seconds by sourcing information from online resources. Using such AI tools has created challenges for educators in detecting plagiarism and maintaining academic standards.
One lecturer from Strathclyde University pointed out the dilemma faced by instructors. “When marking assessments, I see students who’ve put references citing where they got their information from. They look like real references, but when you look them up, they don’t lead anywhere – they are fake. It’s becoming impossible to detect everything.”
Evading plagiarism detection
Traditionally, universities have used software to scan and detect plagiarism in student submissions. However, AI has become so advanced that it can deceive these plagiarism checks. The Strathclyde University lecturer added, “My colleagues and I are really concerned. We’re seeing it more in international students than domestic students, so I’m not sure if it’s a language barrier problem or a culture problem.”
In many cases, AI-generated content may seem unnatural, making it easier to identify. Still, there are instances where AI-produced work closely resembles human writing, making it challenging for educators to detect.
Considering a return to pen and paper
To address the growing issue of AI cheating, some educators are contemplating a return to traditional pen-and-paper tests and assignments. The idea is to require students to complete their coursework on campus rather than at home, where the temptation to use AI is stronger. Traditional assessment methods could help maintain academic integrity by reducing the opportunities for AI cheating.
A lecturer from Stirling University reported a significant increase in assignments showing signs of AI involvement over the past six months, with approximately 20 percent of assessments exhibiting suspicious characteristics. They stated, “Sometimes it’s obvious that something has been copied from an AI software as it doesn’t read correctly – it’s not as if a human has written it. That’s fairly easy to detect, but then there are other times when references are phantom and information is completely inaccurate. We’re worried it will become more common and dilute the value of our degrees.”
Calls for responsible AI usage
Amidst these concerns, Anne Keenan of the EIS union emphasized the importance of supporting students to use AI responsibly and providing lecturers with adequate training in AI technology. She stressed the need for educators to identify both the positive and negative impacts of AI on learning, teaching assessment, and professional considerations.
Universities adapting to AI challenges
Representative body Universities Scotland acknowledged the need for academic institutions to adapt to emerging trends in AI. They stressed the importance of universities embracing change while educating students about the potential pitfalls and limitations of AI. Universities are also collaborating with expert bodies to address the issue of academic misconduct, ensuring that students who misuse AI tools face appropriate consequences.
Balancing the benefits and risks of AI
As universities navigate the evolving landscape of AI in education, finding the right balance between the benefits and risks is crucial. While AI can enhance learning and research, its misuse poses a significant threat to academic integrity. Educators, institutions, and students must work together to establish clear guidelines and ethical standards for AI usage in education.
The rising use of AI in academic cheating is a growing concern for Scottish universities. Educators are exploring various strategies to combat this issue, including the possibility of returning to traditional pen-and-paper assessments. However, it is essential to strike a balance between addressing cheating and harnessing the potential benefits of AI in education. With responsible AI usage and collaboration between universities and expert bodies, the Scottish higher education system can navigate these challenges while upholding academic integrity and quality.