Cheating on the rise in universities and colleges, and artificial intelligence could make it worse
430 instances of scholastic offences were recorded by Western University of London, Ont., in 2021-2022
Cheating at Canadian post-secondary institutions has been trending up since the pandemic began, and experts predict the emergence of easy-to-use artificial intelligence technology will only make the situation worse.
At Western University in London, Ont., there were 430 instances of what have been called scholastic offences reported in the 2021-2022 school year, nearly double the number during the year before the pandemic, when classes going completely online increased the instances of cheating at Canadian colleges and universities.
Most of the cases at Western were in the social science faculty and almost half involved plagiarism, according to a report to the school's senate. Professors say they've already seen students using AI to get around having to complete assignments themselves, and with the release of AI bots such as ChatGPT, which can write entire essays in seconds, skirting rules has become easier.
"Not just professors, but university administrators and deans — all those folks are very aware of cheating with AI, and they're very concerned about it," said Luke Stark, a professor at Western's faculty of media and information studies, with a focus on the social and ethical implications of AI.
"This is something that has really come on our radar in the last couple of months since the release of this latest chatbot, and it's something that we're all taking very seriously," Stark added.
Colleagues call ChatGPT "autocorrect on steroids," Stark said. The bot goes through a large amount of Internet data and spits out text, including essays, song lyrics, poems or computer code.
"We have a pretty good idea that at least some of our students are using this. Anecdotally, I can say that we've had a couple of instances where we've picked it up, but I think this is just the latest in a longer conversation we've been having about the way digital technologies and AI technologies influence the work our students are doing."
Cheating task force formed
Western University has created an academic integrity task force to explore how to approach cheating. Other institutions, such as Queen's University and the University of Toronto, have also reported the pandemic increased instances of cheating.
The problem isn't unique to universities. Cheating is also up at Fanshawe College, and professors there are worried it could get worse, said Meaghan Shannon, who manages the academic integrity office.
"We definitely did see an increase in academic offences during the pandemic when we switched to online delivery and online testing," Shannon said. "I suspect it was the result of students feeling disconnected or not as engaged as they would be if they were in the classroom, so there was more plagiarism and definitely challenges with online testing."
Students have been using AI, such as spelling and grammar suggestive software, for years, and more recently have been using spin-bots, which take plagiarized sentences and re-arrange the word order so the cheating can't be detected by programs that scan for possible copying.
Profs on the lookout
It all means that professors will have to be on the lookout for phrases that don't sound right and tailor their assignments to help prevent cheating.
"The AI assignments look a certain way, so instructors will see that what is turned in does not match the instructions or expectations for that course, or the context is off," Shannon said.
Some professors have been talking about bringing back oral exams so students can't cheat, Stark said. Professors can also get a feel for a student's writing style and detect cheating if it changes wildly between assignments, he added.
How ChatGPT will be used in courses such as computer science will be interesting to see, Stark said, because the bot can write or correct code.
"I think that in some ways, the bigger challenge for plagiarism and academic misconduct is going to be in the sciences," he said. "These systems are very good at pulling code or scientific formulas from the Internet, so if you're just tasking your students to write a piece of code, Chat GPT can do that almost immediately."