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Edinburgh University ‘reviewing’ how it detects plagiarism due to ChatGPT software

Essay submission site Turnitin is developing its own AI detection tool


The University of Edinburgh is reviewing the potential implications that the new artificial intelligence software ChatGPT could have on plagiarism and academic misconduct, the Edinburgh Tab can reveal.

ChatGPT is a free online AI tool that is able to write essay-standard text in seconds, with extremely limited input from a human user. It has led to concern among university and school leaders about how to mitigate its impact on fairness in student assessments.

A spokesperson for Edinburgh University said it is “aware of the development of new AI software and its potential implications for assessment of students’ work and the effectiveness of plagiarism detection software”

“We are reviewing implications this may have for assessment design, approaches to detection of academic misconduct, and ways we can ensure that students understand how to carry out assessments with good academic practice in mind”, they continued.

However, the university emphasised the possible opportunities the software might present, and that it is “actively looking at ways in which course design and assessments may be able to incorporate these new technologies”.

Dr Thomas Lancaster, a London-based academic who specialises in plagiarism and academic conduct said the availability of ChatGPT to all students marks a major turning point in higher education, and that universities will have to make “big changes”.

“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”, he told the Guardian.

— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 16, 2023

ChatGPT is the latest software to be launched by OpenAI, a US-based technology company that was founded by Elon Musk among others in 2015. The company also created the DALL-E program, which allows users to create realistic images by simply typing a description of the image they wish to see.

Edinburgh University’s statement comes after Queen Mary University in London told its students: “Do not ask an AI chatbot to write your assessments for you. This would constitute plagiarism under the QMUL academic misconduct policy”.

Leaders at Alleyn’s School in London also revealed the software has caused the “end of homework”, as students are now only being asked to complete in-depth research on specific topics, rather than generate short summary answers to questions, The Times reports.

It is unclear how Edinburgh University and other academic institutions will alter assessment to cater to new AI technologies, however AI text detection software is already being developed by those who are concerned about the damage it could do to academic integrity.

Turnitin, an assignment submission website used by students globally including at Edinburgh, is understood to be developing its own tool to detect input from AI software.

The Tab tested out the software, asking it to simply “Write a funny features article for The Tab Edinburgh”. It did so effectively and in the correct style. After an introductory section about the city’s weather, it listed stereotypical Edinburgh students:

  1. The Tourist: This student is all about exploring the city and taking in its historical and cultural landmarks. They can often be found taking selfies in front of Edinburgh Castle or wandering the Royal Mile.
  2. The Partier: Edinburgh is well known for its nightlife and this student takes full advantage of it. They can often be found in the city’s bars, clubs, and pubs, partying until the early hours of the morning.
  3. The Brainiac: This student takes their studies very seriously and can often be found buried in textbooks in the library. They excel academically and have a strong focus on achieving high grades.
  4. The Political Activist: Edinburgh is a hotbed of political activism and this student is right in the thick of it. They are passionate about social justice issues and can often be found at demonstrations and rallies.

The Edinburgh Tab also asked it for advice on how to resolve disputes with flatmates.

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “The University is aware of the development of new AI software and its potential implications for assessment of students’ work and the effectiveness of plagiarism detection software. We are reviewing implications this may have for assessment design, approaches to detection of academic misconduct, and ways we can ensure that students understand how to carry out assessments with good academic practice in mind.

“AI software also presents opportunities for learning and we are actively looking at ways in which course design and assessments may be able to incorporate these new technologies.

“This topic is something that will impact the whole higher education sector, and the University will monitor and engage with broader sector discussions”.

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