‘AI bot forces teachers to test differently’

UU tightens plagiarism rules following ChatGPT

Chatbot ChatGPT weet alles
Photo: Shutterstock

The popularity of the chatbot is causing a real commotion in higher education. UU has been following the discussion closely, with extraordinary interest. The programme is remarkably able to answer complex questions with texts that use natural language and an understandable structure. Students could be easily enticed to submit an essay question to the ChatGTP so that they can earn credits without much effort.

These past few weeks, UU's Executive Board received a lot of questions about how teachers and study programmes should react to the programme. One of the first steps the university wants to take is adjusting its OER, according to Head of Education Renée Filius. The passage about plagiarism is probably going to be expanded with a sentence about the use of texts formulated by chatbots such as Chat GPT. This will only be allowed if explicitly stated.

The question is how to enforce compliance. Even Filius acknowledges that, right now, it is rather complicated to demonstrate that a text was written by a chatbot. Strictly speaking, one cannot say this is a case of plagiarism because ChatGPT creates a non-existent text. 

It's possible that systems will be devised in the short term to recognise a student's own writing style, but the use of such tools is expected to generate previous privacy concerns.

The human component
The Head of Education says the university is also looking to avoid "some kind of arms race with anti-plagiarism tools." According to her, it is better to teach students to use these new gadgets critically and bring back "the human component" in testing.

Reintroducing pen and paper, like Australian universities have done, doesn't seem realistic to her, "but we could ask students to present an essay orally."

Filius compares the current situation to the advent of the calculator. Maths exams are not longer about giving the right answer, but rather demonstrating all the steps taken to reach it. "This way, students can also learn to use ChatGPT in a meaningful way, which opens a whole set of possibilities."

Biggest impact apart from Covid
Willemijn Schot and Laura Koenders, advisers at the university's Educational Development and Training, received questions about ChatGPT from all sides these past few weeks.

Schot: “Apart from Covid, we've never seen anything that develops so fast and has such significant impact. The university's structures aren't made to deal with that at all. For example, assessment methods have already been determined for all courses this year. We can't just mess around with that."

In the slightly longer term, Schot and Koenders think that teachers will have to look for other ways to test their students. This seems unavoidable, especially regarding tests that are not taken in the controlled environment of an examination hall.

Koenders is convinced that students will make use of these new tools. A UU teacher who asked essay questions to ChatGPT out of curiosity concluded with bewilderment that the bot certainly scored a pass.

"Maybe it's not so handy anymore to just ask students to write an essay or paper. We could consider having the core of argument explained orally, for example. Or we'd have to structure the test differently. But how will teachers do that if they can't dedicate any more time to education? That's a good question, to which I don't have an immediate answer." 

Achieving learning goals
The two advisers agree with Filius that teachers can use the new AI software to come up with entirely new ways of testing.

Schot: “If a student is able to pose a good question to a chatbot and then critically analyse its answer, they have certainly already achieved a few learning goals. Even more so if the student can suggest how the text could be improved."

Even so, teachers will have to convince their students that looking up and analysing information themselves remains extremely valuable.

“ChatGPT can summarise and order existing knowledge relatively well, but when you have a brand new research question, that's not enough. If you're going to engage in their own research in the last years of their programme, you must be able to do it yourself. If you lack those skills, it becomes a problem."

Positive aspects
The debate about ChatGPT has not subsided at UU for the time being. Over the next few months, teachers are sure to deal with suspicious essays without being able to tell whether or not they were written by an AI bot.

But, in the long term, Koenders and Schot hope that the positive aspects of the tool are going to prevail. For example, some students are already testing themselves by having ChatGPT draw up questions.

On February 2, a debate about AI bots and higher education is going to be organised as part of the Teaching and Learning Inspiration Day. Laura Koenders is going to participate.