ChatGPT has become a hot topic at pretty much every university in the nation. When staff at Montclair State University asked ChatGPT to define its function, it responded that “GPT models are trained to generate human-like text by predicting the next word in a sequence based on the words that come before it.” As many people have already seen, ChatGPT thus has the capability to write not just short responses but entire papers that are practically indistinguishable from human work.
This creates an interesting dilemma for schools. On the one hand, if a student turns in a paper he or she prompted ChatGPT to write, then that paper is not the student’s own work and should be considered plagiarism. On the other hand, since ChatGPT is creating brand new material, a student taking words, sentences, or even paragraphs from the bot will not be caught by traditional plagiarism-detection software. The anti-plagiarism firm Turnitin has just released an “AI Writing Detector” that seems promising, but it is, at this point, no guarantee. Like it or not, ChatGPT writes well enough that it can fool professors, so, unless Turnitin’s software is foolproof, it’s not as if the humans reading AI-generated work will be likely to catch it.
Unless Turnitin’s new software is foolproof, humans reading AI-generated work will be unlikely to catch it.Here’s what I find concerning about how schools have been responding to ChatGPT so far: They don’t seem to be presenting clear guidelines on whether they consider all uses of ChatGPT to be plagiarism. Furthermore, they don’t seem to have a clear idea of how they are going to respond if a student is caught using ChatGPT to plagiarize.
I currently work as a tutor in Liberty University’s writing center. Until this week, Liberty had yet to come out with a specific policy regarding ChatGPT. What we were told, as writing coaches, was to encourage students to use ChatGPT as a supplementary tool only, for checking grammar and (possibly) for getting suggestions. But Liberty as an institution was silent about the specific line that defined plagiarism-via-bot and whether we should even be encouraging the behavior we had been. Mirroring Liberty’s silence, many schools seem either to be remaining quiet on the subject or providing vague statements about using ChatGPT as a tool and not as a paper-generator, without defining the line between the two.
Even worse, in Liberty’s writing center, if tutors discovered that a student had used ChatGPT to write a paper, we were supposed to encourage him or her to write future papers without the bot’s aid. Nevertheless, we were still instructed to finish an entire writing session, working on a paper the student didn’t write. Liberty was silent on how it was going to handle this kind of plagiarism or whether it would be considered plagiarism at all.
Happily, Liberty has, as of this Monday, released a new policy regarding ChatGPT. According to the new statement, “the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) aids, chatbots, or other equivalent forms of AI to create content for coursework” will henceforth be considered plagiarism. This is an excellent start, and other universities should move immediately to create statements of their own.
Here’s what I think: ChatGPT could be the end of honest academic writing in higher education if universities do not establish clear policies. While we wait for guidance, students nationwide are getting away with turning in papers that are not their own, thus receiving grades they don’t deserve for work they didn’t do. As a student just trying to do honest schoolwork and earn my grades, I’m frustrated that others can get away with this. Universities need to act, and they need to act soon.
Kristin MacArthur is a junior studying English, creative writing, and Spanish at Liberty University.