Universities are staring at a new threat as students adopt AI technology to cheat in assignments and projects.
The quality of graduates universities produce is likely to be compromised.
A new AI technology, ChatGPT, launched in November last year, has been a source of excitement among many students as they explore its ability to write essays, solve science and math problems and produce working computer code.
Interviews with dozens of students in public and private universities reveal that the AI technology is gaining popularity among university students.
Before, university students revered Google as the primary source of mining data and on social media you would even see jokes of graduates giving thanks to Google for their achievement.
But the incorporation of ChatGPT to Microsoft’s search engine Bing, and other search engines such as Neeva and DuckDuckGo are slowly starting to change how students do things in universities.
University heads on the other hand are grappling with how to deal with it – and how to benefit from the new technological leap it represents.
This new development is now a source of concern among university administrators as the technology could erode academic honesty among students.
In particular, the technology could cause a big headache to the current plan to have open and distance learning which will mainly be conducted online.
University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor Stephen Kiama admitted that the technology poses a threat to academic integrity in the short run, but believes in the long run the tool will be of great benefit to scholars and educators.
“Any technological advancement comes with its disadvantages, we saw that when mobile phones came to the picture and with our very own M-Pesa but slowly they put regulations to curb any malice,” Prof Kiama told The Standard.
Kiama said lecturers are monitoring students through traditional methods such as observing a change in writing patterns to curb the use of ChatGPT.
On whether the tool should be banned in universities, Kiama argues that ChatGPT should be embraced as a teaching aid.
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
He said the technology could unlock student creativity and help educators in research and advancing their knowledge.
“Remember this technology can be used to offer personalised tutoring, and better prepare students to work alongside AI systems,” Kiama said.
“The changes we see now are similar to those we saw when the internet came, which was also revolutionary and changed a lot of things,” Kiama said.
George Omondi, a University of Nairobi lecturer, tried out the tool in February. He used ChatGPT to answer questions he had posed to third year students.
The results, he said, were shocking as the answers were competent enough and would achieve a Grading of B to C.
But to test the tool further, he put the same set of questions to see if it would generate similar response and he was perturbed when it answered the question in a totally different fashion.
“Concerning teaching, we need to understand and integrate new tools. This dialogue has just begun; there is no doubt that this will be a powerful technology in future.
“Students need to know how it works and how to use it... as well as when it is useful and when it is not. In education, the goal is not always finding the right answer, it is central that you are able to track your methods and know your references,” Omondi said.
One of the students interviewed, from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, noted that she was introduced to ChatGPT by her classmates and has done one assignment with the AI tool.
When asked how the assignment turned out, she said: “It was decent, the lecturer did not return it for plagiarism and I also scored really well.”
Another student from Multimedia University of Kenya, who identified himself only as Collins, indicated that he quit using Google after discovering ChatGPT sometime in January.
Collins said he has used the tool in almost all assignments, including developing a code. The latter, however, did not turn out great.
Afterwards, he introduced the tool to some of his classmates and they used the tool to complete their groupwork.
Can universities detect use of ChatGPT? Yes.
Despite the technology being relatively new, some AI detection software are in use. These include GPTZero and accurate GPT detector, which are free.
To curb malpractices, OpenAI has indicated it will add watermarks to ChatGPT’s responses .
When Google emerged, it came with its fair share of trouble; plagiarism in particular became a big issue.
This saw academia tighten the noose to protect intellectual property.
In the US and Europe universities have responded to AI threat by changing the way they assess students.
Increasingly students are being asked to orally present their work in front of a seminar group, or to answer questions from lecturers.
In Denmark, some universities have banned the use of chatbot in examinations.