A New Future for Academia?

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to advance, it has made its way into academia. Technology has many benefits to academics, such as promoting collaboration, enabling independent learning, and providing quick responses. However, with the advancements in technology and its increasing use in academic settings, it raises concerns about plagiarism and students leveraging AI to an unfair advantage.

Despite the benefits of incorporating technology into a learning environment, do the benefits outweigh the cons, or will it always be seen as a hindrance? What does this mean for the future of academia? Mr. Ollivere, an English teacher, and Mr. Perez, who teaches technology-based shop classes, gave their individual perspectives on the matter.

“I think that the use of technology has become a really essential part of education, especially since we had the pandemic and taught classes via Zoom. So I’m not surprised that technology keeps advancing. But I do know that the tech – like artificial intelligence specifically – definitely lends itself to some not appropriate use for academic achievement,” said Mr. Ollivere.

“I’ve seen a lot of software with the math community, I’ve also seen it with the science community. I think they are a great tool for students to use. I’m all up for innovation and making a process lighter and easier to work. Personally, I’m a proponent of this type of technology and I’ve used it myself,” said Mr. Perez.

Technology has become an integral part of academic life, especially during the pandemic when schools had to shut down to prevent a rise in cases. We have relied on web-based platforms such as Google Classroom and Zoom to teach classes. We also see a lot of innovation in technology when it comes to academic subjects like math and science, where there are apps that students can use such as MathWay, Photomath, Chegg, and Socratic. However, we shouldn’t use these apps to do our work for us, but instead check our work and help use them as a guide to see if we’re on the right track. 

“As technology becomes more and more advanced, I can see people wondering why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we’re teaching the process of writing. But, I think that going forward we’re always going to put more value in the human mind and what it can create. So even as real and accurate as AI writing text generation can become, I feel like humans will always be preferred over something that’s robotic,” said Mr. Ollivere.

“At first, the reason you develop a system is to streamline the process and make it simpler and more efficient. I can’t speak on every coder’s motivation, but I do think they have the best interest of students in mind,” said Mr. Perez.

This is definitely true. Although an AI can surpass us in processing information and logic and do computations way faster, there is something so valuable that we have as humans that AI simply does not have: the ability to feel and process emotion.

People are really good at learning and figuring things out because of their ability to think and feel emotions. AI doesn’t have these abilities. Humans are able to do more complicated stuff because of our ability to think and feel emotions like self-awareness and motivation. AI doesn’t have these things, so it can’t learn and understand as well as humans can. But AI does help us out tremendously and shouldn’t be taken for granted, as it gets work done for us almost instantaneously, allowing us to prioritize more important or demanding tasks.

“I firmly believe that as a teacher, I’m always trying to push my students, and I always say work smarter, not harder. But I’m not saying that you should cheat or do things that are illegitimate. You should use all the resources that are there for you. So I’m sure AI technology could help by maybe providing a model for students on how they could write something or how they could talk about something. The problem lies in if students are just simply using AI to generate work for themselves,” said Mr. Ollivere.

“I think that as long as students understand that there is a process and look to understand the process, it will never be hindering. As a matter of fact, it may open their minds and allow them to understand that there is a result they would’ve otherwise not received because of the actual program acquiring the result. And if they understand that there is a ‘why’ and they seek out the ‘why,’ ‘How is it?’ ‘Why is it that they were able to find that answer?’ ‘How is it that that machine was able to provide that response?’ Not by just simply copying an answer or just accepting the answer for what it is, but by doing the thinking process behind it,” said Mr. Perez.

As students, we have been told by many, especially by our educators, the good ole’ saying, “work smarter, not harder,” and this is easier for us to do now more than ever, thanks to the internet. However, that doesn’t mean we should take credit for work that isn’t ours. Instead, we should learn from the research, findings, and reportings of others, and use what an AI is able to generate for us in our own words to create our own original work, while still properly attributing the source we’ve gotten our information from wherever necessary.

Moreover, ChatGPT is an example of an AI writer that has been getting a lot of recognition lately. What’s special about it is that it can generate anything, from functioning code segments to essays to short stories, and really whatever you desire to generate. You can also tell it to write whatever you want it to write in a certain manner, for example, you could ask it to write something that could be passed off as written by a 5-year-old to something that could be passed off as written by an industry professional. Items generated by ChatGPT also show up as 100% original and plagiarism-free.

“Currently, I don’t know what we could do to stop it or notice it because when a teacher notices plagiarism nine out of ten times, you could just simply copy and paste what the student submitted in Google and say that they got it from Sparknotes or somewhere else. ChatGPT is a whole different ball game because it is actually generating something that’s new, there is nothing you can search up and find that a student plagiarized or didn’t genuinely create this themselves. As of now, I don’t know how we would actually be able to find or detect it, other than just really assessing or comparing the work that our student created in class to the work they tried to create outside of class. If you see that there’s a huge difference we might be able to assume that maybe they’re doing something illegitimate or using something like ChatGPT,” said Mr. Ollivere.

“The [ChatGPT] community is awesome. Like any tool, such as a hammer, a hammer can be used to build a house but it can also be used to build some very heinous things. So, the tool is there for its use. Can it be misused? Absolutely. The internet is there for its use. Can it be misused? Absolutely. The fact that I have the tool available to me, I’m all in. Because I can’t control who’s going to use it and what they’re going to use it for, but as a teacher I need to understand – I need to speak to the student who is handing in the work and verify that they turned in work that is according to their knowledge level. You can create a paper that looks original but if we [teachers] have a question and are like ‘Wait, that’s not how the student speaks in class. These are not the words that the student typically uses.’ then address it with the student. But most students will use the tool for its intended use. You just need to simply cross check if it doesn’t make sense. Sure, we can use other tools, other AI, but then we enter a vicious cycle of letting some other code or some other program do our jobs as instructors, which is simply just – if you have a question on the product just ask the student. Pull the student to the side and ask them ‘Can you explain this to me? Why don’t you explain? You wrote this so you don’t need to look at the paper. Why don’t you tell me what you wrote.’ And if the student didn’t do the work, they wouldn’t be able to explain it to you. Something else some teachers are doing, in addition to writing a project, is simply standing up in front of the class and explaining it to the class and creating a debate, a forum, where the student is actually presenting the information. I think that that works and it becomes more fun and involved than just using a tool to write a project for you,” said Mr. Perez.

As the technology becomes more advanced it becomes harder to detect work that isn’t original as it passes plagiarism checkers, and so it’s a fair approach to take to compare work outside of class versus work done inside class and see that the student may be using an AI writing generator, or the help from someone else that writes in a higher caliber than they do to do their work for them.

The improvement in AI technology then begs the question: how will this affect the world of academia? What can be done to stop a student from going on Google, opening up ChatGPT, or a similar AI writer, and write their paper for them knowing that they won’t be immediately flagged for plagiarism?

“I believe that it will have to be mentioned in syllabuses in the future that using AI to write papers is not allowed. There are many things that are not allowed but students still do them, but hopefully mentioning it will deter them. For example, my college professor had to change his syllabus to include a rule against wearing smart watches during tests. Ten years ago, this wasn’t a problem because smartwatches didn’t exist, but now he has to specify that students can’t wear any watches during tests. We will have to adapt our language and explicitly say that students can’t use AI to help them write their papers. Will that stop students? I hope so, but we can’t be certain,” said Mr. Ollivere.

“If I have a student with bad intentions or a poor work ethic, it will be a problem because ChatGPT is a shortcut. But once again, it’s the teacher’s job to prevent this. If there’s an alarm that goes off in your mind when you see a student’s work, you need to do more to verify its authenticity. I love project-based learning for this reason because I’m not just accepting a paper with written material, I’m asking the student to demonstrate their understanding and mastery of a topic by presenting it in front of the class. Plagiarism is a problem, and ChatGPT enables it, but it’s still a great tool for students who need help. Teachers need to continue to adapt with the changing times and tools. We need to adapt to counter the risks associated with these tools,” said Mr. Perez. 

As times continue to change and technology becomes increasingly advanced, there is a need to keep up in order to counteract negative uses of technology while still encouraging positive uses. This shows that there are both good and bad ways to utilize technology and it is up to us to recognize the proper ways to use it to our benefit and the ways that we should not.

Plagiarism is a serious problem, but with good techniques like paraphrasing and offering proper citations, and by shifting to a more project-based learning approach where students are forced to demonstrate their understanding and proficiency in a topic, rather than just turning in a paper on it, we can do our best to eliminate this issue while still using all of the technology at our disposal to aid us in our academic journeys.

Wazilyne Choudhury

Hi! My name is Wazilyne and I will primarily be writing for the Opinions section as a part of The Edison Light. My interests include watching Netflix, cooking, baking, sleeping, talking and hanging out with my friends, programming, and keeping up to date with current events. I hope that you enjoy reading my articles and that they are not only interesting to you but also help you become a more well informed person.