We know that the use of technology has taken an exponential leap in helping any student with coursework, and artificial intelligence or AI, is no stranger in the academic world.

Web searches, digital libraries, templates for essays or CVs are helpful to encourage better understanding your fields. But when technology becomes the author of your work – it’s a topic aching for a debate be it amongst students or the teaching community.

In this piece, we’ll take a broad look at how this issue is brewing in the academic world.

Tools of the trade

We are all proud users of tools that are able to replicate, and at times have abilities to research, solve problems or produce content. Now faced with AI tools or apps such as ChatGPT, GPT-3 or DALL-e, most universities around the world are concerned that these tools may help students engage in academic misconduct.

Particularly when these applications have been developed with such sophistication to help write programming code, essays and solutions to mathematical equations. Discussions are rife about students using AI or related applications to their advantage without giving credit to technology or information sources, or revealing processes of how assessments are completed. Added to the stress is, using these extensively without the knowledge of the lecturer or teaching staff.

We know there are plenty of guides out there to learn from, as text-generating tools like ChatGPT can draw from banks of knowledge to quickly generate realistic and human-like responses. Quite often the results may lack depth or accuracy, nonetheless, it brings to question whether such efforts will jeopardise academic integrity at an institution.

Is all technology bad for studies?

The short answer is no. Keep in mind, adaptive and predictive text tools were first created in the 1980s to help people with disabilities. Today, we use predictive text regularly without questioning its effects on our ability to write or form ideas.

Similarly, applications like ChatGPT did not appear just a few months ago. The company responsible for it, OpenAI, was founded in 2015. Earlier versions of this application included GPT-3 in 2020, and GPT-2 in 2019. So technology use is not foreign in the publishing or academic world.

The point is, today, technology has advanced so far that universities need to question the intention and responsible use of these applications in graded coursework. Technology like ChatGPT or similar text-generative applications are argued to help with rough drafts, helping weaker writers to form frameworks and arguments.

Experts in this field may point to arguments that co-writing should be accepted in the academic world. Students may be encouraged to use AI and related technology to enhance and elevate creative outputs but be aware that the responsibility of the creation is entirely human. Here universities are working through definitions of plagiarism, academic misconduct and perhaps redesigning policies to assess a students’ skill without heavily relying on assessment outputs. For example, Turnitin offers a host of resources to support universities managing the use of AI.

These ideas are brewing on campuses, and may very well be the next stage of assessment of skills at schools and universities. It is crucial for students to recognise that input or source of information is crafted by them, only using technology to aid and enhance outputs.

University life evolves with technology

As a student, technological aids are irresistible, particularly when cramming for assignments, or making that deadline so you can have a free weekend or fit in that extra work shift for pocket money.

An ethical route to navigate these gray areas is to be across existing plagiarism policies at universities – find out what constitutes cheating and its consequences. Be ready and adaptive for change – such as universities imposing handwritten coursework or additional notes for proof points, to deter abuse.

Technology has helped with coursework, but at the same time posed new areas to manage – you can do your part as a responsible student. Use of new apps may be allowed, but be mindful when launching new apps to write your essays, as strict penalties exist as detection mechanisms improve at universities.

Why are you at university?

Keep in mind that these issues will evolve as you embark on a journey – co-creating with technology. The use of AI will get more rapid or become even more complex, and as you mature in your coursework on campus, be ready for challenges in determining how well you excel as a student.

This brings us back to the important question of your university journey. University life is an enriching phase in your life, and offers many opportunities for reflection. Originality is valuable, and generating new and novel ideas is part of the process of learning. That lends itself to a practice of something deeper – maintain academic integrity as a student, and later one as an informed citizen in any society you wish to be part of.

We would hope that all students maintain a high sense of academic integrity, which is a demonstration of personal integrity in a university or school environment.

Keep in mind that integrity in academic work is the core to all learning, forming the basis of work in any learning institution and built on the principles of responsibilities, respect, trust, honesty, courage and fairness. What this allows for is students and university staff the freedom to build new ideas, knowledge and creative works while respecting the work of others. We hope you’re able to navigate university life responsibly and uphold strong integrity and values in your life as a student.