April 2023

There’s been a whole host of negative attention surrounding the launch of ChatGPT and the impact that will have on academic integrity and student learning. Certainly ChatGPT is technology that can be misused. It is possible for an enterprising student to simply type a suitable prompt into the chatbot and generate an answer to an assignment that they could then hand in for academic credit. If the student has the correct skills and the assessment details are such that simply generating a solution is enough, then the student may be able to get a passing grade with very little work. But, despite these risks, could ChatGPT ever be considered as being a force for good in the educational system?

Much of the research I’ve been involved with throughout my career has considered how technology and opportunities can be misused. My work on contract cheating showed that students could pay a third party to complete assessments for them, missing out on the opportunities to learn. That is despite outsourcing being a completely valid process in the business world. There are still reasons that we have to verify that students have the ability to complete assessments for themselves in order to protect the value of their academic awards, so we can’t just let them outsource. Can the same be said about using ChatGPT?

I saw the challenges of artificial intelligence (AI) on the horizon some time ago and wrote about this in a chapter for Rettinger & Bertram Gallant's Cheating Academic Integrity book. Despite the book being under a year old, I fear the information I provided within it is already beginning to date. The launch of ChatGPT has provided educational challenges that were barely imaginable when I wrote the chapter.

As a Computer Scientist, who understands both academic integrity and generative artificial intelligence (GenAI), I am being asked to speak about this area a lot, both within educational settings and to the media. As I expressed during my presentation, The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Academic Integrity at the UCSD Academic Integrity Virtual Symposium Series 2023, A.I. isn’t a flash in the pan. It is here to stay, and it will require us to consider many of our educational practices, including how we think about academic integrity. Some questions I posed during the presentation were, is there a place for ChatGPT in an educational setting, and how can this be used in an ethical way?

It may be surprising to learn that ChatGPT itself is able to express an opinion on these matters (or, more accurately, it can generate text that addresses a prompt asking about this). The answer provided, which I shared during the presentation, is open for critique and evaluation, but is remarkably balanced. Note that if you were to ask this same question again, you may get a different response, due to the way that a Large Language Model like ChatGPT operates.

As I showed during the presentation, ChatGPT is able to give a remarkably balanced view about the arguments for and against its use being more formally integrated into the educational system. The view also matches well many of the ideas that I’ve explored during my own presentations on the subject.

In this blog post, I’m only going to pick up on a few of the ideas, but many of the advantages that ChatGPT expresses relate to its ability to improve the learning experience for students. Better personalisation, the ability to support learners from different backgrounds, and, as my own students have themselves stated, the option to provide different explanations of concepts to those in a difficult-to-understand lecture. ChatGPT also picks up on the idea that it will be used in the real world. Unlike the contract cheating and outsourcing example I gave earlier, students can use ChatGPT in an assessed manner and still learn. It is the underlying assessment design that often needs to be considered further.

Despite all of this, safeguards in the system are still needed. ChatGPT notes the danger of overreliance on its output. I would add to this, that we still need to make sure that students have the foundational knowledge needed to complete tasks for themselves. An A.I. system will not always be available and there are real world situations where its use would not be appropriate. There are also issues to do with privacy, security and equity of access that will need to be explored at an institutional level. 

Perhaps controversially, I titled this blog post, ChatGPT – A Force For Good? The world is changing and LLMs are here to stay. We can’t ignore this technology. Many students will be using this in their future careers, and we need to be able to validate that they understand its strengths and weaknesses, can evaluate the quality of information produced, can use this in a productive manner, and can build upon the output produced. Opportunities are opening up for students that just wouldn’t have been possible for them before. As I have said many times, the road ahead is exciting!

Four people talking and working together.

It seems safe to say that successful academic endeavors involving working in groups are valuable experiences for students.  The experiences gained from working in groups, and the skills acquired, are generally accepted as being transferable to future employment and are highly valued by employers (see recent blog post: Group Work is not just for Students).  An idyllic group project would have our students effectively planning, communicating, collaborating, and creating to successfully reach a common goal.

More often than not, it seems, group projects are detested by students for a variety of reasons, some of which are perfectly reasonable.  The most often I hear in my own practice is that one (or more) group members contributed virtually nothing during the process.  While one might say that this itself is preparing students for how “real-world” workplaces can function, we should hold ourselves to higher standards and at the very least do our very best to encourage and guide our students toward productive, and contributory, collaboration with others.  The following will be a small selection of practices that have impacted the evolution of collaborative assignments in my own course.  More specifically, these are the most impactful practices that I’ve implemented with academic integrity in mind.  My projects are wholly collaborative so collusion is not a concern, though if you have (or plan to implement) group projects with additional required individual contributions, it certainly will be.  Examples of these types of individual contributions you may consider could include an individual student reflection on the collaborative process and their own contributions, and/or an individual student peer feedback form.

The current structure of the collaborative projects in my course includes requiring a maximum of three group members.  I’ve done groups of 4 before that have been successful but I’ve anecdotally had better experiences when they are limited to 3.  I select the groups in advance using information gained from an initial course survey focusing firstly on major, and secondly (if needed) on personal hobbies/interests.  Students are generally free to ‘switch’ groups after the first project if they feel so inclined.  Unsurprisingly, the most successful groupings generally stick together for the remainder of the term.

Each collaborative project is assigned with a set of specific and detailed guidelines.  I call it “The Roadmap”.  This roadmap describes and reiterates the collaborative nature of the project and specifically states that all group members should engage with all parts of the project; division of tasks for later assembly together is not the goal as each student is responsible for the entirety of the project.  To facilitate this wholistic collaborative approach, the projects include a tracking page where they keep a record of contributions and edits.  This alone makes it incredibly difficult for a non-contributory member to assume ownership of others’ work on within the project.

Both of the previous examples relate to the beginning, or assigning, stage of the collaborative project.  There are several other practices worth consideration at this stage including: providing or requiring groups to create a project timeline, providing guidelines for tracking communication within the group, and providing examples of what is and is not acceptable collaboration (if applicable to your project).  Of all the ideas and suggestions above, the most impactful practice I’ve implemented has been to provide explicitly clear directions and expectations when assigning a collaborative project in my course.  Instances of academic dishonesty have been few and far between are nearly always a result of failure to follow the explicit directions of “The Roadmap”.  On the rare occasion that suspected integrity violations are not specifically addressed in the roadmap, they serve to inform my own future practice (i.e. I change ‘The Roadmap” moving forward).

Photo of a smartphone on a desk next to a person

Academic integrity is a difficult topic of conversation. While every campus is different, most of employ plenty of individuals who are asked to have one-on-one conversations with students about academic integrity. Instructors may need to ask a student about a suspicious incident. Staff members may need to interview a student about a potential violation. Conduct board representatives may have to discuss incidents with students. These conversations might be in person, by email, in a classroom, during a hearing, etc. Most institutions are very intentional in how they go about ensuring academic integrity – how can we be equally intentional when we converse with individuals involved with or affected by potential acts of academic dishonesty?

I arrived at this topic after considering my own experiences working with academic integrity on my campus and what might be worth sharing. My role as it relates to academic integrity is to serve as an intermediary of sorts by investigating incidents, interacting with both students and instructors, explaining policies, and ultimately making a recommendation as to whether a violation occurred based on available evidence. One of my other roles on campus, however, is as an academic advising administrator. I have worked with academic advising in various capacities for my entire career. Academic advisors spend most of their time having conversations. Good advisors, as you might imagine, also spend reflecting on those conversations to ensure they are meaningful and effective. I can easily recognize how much influence this experience working one-on-one with students in an advising capacity has had on how I approach my academic integrity duties.

If you are someone who routinely engages in one-on-one conversations with students about academic integrity and you were so inclined, you could explore a myriad of resources related to developing conversational skills provided directly from the largest professional organization for academic advising, NACADA. You could also explore the adjacent field of academic coaching or jump right into fields you might already be familiar with such as counseling, education, communication, social work, etc. If you have time to borrow ideas a profession or discipline that centers on interpersonal communication then it would be worth the effort. However, examining your conversational approach does not have to be a time-consuming endeavor. You might start by taking fifteen minutes to reflect on the conversations you have had so far. Develop more intentionality by just asking yourself some basic questions:

  • What is my role as it relates to academic integrity?
  • What am I typically trying to accomplish when I converse with students about a potential act of academic dishonesty?
  • What unintended consequences could result from these conversations?
  • How should I have these conversations (in-person, phone, conference software, etc)?
  • Where should I have these conversations?
  • Is there language I should always include or avoid in my conversations?
  • Should I implement a consistent structure to my conversations?
  • What assumptions, perspectives, or biases do I bring to these conversations?
  • What assumptions, perspectives, or biases might students bring to these conversations?
  • If I do have a gut feeling about whether an act of academic dishonesty has occurred, what if I am wrong?

Precisely which questions you ask yourself may not be as important. The goal is to make some time to reflect, decide, try it out, and then reflect again. Conversations about academic integrity can be emotional and may have a lasting impact on everyone involved. By examining our own approach we can ensure that our conversations are intentional and effective.

Picture of Dr. Paul Cronan

Dr. Timothy Paul Cronan was the 2022 recipient of the ICAI Lifetime Achievement Award. He is an internationally known teacher and researcher who also performs a wide variety of service obligations as a professor in the Information Systems Department. He has served as a faculty member since 1979 and has authored many papers and led conference sessions based on academic integrity. He was an early pioneer in recognizing the impacts of academic integrity. He has also published in numerous high-quality journals in the Information Systems field, was a co-founder of the Teaching Center, and has won numerous prestigious awards related to teaching and mentoring during his career. He has developed academic programs and served in a department leadership capacity.

Although he clearly has many obligations, academic integrity has been a cause that he has remained committed to. In 2012, Cronan led a charge to change how academic integrity was handled at the University of Arkansas. Core values that drove the development of the new policy included improving the campus culture, building trust among faculty and students (many violations were not being reported), and fairness and consistency. At the time, there were no commonly agreed upon violations or sanctions, so each faculty member was tasked with handling issues independently. The system that emerged is unique and has been positively received by faculty, staff, and students.

Key tenets of the policy are:

  • Academic Integrity Monitors (AIMs) for each college at the Associate Dean level meet individually with students alleged to have violated the policy and recommend whether a violation occurred.
  • All University Academic Integrity Board (AUAIB) – This is a formal hearing body that reviews any contested allegations, and it is comprised of a faculty representative from each college, graduate student, and undergraduate student.
  • Appellate decisions are rendered by the Chancellor and the Provost.
  • Developed a standalone Office of Academic Initiatives and Integrity (OAII) reporting to the Provost’s Office. The OAII is responsible for campus-wide prevention and programming specific to academic integrity initiatives that engage students, staff, and faculty.
  • The policy mandates faculty report alleged violations of academic dishonesty.
  • A more centralized approach to reporting led to the development of a Sanction Rubric that addresses behaviors consistently across campus and supports the use of educational sanctions.

Cronan did more than lead the thought process behind the new policy. He stepped forward as the public face of the policy and led implementation by speaking at all colleges on campus, he reported back the statistics related to the policy, and five years later assessed faculty buy-in. He built a culture of buy-in by leading multiple presentations on campus showing the impacts of the system.

As Provost Terry Martin stated, “Over the last ten years the level of buy-in has significantly improved among faculty due to the system’s equitable and efficient nature. Cronan’s leadership was invaluable in terms of assessment, policy design, and coalition building.”

Cronan’s contributions to academic integrity have been invaluable on the University of Arkansas campus, and he has willingly shared information and ideas with other schools. Many lessons can be learned from his contributions.