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Durango High School considers plagiarism policy with advent of ChatGPT

Artificial intelligence can help write papers, but AI can also detect inauthenticity
New AI chatbots are changing the way Durango High School looks at its Academic Dishonesty policy. (Durango Herald file)

The new artificial intelligence bot ChatGPT is making Durango High School faculty reevaluate its plagiarism policy to make sure students’ work is their own.

Chat GPT’s core function is to mimic human conversations but has the ability to write computer programming, and perhaps more concerning, student essays.

For Durango High School Principal Jon Hoerl, the chatbot’s usage has been heavily discussed among his staff. Hoerl’s concern with the technology is that it isn’t an authentic source of information.

“It's not their own voice, not their own information, it's not an authentic piece of work,” Hoerl said.

The technology is precise, writing clean copy at a user’s request. All a user has to do is enter a simple phrase like “write a paper on quantum mechanics” and the technology will crank out 500 words on the subject. However, if more text is needed users can submit a chat stating “more please” and it will write more.

Hoerl said the high school uses turnitin.com to check whether students have plagiarized their work. He also said teachers can tell when a student is not writing in his or her own voice and that ChatGPT generally writes papers based on generic points from different internet sources.

However, when asked to write a paper on quantum mechanics, the chatbot will reference different detailed points like wave-particle duality and reference specific experiments that identified those scientific concepts. Depending on the education level, this could make it obvious a student may not be completing his or her assignments authentically.

“It’s definitely something that we want to try and get ahead of,” Hoerl said. “But we're also having conversations in the same token, that it's not something that we want to be afraid of either.”

He compared it to when the calculator was first invented and people thought that teaching math would be almost unnecessary.

“But people figured out how to embrace the calculator and use it for a positive effect on an educational outcome,” he said.

Hoerl acknowledged the benefits ChatGPT could present. For example, it is another way for students to learn information. But it should be treated similar to Wikipedia, where the bot is a great source for common knowledge or general interest but should not be used as a primary source in an academic essay, he said.

That being said, after trying multiple prompts, the AI bot does have some consistencies that could be picked up on by the keen eye. More often than not the bot will start a conclusion with “overall” or “in conclusion.” That’s not to say these aren’t popular ways for students to start their concluding paragraph, but it could raise a red flag if teachers consistently see the same ending to every paper.

The real problem with ChatGPT inlays with sourcing. Most teachers require students to cite sources when turning in a paper. Hoerl said turnitin.com will check sources from a student’s paper.

“It's able to pick up on those things so that if something not authentically your own was turned in, it’s able to flag that,” Hoerl said.

Durango High School will be researching AI detection tools that can help the school understand better if students turning in work using ChatGPT, he said.

ChatGPT Zero has been a popular AI detection tool used since Chat GPT was released in November.

Hoerl said it is hard to know exactly what to do with the emergence of new technology in modern education. From one perspective, educators don’t want to discourage learning how to use AI technology but also want to make sure students are turning in work that is their own.

The emergence of ChatGPT has made school staff re-evaluate how their plagiarism policy should be written.

“We're kind of working on is making sure that we have our plagiarism language written accurately to reflect some of the changes that we've seen over the last couple of months,” Hoerl said.

The school’s plagiarism policy will likely be updated to state explicitly that the work student’s produce should be their own authentic piece of work and not generated from an artificial intelligence website or generator.

The school’s current policy states all of the following are examples of plagiarism:

  • Using writings, passages, and ideas of others and passing them off as your own.
  • Using an outside source without proper acknowledgment.
  • Submitting or using falsified data or records.

The policy also says that students must follow Modern Language Association format when citing sources in academic writing.


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