Lee County educators dealing with students using chatbots to cheat

Reporter: Samantha Johns Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Educators face a new dilemma, as “artificial intelligence” chatbots like ChatGPT have become so popular that students are now using them to get better grades.

ChatGPT is a chatbot that has been fine-tuned—by its programmer and by people who interact with it repeatedly—to give users seemingly educated and detailed responses to their questions. The program launched in November. Users can type in questions, requests or prompts, and the chatbot spits out an answer in seconds.

“When it first came out, I was a little nervous, I’ll be honest,” said Chrissann Ruehle, a management instructor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“It’s one of those, I think, technologies that’s going to kind of shift the way things are done,” said Kevin Daly, president of the Lee County Teachers Association.

In Lee County, that shift has already started, but not in the direction that so-called artificial intelligence was intended to go. In early February, students at Cape Coral High School were accused of using a chatbot to cheat on their International Baccalaureate essays.

“If you’re just able to go on and ask it to do something, and it does something, you know, that kind of belittles the activity or the process of writing,” Daly said.

Detecting if something was human-written or using artificial intelligence. CREDIT: WINK News

The Cape Coral High IB program coordinator agrees. In an email to parents, the coordinator said using chatbots to generate essays or answers “is a violation of our academic integrity policy.”

Ruehle has a different take.

“Students may be competing with artificial intelligence for jobs in the future, and I think it’s important to prepare our students now so that they can learn they learn how to make decisions with the technology,” Ruehle said.

Daly says he understands that line of thinking, but he believes there’s a certain way chatbots should possibly be used in the classroom.

“If we use it as a tool to support the writing of people… it becomes a tool like the calculator on my cellphone has now become,” Daly said.

Ruehle has found her own use for ChatGPT.

“I’m starting to use it for lesson planning,” Ruehle said. “I’m starting to use it as a brainstorming tool… it’s actually helping to fuel a lot of my creativity.”

But not everyone is on board with the idea of welcoming this new technology into the classroom without limits because the bots can search the internet to answer so many different questions.

“Is that an original work of the person?” Daly said. “Or is it the original work of the machine that somebody has allowed the student to quote and declare as their own?”

Educators fear students will use chatbots to cheat, but Eric Wang, vice president of AI for plagiarism detection service Turnitin says it’s not that simple. He says the work of chatbots is not difficult to detect.

“These AI systems, they’re really picking the next word at a time,” Wang said. “They’re not doing anything that different from the keyword autocomplete that’s happening on your phone.”

Knowing ChatGPT isn’t going anywhere, Wang showed how to crack the code with a new program he says can detect traces of ChatGPT’s writing.

“There’s an invisible signal that’s very, very detectable between GPT writing and human writing, and it’s because when you and I read or write, we are jumping around with our ideas and moving around,” Wang said. “Our detectors are actually able to pick that up really, really reliably.”

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