With new technology theoretically making it easier for students to cheat, the Simcoe County District School Board has been given initial approval by trustees to amend its policies to address the use of artificial intelligence (AI) by students on assignments.
During their program standing committee meeting on March 8, trustees considered changes to their board-wide cheating and plagiarism policy, to add provisions that address the advent of new AI technology such as ChatGPT.
“There’s a lot of chatter lately about new AI,” said Adjala-Tosorontio/Clearview/CFB Borden/Essa Trustee Brandy Rafeek during Wednesday’s meeting. “How are our teachers able to keep up, and how are they supported in doing so?”
The existing cheating and plagiarism policy was last revised in May 2018. The major change to the policy at this time is to expand the definition of plagiarism to include student work generated through the use of technology, specifically artificial intelligence.
The board's superintendent of student achievement, Chris Samis, said the claims being made about the potential uses for AI in education are mostly speculation at this point.
“The truth is, we don’t know a lot about it,” said Samis. “We need to approach AI through a philosophical lens.”
Samis says the focus right now is how educators will leverage AI to enhance education, how it can be used to help educators, how it can be used legally and ethically and how to teach students how to live in a world with AI.
“AI does look pretty promising,” he said. “That said, we need to be guided by the same principles we’ve always been guided by to use technology to improve all outcomes.”
One of the main ways Samis said the board will be addressing the existence of new writing technologies is to move away from an approach that puts all the weight of an assignment on the final product, and instead encourage check-ins along the way.
“If it’s all about the final product, I think, in some ways, we’re encouraging kids to cheat,” he said.
Student trustee Weiqi Xu asked about the potential consequences for students who are accused of using AI and whether accusations will come from teachers or the use of other technology to detect cheating.
“As AI is getting more advanced, it’s becoming more human-like with syntax,” said Xu.
Associate Director of Education Dawn Stephens said the policy outlines four factors that are considered when an accusation of plagiarism is alleged:
- the grade level of the student,
- the maturity of the student,
- the number and frequency of the incidents, and
- individual mitigating circumstances.
“When it comes to AI versus someone who is...not using AI, the consequences (of cheating) would be the same,” said Stephens.
“Is there any way for us to know with 100 per cent certainty whether a student is using AI or not? The tools are simply not there yet,” asked Xu. “I’m afraid there could be false accusations against students.”
Stephens said the challenge for educators is, once they figure out how best to detect cheating, inevitably new technology will emerge to work around those methods.
“At no point should anything just be submitted. That’s really what’s key here,” said Stephens.
New Tecumseth trustee Sarah Beitz noted she is a professor and teaches courses in technical writing, and some ways she’s mitigated the AI plagiarism issue is by having students submit writing assignments handwritten, as well as having students hit milestones and submit pieces of writing along their process.
“I think there are many strategies,” she said. “I think the key is being really engaged and (for teachers) to be getting to know their students.”
At the end of discussion, the committee voted in favour of making amendments to the board’s cheating and plagiarism policy, which will need to be ratified during their next regular board meeting before going into effect.
What does ChatGPT think?
CollingwoodToday asked ChatGPT: How will Ontario school boards adapt to ChatGPT?
Here is the response:
As an AI language model, I am not aware of any specific plans or strategies that Ontario school boards may have for adapting to my use. However, here are some potential ways in which school boards could leverage my capabilities to support their educational goals:
- Student learning support: School boards could utilize me as an educational tool to support student learning. Teachers could use my capabilities to provide personalized feedback to students, answer questions, or help students struggling with specific topics.
- Professional development: Ontario school boards could use me to provide professional development opportunities for teachers. I could be used to provide training on specific topics or to help teachers stay up-to-date on the latest research in their field.
- Special education: School boards could use my capabilities to support students with special needs. For example, I could be used to provide text-to-speech or speech-to-text capabilities to students with disabilities.
- Communication: School boards could use me to enhance communication with parents and community members. I could be used to provide answers to frequently asked questions, disseminate information about school events or initiatives, or communicate emergency alerts.
Overall, the potential uses of an AI language model like ChatGPT in Ontario schools are vast, and it will be up to the school boards to determine how best to integrate my capabilities into their educational programs.