AI Musings on a Snowy Tuesday

Each time I log into my website to work on the back end, I have to complete a captcha and check a box to ‘prove’ that I’m human.

I’ve always had confidence that humans – not computers – are capable of certain things – particularly when it comes to art, writing creatively, and other generative, creative pursuits. Today, after playing around with ChatGTP, I’m not so certain anymore.

Articles about Open AI ChatGTP came across my desk from a couple different sources: our institutional Teaching & Learning Centre (of which I am a Facilitator) and via some education blogs that I follow. This technology poses particular complications for education spaces. The use of chat and language generating AI is finally coming to a point where it may be a present factor in my work at the College, and part of the conversations that I have with students.

Plagiarism is a real and ongoing challenge in our setting. Not a semester goes by that there is not some kind of brush or full engagement with plagiarism. Our particular faculty (Human Services) looks at the first instance of plagiarism as a learning opportunity – this is because many people are actually not aware that they plagiarized something, what plagiarism is, and how to avoid it! We have a variety of tools for detecting and talking about plagiarism, one of which is text-matching software that student work is run through before we see it in the marking part of the software. I have taken chunks of text from student work and popped it directly into different search engines to see what pops up, and have interviewed students about their work, asking them to explain specific aspects of it, their favorite parts of researching, etc.

Just for fun, I typed this into ChatGPT just now: define plagiarism.

This is what it said:

Plagiarism is the act of using the ideas or words of another person as if they were your own without proper attribution. It is considered a form of academic dishonesty and can result in serious consequences, such as failing a class or being expelled from school.

Plagiarism can occur when someone:

  • Copies text from a source and presents it as their own work, without citing the source
  • Paraphrases the ideas of another person without properly citing the source
  • Submits a paper or assignment that was written by someone else as their own
  • Uses someone else’s research or data without proper attribution

Plagiarism is a serious issue in academic and professional settings because it undermines the principles of originality, integrity, and academic honesty. It is important to properly cite the sources of any information or ideas that you use in your work, to give credit to the original authors and to avoid the appearance of plagiarism.

To be clear – this was written by a chatbot. I’m glad IT knows what plagiarism is. Or at least can generate text to that effect.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

I’ve spent a bit of time today asking it to do different writing tasks that I ask students to do, along with some ‘just-for-fun’ inputs to see what it would come up with, and the results have been both surprising and thought-provoking.

You see, I’m used to things generated by a computer to be like the image to the right: mathematically, logically based images and stilted, technical text.

What I’m learning is that it can create (generate?) really organic, naturally voiced, conversational writing and humanistic images about anything I can think of to ask. It even generated a sweet short story based on some general prompts. It’s a magical little story, so I asked it to make it into a poem. It transformed the story into 4 line, rhyming stanzas.

Why stop there? I asked it to suggest illustrations. It broke the story down into logical chunks, and made suggestions as to what the visual illustration could be for each chunk.

Art and Sam in space as generated by another AI, Fotor.

Hunh. Then I asked it to add outer space to the story. Now there’s a secondary piece to the adventure in which the characters find a portal that takes them into outer space.

I put a little prompt into an image generator (Fotor) to see what would come up if I were to ask another AI to illustrate the story. . . then went back to the text bot.

Finally, I had ChatGTP generate a thank you note, several forum-style posts about specific texts (like some of what I ask of students), and a short Python (programming language) script.

Students have historically done several things that qualify as plagiarism. Interestingly, they’re all identified in the ChatGTP-generated list above. IF a student is not intentionally plagiarizing, our approach is about education. We instructors share resources and take time to help the student understand how they can be using and citing their sources better, how they can become better paraphrasers, synthesizers, writers, and communicators.

One of the more challenging things to identify is the purchased paper. Students will buy a paper written by someone else (sometimes on demand) and submit that paper as if it were their own. This is harder to detect than papers purchased from paper inventories, as text-matching software will sometimes find the latter, but the former is not housed anywhere for comparison: it is a one-off, just for the student buying it. What cues instructors to look deeper is usually a disconnect between prior writing style or level and the current assignment. For this, we will have an interview or conversation with the student to tell us about different aspects of their research and writing process, about sources they decided not to include and why, etc. This conversation gets at the students knowledge as a result of having written the assignment.

There is the distinct possibility that a student could have ChatGTP or another open AI language generator hammer out an assignment for them that they then hand in as their own. I read in the OpenAI Discord channel someone talking about how they’d had the bot write their final assignment for the semester. Would we be able to detect this? I’m not so sure. Certainly not sure after the short time spent with it today. Right now these tools are free (with the creation of a user account), but will they be so forever? Today this tool is available to anyone with a computer and email address.

For curiosity’s sake, I had the AI generate a blog post on this topic for me, which it did. Thoughts coming from that are about the jobs of miriad content writers all over the world writing content, and wonders about what this will mean for their jobs, and wonders about other implications beyond the education sphere.

For the time being I’ll keep writing my own posts here, completing the captcha and clicking the little box when I log in to ‘prove’ that I’m human.

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