“As the influence of AI continues to surge across various industries, its presence in education is undeniably growing. While the integration of AI in academic settings offers unprecedented opportunities for efficiency and innovation, the temptation to employ it for school work raises pertinent concerns about ethical implications and the importance of fostering genuine learning experiences.”

Those two sentences might sound like they’ve been carefully crafted for a term paper on academic integrity, but they were actually generated by ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence program, using a simple prompt.

As AI technology continues to develop and gain popularity, it can be hard to know where and when it’s acceptable to use. What constitutes a breach of academic integrity? Are there any acceptable uses of AI software in class work?

We consulted some MacEwan experts who are part of the Artificial Intelligence and Academic Integrity Working Group to find out the ethical implications of using AI in classes.

Can I use AI in my classes?

It depends.

“In terms of academic freedom, faculty can determine for themselves to what extent and what tools they will allow in their classroom,” says Dr. Sharon Bratt, associate dean of Teaching and Learning. “It may not be simple, and there may be instances where students need certain AI skills before graduation in their specific industry.”

The university’s Centre for Teaching and Learning has created a reference page that provides some possible allowances of AI in the classroom, but ultimately you’ll need to check your syllabus and chat with your prof about what is and is not allowed.

What is the penalty for using AI without permission?

Academic Integrity Officer Thelma John notes that using AI can absolutely constitute a breach of academic integrity. “Academic misconduct can be committed by trying to gain an unfair advantage, or by using something that's not permitted. Improper AI use kind of falls between those two categories.”

Dr. Bratt says that, just like any other instance of academic misconduct, using AI without permission is covered under the existing Academic Integrity policy. The policy is up for review in 2024, and John says the coming academic year will be instrumental in making decisions about any possible AI-specific revisions to the policy.

“The cases we have this year will probably and rightfully influence that,” says John. “We’ll also look at what happens with industry. Right now, I think it's going to be very hard to outright approve or restrict AI, knowing that it might be adopted into everyday tools to the extent that it becomes something people are falling into using without even realizing it.”

What programs count as AI?

AI isn’t limited to ChatGPT. “In all the creative arts, it seems like there is an AI tool that will generate content for you,” says Dr. Bratt, who mentions that there is software for writing, illustrating, designing and even composing music.

John adds that students should take caution with what online platforms or services they use, as sometimes AI isn’t as obvious as you might think. Be careful of things like search engines – Bing has AI and Google is developing Google Bard – or using tools like Grammarly or QuillBot to paraphrase work. “These are all considered generative or assistive AI, and depending on the professor, their use could be considered academic misconduct,” says John.

It seems more AI bots are being released every day. Check with your prof about what tools you can and cannot use in your classes.

Are there limits to AI I should know about?

Though AI is quite new in a lot of its forms, Dr. Bratt warns that something called mode collapse could be on the horizon. “What happens is the model becomes self-referential. If it's always sampling the internet for content and it comes across AI content, it doesn't know that it’s referencing other AI content. It just degrades over time until the credibility is gone and you’re left with a copy of a copy of a copy.”

John also warns that there have been cases of AI fabricating details and sources, and students should be careful to ensure that they are using accurate information in their course work.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

The best place to start is always to talk to your prof. 

“I would encourage students to be proactive. There’s nothing wrong with going to your instructor and saying, ‘This is the assignment, I can see how AI could be used, what are your thoughts? What are the limits?’” says Dr. Bratt. 

If you still need help figuring out where to draw the line with AI, contact MacEwan’s Academic Integrity Office for resources or one-on-one meetings.

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