Monday, February 6, 2023


As the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to grow and evolve with time, universities across Australia are being forced to change the way they conduct exams and other assessments. This comes amid fears that students are using software to write essays and evade anti-plagiarism software. Therefore, students have been told there will be more “pen and paper” exams this year to ensure that their work is not generated by the software. 

However, some industry experts in Canberra have also highlighted the need to embrace the opportunities this technology provides. This comes months after Elon Musk founded San Francisco-based, non-profit research firm OpenAI, which launched its first publicly accessible text generator on any subject in response to a query, ChatGPT. 

Notably, AI software launched in November by the US-based company last year has already been banned in several public schools across New York over concerns of its “negative impact” on learning and potential plagiarism, reported the Guardian. 

What prompted Australian universities to take action?

Major institutions across Australia have implemented new rules after students were caught using AI-based ChatGPT and similar technologies to write their academic papers and essays. Additionally, the universities as a part of the aforementioned rules deemed the use of such software as cheating, said a report by the Guardian. 

Several media reports indicate that university students in Australia began using AI-based software to finish their essays which were able to evade anti-plagiarism software that most institutes use in order to check the authenticity of students’ academic writing. This prompted the Group of Eight leading universities in the country to develop new strategies to combat the use of AI starting this academic year which includes taking more pen and paper tests, supervised exams, and tests for “units with low integrity risks”. 

What do these universities plan on doing?

Since these instances have come to light, it has sparked concerns and criticism over students using AI programs to write papers who then use submit the work as their own. “Using AI in this way undermines academic integrity and is a significant issue facing all education and training institutions, nationally and internationally,” said a spokesperson for the University of New South Wales, Sydney, as per the Guardian. 

Meanwhile, the Deputy Chief Executive, Dr Matthew Brown, of the eight leading research-intensive universities in Australia said that the institutions will revise the way assessments are conducted. He also spoke about how they are tackling the issue through staff training, student education, detection strategies, changing the assessments, and so on, for the upcoming year. 

Institutes like the University of Sydney have deemed the use of AI to generate content as a form of cheating in its latest academic integrity policy. According to their spokesperson, there have been a few instances of cheating but not anything noteworthy and went on to acknowledge the benefits of AI in students’ learning. Therefore, the institute said that it will be a part of the kind of tools we use at work but after it teaches the students how to use it “legitimately.”

Additionally, the Australian National University has also redesigned its assessment design which would rely more on fieldwork and lab activities as well as timed exams and include more oral presentations. Meanwhile, Flinders University, which was also the first one to implement a specific policy against this type of cheating and described maintaining academic integrity in the era of technology as an “ongoing challenge”, as per the Guardian. 

However, even Flinders University, while expressing concern, said that instead of banning such programs their aim is to assist staff as well as students to “use digital tools to support learning,” said their Deputy Vice-chancellor, Romy Lawson. 

Integration of AI in academics?

As universities move to figure out how to incorporate AI as a learning tool instead of it being used as a “cheating” one. A professor of artificial intelligence at the UNSW, Toby Walsh, during an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) said that he actually was quite impressed by the AI-based software’s ability to write essays on any question one might have. 

He added, “I think it will be as significant as the introduction of a calculator and how we teach mathematics…and perhaps we are going to look backwards in 10 years and see how we teach and what we teach and how we measure what we’ve taught is going to be different.” 

The UNSW professor also said that with the arrival of more advanced programs in the field, banning the platform would be unrealistic. He added, “It’s an arms race that’s never going to finish, and you’re never going to win.” 

Walsh also sees the introduction of AI technology as having a profound effect on the education sector and reiterating the calculator example he questioned, “We don’t want to destroy literacy, but did calculators destroy numeracy?” Similarly, he noted, that teachers also hate marking essays and with suitable AI prompts they can do that and provide feedback which they do not have time or patience to do otherwise. 

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