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  • Writer's pictureNathanael Bueno

The transformation of academic dishonesty: A discussion of AI in classrooms

Photo by Kainoa Kaeha

Cheating happens everywhere: in sports, in various college admissions scandals, and in the card game Uno, to name a few examples. However, cheating is most prominent and is often widely unacknowledged in school. Student Conduct Codes are implemented throughout every school to combat academic dishonesty and ensure independent original work, because we can’t have surgeons pulling up Quizlet in the middle of heart surgery. 

Cheating is a complex issue because it isn’t just about breaking the rules; it’s about why students feel the need to do so. The concept of cheating has been around since childhood when one would call ‘timeout’ to avoid being ‘it’ in the middle of a game of tag. Today, that desire for success and affirmation remains with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT, and students are feeling the pressure to excel academically. ChatGPT is essentially an online tool that encapsulates almost infinite knowledge, that has been widely used by students in assisting with navigating their academics, and in some cases, cheating.

It seems like a convenient way to get ahead, but cheating also has to do with the struggle of doing what is right while simultaneously fulfilling that desire to succeed. Some students are becoming increasingly reliant on cheating using AI tools to endure the challenges of academic success, making an issue of basic dishonesty transcend into an issue for educators to grapple with.

Confronting academic dishonesty

Professor Cara Chang from the language arts department at Leeward Community College holds a vast experience in academic integrity as she is the member of the Faculty Senate, Assessment Committee, and the Teaching Guidelines and Issues for Faculty (TGIF) Committee just to name a few. Along with her heavy leadership involvement in student education, she has taught subjects ranging from introduction to composition in English 22 to business writing in English 209. Having recently talked on a discussion panel about AI usage in TGIF, she is able to offer her insights on the matter. 

While she recognizes that AI tools have potential effectiveness in the classroom, it really depends on how it is being used. She emphasizes the challenges that these tools come with, especially with the potential of students growing a dependency on it. “The tools are only as good as the person using it, right?” she says. 

One main concern that she has for students is that they may not be able to grasp what the tool is capable of. “So sometimes if students are not aware of how to use it properly or what the limited strengths and limitations of it are, that’s where I think I feel very [...] uncomfortable with them using it. It’s just their lack of understanding and knowledge of it,” she elaborates.

“I think another big challenge or a concern for me is how it might cut down on students’ ability to think critically,” she emphasizes. A dependency on AI has the potential to undermine the cognitive development of students and their abilities in independent thinking or creativity. “Personally, I don’t feel comfortable with that because I don’t want a computer to think for them.”

Since ChatGPT has been released, it has pervaded schools and Professor Chang has learned to adapt and has asserted her stance of zero use of AI in her classrooms, as stated in her syllabi. Growing as an educator, she has learned that contextualizing assignments and having students understand the purpose of the assignment helps to put in more value in the work and learning process that AI tools seem to obstruct. This is mainly a response to the ethical implications that are associated with AI use. “The fact that it might be pulling copyrighted information from different places without students’ knowledge, the fact that it’s fabricating and making up the information, that’s kind of where I sort of am not very comfortable with it,” she explains.

Despite her stance on AI tools being obstructively used in the classroom, one instance where she believes it can be used effectively is when it comes to critiquing. She describes a possible assignment that would involve students comparing and contrasting AI writing with human writing in order for students to better navigate the technology. However, she finds it important for her students to first have those foundational writing skills to have AI be integrated in her classroom in that way.

Understanding the Student Mindset

The reasons as to why students cheat range from simple to complex. There are some who want to simply get ahead and others that struggle with low self-esteem. For the most part, college students struggle with academic overload along with poor time management skills. These challenges succumb students toward cheating as a convenient solution to the point where it may become an involuntary response to the great demands of their courses.

According to a statistical source by Best Colleges, during the fall of 2023, about 56% of college students admitted to using AI tools for completing assignments or exams. Additionally, a survey has shown that 54% of students agree with the statement that using AI in assignments or exams is considered cheating or plagiarism, while 21% of students disagree.

There are very common instances where students can’t help themselves but take the convenient route in navigating their studies. From the experience of a student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, they share their own strategies for coping with their heavy workload. “When it comes to studying, I use various sources to speed up the process, which helps with managing my time. For example, I use ChatGPT to help with homework,” they explain. 

The student majors in Computer Science and is taking a class where AI tools are actually encouraged. “AI specifically helps in my coding class when I start a project. It speeds up the process of coding the simple parts and I can easily finish the work,” they said. 

However, they’re still able to recognize the limitations of AI and said that, “one thing I learned from a Professor is that ChatGPT may provide answers, but it’s up to the person using it to decide if it’s good.” Despite them being a computer science major, their stance on AI isn’t entirely biased and they’ve been able to admit that, “It’s hard to keep the integrity when using ChatGPT.”

Conversations surrounding AI is a complex topic to navigate since it’s all so new to us. The student argues that, “AI should be used to supplement learning instead of fighting against it. AI has rapidly integrated into our world, and whether we like it or not, students will use them.” 

While there are advantages of AI that can be embraced, there is also this demand of having to preserve academic integrity and developing critical thinking skills among students, which is what Professor Chang argues for. The realm of academic honesty with the integration of modern technology builds this challenging terrain that almost divides students and educators. Before exploring the possibility of restoring traditional, homogenized learning, Professor Chang implores the question, what purpose do educators have if AI tools are doing the work for students?

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