Students throughout ARHS have began using AI to complete school work, according to a Harbinger survey of 141 respondents, conducted through Google Forms from May 14-18. (Riya Mahanta)
Students throughout ARHS have began using AI to complete school work, according to a Harbinger survey of 141 respondents, conducted through Google Forms from May 14-18.

Riya Mahanta

Artificially Intelligent

Faculty struggle with students’ use of AI to complete work

June 15, 2023

Artificial Intelligence (AI), specifically the use of natural language processing tools such as ChatGPT,  has made a major impact in the academic world at Algonquin, not only on students but on faculty as well. 

AI is when a computer acts like a human brain and achieves the goal that it’s tasked with. Many might have already used AI without even knowing: Siri, Photomath, Grammarly and email suggestions are all under the umbrella of AI. On the other hand, some are used intentionally, such as people using ChatGPT, which generates original, human-sounding text in response to a user’s question or prompt. Use of ChatGPT has exploded throughout the world with over 100 million users within two months of its Nov. 30, 2022 release and has had significant ramifications in schools.

I don’t think AI is all good or all bad, and I think we are learning about what are the good parts that we can retain and make usage of, and how can we try to defend ourselves against some of the downsides.

— Principal Sean Bevan

Principal Sean Bevan has been responding to teachers’ concerns regarding the ease with which students can use chatbots such as ChatGPT to cheat and has been working within the district to explore how AI will alter the course of teaching and learning.

“I don’t think AI is all good or all bad, and I think we are learning about what are the good parts that we can retain and make usage of, and how can we try to defend ourselves against some of the downsides,” Bevan said.

These downsides include students using AI to assist them in their schoolwork and even using ChatGPT to generate work, such as essays, for them.

According to a Harbinger survey of 141 students conducted through Google Forms from May 14-18, 38% of respondents said they have used AI to help them come up with ideas for their school work, with 13% of those students saying they do so daily. Fourteen percent of survey respondents said they have submitted something written by AI, such as an essay, for a class assignment. Of those students, 26% report doing so five or more times. 

According to the survey, of those who have submitted something written by AI for a class assignment, only 17% have been caught doing so. Instructional Technology Specialist Brian Calnan says the existence of chatbots has led teachers to be skeptical about students’ work.

“There are teachers who know that their students are using it; there are teachers who don’t know that their students are using it,” Calnan said. “Unfortunately that produces an atmosphere of distrust.”

Sidebar Riya Mahanta

Due to that sense of distrust and the difficulty of identifying if work has been generated by a chatbot, teachers have been more wary of the work students are submitting, and some students have been wrongly accused of cheating. According to the Harbinger survey, 15% of respondents say they have been blamed for using AI, when it was actually their work. 

While Canvas recently added an AI detector through its Turnitin tool, some teachers have had to spend time going through past assignments in order to figure out who used AI and to compare previously submitted work with work they suspect may have been AI-generated.

“The [AI detector] from Turnitin, from testing a few things, has been pretty effective,” Calnan said. “I’ve tested it with stuff that I’ve written or that I’ve used AI to write and it generally caught it pretty well. Some of the other tools, I have written an entire paragraph myself and it says ‘Oh, this is probably a computer.’” 

Now teachers are looking at current, and even past assignments, to see if students are using AI, and it can be an overwhelming experience. 

“When students use AI, it is incredibly time consuming and it plants seeds of doubt, which takes away from the time I would rather be planning lessons or conferencing students,” English teacher Virgina Fitzgerald said. 

According to administration, the use of AI is jeopardizing classroom routines along with being a temptation that threatens the academic integrity of students. One main reason some students have been using AI is due to the lack of time or the sense that completing school work is not worth their time. 

As one survey respondent said, “Sometimes teachers give a lot of busywork that they don’t check or care much about, and with busy schedules of sports, jobs, clubs and other extracurriculars, it can feel useless to put effort in, especially when it feels like everyone around you used AI for that assignment so there was no point in trying.”

Another respondent asserted, “School writing assignments take up too much time, and we have six other classes’ homework to do. Lessen the workload, lessen the AI.”

Calnan said while he doesn’t agree with this sentiment, he understands why using AI would be tempting.

“If it’s saving you time, and you’re getting a decent grade, and you’re getting away with it, I get it,”  Calnan said. “…Maybe it means that students are stretched too thin, or just aren’t taking it seriously, but that’s just speculation on my part.” 

Fitzgerald also acknowledges that a main reason students are using AI could be them not having enough time. 

“Do students have way too much going on, and this is a quick way to avoid all of the time and effort it’s going to take to complete a writing assignment?” Fitzgerald questioned. 

Multiple survey respondents said they do not use AI to complete their schoolwork because they believe doing so is ethically wrong, and one respondent said the risk of getting caught is not worth it. 

“The work doesn’t take enough time for me to complete to risk getting caught with it,” the respondent wrote.

Some students use AI to complete their work because they do not see the benefits of the school work they are assigned. 

As one survey respondent said, “I would [use AI] because in the end, me and everyone else at school isn’t going to remember half the things we ever learned anyways, as high school is only here so we can get into college.”

English Department Head Jane Betar believes that many students’ focus on the grade, not the learning, is a mindset that needs to shift. She believes the “checklist mentality of learning” is part of the problem that leads students to cut-corners by using AI or other online resources to do the work for them.

“We have to help [students] appreciate their own ideas and their own thinking and not just get it down and check it off the list,” Betar said.

Calnan agrees that the challenging process of doing an assignment, such as writing an essay or working through a math problem set, is more important than the final product.  

“As a former math teacher, I didn’t just want to see the final answer,” Calnan said. “I wanted to see the steps along the way. Not just as proof that you did everything, but just if you got it wrong, I wanted to know where you got it wrong, so I could correct that.”

Betar believes that only through doing the work can students truly develop their own skills and knowledge. She sees AI as a support in some areas but a weak substitute in others.

What students don’t know yet is that their individual voices are lost when they rely on AI because then it’s just a regurgitation of the data that the AI holds, and what the AI believes constitutes excellent writing.

— English teacher Virgina Fitzgerald

“Is [AI] like the calculator to math?” Betar said. “Why learn it if a calculator can do it for you? I don’t think English and language and words are the same. It’s not as subjective; there’s no voice.” 

Fitzgerald also believes that AI, due to its nature, lacks the human element that can make writing exceptional. 

“What students don’t know yet is that their individual voices are lost when they rely on AI because then it’s just a regurgitation of the data that the AI holds, and what the AI believes constitutes excellent writing,” Fitzgerald said. “What I hope students walk away from, after completing writing assignments, is to feel stronger and about honing their own voice.”  

According to multiple sources, what some students don’t realize is that the more they use AI, the smaller their imagination and their ability to think for themselves becomes.

Bevan says that because of AI, teachers need to reconsider what types of work they assign to their students. English teachers have already made a shift to more in class writing and moving away from using devices for some assignments.

“We already talked, as an English Department, about kind of going back to having kids do more handwritten, in class essays, so that we can really get a sense and evaluate what they are thinking without using online sources,” Betar said. 

Many survey respondents expressed that they do not use AI to complete their work because they see doing so as unethical. 

“How could you be proud of using it if you didn’t actually do the work or know how, but you potentially can?” a respondent questioned.

Calnan believes that although there have been many negative effects associated with the use of AI, there can also be positives when it is used to support and promote learning such as helping students work through writer’s block or to analyze what ChatGPT generates for various scenarios.

“I would love to see teachers use it with students in really cool and creative ways,” Calnan said. “There are different things you can do where you basically try to predict what the chat response will be or have a dialogue, mock conversation, with a historical or literary figure.”

Sophomore Calvin Eisenhofer and a partner recently used AI creatively to demonstrate their knowledge for a U.S. History II project. Using AI, they created a photo of the presidents of the 1950s, and then, using a voice cloner, recorded the voices of the presidents talking about women of that era.

“I see the beneficial interactions we can have with [AI], of not relying on it to do everything for us, but using it to help us without destroying our own thoughts,” Eisenhofer said.

Survey respondents reported using AI to brainstorm ideas to make presentations more engaging, to figure out how to understand complicated problems in math and science classes, and to help consolidate and edit ideas when writing.

“I actually learned quite a lot from ChatGPT, for example on the subject matters [I’m studying], if I want a really quick answer to my question,” senior Adam Beckman said. 

Other students have also used AI to help them study. 

“I have used it to help study for French,” freshman Simon Linden said. “There is an application on Quizlet called Qchat, and it analyzes the flashcards and the terms that you give it and based on [those], for French in specific, it’s able to use its knowledge on the internet of translating French to create stories or ask you intuitive questions and help you learn.”

Junior Aditi Kaushik said that although the use of AI and ChatGPT is a serious concern, it can be used for academic improvement, can help create ideas for projects, and since it’s free, anyone with a device and internet can use it. 

Administrators and teachers are considering not only how AI impacts students now, but also how it will in the future and how schools can help prepare students for that future. 

“That’s the million dollar question: What does it mean for your employment and the jobs that are available to you as freshmen now?” Bevan said. “In four years, AI will probably be very different.” 

Bevan and other faculty members are working to gain a better understanding of AI along with its challenges and benefits. 

“[We need to] read more, learn more, see what other schools are doing,” Bevan said. “Hear from technology professionals and identify the problem we are trying to solve and solve it both with students and teachers together.”

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