Leeds schools looking at 'plagiarism checkers' with concerns over students using ChatGPT for essays and coursework
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ChatGPT launched at the end of last year to great curiosity, but it was not long before that curiosity turned to anxiety.
The chatbot’s ease in answering complicated questions and performing tasks at rapid speeds has prompted existential questions about the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) on human jobs.
And in the education sector, there have been concerns about AI killing off homework. One school in South London has reportedly stopped giving students essays because the new technology is so successful at producing thousands of words on a given subject.
But for two headteachers in Leeds, the role that AI will play in the future of education is not a straightforward one, as there are both advantages and disadvantages.
Ash Jacobs is the Principal of Dixons Unity Academy, in Armley. He said: “We understand that there are risks and challenges, but we want to look at how we can harness its potential.”
The school does not typically assign essays for younger students, with homework instead focusing on revision. They are then tested back in class, which means there is little room for AI intervention.
However, Mr Jacobs explained: “Some older students do complete exam answers for their homework and we will need to be mindful of that once they get to grips with AI. Teachers know their students really well, so it is quite obvious when their written work is stylistically different.”
So far at Dixons Unity Academy, there have been no incidents of ChatGPT being used to complete assignments, but there are students who are “intrigued” by the technology. Mr Jacobs continued: “I don’t think it’s going to take long before two and two gets put together and essays end up being churned out. That will be a huge thing for university students too, which is where I’m really, really concerned.
“I have big concerns about coursework and controlled assessments when they are submitted online. Plagiarism checkers like Turnitin, or AI detectors, are going to be absolutely critical. It’s something we are looking into for coursework already.”
Despite this, ChatGPT is actively being used by staff at the school. Mr Jacobs explained: “It is going to be massive for workload and freeing colleagues from bureaucracy. We’ve already given it textbook pages and have asked it to create quizzes based on the information, we’ve used it to transcribe meetings, and we’ve asked it to summarise lengthy research articles to make them more digestible for busy teachers.
“It should be about automating admin tasks and taking away laborious jobs, giving us more time to do the difficult part – teaching. The ideal would be not even knowing AI is there. It should do the things you don’t want to do without really interfering.”
On the other side of the city, Danny Bullock, the Principal at Leeds East Academy, confessed that discussions about ChatGPT have made him “really excited”.
Mr Bullock, who has a background in computer science, gave a recent assembly on AI at the Seacroft school in which he demonstrated that ChatGPT is capable of completing a 300-word essay on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD Pompeii in just two seconds. But by showing students this, was he opening Pandora’s box?
“No,” he insisted, “because if we train them correctly, there could be some really positive implications. I am going to try to pioneer AI over the next couple of months as it becomes more prevalent.”
Both Leeds East Academy and Dixons Unity Academy are similar in that both student bodies face a “digital divide”. This means that those from economically deprived backgrounds may not have access to laptops or other technology at home.
Mr Bullock said: “All of these AI tools are available, but they are only going to be useable for students with the right resources. Some of our pupils might only have one device between four siblings, so they are not going to be able to use ChatGPT to do their homework.”
He still spoke candidly about the potential for it to be used inappropriately.
“Certainly, with a computing class, there is absolutely nothing to stop students from using ChatGPT to build them a website in two seconds. But should we be introducing a filtering system to prevent them from using it in school? Or do we open the door to tools like this and embrace the positives? I think they outweigh the negatives, if used correctly.”
He added: “If a student relied on ChatGPT, it is very likely that their learning would suffer. But on the other hand, if they were struggling with something, ChatGPT could be one of the tools that provides them with some stepping stones.
"As a teacher, that’s where it gets difficult – it is hard to differentiate between the students who have used ChatGPT to aid their learning and the students who have used ChatGPT to do it for them.”
Mr Bullock has used the software himself to create quizzes for students, but said that they still need human oversight. He has also written a letter to parents with the tool, although this was only used as a starting point as he said that he would never send a letter written entirely by AI.
“We have to embrace it,” he said. “There is a long way to go before it seeps fully into the education system. But I am very keen on striking while the iron is hot – I want staff to utilise AI.”