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AI a new challenge to academic integrity

By Wang Yan and Yuan Zhe | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-22 13:37
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We used to write with a pen. Now we generally write on a computer with the help of a keyboard. In this phase of the digital age, artificial intelligence has become a new type of "pen" (instrument) which we use to analyze, write and present everything from an article and a thesis to a research paper and scientific proposition to a company report.

Since writing is an indispensable part of academic life, and since students strive to produce quality papers and dissertations, AI-powered writing is gaining popularity on campuses.

AI is so powerful that it can help with idea development, research design, content development, literature review, data management, as well as help with editing and reviewing of books and articles and provide publishing support. AI-powered writing can improve the grammar, structure, and help with citations and adherence to disciplinary standards. Therefore, AI tools can help students, teachers and researchers to overcome the challenges of academic writing, boost research productivity and improve efficiency.

Now a reality check. AI may seem human, but it is not. It may appear accurate, yet it isn't. It may look intelligent, yet it is not. It may also seem to understand, but it can't. An analysis done with the help of AI tools with seemingly high efficiency can be neither valid nor reliable. Although AI can help write a seemingly nicely structured, grammatically correct and even precisely referenced paper, its research results can't be accepted as authentic, because they cannot fully align with the real purpose of research or education as a whole.

That is why many universities have been dissuading students from using AI tools for academic writing, and have implemented rules limiting, if not altogether banning, the use of Generative AI in academic writing. According to a survey of the world's 100 top universities by Scriber on their stance on AI writing tools, 18 percent have banned the use of ChatGPT by default, although individual instructors could allow its use, 27 percent have no clear guidance/policy, and 51 percent have left the decision on individual instructors. Only 4 percent of the universities allow the use of AI (with citation) unless instructors forbid it.

Notably, Harvard University encourages instructors to include an AI-use policy in the syllabuses, while the Nature journal recently emphasized that "no large language models can be accepted as credited author". All these highlight the same purpose, that is, encouraging critical and creative thinking and research among students while discouraging mechanical knowledge production.

This is essentially a matter of digital competence. Two critical elements of competence are attitude and values, and the attitude toward digital ethics counts. When the use of AI becomes the norm, students have to learn how to use digital tools to perform learning tasks and complete research assignments. Yet their attitude should be ethical, so as to limit the use of AI for technical work such as grammar improvement, structural optimization, and citation and references, while focusing on the critical and innovative aspects of their research.

Conducting research and writing papers help students to master knowledge, skills and become more competent so they can prosper in life and their career. Students would have to forego their learning opportunities if generative AI replaces their role in academia or performs their learning tasks, because that would undermine the student's learning ability and academic skills. It is therefore the responsibility of the educational institutions and educators to cultivate in students the right attitude toward the use of AI.

We are living in an increasingly digitalized world and AI is playing an increasingly larger role in our work and life, a role that will likely increase in the future. True, AI has facilitated academic writing, but it has also expanded the room for plagiarism.

Also, since AI can perform increasingly sophisticated tasks, the boundaries of knowledge production get blurred, and it is becoming more challenging to detect plagiarism. Over the years, academic integrity has been maintained through proper referencing and citing of sources. To this end, high-tech tools have been invented, especially for checking citations and references. Even after being upgraded with AI, for example, the AIGC detection system could help detect plagiarism.

Another way to curb plagiarism is to establish norms and promote a culture of ethical use of AI, to regulate the moral behavior through policies and rules at the national or local level, and introduce a code of conduct complete with penalties for misconduct at the institutional level. These will help students to ethically use AI.

Eventually, the approach to achieving academic integrity lies in the shift of focus on research, from technical data collection, data analysis and presentation and application of the results to raising questions that are meaningful to the academic world and the world beyond, while mobilizing resources to analyze them and then present them creatively and engagingly.

Given the exponential pace of high-tech development, AI can perform more and more tasks that used to be done by humans.

Nonetheless, humans still manage, govern and lead high-tech development, and set the norms of right and wrong. Hence, central to the mission of education is nurturing and fostering a stronger inner self and a community with a shared future for mankind.

This implies a paradigm shift in education, from imparting knowledge and skills to cultivating emotional intelligence, empathy, creativity and collaboration skills in order to empower a new generation with the will and the mind to harness cutting-edge technologies and make the world a better place for all.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Wang Yan is an associate research fellow at the Academy of Regional and Global Studies, Beijing Foreign Studies University; and Yuan Zhe is a post-doctoral fellow at the same academy.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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