Academic Integrity & Artificial Intelligence
Has academic integrity been on your mind? Final projects and exams are approaching, so you may be making plans to help students avoid plagiarism or demonstrate their integrity on other end-of-term assessments. You may have seen the recent announcement about FSU transitioning away from HonorLock and reopening the Testing Center. Or perhaps, most likely of all, you’ve seen the deluge of articles about ChatGPT and other chatbots and forms of AI, covering everything from academic integrity concerns to faculty incorporating ChatGPT into their own research and teaching.
With all of that in mind, we reached out to our colleague Joshua Morgan from the Office of Faculty Development and Advancement for an interview. Since he provides consultation, outreach, and training regarding academic integrity, we wanted to hear his perspective and advice. We hope you’ll find his responses to our questions as clarifying and insightful as we do!
CAT: Let’s start by talking about ChatGPT because it’s on everybody’s mind, and of course many colleagues are concerned that students will use ChatGPT to cheat or plagiarize. Do you think we need some kind of new policy to address AI, or can we address it through existing policies that already don’t allow cheating and plagiarism?
JM: That’s a great question, and some institutions might be reacting to the use of AI by changing their policies. I’m of the opinion that we don’t necessarily need to change ours because it is already so robust in terms of due process and in terms of operational definitions of what charges there are. When you dig into those operational definitions, they’re not exhaustive lists of every example behavior; instead, they’re broad enough to cover things such as unauthorized resources, which would very likely be relevant here. Faculty already have the option to set expectations in their syllabi, instructional handouts, and rubrics; mutual communication remains standard to clarify expectations proactively. Similarly, students cannot just assume that something is permissible; consulting with instructors by asking questions is important and will help to clarify expectations. So I think, since our policy does those things well, we should be in good shape to enforce academic integrity despite AI advances.
CAT: It’s reassuring to hear that our policy is flexible enough to address AI so far. At the instructor level, would you recommend that faculty explain in assignment descriptions, in the syllabus, or on Canvas whether and how students can use AI? And if they are allowed to use it in a writing project, let’s say, that, just like they need to give credit to authors for their words or ideas, they need to cite ChatGPT if they’re incorporating something from it?
JM: Yes. I think early on, in the first week of class, whatever multimodal, multifaceted ways instructors can set their expectations, they should be doing that, whether they’re taking an if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em perspective, if you will, and incorporating AI into the coursework, or if they’re prohibiting students from using it. The syllabus and the assessments can make it clear to what extent using AI is permissible and what kind of intellectual property-related parameters you’re setting up for students: How do you cite it? What citation style? Also we have to acknowledge that we don’t know everything ourselves, as new as this is, and not all of us are in computer science, IT, or data science-type fields. So with the novelty of this, we need to make room for mistakes that can be handled in ways that recognize we all are new at this. So it might not make sense to pursue formal charges that are detrimental to a student’s graduation timetable or their scholarships in some cases, but instead recognize that, okay, with this untested, “Wild West” territory, maybe when something arises we can think about ways to handle this informally according to what’s in our policy (and by “policy,” I’m also referring to instructors’ expectations established within syllabi, verbal instructions, canvas announcements, and/or assignment instructions prior to discovering any novel AI concerns). Folks can consult with FDA and say, “Hey, this new problem happened. I don’t want to necessarily charge the student with a violation because I haven’t been clear about my expectations regarding AI; however, how can we handle this in a way that educates the students about AI parameters in my class, provides a clear warning, and offers a fair re-do opportunity?” There are lots of ways to make expectations clear and have grace for the fact that this is new to all of us.
CAT: Thank you so much for that nuanced perspective! So if faculty are not sure how to address any academic integrity-related issue, whether it’s students’ use of ChatGPT or anything else, can they reach out to you for advice?
JM: We highly encourage that; our website and all of our guides encourage consultation, and we present at New Faculty orientation regularly. Whether instructors are veteran users of the policy or brand new, we want to hear from them. We find that the consultation process usually leads to better outcomes when that instructor eventually must have a heart-to-heart with their student about what’s being alleged, what was observed, and what might need to happen as a result of that behavior. So please consult with us whether you’ve done this many times or it’s brand new to you.
CAT: I’m so glad you offer that service because I imagine that more of our colleagues are having issues with this, or questions about it, than you’re actually hearing from, so I would love to encourage our colleagues to seek out your advice and perspective since you’re dealing with these cases on a daily basis and have probably seen everything. So can you tell us, what are some of the things that you see in your work? First of all, have you seen many cases of AI-related cheating?
JM: Most AI-related incidents have occurred during 2023, but having said that, the number itself is not that high. The plagiarism we see is still typically from poor citation management or a lack of skillfulness that could be remediated in some way, shape, or form. Or it’s simply students taking shortcuts they shouldn’t take: For example, they’d rather copy and paste because they lack paraphrasing skills or would rather not learn better paraphrasing methods. So the typical behaviors behind all of our charges, of which there are seven, are still the norm. This semester, we’ve sprinkled in a few cases where an instructor says, “Oh, I think this is my first AI-related case. What advice do you have?” Some of them have said, “My department has this AI policy/procedure, in place that all of us are expected to follow, and here’s what I have based on following that process. Do you think this is worth pursuing as a case?” or “How should I have this conversation with the student?” That might be based on the instructor having used an AI-detection tool or compared likely AI-generated text to previous writing from the student, or a combination of all of those, to substantiate what was being alleged or observed. So I would say a handful of cases have been AI-related, but the vast majority are more familiar: A student missed an exam, and they fabricated a doctor’s note (and it wasn’t even done very well). They copied and pasted from a classmate’s paper. One student’s open-book exam was taken in 6 minutes and everyone else took 75, yet that same student made the highest grade.
CAT: [Laughs] I imagine that some of our colleagues who see a lot of cheating or plagiarism sometimes take it personally, or feel really frustrated, or dread addressing it, or they’re not quite sure how to deal with it. From your perspective, what’s some advice to someone who might feel personally disrespected by students’ behavior, and then also what’s some advice for preventing the problems in the first place?
JM: That’s a great series of questions. I’ll start by saying that taking these things personally is, of course, ill-advised, just for the sake of your own mental health and well-being. I definitely don’t want instructors even close to feeling burnt out by this, especially with everything else on their already very full plates. When it comes to handling academic misconduct, I think what helps to not take it personally is understanding the effort that they as the instructor are putting into the course is not always at the forefront of the student’s mind in comparison to everything else that is going on in the student’s life. It’s very much like a ships-passing-in-the-night sort of situation: Instructors are going to have their perspective and not typically know what’s going on in the student’s life, and the student has their prerogative, their objectives, and they’re going to miss all the important things that the instructor has done on their behalf. Right? So communicating that there needs to be some mutual empathy and give-and-take there can be very helpful. Since we’re the more established adults, the ones who already have degrees, already have employment, it’s more incumbent on us to start that empathy process than folks who are currently trying to get that kind of stability, that kind of comfort, and who are more afraid of what happens if they meet someone who’s in opposition to their goals (to one day become financially independent, provide for themselves and the family they hope to have, etc.). So common things that I would advise instructors to think about: First, this is not the only class that a student is taking. Your class is important. It is definitely a key component of mutual understanding to explain and demonstrate the importance of your course, since it may not be within their major, it may not have been at the top of their list, but you have been in it long enough to see how it’s applicable to real life and diverse interests. So communicating that value helps, while also realizing you might not reach them all. For some students, a course may just feel like something that they need to complete to reach other goals, in the midst of 15 to 18 credit hours, plus the fact that they’re probably also working. Many are working extremely hard outside of their academics, with few scholarships and very little downtime for mental/emotional health or family obligations, so just keeping in mind that a conversation that involves empathy and fact-finding about who your students are can set you up to have these accountability conversations in a more cordial way.
CAT: Yeah, that is really helpful advice. So are you saying that when students cheat or plagiarize they are not doing it to defy me personally?
JM: [Laughs] I would venture to say that is the case 99.9% of the time. Every time a student comes to a hearing or writes an email saying, “I need help. My instructor thinks I did this and maybe I sort of kind of did, but here was the rationale,” it is very rarely because they hate you as a person or because you said something that offended them. Instead of intentional disrespect, it’s more often than not that they have multiple obligations and that they are young, emerging adults who are just now learning how to use their freedom responsibly. Time management, ethical decision making, and frankly just autonomy is all new to them. They may be new to making meals by themselves, shopping by themselves, doing money management by themselves, and they’re also learning how to wake up for class by themselves and how to do college-level assignments by themselves. With all that in mind, they’re navigating a lot of how-to decisions that we all have down pat (relatively) as more established adults. They are still learning. It is not your job to teach every life lesson to them, but recognizing the factors influencing their behavior can help deescalate you and foster empathy.
CAT: That is fabulous advice. Moving to my second question from before, what are some things that faculty can do to prevent cheating or plagiarism in the first place? So what can they do with their course design, with their teaching practices, their communication, and so on?
JM: I think the idea of scaffolding, which may be an unfamiliar term in many disciplines, but it means having low-stakes, incremental, developmental tasks—as opposed to high-risk, high-reward, in terms of points or a grade—that are built to allow mistakes to be made so that students can then learn from them in a way that does not shatter their GPAs or prematurely decrease their self-efficacy. That sort of approach to course design and assessment structuring and pacing is what scaffolding is getting at: making sure that students can learn from low-stakes work as they progressively encounter higher-stakes, more autonomously done assignments. That would be first and foremost, especially for writing-based assessments, but even for those multiple-choice examinations in a high-enrollment course, where you don’t get to have the one-on-one rapport with students: even something like homework that is repeatable, re-doable so that students can feel comfortable and gain mastery, and so that they can aim for that 10 out of 10 points before they have that big exam down the road that’s 100 points. I would also say you want to have high expectations for students while also accepting that there are some students who will just not respond to those diversified and interesting assignments. Some students just want to get through the course. With that in mind, you have to build accountability into the design: assigning a syllabus quiz the first week of class that holds students accountable to your syllabus expectations, assignment expectations, lays out what would be the logical consequences of violating the academic honor policy, and so on; making sure that you’re protecting your own course content by not permitting students to see correct responses that can be taken immediately afterwards and posted to students who haven’t taken the assessment yet, because then your entire assessment process is compromised; contacting the Office of Distance Learning or the Center for the Advancement of Teaching to help you keep up with some best course design and assessment practices, including how to encourage integrity; and just auditing your courses when you can, seeing what’s been taken and put out there on Chegg and other various sites. You can’t always protect your assessments, but you can revamp them when you’re able to, and you can speak regularly and confidently about your expectations regarding academic integrity—especially when introducing assignments.
CAT: Thank you. Providing scaffolding and lowering the stakes of assignments are great strategies. So let’s say I’m using all the best practices, doing my best to build rapport with students, and I’m just going along teaching my course, and unfortunately a student still cheats or plagiarizes. Now I need to have a conversation with that student. Do you have any tips for making those potentially uncomfortable conversations productive?
JM: I would say there are a couple of things to keep in mind: the modality and format of the conversation, and then the way in which you say what needs to be said are both very important. So in terms of the format of the conversation, a one-on-one approach is really needed. Of course, sometimes you do have mass cases involving the same assignment, the same GroupMe chat thread, but you still need to keep everyone’s issue a one-to-one conversation. You don’t want to cut corners by dumping it all into a mass group chat or mass meeting—of course, that’s just FERPA-related privacy anyway, but it’s also better for rapport. The other thing is you don’t know how the conversation is going to go, so I would advise using some modality that gives you a timestamped, recordable way to hold everyone accountable. We all have Zoom now; a Zoom meeting is recordable, and of course you should ask permission to record and frame it in terms of you want to be accountable for the words you use, and you also want them to be accountable for how they explain the situation. If you’d rather not use recorded Zooms, then ample correspondence via e-mail is also time-stamped public record for back-and-forth explanation. Meeting in person can definitely improve the rapport of the conversation, but since it is not timestamp-able, there’s no evidence that it happened in a way that’s irrefutable, so I would say immediately after an in-person conversation, draft a summary e-mail about what was talked about, which will then be a part of the record if needed. Now in terms of how to say what you say: present the fact that you’ve seen something that was somewhat concerning and atypical. Be ready to present that evidence in full or at least up to the point where it would compromise your assessment’s utility/integrity. Show them enough to substantiate that your observation at least warranted the conversation, and then it needs to become an open-ended question or opportunity to explain their side: “I’ve seen this; please explain your side. Please explain your thought process. Please explain how this may have happened.” It should not be a definitive, “You did this, and you’ve got these four options to resolve the issue.” You can be wrong, so show that there is the possibility that you misinterpreted the situation. Show that you care about their thought process. Show that you care about the circumstances that may have led to a misunderstanding or a misjudgment. If that’s done, typically students will give you—I won’t dare to say accurate information—but at least they will say what they want to say in a deescalated, respectful way. If that response does not meet your threshold, and the evidence makes it seem more likely than not that misconduct happened, then you can still pursue formal allegations through our process. And if you, you know, had crossed your fingers and hoped it was a misunderstanding, and their explanation does seem compelling enough, then maybe a warning and an educational conversation about how to protect themselves and their work would be warranted. You can catalog it in the back of your brain and then if something else happens during that same semester, you now have two things to sort of work from, a further substantiated issue that happened a second time after you had provided wise counsel.
CAT: In the past, I’ve heard you say that some of these cases of cheating and plagiarism could be prevented through a simple conversation that a student could initiate with the instructor, asking a question about whether something is okay, or how do I cite this, etc., but sometimes students don’t have those conversations with faculty. Is there anything that faculty can do to encourage students to have those conversations, or ask those questions?
JM: Yes. It’s unfortunate but it’s a reality that some students immediately see instructors as adversaries or roadblocks to a goal that they are going to have to “fight for” or struggle to get to, which is an A in a class, a great GPA, and ultimately a career outcome that made that piece of paper and the journey all worth it. Since that can be this default of some students, it would behoove instructors to dispel that myth as quickly and as repetitively as possible. Relay the fact that you were once a student—you were not always 30-plus, 40-plus, whatever your age cohort is—you know what it’s like to be in their place. You had similar worries. You had similar multifaceted obligations you had to juggle, and so you have empathy for their experience, especially considering their experience has novelties you haven’t even dreamed of at this stage of our lives and planet. With all of that in mind, incorporating that messaging in the first week of class, in Canvas announcements, how you write your syllabus: less like a contract and a legal document that you’re weaponizing, and more of a dialogue about expectations. Describe the things that you’re doing on their behalf, the things they can do to succeed themselves, and yes, logical consequences that you don’t enjoy implementing but need to for the sake of their mastery, valid assessment processes, and of a society that actually has competent people. So that sort of empathy messaging helps, and so does making sure that you say more than the minimum, rote language about the Office of Accessibility Services and the University Counseling Center. Discuss the fact that mental health is real. Personal disruptions can happen that are unexpected, and you understand that that’s going to impact their academic performance in ways they don’t want to happen. Convey that you recognize their hardships and that they are welcome to come to you to navigate questions like, “How do I mitigate personal things so that I can perform academically in the way that I’d like to?” You may not know all the answers, but at least knowing that you are a safe place to come to can give you a background and a context: “Okay, well I know Johnny, I know Sally told me they’re dealing with this, and that contextualizes what I see from them moving forward, and it’s not a surprise to me during a hearing because they thought I was too scary to tell.”
CAT: That is really excellent advice. I appreciate this theme of empathy that keeps returning in this conversation. So as a final question, I know that you have worked with many students who are at a difficult moment in their lives and their educations, and that you have been to many hearings, and I was just wondering, from all that perspective that you’ve gained, is there anything you’d like to share with our colleagues?
JM: I think that that old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is probably my biggest takeaway, and that does go for all parties. In terms of course design, assessment structure, consulting about best practices with the resources available to instructors, those are all things that can prevent problems, prevent many of these difficult conversations and experiences from happening. There’s always something new to learn about teaching, and just as you all are doing research and making sure that your methods are up to date by being good consumers of the latest practices, that’s something that we should also do with teaching: how we structure our courses, how we interact with our students, and how we design assessments to evaluate their mastery. This prevention takeaway applies just as much to students: a clarification that takes five minutes is much better than hearings that take a month plus to set up with potentially adverse outcomes. Ultimately, if there was a common denominator, it’s communication. For faculty, communicating expectations, and for students, communicating any confusion they have as early as possible.
CAT: And I imagine we can help many students feel more comfortable communicating their confusion and questions to us. Thank you so much for sharing for all of this great advice today!
JM: Of course.
To read more about teaching practices that encourage learning and discourage cheating, we recommend the book Cheating Lessons by James M. Lang. We hope to offer a faculty reading group on it again soon.