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For students: What you need to know about proper AI writing tool use (part 1 of 2)

Commemorating the International Day of Action for Academic Integrity: Championing academic integrity in the age of AI

In recognition of the International Day of Action for Academic Integrity. this blog post is for students because you are the most important part of the discussion around academic integrity. In this post, we discuss AI's relationship to academic integrity and then guidelines for proper AI writing tool use to prepare you for your future.

We chose to write this blog post about proper use of AI writing tools with student needs in mind, because so many of the resources out there for students are published by AI companies themselves. We can’t overlook students, because you are the most important part of the discussion around academic integrity. In fact, academic integrity requires student understanding and participation; for example, the International Day of Action for Academic Integrity on October 18, 2023 purposely includes student involvement.

Understanding academic integrity and proper AI writing tool use helps you avoid plagiarism and misconduct. Participation in discussions around academic integrity and proper AI writing tool use makes it so you have a say in your own learning goals and create a good culture around learning at your school.

We’re going to divide this blog post up into several sections; we’ll begin with the definition of academic integrity, then getting more specific about AI and its relationship to academic integrity, and finally providing some information about proper AI writing tool use (and misuse). In doing so, the intent is to help you understand the ways in which students can use AI properly and avoid academic dishonesty.

First, what is academic integrity?

Oftentimes, folks define academic integrity as what it is not (i.e., not plagiarizing, not contract cheating, not engaging in AI writing misconduct, and not cheating in general), but then students miss out on what it is supposed to be.

The word “academic integrity” focuses on a commitment to honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage.

An authoritative definition of academic integrity can be found at the International Center of Academic Integrity (ICAI), which was founded in 1992 by leading researchers. (Did you know there is an entire cohort of academics whose focus is primarily about academic integrity)? Don McCabe is credited as the person who popularized the term “academic integrity.” In 1999, the Center identified and described the “fundamental values of academic integrity” as honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility, and in 2014 added the sixth value of courage. Academic integrity, per the ICAI, is a commitment to these values (Turnitin, 2023).

The values of academic integrity can be described in the following ways:

  • Honesty: be truthful, give credit, and provide facts
  • Trust: provide transparency, trust others, give credence
  • Fairness: apply rules consistently, engage with others equitably, and take responsibility for our own actions
  • Respect: receive feedback willingly, accept others’ thoughts, and recognize the impacts of our own words and actions on others
  • Responsibility: follow institutional rules and conduct codes, engage in difficult conversations, and model good behavior
  • Courage: take a stand to address wrongdoing, be undaunted in defending integrity, and endure discomfort for something you believe in (ICAI, 2020)

The above values, when put into action, display academic integrity.

What do AI writing tools have to do with academic integrity?

AI writing tools and their relationship to academic integrity is a top subject of discussion these days, spurred by the release of ChatGPT in late 2022 by a company called OpenAI. ChatGPT was a huge advancement in Artificial Intelligence, producing responses very, very close to human speech. It can generate replies to short answer questions, and provide essay-length responses.

These advances in AI caused a lot of alarm in the education community (and elsewhere; for instance, the writer and actor unions (WGA and SAG-AFTRA) went on strike in Hollywood, with one of their main concerns being AI-generated work). While educators (academic leaders and faculty) have broadened their discussions around AI writing tools like ChatGPT and accepted that AI is here to stay, the initial (and ongoing) fear is that students will use these tools and represent their output as their own original work. In other words, teachers are afraid that students will use ChatGPT to cheat.

How do you use generative AI tools with academic integrity? Let’s roll it back up to those values of academic integrity as it pertains to AI writing tools.

AI and the value of honesty

Honesty is about being truthful, fact-based, and giving credit to the person who came up with the ideas. If you disclose your use of AI writing tools by citing AI, then you’re using AI writing tools with integrity. However, if you do not attribute work written by AI writing tools and instead claim the work as your own, then you are violating academic integrity.

AI and the value of trust

Are you providing transparency in your work? This means that if you’re using AI writing tools to brainstorm or help with writing structure, you should be clear about your actions. Doing so builds trust with your instructor. Hiding any work you’ve done with the help of AI violates trust.

AI and the value of fairness

Fairness means that everyone is working with the same resources and consistency, and that we take responsibility for our own actions. When you submit work to your instructor, you are taking responsibility for the content and claiming it as your own original work. Is an AI writing tool giving you an unfair advantage over others? For instance, if you’re working on an assignment and the rules are not to use AI, and you might be one of a few (or the only one) using AI to complete an assignment; this is a shortcut solution that disregards fairness.

AI and the value of respect

Receiving feedback and recognizing the impact of your words and actions on other folks are ways to show respect. Improper use of AI (e.g., when it’s not allowed on an assignment) flouts learning, which disrespects the instructor and your cohort’s efforts. While generative AI tools can be useful to help you understand a topic or structure your thoughts, using them to write extensive parts of work for you, especially when it’s not allowed or required for part of the assignment, is academic misconduct.

AI and the value of responsibility

This value is pretty clear, as responsibility is about following codes of conduct and modeling good behavior. If you’re using AI writing tools with the blessing of your instructor, then you’re following instructions. If you’re using AI writing tools secretly and in defiance of rules, then you’re not only breaking rules, you’re not modeling good behavior.

AI and the value of courage

Courage is about standing up for what’s right, defending integrity, and in some cases, enduring discomfort for what you believe in. Learning isn’t always easy, but the end result is valuable. Resisting the temptation to use AI writing tools when they’re not allowed or making sure to always attribute AI-generated text is simply an act of courage. Maybe that line is a bit cringey, but you’ll find that standing your ground and staying the course on learning is brave.

How can I use AI properly?

Responsible AI use follows the tenets of academic integrity. (Additionally, you may want to refer to your school or university policy on proper AI use, if one exists. The following are some general suggestions to supplement your school’s code of conduct).

AI is a toolkit for solving problems, like calculators for math calculations. When used correctly, it can be an aid for learning and fostering thinking skills. But when we become dependent on technology, it’s easy to skip steps in learning and end up in a place where you aren’t able to do things on your own. Additionally, ChatGPT doesn’t always provide accurate information; you will need to double check everything, including sources, that ChatGPT offers. In some ways, they are calculators; in other ways, they are inaccurate calculators, so you need to understand the basics of what you are trying to say. The following are ways to make sure you are using AI properly in your work.

Acknowledge the use of AI in your work

Any writing that generative AI provides has to be cited. The current guidelines for citing AI are still being developed. For most referencing styles, there are no specific directions for citing ChatGPT or other generative AI (University of Queensland). This makes things a bit more complicated.

However, there are interim guidelines for citing AI in different citation formats. The University of Queensland provides some information on citing AI in APA, AGLC, Chicago, and MLA formats.

APA format

For instance, in APA format, you might want to cite AI in the following way:

In-text citation:

Author of generative AI model, Year of version used

Example:

(OpenAI, 2022)

Reference list or works cited:

Author of AI model used. (Year of AI model used). Name of AI model used (Version of AI model used) [Type or description of AI model used]. Web address of AI model used

Example:

OpenAI. (2022). ChatGPT (December 20 version) [Large language model]. https://chat.openai.com/

The full transcript of a response can be included in an appendix or other supplementary materials.

MLA format

For MLA, AI citations may look like this:

In-text citation:

(Short form Title of source)

Example:

(“Compare and contrast the setting”)

Reference list or work cited:

“Title of source” prompt. Name of AI Tool, version, Company, Date content was generated, General web address of tool.

Example:

“Compare and contrast the settings of Italy and Britain in A Room With a View by E.M. Forster” prompt. ChatGPT, 1 Jan version, OpenAI, 14 September, 2023, chat.openai.com/chat.

Chicago style

The Chicago Manual of Style also provides guidance on how to cite ChatGPT or any other generative AI. Again, however, these guidelines are evolving and may change, but for now, these are some examples of how to cite AI in Chicago style:

Numbered footnote or endnote:

1. Text generated by ChatGPT, OpenAI, September 14, 2023, https://chat.openai.com/chat.

If the prompt hasn’t been included in the text, it can be included in the note:

1. ChatGPT, response to “Why are hydrocarbons thought of as scaffolds for functional groups?” OpenAI, September 14, 2023.

Acknowledging the use of AI when there are no referencing guidelines or if you’ve used AI at all:

Even if there are no referencing guidelines for a citation format or if you used AI writing tools at any point in your writing process, you should still acknowledge any use of AI that you’ve used to help complete your assignment. According to Latrobe University, one example of an acknowledgment looks like the following: Whilst/While the writing is my own and I take responsibility for all errors, ChatGPT was used to create the initial section structure for this essay.

Furthermore, AI writing tools can’t accurately cite their own sources (and thus, often plagiarize material, so it may show up in similarity detection like Turnitin Feedback Studio). So you also need to double check ChatGPT’s sources, as they may be wrong or completely made up. Those sources, too, need to be cited.

Using AI to help you study

Another proper use for AI is to study; AI tools can be used to:

  • Generate practice quizzes or flashcards to help you prepare for exams
  • Tutor yourself to improve your language skills
  • Interact with virtual tutors
  • Create study guides
  • Summarize a recorded lecture
  • Conduct research and find key points on a particular subject or topic
  • Evaluate mathematical problems, lines of computer code, and complex formulas
  • Brainstorm ways to start a new project
  • Stimulate your thinking and develop new ideas
  • Inspire you to ask questions you might not otherwise consider
  • Request study strategies
  • Encourage your AI tool to motivate you
  • Ask AI to help you manage your study time by analyzing your schedule and suggesting the best study periods (Latrobe University, 2023; EuroEducation, 2023; Chen, The New York Times, 2023)

That said, The New York Times says there’s “One warning to keep in mind: When studying, it’s paramount that the information is correct, and to get the most accurate results, you should direct A.I. tools to focus on information from trusted sources rather than pull data from across the web” (Chen, 2023).

If you’re in doubt, Turnitin has an Ethical AI use checklist for students for your use.

Brainstorming ideas

For instance, using AI to brainstorm ideas or find a way to structure an essay can be useful and further learning, particularly when teachers give permission to use AI for this purpose. One particularly effective use for AI is to ask it to generate counter-arguments to identify points you may have overlooked in your argument. Using those brainstormed ideas to write something in your own words with your own research can qualify as proper use, especially when the final work states that you used AI in the initial stages.

AI is also useful to figure out how to structure your argument; but your argument, too, must be your own and in your own words. If you use AI for this function, be sure to state that you’ve used AI in the initial stages of your work.

The gray area of AI use, also known as The Fine Print

All of the ways students can use generative AI is subject to the code of conduct at your school. That is, if your school bans any use of AI in completing assignments, including brainstorming, then you should not use AI; in the case that AI is explicitly banned, any use would then be misuse.

Conclusion: What you need to know about proper AI writing tool use as students

Here’s the thing: the process of writing is how you learn to think and express your ideas. While AI tools can help you study, and can help you get started with framing your thoughts, your thoughts must be your own, and reflected in the work you submit for evaluation.

Think of it this way: it’s okay to ask someone to proofread your work and make sure you don’t have spelling or grammar errors. But it’s not okay to ask someone to rewrite your work.

It’s also okay to ask someone to help you brainstorm, but it’s not okay to ask someone to write your essay for you.

AI is here to stay, and students need to understand what constitutes proper and improper use of AI writing tools. This is important because not only do you want to avoid misconduct and discipline, you want to make sure that you come out of school prepared for the future. This preparation includes a deep understanding of academic integrity as well as a firm footing in the subject matter you’ve studied.