AI can write essays now — what that means for Calgary universities and colleges

·3 min read
The ChatGPT artificial intelligence software generates human-like conversation. Calgary schools are looking at its potential role in post-secondary.  (Nicolas Maeterlinck/Getty Images - image credit)
The ChatGPT artificial intelligence software generates human-like conversation. Calgary schools are looking at its potential role in post-secondary. (Nicolas Maeterlinck/Getty Images - image credit)

A University of Calgary researcher studying the role of AI in education says she's never encountered anything else like it in her career.

That comes as post-secondary schools in the city — U of C, SAIT and Mount Royal University — look at how to address artificial intelligence programs such as ChatGPT, which can be used for content creation, and AI image-generator Midjourney.

U of C recently established a new group of researchers dedicated to studying AI's capabilities and ethical implications in teaching.

Sarah Elaine Eaton, associate professor at the University of Calgary and AI working group principal investigator, said the rapid advancement of the technology is making the group's research and data collection tools outdated nearly as fast as they're approved.

"It's a bit of a wild ride. This has never happened to me in my entire career. Usually you design a research study, you implement it, you collect the data, you report on the results," she said.

Submitted by Sarah Elaine Eaton
Submitted by Sarah Elaine Eaton

"But this — the tech is changing so fast that we can barely keep up with it."

None of Calgary's three main post-secondary institutions are looking at banning AI writing tools over concerns of plagiarism — as some schools in Australia, the United States and France have done recently.

Eaton said researchers are aware that AI could be used to violate academic integrity. But she doesn't recommend banning them from post-secondary, due to their rapid ability to evolve, and because in so many ways the technology already is and could further become ubiquitous.

"It is a concern, because we know that the current tool can fabricate content," Eaton said.

But right now, they're focused on ethical uses of AI.

"We know that instructors and students still have a responsibility to uphold and enact academic integrity. So we're not suggesting in any way that these things don't have implications for potentially violating academic integrity. We recognize that they do."

Lauren Dwyer, academic chair for data and AI at the School for Advanced Digital Technologies at SAIT, said the school is developing a new credential program in artificial intelligence. She says she frequently revisits its data analytics course to see how it can be updated.

Dwyer said the school is waiting to see what happens next in the world of AI, but right now, SAIT is approaching the new technology on a "case by case" basis.

"What our approach is to artificial intelligence is one of curiosity and openness and opportunity," she said.

She said that as transformational as ChatGPT is, it's likely the first of many similar or potentially more advanced programs to come.

Submitted by SAIT
Submitted by SAIT

"Potentially developing any sort of policy around a very specific software might be limiting if that software is the first of many different things that could come out of generative AI."

At MRU, faculty are deciding for themselves how or if they want to use AI. Some have embraced it and integrated it into their teaching, said Chris Rogerson, executive director of student affairs at Mount Royal University.

Rogerson said part of the work he does includes addressing incidents of academic dishonesty. He said similar conversations about technology have happened in the past — for example, when advanced calculators became accessible or when word processing systems introduced spellcheck.

"For many courses, the use of a spellcheck software for creating an essay is a wonderful thing," he said.

"In an exam that you're testing the spelling of somebody — that's probably not the best place for a spellcheck software to be utilized," he said.

Rogerson said that while AI is recognized at the school as a challenge and a risk, it has also allowed the school to look at how it's evolving with technology.

"What I have really appreciated is the shaping of the conversation and recognizing that we're not going to be able to stop this technology."