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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Part I: AI: Artificial intelligence or academic integrity?

The University’s new Office of Academic Integrity is rewriting the Academic Integrity Code

American University students can relax: the University has disabled artificial intelligence detection scores on TurnItIn and won’t use any other originality score from an AI detection program as the basis for an academic integrity investigation. 

The University has said it is taking AI seriously and keeping up with the technology in an effort to make the Academic Integrity Code a community experience. 

The advent of AI as a classroom tool — in the form of ChatGPT — came in the middle of the University’s years-long overhaul of its Academic Integrity Code. The process to rewrite the Code began back in 2017 and will likely extend through the spring of 2024 as the newly formed Office of Academic Integrity gathers student and faculty feedback and drafts new language, according to Alison Thomas, assistant dean for academic integrity in the new Office. 

Thomas said the growing body of evidence from news stories and academic research showing the inaccuracy of AI detectors has deterred the University from opening cases based on an AI detection score. 

The University saw cases of misusing AI on assignments last spring and has continued to see cases this semester, but these cases rely on evidence beyond a simple AI detection score, according to Thomas. She added that misuse of AI isn’t limited to having a chatbot write an entire essay, but could also include relying on fake citations or inaccurate information from an AI tool. Both of these can be cause for concern in an academic integrity case. 

“Even if [AI] tools are permitted [in a class], recognizing that sometimes they produce fake sources, or sometimes they produce information that’s not real, if you duplicate that in your work, or you trust that and don't check it and it comes in under your name, you’re responsible for it. It’s important for students to know that,” she said.

These conversations around AI mimic broader themes in the University’s already ongoing work to rewrite its Academic Integrity Code. 

While the code has been revised over the years, this will be the first time in over 16 years that it is substantially rewritten. 

Goals for the new code

In writing the new code, Thomas said sustainability — producing a text that can stand the test of time — is a priority. To do this, the code will focus on creating authentic work and better defining the difference between a tool and a cheat. 

As different concerns arise with newer technologies, Thomas said the Office of Academic Integrity might create a page on its website to address concerns, such as what it means to use tools and get help responsibly. 

“I would say, I think that the questions about what responsible help [from AI] looks like, go in the code,” Thomas said. “But the specific issues with help that are related to AI, probably come separately, maybe in another page on our website that addresses sort of pressing current issues.”

Glenn Moomau, a professor in the Department of Literature who teaches freshman writing courses, is heavily involved in drafting the new code. He said questions of appropriate AI usage trace back to the idea of creating legitimate, unique work. 

“I mean, our first expectation is to do your own work. So what does that mean to do your own work? To really do it?” he said. “Different classes will have a slightly different take on that. But basically, it’s something that we need to interrogate at all times. I think what does work mean and what does authentic work mean?”

To address these broader themes, the new code aims to reframe how the University teaches and talks about academic integrity. Instead of simply being a document outlining the do’s and don’ts of honest work, Thomas said it aims to help create a culture of academic integrity as a core piece of students’ education. 

“Thinking about academic integrity as a kind of public good,” she said. “When we credential a student, we're saying to the world, ‘this student is qualified to do these things and we’re sure about it.’” 

Building the Academic Integrity Code

In 2017, Thomas and others formed a committee on academic integrity, seeking feedback from students and faculty on the Academic Integrity Code. 

Working with members of Student Government’s Center for Assistance with Services and Equity, which was previously involved with academic integrity work in the Office of Undergraduate Education and Academic Student Services, Thomas said the committee gathered feedback and put together surveys to reach the larger student body. Alongside this engagement, they also looked at other universities’ academic integrity policies and considered scholarly research on the issue. 

In 2019, the Faculty Senate approved the creation of a central academic integrity office to investigate academic integrity cases across the University, as opposed to within individual schools. But the coronavirus pandemic paused further development on the office, delaying its launch until July 2023. In the meantime, the committee researched further how the University could rethink academic integrity as a shared community value. 

“We used the time to do some research about ways academic integrity connects with equity and inclusion,” Thomas said. “And how we can think about academic integrity as a place to sort of identify or reconnect with or reiterate our values about some of those things.”

After the launch of the Office of Academic Integrity, the team began gathering student and faculty feedback again — this time considering the use of AI among the many factors in academic honesty. 

According to Thomas, the goal for her is to “get as much feedback as [she] can” before the end of the fall semester.

“[We’ll] spend between December and mid-January, like accounting for it,” Thomas said. “What does it say? What should we do with it? How should we implement it? What are the big changes? What are the small changes? And then in the spring, move through like sort of required approvals of different stakeholders.”

The Office will visit with classes, host tabling events on campus and meet with a variety of student leadership groups including SG, Thomas said. For faculty, Thomas said she’ll continue to reach out to professors, meet with different faculty groups and hold listening sessions with faculty in several departments. Once the new code is drafted in the spring, it will go through an approval process with the Faculty Senate, with the goal of putting it into effect for the 2024-2025 school year. 

“So that I make sure that I have comments from people in every unit, faculty from all places in the university, at every rank, and our librarians, our academic support teams,” she said. “There's so many areas of campus that it's always sort of surprising to see how many areas of campus sort of touched this work.”

This article was edited by Tyler Davis, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Luna Jinks. 

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