We’re getting back into a stride now, with the second meeting of the academic year at Teesside. After introductions and updates from each of the core university groups, Malcolm from Durham kicked us off with a conversation about Turnitin and how we all feel about it. From a survey of the room, most of us seem to be using it rather apathetically, or begrudgingly, with a few haters who would love to be able to do away with it, and no-one saying they actively like the service. Very revealing. So why do we all keep on using it? Because we all keep on using it. Turnitin’s database of student papers pulls like a black hole, and it will take a brave institution to quit the service now. Of note was that no-one really objected to the technology itself, especially originality reporting, but rather their corporate disposition and hegemonic business model.
Emma from Teesside then talked about their experience of being an Adobe Creative Campus, which involves making Adobe software available to all staff and students, and embedding it into the curriculum. Unfortunately, Emma and other Teesside colleagues noted the steep learning curve which was a barrier to use, and the fact that content had to sit on Adobe servers and was therefore under their control.
Next up was my partner in crime, Dan, reporting on Sunderland’s various efforts over the years to effectively gather student module feedback. This was a short presentation to stimulate a discussion and share practice. At Newcastle they have stopped all module evaluation, citing research on, for example, how female academics are rated lower than male. This has been replaced with an ‘informal check’ by lectures asking students how the module is going, are you happy, etc. They are being pushed to bring a formal system back due to NSS pressures, but are so far resisting. At Durham they are almost doing the opposite, with a dedicated team in their academic office who administer the process, check impact, and make sure that feedback is followed up on.
Finally after lunch, we had a big chat about that hot-button issue that has taken over our lives, the AI revolution! It was interesting for me to learn how Turnitin became so dominant back in the day (making it available to everyone as a trial, and getting us hooked…), and the parallels which can be drawn with their plans to roll out AI detection in the near future. Unlike their originality product which allows us to see the matches and present this to students as evidence of alleged plagiarism, we were concerned that their AI detection tool would be a black box, leaving wide open the possibility of false accusations of cheating with students having no recourse or defence. I don’t think I can share where I saw this exactly, but apparently Turnitin are saying that the tool has a false positive rate of around 1 in 100. That’s shocking, unbelievable.
No-one in the North East seems to be looking at trying to do silly things like ‘ban’ it, but some people at Durham, a somewhat conservation institution, are using it as a lever to regress to in-person, closed-book examination. Newcastle are implementing declarations in the form of cover sheets, asking students to self-certify if / how they have used AI writing.
There were good observations from colleagues that a) students are consistently way ahead of us, and are already sharing ways of avoiding possible detection on TikTok; and b) that whatever we do in higher education will ultimately be redundant, for as soon as students enter the real world they will use whatever tools are available in industry. Better that we teach students how to use such tools effectively and ethically in a safe environment. As you can see from the Padlet screenshot above, our sentiments on AI and ChatGPT were a tad negative.