Another out of this world conference this year, but alas nobody who was one degree of separation from walking on the moon this time, as our attention instead turned to… yes, you guessed it, generative artificial intelligence.
The morning keynote was given by Thomas Lancaster of Imperial College London who has done a lot of research over the years on contract cheating, and who has now turned his attention to the new AI tools which have appeared over the past year. Interestingly, he commented that essay mill sites are being pushed to students as much as they ever have, but I suspect that these agencies are now themselves using generative AI tools to displace already low paid workers in the developing world who were previously responsible for writing assignments on demand for Western students.
The first breakout session I attended was ‘Ontogeny: Mentoring students to succeed in a world of AI’ by Dr Thomas Butts and Alice Roberts who discussed how medical students are using GAI and the issues this is causing in terms of accuracy, as these models are often presenting wrong information as truth, which has particularly serious consequence in medicine. There was an interesting observation on culture and social skills, that students now seem to prefer accessing the internet for help and information rather than simply asking their teachers and peers.
The second session was ‘Enhancing the TNE student experience through international collaborative discussions and networking opportunities’ by Dr Jane Carr-Wilkinson and Dr Helen Driscoll who discussed the Office for Students’ plans to regulate TNE (trans-national education), though no-one quite seems to know how they are going to do this. Including the OfS. This was an interesting discussion which explored the extent of our TNE provision (I don’t think I had appreciated the scale before, over 7,000 students across 20 partners), and the issues involved in ensuring quality across the board.
There was also a student panel discussion who were asked about their use of GAI and understanding of the various issues surrounding plagiarism. They demonstrated quite a robust level of knowledge, with many of them saying that they are using ChatGPT as a study assistant to generate ideas, but I did groan to hear one person talk about the "plagiarism score" in Turnitin and how "20% plagiarism is a normal amount", and they don’t worry until it gets higher. The myths penetrate deep.
The final afternoon keynote was given by Dr Irene Glendinning of Coventry University who talked about her research on the factors which lead to plagiarism and cheating. This included a dense slide on various factors such as having the opportunity, thinking they won’t be detected, etc., but nowhere on there were cultural factors identified, and the way that higher education in the UK has been marketized over the recent past. I’ve certainly came across comments along the nature of, if students are paying £9,000 a year on tuition, why not just pay a few hundred more to make assessment easier or guarantee better results? But I’m noticing more and more that people don’t seem to be willing or able to challenge the underlying political decisions anymore.