AI tools like ChatGPT are disruptive technologies for many sectors, including for higher education. But while such new technologies seem to change all the rules, they are no cause for panic.

That’s the view of education and academic integrity experts at the University of Waterloo.

“Teaching and learning is always evolving, and we need to find ways to work productively with these new tools,” says Dr. Donna Ellis, director of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence. “We need to get the balance right between making wise use of new tools in the context of good policy and good teaching. Instructors will need time to adapt, but at the end of the day it’s just another tool.”

The Office of the Associate Vice-President, Academic created an FAQ for instructors to help in planning courses and assessments in light of evolving AI tools.

As Ellis sees it, the University has a responsibility to prepare students for a digital economy in which people need to adapt to new technology. Students are going to see tech like ChatGPT in the workplace and in co-op placements, so “we can’t pretend like these new technologies don’t exist,” she says.

Promoting academic integrity

Much of the discussion around ChatGPT in higher education has focused on the ways it may enable academic misconduct.

But it is important to remember that not all students engage in academic misconduct because of the availability of technological tools, says Amanda McKenzie, Waterloo’s director of quality assurance and academic integrity.

“The vast majority of students don’t do it purposely. It is situational,” McKenzie says. “They fall into it for a variety of reasons. What’s going on in their life? Are they organized with their time? Are they pulling down a job outside of school? Are there family pressures to get grades? Different stressors can add up to poor decision-making. That might lead students into a situation where they would engage in academic misconduct.”

Waterloo promotes six fundamental values of academic integrity, based on the work of the International Centre for Academic Integrity: honesty, trust, respect, responsibility, fairness and courage. And as McKenzie notes, this applies to everyone in the University community, not just students.

“Faculty and staff are role models in everything they do, and we all need to demonstrate the behaviour we want students to emulate,” she says.

Adapting assessment

Along with being good role models, instructors can often adapt assessments to new technologies like ChatGPT. Grounding assignments in best practices for teaching and learning make it so there is little incentive to engage in academic misconduct.

“When instructors provide multiple opportunities to show evidence of learning along the way, it helps students not get into a situation where they feel they have to do everything at the last minute,” says Dr. Mary Power, senior educational developer with the Centre for Teaching Excellence.

One way to do that is with multi-step assignments, such as submitting an outline and multiple drafts of a term paper. Receiving ongoing feedback at multiple stages makes for the best learning and helps students better manage their time.

Other strategies include “designing assessments that call on students to use higher level synthesis or analysis, drawing on specifics of the course or their experience, rather than just demonstrating basic knowledge of concepts,” Power continues.

An ongoing process

Recognizing the importance of staying ahead of the curve of technological change, Waterloo formed a new ad hoc group to provide recommendations to instructors and the broader University community.

A Standing Committee on New Technologies and Academic Integrity will formalize already-existing working relationships between the Centre for Teaching Excellence, the Office of Academic Integrity, faculty members and other campus stakeholders on issues of technological change.

Learn more about the work happening at the Centre for Teaching Excellence and the Office of Academic Integrity.