AI degree
If 2019 could be defined by one term, it would be artificial intelligence. Source: Shutterstock

The influence of artificial intelligence (AI) can be felt across every aspect of life, and higher education is no exception. 

AI is making education increasingly accessible and easier for students with disabilities, providing support for those who need additional help. But it can also help universities uphold academic honesty policies.

Georgia Tech University in the US has developed “an AI agent” named Jack Watson to pose as a contractor and help the university identify students guilty of contract cheating. 

Contract cheating is a serious academic dishonesty that involves students getting an external party to contribute to or complete their assignments or assessments. Regardless of whether the third party – which could be a friend, family member or even an editing service – is paid or not, it’s still considered contract cheating, according to the University of Sydney.  

It is a widespread problem across universities worldwide.

The Conversation reported that in 2017 alone, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported more than 20,000 students had bought professionally written essays from the country’s two largest essay-writing services.

Meanwhile, a 2018 study found that as many as 31 million university students globally pay third parties to complete their assessments. Since 2014, 15.7 percent of surveyed students admitted to outsourcing their assignments and essays.

Students caught out for contract cheating can be suspended, fail their class or even be expelled. Ultimately, contract cheating devalues a university degree, with students ultimately failing to learn what they paid – and were tasked – to learn.

Jack Watson – upholding academic honesty

A research paper notes that Jack Watson is being used to monitor auction sites, identify posted homework assignments and provide students with watermarked solutions that can be automatically identified upon submission of the assignment. 

While Georgia Tech is still developing Jack Watson and further automating the monitoring and identification of contract cheating on online marketplaces, the results to date have been promising.

The bot has already identified nine cases of contract cheating and may deter students from engaging in contract cheating. 

While the use of AI in universities to address contract cheating is still in its infancy, this technology opens the door to new possibilities for educators to uphold academic honesty in institutions, not only protecting a university’s status, but upholding the value of a degree. 

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