A.I.-Generated Content – A Teacher’s Perspective [Pt. 2 – Cheating & A.I. Plagiarism]


Disclaimer: I’m a secondary social studies teacher and amateur historian. I’m NOT an expert in history, the English language, or artificial intelligence/machine learning. All mistakes, omissions, opinions, and personal observations are my own.

In part one, I tested the ability of ChatGPT to generate essays on historical content of varying lengths, as well as essays on the ethics of using A.I. for writing. What I generally found was that it gave responses that were too uniform and could be detected by software designed to look for A.I.-generated content. For this post, I want to discuss some of my observations on students cheating, then as a thought exercise, extrapolate the use of A.I. for cheating. Finally, I’ll give my opinion on using A.I. for plagiarism.

First of all, cheating is nothing new. It’s a behavior that’s as old as time. People will try to cheat; plain and simple. Students from all backgrounds and levels of achievement will cheat for any number of reasons. Andrew Simmons notes that students can rationalize cheating, but still see themselves as honest. For high achievers, there is intense pressure to perform. Other reasons for cheating are that teenagers are less inhibited when it comes to risk-taking, have poorer risk assessment skills, and have access to current technology that actually makes cheating easier.1 The severity of the consequences really depends, but generally speaking, the higher up in education you go, the more severe the consequences can be. Anything from a zero on that assignment or assessment to expulsion and revocation of any degrees earned can occur. While cheating in school technically isn’t a crime, it’s still punishable. However, in the professional world, they could constitute misrepresentation and fraud, which are crimes.

Throughout this post, I’ll be using the terms cheating and plagiarism interchangeably. Cheating could just refer to breaking rules to give yourself an unfair advantage, whereas plagiarism is the taking of someone else’s work without proper attribution. However, in the following examples, we’ll just say that plagiarism is a form of cheating, and I’ll be using the terms synonymously.

Cheating I’ve witnessed

As a teacher, I’ve seen my fair share of students trying to pull the wool over my eyes. From what I can tell, most of the students who cheat or plagiarize their work do so largely out of laziness and entitlement. No doubt there are high-performing students out there who feel tremendous pressure to succeed and get A grades, thus compelling them to cheat, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered them; at least not yet. Then again, I’m not exactly teaching at private schools with lots of well-off families that are going to send their kids to Ivy League schools and become Congressmen. In my experience, the high-performers are smart enough to produce their own original work and they’re far better at making good decisions.

To be perfectly blunt, ethics and morality aside, I feel that cheating or plagiarizing are stupid decisions. Plain and simple. As Simmons pointed out, teenagers are less inhibited and have poorer risk assessment skills. This is due to the fact that their prefrontal cortex and executive functioning skills are still developing and our brains don’t fully develop until our mid to late-20s. This risky behavior is especially apparent when it comes to tweens and early teens. In other words, teens make dumb decisions, and cheating is one of them. Some may think they’re being clever, but they’re obviously not that clever if they get caught. With the prevalence of electronic management systems in education (like Google Classroom, Canvas, and/or Synergy), teachers can see the digital trail students leave. Hence, it’s pretty easy to find evidence of students cheating by looking at the revision history on their assignments.

I would further note that we should never underestimate the power of self-deception, apathy, and ignorance. As Simmons pointed out above, many students who cheat can easily rationalize it away. Delusions are a powerful thing. We shouldn’t rule out the power of laziness, either. Many students will choose the path of least resistance. (For example, many won’t care if they get a zero on an assignment that’s worth five measly points.) For some, the easy way just happens to involve plagiarizing. They may plagiarize not only out of sheer laziness but also because they don’t care about whatever consequences they may face. Many of these students have an attitude of entitlement because they’ve never had to work hard to earn something. (The year and a half spent in distance learning during the pandemic certainly didn’t reinforce good study skills.) Subsequently, they get frustrated when someone finally holds them accountable for their stupid actions. Cheating can, unfortunately, become a habit, and before you know it, the zeroes can really stack up to the point where the student has basically normalized failure or fails to realize that falling behind will only create more work for them when they have to catch up. Furthermore, the teacher, themselves, may not be too bothered about a student cheating on a small assignment because it involves more administrative work of them if they follow the whole protocol for plagiarism (do an investigation, interview the student, fill out the paperwork, etc.). Apathy is a powerful thing. Finally, students may not know how to properly cite sources and thus may be making an honest attempt, but end up inadvertently plagiarizing. I’ve seen a lot of students forget to put in proper in-text citations or include all sources in the bibliography because they’re just not that familiar with the style (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) or they fail to pay attention to details. Ignorance is a powerful thing.

While I’ve never known a student to use A.I. to cheat on their writing, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility. I guarantee you that students are using it right now in many schools. Still, I want to give a few anecdotes about some instances of cheating I’ve encountered, and then I want to extrapolate the use of A.I. to those instances. This isn’t an exhaustive list of the cheating I’ve seen, but this is a selection of some of the more common methods I’ve seen.

(Names have been omitted and details changed for reasons of privacy.)

Case 1: Contract cheating – Two students make a deal

Let’s start off with a story from back in 2019 in a high school World History class:

This is a humorous story involving one of my highest-performing students (let’s call them Student A) and one of my lowest-performing students (let’s call them Student B). It demonstrates that even great students can make fairly dumb decisions when it involves helping another student cheat.

Student A, the high performer, was a star student. Their knowledge of history, particularly WWII European Theater history, was outstanding. They literally could’ve taught the WWII unit if I handed the reins over to them. Even beyond that topic, they were always on top of their game in history class. Student A was basically doing college-level work as a high school sophomore.

Sadly, the picture I paint of Student B, my low-performing student, is not at all flattering. They were horribly failing their classes, not motivated to do any school work, and had no special documentation to justify it. Basically, Student B was a sixteen-year-old with the reading level of a 3rd grader (I kid you not). They only ever turned in a handful of assignments and I’m pretty sure they were high a lot of the time because I could smell the marijuana on them.

One time I even whispered to them, “Yo Student B, you do realize that the pungent, skunky, sweet, and smokey scent lingers on you, right?”

Their response was the usual, “Huh? Whut?”

So, Student B was often baked to the point where I’m not sure they really knew (or cared) where they were half the time. At least they bothered to show up for class, so I’ll give them that. Their vocabulary wasn’t particularly advanced, either, and mostly consisted of the words, “bro” or “dude,” along with a variety of invective. As in, “Ahhh, Bro! This game is the f*ckin’ shit! I f*cked that guy up, dude! F*ckin’ come at me, bro!”

A real conversationalist, to be sure.

During our unit on South American revolutionary movements, I gave out an essay assignment that asked students to pick a revolution from anywhere in the world and write about its causes and effects. This was a simple, standard five-paragraph writing piece. I wasn’t expecting anything terribly brilliant since I was only asking for five paragraphs.

Quite surprisingly, Student B, our less-than-eloquent sixteen-year-old, turned in their essay awfully early! Once I got to reading it I realized that it was brilliant…a little too brilliant. 😒 The first sentence read something along the lines of:

The American Revolution was a pivotal watershed event which saw the convulsion of the great British Empire and precipitated the formation of the United States which would grow into a major political power…

Do you see the problem here? Sixteen-year-olds, especially ones with 3rd-grade reading levels, don’t write like that. The writing was too advanced for this student, given the quality of their writing in what little previous work they’ve done. Sensing that something was odd, I called Student B over to my desk and asked them to read their essay aloud to me.

Their immediate and defensive response was, “What you don’t think I wrote it, Mr. Migaki?”

“Just read it out loud, please,” I replied.

“What you don’t think this is mine?” they continued.

“Just read it out and tell me how you think it sounds,” I urged.

Already looking guilty and agitated, they picked up the paper, fidgeted with it, took a few frustrated breaths, and slowly began reading “their” essay. Their reading pace was occasionally interrupted as they stumbled over several of the “big words” in the first paragraph. Finally, I stopped them, made eye contact, and asked, “Hey, did you really write this?”

After taking a few more irritated huffs, and fiddling with the paper a bit more, they finally said, “Well, Student A said they’d write it for me if I paid them $10!”

Good Lord, they squealed fast! Also, I wonder what Student A’s going rate is for longer essays. $10/page, or is there a bulk discount?

Motioning for Student A to come on over, I asked, “Did you really write it for them?”

As icing on this glorious cake of failure, Student A’s response was, “They still haven’t paid me for it yet.”

Jesus! Student B can’t even keep their end of the bargain! It took nearly all of my strength to not burst out laughing at hearing that.

Here’s the problem:

Paying someone to do your work for you is technically called contract cheating in education. It makes no difference if you compensate someone for their time and effort. The work submitted is still considered invalid because you didn’t do it yourself.

Needless to say, I didn’t accept Student B’s (read: Student A’s) essay for credit. However, instead of punishing them for their blatant cheating, I decided to give them another chance. I told Student B that they still had time to submit an essay, but it had to be in their own words (obviously), and on a different topic than the American Revolution. Well, the assignment deadline came and went, and I never got an original essay from Student B. Their grade for that assignment remained a zero. It’s sad really. I gave them a second chance and they threw it away.

As for Student A, I talked with them after class and counseled them on their actions. I don’t think they knew that they were doing anything wrong, and I didn’t punish them, either. I simply told them that submitting their work as someone else’s is still cheating. While the consequences may not seem like much in high school, in college, or in the professional world, they can be severe. It has literally destroyed entire careers and personal reputations. Thankfully, Student A is a really smart cookie and I’m sure they’ll make better decisions in the future. As for Student B, I suspect they have some more time to go before they really start learning their lesson, and their drug use certainly won’t help their decision-making skills (studies show that drugs and alcohol actually inhibit healthy brain development).

Case 2: Copying and pasting

This is what I call the “drive-thru” method of plagiarism. A student is given an assignment that requires some research, so they do a Google search and find a website with information that pertains to the topic. The sheer extent of their “research” is that they took the time to look something up. However, not wanting to do the actual writing, they then proceed to copy and paste the content of the website directly into their work and include no citations, attributions, or bibliography. Sometimes part of the assignment is copied and pasted, and other times it’s the entire thing. The only original thing could be their name at the top of the page. It’s the quickest and easiest way to cheat. Hence, the “drive-thru” method.

These next couple of instances occurred when I was teaching at a middle school. The first one involves an 8th grader whom we’ll call Student L and who I can only really describe as “smarmy.” They had fairly good grades, but they also had entitlement written all over their face and used their smug attitude to try and inveigle others to get their way. Since I’m not into being brown-nosed, Student L (and their friends) were inclined to view me and my class as a complete joke (But I’m not looking for validation from a bunch of kids). Still, whenever I talked to them, they never even paid attention or made eye contact.

Not the student, but imagine a 14-year-old who was told all their life that they’re super special and deserve everything in the world…just because. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Anyway, during our slavery and reconstruction unit, I gave an essay assignment asking students to make connections between slavery and the language of the U.S. Constitution. Student L submitted an “essay,” but I only needed to read the first two sentences to realize that this essay was definitely not written by them. The writing was too professional and no middle school 8th-grader writes like that. (Most high schoolers don’t write like that, either.) Their writing skills simply aren’t that advanced. So I did a quick Google search of the first few sentences and, sure enough, they had directly copied and pasted the entire essay from the first few paragraphs of an American history website (which I’ve unfortunately forgotten).

So we did the usual “Did you write this?” conversation.

“Yes, I did,” Student L replied.

“That’s interesting because it’s precisely word-for-word like this website,” I said as I showed them the tab with the website open.

“Well, can I still get a grade for it?”

“No, you’re getting a zero on it for plagiarizing. In other words, it’s not your own work, so you’re not getting any credit for it.”

They then proceeded to give me this incredulous look like I was being harshly unfair and they just automatically deserved full credit because they turned something in. (As I said, they were a pretty entitled little brat and I clearly didn’t have a very high opinion of their attitude, but I still cared about their learning.)

I explained to Student L that plagiarizing is unethical and that I should technically give them a referral for what they did. However, since it was the first full year back in the classroom since COVID shut down schools, I figured I’d give them a second chance. So I said that they’d get a zero on the assignment for now, but if they resubmitted a genuine paper of their own work within two weeks, then I’d grade it fairly and replace the zero.

Well, they didn’t learn from our conversation (or more than likely simply weren’t listening to me) because the next week Student L resubmitted another paper, but they just copied and pasted something from a different website. Yup, they just did the exact same thing. This time they got to keep the zero and then they got a referral. The cherry on top was that as the end of the quarter was approaching, Student L emails me asking why they still had a zero on this assignment.

So the whole, “I don’t give grades; you earn them” conversation ensued.

“I didn’t ‘give’ you anything, Bruh! That’s what you earned, by not listening to my instructions.”

“Yeah…if you could listen to me and do your own work from now on that would be great. M’kay?”

Some students literally fit the definition of insanity because they keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result.

This case and the above case just demonstrate that if the writing is too eloquent then it’s probably suspect. Middle schoolers and high schoolers don’t write like professionals. In fact, I only know a handful of high school students who can write like college-level seniors, but they’re very, very few and far between, and they also know how to properly cite sources. If a paper reads like it could be published in a research journal, then it’s almost always plagiarized from somewhere. Additionally, if their paper reads like a Wikipedia article, then you know exactly where they got their information from. In fact, I’ve seen students do their research using exclusively Wikipedia and then proceed to plagiarize directly from it. 9 times out of 10, when a paper reads like a Wikipedia article, then it literally is the Wikipedia article.

The second story involving copying and pasting involves a 7th grader, whom we’ll call Student J who had mentally checked out in language arts class. Simply put, Student J was more concerned with playing games on their phone or Chromebook than with doing any actual schoolwork. One assignment I gave had the students compose a short poem about the origins of their name and what it meant to them.

Normally this would’ve been a simple case of following the directions, writing something down, and then submitting it. However, Student J took the easy, if highly unoriginal, route and copied and pasted the song lyrics from the Eminem song “My Name is.”

Yes, really.

They literally just pasted the lyrics of a 1999 rap song on their assignment and submitted that. They didn’t even change the formatting. For reference, I was the same age as these kids when that song came out. I’m not an Eminem fan, but I know the lyrics because it was played non-stop on MTV and the radio when I was in middle school.

So I had a short talk with Student J and explained how the assignment was to write about your own name, not Slim Shady’s! Again, I decided not to issue any punitive consequences because I feel that counseling students on their mistakes are a better method and they needed to get back into the rhythm of school.

To make the issue more relevant to them, I tell them to imagine if someone was using their social media posts to make money without asking for permission or giving them any of the profits. Their response is usually along the lines of, “Well, nobody would because there’s nothing to make money off of in my social media!”

Bear in mind that most of these middle schoolers say they’re going to become the next big social media influencer/Youtube star when they graduate high school. Yeah, you have to love their delusional thinking. If you need a good idea of what middle schoolers put on social media in the 2020s, then watch the 2018 Bo Burnham film “Eighth Grade.” What they don’t realize is that making any livable wage off of social media or Youtube is basically like playing the lottery. The truly successful ones have a good business plan and work many long hours for years (often as a side hustle) before their brand becomes economically viable. Even at that, many of them still work full-time jobs and keep their social media work as a side hustle because they don’t want to be financially dependent on the whims of social media. It’s a real grind; people’s tastes and society’s fads change, and like most small businesses, a lot of them eventually fail.

In the end, Student J didn’t seem to care if they got a zero on the assignment. Apparently, they didn’t care much about their overall grade, either, because what little work they submitted for the entire year was incredibly sloppy and poorly done.

Case 3: Copying off homework/tests

The most obvious and straightforward indicator of cheating is seeing students do it in plain sight. Look, kids, no matter how much technology has changed or how crafty you think your technique is, it’s not hard to see where your eyes are looking. Even if you pretend to be sleeping or staring at your lap, teachers can still tell if you’re looking at your neighbor’s paper.

This is also why when we take midterms and finals, we transition the room to a “testing environment” where there’s ample space between each student (provided that the school isn’t massively overcrowded). Even if you can still see your neighbor’s paper, the increased distance between you two makes it so you have to turn your head, which in turn makes it more obvious to teachers where you are looking.

It baffles me that students think teachers don’t notice or look that closely, but it’s pretty obvious when you get several assignments or tests back that have the exact same wording on the same answers. As a teacher, you get to know both the handwriting, as well as the writing style of your students. It’s like a fingerprint when it comes to essay/short-answer questions. As I’m grading papers or tests and I come across some writing that looks suspiciously identical to a previous one, then it’s not hard to shuffle back through the graded stack of papers and find the facsimile.

As far as copying assignments go, it’s also fairly easy to catch groups of students doing this because you can pinpoint the student who actually does the work just by observation. They then hand it off to their friends who proceed to copy their answers word for word. Students might also say something along the lines of, “I’m gonna do the assignment when I get home.” Yeah, that’s code for they’re going to waste the entire work time in class on their phone and then go home and copy the answers off of a friend. In the end, you get back a bunch of assignments with the same wording, different handwriting, and different names on them. Often they even have the same spelling and grammatical mistakes on them. They don’t even bother to correct that! I guess these students are just telepathic!

In some ways, this form of cheating is really dependent on the expectations of the assignment. If the entire assignment is just asking for out-of-the-can regurgitated answers, then this might be plausible. Obviously, a worksheet with multiple-choice and singular-word answers from a word bank is going to have the same responses. However, the cheating becomes apparent when the questions ask for a sentence response or a short paragraph. It’s unlikely that multiple people would literally use the exact same wording on the same answers. This is why many teachers will randomize the question order on tests.

I’ve seen this type of cheating so many times and it’s never particularly unique.

What’s funny is that the copied assignments will often be from low-performing students who copied the answers from a high-performing student. Gee, they just so happened to write the exact same essay/short answer as the student with the A+ grade. Uh, huh…sure.

I had one instance where two high school students submitted the exact same paper and tried to argue the point that they were different essays…you know because one of them changed a few of the articles like “a” and “the” or used a few other synonyms. Therefore, it counted as paraphrasing.

According to Wikipedia, this is informally known as “Rogeting” in reference to using Roget’s Thesaurus to find synonyms for words.

Doesn’t work that way, Bro.

Yeah…Making it your own involves more than just changing the vocabulary, regardless of whether you copied it from your friend or from a professional source. Even when you paraphrase you still need to cite your sources. M’Kay?

My best advice is to give credit to the student(s) who actually did the work, and zeroes to the students who copied off them. If you can’t determine which one is the original work, then just give them all zeroes. The exception is group work/projects where it’s almost guaranteed that students will use each others’ work, barring checks to individual group members’ work, of course. That said, you do need to nip this thing in the bud and have a conversation with all of the students who are doing this. Time and again, the responses I get from the students when I confront them are of total indifference. If they’re not motivated enough to do the assignment, many will simply find the easiest route, if that includes copying from their friends, then so be it.

Often, students don’t even need to expend the effort to copy off their friends or look on Wikipedia because…

The answers are already on Quizlet

This one is more the fault of the teacher. To avoid the big hassle of having to come up with unique questions for every single test, it’s easier to recycle questions from previous assessments like quizzes, midterms, and finals. For example, I know teachers who have a 100-question final exam, and literally, the first 50 questions are the midterm questions. Some teachers literally keep the questions or entire assessments the same (i.e. verbatim) year after year.

Here’s why that’s not a terribly good idea and why you need to vary or randomize your assessments/questions: A teacher who never changes their exam questions is probably asking for the answers to be copied and posted somewhere.

Quizlet [or insert digital platform of choice here] is used by many students to create digital flashcards to study for tests. However, if the teacher allows notes or a notecard on the test, I’ve known students who literally base their notes off of pre-existing Quizlet answers because the study guide questions are the same as on the actual test. So when a teacher reuses the same questions or entire tests, you can bet that some student has already posted the exact answers on Quizlet for other students to look up. Just type in the exam questions verbatim into Google, and if you come up with the exact answers you need, then it’s probably time to change up the exam or your grading rubric.

I do give online assessments, but I try to randomize the questions and make them unique. Furthermore, my online assessments are not worth much because they’re usually just quizzes. My midterms and finals are never done online. Those are always paper exams and the use of technology is verboten on those.

Signs of cheating

It’s no secret that students want to get their work done as quickly as possible. Apart from cutting corners, there are some telltale signs that students might be cheating. As far as assessments go, you know something is up when…

They finish tests extremely quickly.

It’s strange when a student finishes a test in an inordinately short amount of time. For example, a test designed to take at least 60 minutes to finish is completed in 20 minutes, and with all the correct answers. Yeah…sure. When a student finishes at blazing speed, ahead of even the students with A-grades, and with super-awesome answers, then you know something is fishy. This is very rare in my experience, however.

There are other reasons why a student could turn in a test very quickly. It can also mean that they just didn’t bother studying, didn’t know any of the answers, and didn’t give enough of a crap to try, so they just turned it in pronto and it’s blank (or mostly blank). So, it warrants a zero (or some low grade). These kinds of students have usually normalized failure. They haven’t turned in any assignments or paid any attention in class, so the test literally becomes a piece of blank paper placed in front of them and they have no idea what to do with it (apart from turning it in blank or making it into a paper airplane).

Oftentimes students do know some of the answers and did do some actual studying. Yet, when you grade the test you notice that…

The complex, short-answer questions are all answered perfectly, but the other questions aren’t.

We’ve all taken tests with different question formats within the same assessment like true/false, fill-in-the-blank, multiple-choice, and short answer. When you grade a test and only the short answer questions are complete (with outstanding responses), then it might raise a few eyebrows. Doubly so if it’s from one of your lower-performing students.

This is strange because if a student can submit excellent answers for the short-answers section, then they should have the foundational knowledge to answer the simpler true/false, multiple-choice sections, as well. That being said, it doesn’t always indicate that they cheated. Perhaps they just memorized those particular short answers. Still, it’s really odd. That’s when I start comparing their answers to other tests to see if they copied or collaborated with someone else.

But hey, we all have our good days and bad days, right? Maybe they just decided to be studious for once. Inspiration can strike when you least expect it. However, some people can have too many eureka moments all at once. Indeed, it’s weird when…

The student that’s failing has a sudden strike of genius and turns in a perfect test.

Cramming is only utilizing your short-term recall. Students who ace the test usually spend a significant amount of time reviewing for it, and even then, they have the grades to back it up. When I see a student with an F-grade turn in a near-perfect test, then it makes me wonder.

This is often accompanied by the question, “Will this bump my grade up to an A?” Well, if summative assessments only account for something like 20% of your grade, then no. If fact, it probably won’t even bump you up a full letter grade. The math is not difficult to do. Try showing up to class, paying attention, and turning in your completed homework. That will bump up your grade.

That’s right, kids! Education (at least nowadays) is more than the simple regurgitation of facts. The accumulation of useful knowledge is a slow process that requires effort. The same can be said for your grade. Brilliant though your test answers may be, they’re not always the best indicators of your mental capacity.

What if they used A.I. to cheat?

Now that I’ve given a number of different instances of cheating/plagiarism, let’s extrapolate the use of A.I. to these different cases. Just put yourself in the mindset of someone who’s looking to take the easiest route or is extremely pressured to do well. If you didn’t care about your grades or the consequences and could ask ChatGPT to generate an essay for you or answer your homework questions, would you do it?

Case 1: Two Students Make a Deal

The obvious use of A.I., in this case, would be for Student B to use it to write the essay entirely instead of paying Student A to write it for them. After all, if an A.I. program like ChatGPT is free (at least for now) then why spend money or effort when ChatGPT can whip up an essay for you in mere minutes?

Case 2: Copying and Pasting

Similar to Case 1, the expediency of using A.I. to generate content for an assignment is obvious. Once it generates an answer, all the students would need to do is copy and paste the material into their work and submit it.

For shorter writing assignments, it may be more difficult for a teacher to spot the A.I.-generated content. Longer essay-length submissions would be pretty easy to spot. As we examined some of the A.I.-created essays in part one, I noted that they appeared to be too artificial. The writing looked like a machine created it. Even then, you could run their writing through Edward Tian’s GPTZero or OpenAI’s text classifier just to be sure.

This raises the question, “couldn’t the student just take an A.I.-generated text and then alter it to make it look like it was written by a human?” Absolutely, and no doubt many students have done just that. What’s to stop someone from adding in more details or inconsistencies, and changing the syntax to make it sound more human? That’s where understanding the student’s writing style comes in. Jarring changes in writing style can be a sign of plagiarism. Also, the use of more advanced vocabulary could be suspect if the student never used such words in their previous work or when talking to others. Again, middle schoolers and high schoolers don’t write like professionals.

Then again, if they’re taking all the time to alter the text, then why didn’t they just write the essay themselves to begin with? I suspect the answer lies somewhere between indifference and laziness.

Case 3: Copying off Homework/Tests

This is straightforward because students already use Google and other means to find answers to homework and tests. Instead of copying off their friends, students could easily ask an A.I. to generate an answer for them. (Remember that these A.I. can do more than just write essays, they’re designed as chatbots to answer short queries.) The question then becomes whether or not that answer is accurate, but that applies regardless of how they got the answer.


Is using A.I.-generated content plagiarizing?

Getting back to the topic of A.I. programs being used for plagiarism, we need to address the issue directly. Some argue that submitting A.I.-generated content (such as essays) doesn’t constitute plagiarism because the material is wholly unique and procedurally generated by a computer. You could input the same keywords, parameters, and queries multiple times and you’ll get something different every time. It won’t show up on plagiarism checkers (at least not until they’re programmed to look for A.I.-generated content). However, I (and many others) would argue that copying from an A.I. still counts as plagiarism. Plagiarism, simply put, is using someone else’s work as your own without properly citing it. Whether that “someone else” is human or not is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if it was written by a human expert, an artificial intelligence, or a bunch of monkeys hammering away at old-school typewriters. You need to do all of the work for it to count as yours. Anything that you take from other sources (or a machine) needs to be cited. That’s part of the writing process. If you didn’t cite the source, then you’re plagiarizing.

What’s being done about A.I. cheating?

In addition to using programs to check for A.I.-generated writing (I know some teachers who have GPTZero bookmarked on their web browser), some teachers are simply changing their methods when it comes to writing assignments. Anecdotally, I know a number of high school English teachers who are going back to in-class summative writing assessments because so many students are using A.I. to cheat. If students are in Advanced Placement (AP) or the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, then they’ll have to produce a hand-written essay within a certain amount of time when they take the exams anyway. Kristen Asplin at the University of Pittsburgh is going back to the old-school ways of having students hand in their papers at various stages of completion rather than just grading the final product. Other teachers are having their students produce essays in class rather than as homework, and some are having students video record themselves explaining their writing process.2 Indeed, having students submit rough drafts or other evidence of work so the teacher can help them improve their writing along the way is not a revolutionary method. The first paper I wrote for graduate school in 2017 had me submit an outline and a rough draft before I even submitted the final product. (Yes, those submissions were a part of the grade, as well.)

While some schools or districts have banned ChatGPT, some teachers are attempting to use it constructively. Some have used the program as a learning tool for students to compare their own writing against the A.I. so they can see the strengths and weaknesses of both. In this way, students can grow in their writing style.3 Also, rather than just getting the answer from Google, ChatGPT can be used to help students understand the answers to their questions by providing an explanation.4 This would certainly be more useful than students simply knowing that, for example, function x produces some value of y. Rather, they’re using the A.I. not just to look for the numerical answer, but to understand the relationship between the two variables.

In terms of the efficacy and prevalence of using A.I. to cheat, tests of ChatGPT on MBA-level exams at Ivy League schools and on medical licensing exams showed that it could pass both. Similarly, a survey showed 89% of students have used ChatGPT on homework assignments.5 Obviously, the use of A.I. to provide answers to exams would constitute cheating. This is why in a testing environment, electronic devices are confiscated and the ability to open up new browser screens or tabs is disabled. On professional assessments I’ve taken, test security is taken even more seriously, with several physical checks to pass before even being allowed inside the testing room.

In short, based on the above cases, it’s not difficult to imagine A.I. being used to cheat or plagiarize on a piece of writing. Yet despite the fear of many that A.I. poses some existential threat to academic writing, the issue isn’t so much whether or not A.I. will be used to plagiarize (because it already is), but rather, to what extent will it affect other facets of student learning? As we’ve seen, educators are taking a variety of different approaches to address the issue, but the efficacy of such approaches versus the impact of A.I. remains to be seen.

A further discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of A.I.-generated content will be addressed in the next post of this series.

Final Thoughts

This all illustrates the changing landscape of education and academia. It’s not just plagiarism checkers that are needed, but also a way to verify the origination of and creation of student work. Do we only give essays as in-class assessments? Do we grade the essays as the final product, but also have students submit evidence of their research and writing process as a part of the grade to ensure that the work is wholly original? Do we have them submit videos explaining their essays or screen-capture them typing in portions of their essays? Do we sit every student down to have them give a 5-minute defense of their paper to vet them and make sure they actually wrote it? Do we do this for every single paper? That would make the grading process crazy long and arduous, and it’s just another administrative thing teachers and professors would have to do to add to their oversized workload. In any case, there are ways to get around the potential for students to use A.I. to plagiarize. Alternatively, we could try using A.I. constructively as a tool for learning as some teachers are doing.

My biggest issues with cheating and plagiarism are the blatant stupidity of the act, as well as the apathy and disregard students can have concerning the ownership and work of others. It’s unknown how A.I. will impact education further down the road. It could become commonplace or it could just be another novelty that eventually fades away. Regardless, cheaters will find ways to cheat and plagiarism will still occur.


1. Andrew Simmons, “Why Students Cheat – and What to Do About It,” Edutopia.org, Edutopia, April 27, 2018, https://www.edutopia.org/article/why-students-cheat-and-what-do-about-it.

2. Samantha Kelly, “Teachers are adapting to concerns about a powerful new AI tool,” CNN.com, CNN, January 19, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/19/tech/chatgpt-teachers-adjusting/index.html.

3. Samantha Kelly, “Teachers are adapting to concerns about a powerful new AI tool,” CNN.com, CNN, January 19, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/19/tech/chatgpt-teachers-adjusting/index.html.

4. Chris Westfall, “Educators Battle Plagiarism As 89% Of Students Admit To Using OpenAI’s ChatGPT For Homework,” Forbes.com, Forbes, January 28, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/chriswestfall/2023/01/28/educators-battle-plagiarism-as-89-of-students-admit-to-using-open-ais-chatgpt-for-homework/?sh=ec13619750de.

5. Chris Westfall, “Educators Battle Plagiarism As 89% Of Students Admit To Using OpenAI’s ChatGPT For Homework,” Forbes.com, Forbes, January 28, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/chriswestfall/2023/01/28/educators-battle-plagiarism-as-89-of-students-admit-to-using-open-ais-chatgpt-for-homework/?sh=ec13619750de.


Kelly, Samantha. “Teachers are adapting to concerns about a powerful new AI tool.” CNN.com. CNN, January 19, 2023. https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/19/tech/chatgpt-teachers-adjusting/index.html.

Simmons, Andrew. “Why Students Cheat – and What to Do About It.” Edutopia.org. Edutopia, April 27, 2018. https://www.edutopia.org/article/why-students-cheat-and-what-do-about-it.

Westfall, Chris. “Educators Battle Plagiarism As 89% Of Students Admit To Using OpenAI’s ChatGPT For Homework.” Forbes.com. Forbes. January 28, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chriswestfall/2023/01/28/educators-battle-plagiarism-as-89-of-students-admit-to-using-open-ais-chatgpt-for-homework/?sh=ec13619750de.



  1. This is an interesting article about AI generated content and its implications for teachers and students. AI generated content can be a useful tool for teachers and students, but it can also lead to some problems, such as plagiarism and cheating. It’s important for teachers to be aware of these potential issues and take steps to ensure that students are using AI generated content in an appropriate manner. I think it’s also important for students to be aware of the potential issues associated with AI generated content and to use it responsibly. Overall, this is an informative article that provides a great perspective on the potential issues and benefits of AI generated content.


  2. AI writing is here to stay and the AI will only improve over time, making detection more difficult. If Student B in your example had tasked an AI to write his essay in the voice of a 15-year-old stoner it might have passed muster.

    I can see some positive applications, such as a tool for conducting a literature search to identify sources. It could also yield useful information in testing a thesis (“make a case for X, make a case against X”), and the author could incorporate those points in the research. Maybe a Part III could address the positive applications.

    Morally, society has already passed judgement on the topic – society doesn’t care. Books are ghost written without credit. Politicians have teams of speechwriters but give the speech as their own. Resumes are fabricated and go seemingly unchecked. Journalism by any traditional definition is long dead and lies rotting in the gutter. Even those caught red-handed plagiarizing can rise to the nation’s highest office.


    1. Indeed, I’ll examine some positives and negatives of A.I. in the next post. Also, I’m aware that I’m largely speaking about writing from an academic perspective. I do see some benefits of A.I. writing in non-academic settings. (It’s already being used in advertising by copywriters, from my understanding.)

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s