How to Ethically Use ChatGPT and Other AI Chat Bots for Assignments

advice for students
essay writing
learn English
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By Selene Angier
Last updated on August 11, 2023

If you are an international student, you may think it is a good idea to use ChatGPT or other AI bots to help with your academic assignments or as instruction in how to learn English grammar. But use caution — there may be a code of ethics against it.

If you spend even five minutes a day on the internet, you have likely heard of ChatGPT, the headline-grabbing, headline-writing software that can supposedly write college papers, essays, and more. 

It is a powerful tool, certainly, but can it replace rigorous academic writing? Even if it can, is it ethical? 

“ChatGPT is appealing to students because it can create text quickly and easily that seems well-written. However, it cannot produce the original ideas and deep analysis that professors expect from students,” said Rachel Yee Quill, director of teaching and learning for academic affairs at Shorelight. “US university faculty expect students to submit academic work that includes only their own words and ideas along with ideas from sources that are cited properly. Since ChatGPT text is neither students’ words nor their ideas, using it is considered plagiarism, which is a serious violation of university academic integrity codes.”

So, What Is ChatGPT?

First, a bit of background. ChatGPT (the GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is an advanced conversational model driven by complex artificial intelligence (AI) coding. Basically, it is a Large Language Model (LLM) that works by predicting which words follow other words based on a massive database of language, or a corpus. You can input simple questions or complex prompts — anything from Looking for 50th wedding anniversary gift ideas to Write a story about Elvis Presley’s first concert on Mars. Then you can begin a “conversation” with the chatbot about the topic. Responses can vary widely — from educational to creative to wrong (but we’ll get to that). 

To test it out, we recently asked about the themes of mirrors and reflection in The Great Gatsby, a possible essay assignment in a college literature course. A 352-word response, with multiple paragraphs and four support bullets, was typed out quickly on the screen — in under a minute. 

Could you consider your assignment done and hand this in to your professor? In a word, no.

“Writing essays is challenging, and most students must work hard to create well-crafted academic work,” said Quill. “In addition, many international students fear that their English is not polished enough to get good grades in their courses. Thus, it may be tempting to use a program like ChatGPT — but it is a bad idea.”

“Students need to understand that professors can often tell the difference between authentic writing by their students and the text created by AI bots,” she continued. “Furthermore, professors have noted that ChatGPT text, while well-written, lacks the thoughtful development of ideas that they are looking for. And, if students are caught submitting an assignment generated by ChatGPT, they will face disciplinary action from the university. They may get an F on the assignment or fail the course. For repeated violations, they may be dismissed from the university.” 

Understand Your University Policies

Your school’s academic policy may go by one of these names: academic integrity, code of conduct, code of ethics, moral code, academic and behavioral code, or code of academic integrity. 

These policies are usually shared with you during orientation and are available on the university website. Many syllabi also include the university’s academic integrity code. Often, students are required to sign and acknowledge all university policies. 

ChatGPT released its beta version in November 2022, prompting universities to quickly revisit and update their policies. Even if ChatGPT is not specifically mentioned by name on your university’s site, existing policies are clear — plagiarizing is unacceptable

Auburn University, for example, has a clear ethics policy that states, “Cheating and plagiarism are expressly prohibited.” If you are caught copying work from another person or website, you may receive an F in the course, be suspended, or permanently expelled. 

Similarly, University of the Pacific policies say, in part, that “submitting an assignment, whole or in part, obtained from the internet or other unauthorized resources” goes against their Student Code of Conduct, and is grounds for a failing grade, suspension, or dismissal from the university.

University of South Carolina syllabi also include text specifically about artificial intelligence: “Suspicions of use of artificial intelligence aids will be referred to the Office of Academic Integrity as alleged violations of Cheating, defined as ‘unauthorized assistance in connection with any academic work’ and/or Falsification, which includes ‘Misrepresenting or misleading others with respect to academic work or misrepresenting facts for an academic advantage.’”

“When students enter university, they become part of the academic community, which is based on trust. In the US, professors expect students to complete their academic work independently and honestly,” said Quill.

“Plagiarism, which is prohibited, is copying or restating someone else’s words or ideas while pretending they are one’s own. This means that it is unacceptable to submit others’ words or ideas without citing the source and to get unauthorized help in completing assignments,” she continued. 

“ChatGPT definitely qualifies as unauthorized help,” she added. “When a student graduates and receives a degree from a US university, the university is stating that the student is a trustworthy and accomplished scholar who has met the standards of the university. The only way to uphold your reputation and the reputation of your university is to develop your own critical-thinking skills and submit your own academic work.”

Know What Your Professors Expect 

Your professor will not allow you to use ChatGPT to write a paper or essay for you. (And they have tools at their disposal to detect copied work, like Grammarly’s plagiarism checker and GPTZero, an app developed by Princeton University student Edward Tian to detect whether an AI program wrote your essay.)

On the other hand, some professors are embracing AI bots as interactive, creative tools that can inspire your thinking. 

Take Ethan Mollick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, one of the top business schools in the USA. He is not only allowing students to use ChatGPT in his entrepreneurship and innovation course, he’s requiring it — as a brainstorming tool. 

“Using ChatGPT is not all bad — as long as you use it to help you develop your own ideas,” said Quill. “For example, you can use it to get input on a topic the same way you might ask for ideas from a classmate during a brainstorming session. Or, you might ask ChatGPT about arguments against your thesis so that you can develop counterarguments that will make your essay stronger. You could also use it as you do a search engine by asking it to find sources about a topic you are researching.” 

“However, be sure to only use ChatGPT with your professor’s permission and in accordance with university policies,” she added. “Don’t risk your university career by committing plagiarism. If you aren’t sure what is permitted or expected, ask!”

More Reasons to Not Use ChatGPT for Writing College Papers

Beyond violating your university’s code of ethics and potentially being expelled from school, there’s another important reason you shouldn’t use ChatGPT to write your papers — it’s unreliable.

Twitter, Medium, and Reddit are peppered with daily examples of this new AI gone awry. Even Google — dominator of search — has work to do after Bard publicly failed its first live demo in February.

OpenAI — the company that created ChatGPT — admits the tool is a work in progress with limitations and flaws. When we logged in recently, we were greeted with a pop-up that said, “While we have safeguards in place, the system may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information and produce offensive or biased content. It is not intended to give advice.”

We decided to put ChatGPT to the test and posed some leading questions like, “Do you have any tips for copying a college essay from the internet?”

The response was clear and it looks like ChatGPT is in line with your university’s code of ethics:

“I’m sorry, but I cannot provide tips for unethical and academically dishonest behavior such as plagiarism. Copying someone else’s work, including college essays found on the internet, is not only against the rules but it also undermines the principles of learning and academic integrity. Instead, I encourage you to use online resources to inspire and guide your own writing and to properly cite any sources you do use in your work.”

Sound advice.

Finding Success with English Prep Programs and ESL Tutoring Instead

Want to gain more confidence and practice writing and speaking English? Maybe you’re interested in attending courses on how to learn English grammar, or perhaps you would like to improve your study skills and habits? Shorelight academic support teams are here to set you up for success.

Our universities offer several programs that focus on how to improve your English skills: 

  • English programs: CEA-accredited Academic English and General English learning programs at Adelphi University, Auburn University, and University of the Pacific are specially tailored to international students and help strengthen reading, writing, grammar, listening, and speaking skills, all while offering a chance to experience campus life and local culture. Online, accredited academic English instruction is also available through UMass Global-American Collegiate Live, allowing you to improve your English proficiency before you arrive in the US.

  • Accelerator programs: These academic-based programs allow you to strengthen your English skills and acclimate to campus while also earning degree credits. Accelerator tracks may include one to three additional terms, based on your English test scores and other major-specific requirements. Gonzaga University, University of Illinois Chicago, and the University of Utah are just a few of our 20+ universities that offer Accelerator programs. 

  • Writing and tutoring centers: Once on campus, Shorelight academic advisors work with you one-on-one to access the best resources and support services, like writing and tutoring centers. Ask your advisor about your school’s ESL programs, essay writing workshops, and English chat drop-ins to practice.  

“Embarking on university study in a new country can feel daunting, and Shorelight’s unique programs and helpful staff are here to help students gain confidence as they learn to navigate life and study in the US,” Quill noted. “Your future is yours to create, but taking shortcuts like using ChatGPT will reduce the knowledge and skills you gain from your university experience. Do yourself a favor and take on the challenge of doing your own academic work so you can fully benefit from your US university education.”   

Shorelight can help you succeed in your US university classes