Teacher devises an ingenious way to check if students are using ChatGPT to write essays

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2024/03/30/teacher-devises-an-ingenious-way-to-check-if-students-are-using-chatgpt-to-write-essays.html


Which is the norm.

And that’s actually the problem, not using an LLM, but not knowing that the output is plausible sounding junk which may or may not be true.

For an LLM they are the same thing. That’s why they are shit.


There’s another pretty reliable way to check. Just read the fucking essay. It’s not exactly all that hard to spot “AI” work, if the essay is longer than one paragraph. If you really aren’t sure, just stick the essay into a standard plagiarism checker, because odds are pretty good that some portion of ChatGPT’s answer was copied straight from something else, mostly unaltered.


You might think, but many students know workarounds for that, like running the result through again and asking for various kinds of changes.

And AI-detection programs, which differ from plagiarism checkers, are unreliable anyway, so much so that many universities have dropped them.

Anyway, my understanding is that trying to stop students from using AI to do their writing for them has pretty much become a hopeless and already old-fashioned task; so many students already do so, in whole or in part. The trend now seems to be to work with students as they do so, and to learn as a teacher how to help guide students as they become “effective prompt engineers.” Ugh.


That was my first thought, too, but then I realized this technique saves the teacher time. They can just weed out any that have the Trojan horses in them straightaway, leaving more time for them to review the work of students who put some actual effort in.


Ugh, indeed.
I’m studying education right now, and on the brighter side, a lot of teachers are using the inevitability of students using AI as an opportunity to teach media literacy and reading comprehension. One assignment I saw had the students use AI to write an essay on a given topic, then explore the sources cited and see if they were valid, and also mark up the essay themselves as if they were grading it. The assignment was the critique of the AI-generated content. Seemed pretty clever.


Arguably, canonical the monster’s name is Adam Frankenstein.


The assignment was the critique of the AI-generated content. Seemed pretty clever.

I think that does sound clever in a way, but I hope there’s still emphasis on the value of learning to write well on one’s own. I think working through one’s thoughts via writing and learning how to express them well (again in writing) to others are great skills to have.

But then maybe no more so than the math skills so few have now, thanks to calculators and other forms of automation that no longer require us to do the math?


I teach adults.

Noticed when marking a homework assignment one day that nearly the entire class had one straightforward multiple choice wrong in exactly the same way. This usually points to an error in the assignment or an error in instruction, so I dove deeper.

I reviewed my instructional recording and the course material, and the provided information was accurate. So I copied the question into Google and immediately got its AI-powered suggested answer, which was wrong. Google’s source material was only an example of a lesson plan from a random K-12 district, and it wasn’t teaching the subject. It was just showing prospective teachers an expected format for a plan and had made-up facts.

The next class, I wordlessly opened Google and showed them what I’d found. I then explained exactly why and how they can’t trust the first result from Google. I could have reported it to them, but I realized that the lesson of being caught and corrected is much more valuable. I’m letting the mistake stay online.


Perhaps your next lesson could involve the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus?


And drop bears!

@milliefink - totally agree about the writing. I’m not sure, but if it were my class, the next step of that assignment would’ve been to have them take everything they had and write a final essay to submit.
And agree about the skill of putting one’s thoughts in order. Educators are getting a lot of pressure now to use AI to generate lesson plans. I just did a whole unit on this and talk about prompt engineering, it’s insane how detailed you can get. The output is also astonishingly good. As a starting point. But even with all that, I’d miss the process of thinking it through myself, at least occasionally. I could see the AI for lesson plans being a lifesaver if you were in a time crunch and had a block, but one needs to be able to operate without in, imho.


A good trick until they told everyone about it…

Every now and then make them do an essay in class. It will be obvious who uses AI.


Maybe, assuming you can read their handwriting.


You’d have to make them do it in cursive :wink:


Alternatively, you could let them use their laptops and use Examsoft or whatever similar software the school uses. Most of my in class final exams in law school had an essay question portion, and most of us still did them on our laptops, using Examsoft. That way, no Internet access.


I hated writing essays when in high school usually, but the teacher should be asking themselves what is the purpose of asking the students to write the essay? Is there an alternative way to test knowledge or research methods of their students that doesn’t require them to write an essay at home? I had a few teachers that gave us a whole class period or two to gather info from the library and come up with either presentations or short essays.


I think you mean “Dr. Frankenstein’s monster.” He didn’t go to evil medical school for four years to be called simply “Frankenstein.”


In my school we were first taught how to write an argumentative essay, then were required to use the form on various topics in different classes.

YMMV, but in my line of work (legal and compliance on government contracts) I use essay skills on an at least weekly basis, and frequently several times a day.

Unfortunately it’s one of those skills that can seem abstract until you really, really need it.

Effective presentations are also an essential skill. Too much “here is a block of text I will now read to you” and not enough “bullet points summarizing important information with narrative providing context and detail.


One possible counter to that is there are so many people whose learning style and/or disabilities effectively preclude their ability to get their thoughts down in ‘writing’ to share with others.

If you think of this as an educational accommodation, no different than my need to read a transcript rather than watch/listen to a lecture, it becomes a way to expand access to higher education for those who don’t fit the pedagogical norm.


An important lesson that a friend told me was, “They can read the powerpoint, so don’t just read it out for them.”