Students can use ChatGPT without cheating; here’s how.
The issue of students cheating is an age-old conundrum that will always be there, no matter how the educational landscape changes—and boy, is it currently changing!
Thanks to the widespread availability of AI, the concept of cheating is undergoing a unique shift. One-to-one technology is present in many school districts across the country, which means our students will inevitably access generative AI tools for academic tasks.
So, how can we make sure our students use AI without cheating? Is that even possible?
I argue yes; let’s examine why and how.
What is cheating in the age of ChatGPT?
Traditional definitions of cheating often revolve around copying answers from classmates, sharing information during exams, or plagiarizing from the web. But the rise of AI-powered tools has muddied the waters.
Here are just a few examples of conversations I’ve had with colleagues, teachers, and even my teenager about what constitutes using AI to cheat in school:
Is asking ChatGPT to write a paper, then turning it in unedited, cheating?
Absolutely. Everyone agrees on this.
Is it cheating to ask generative AI to explain the steps to a math problem you got wrong?
In most cases, no—but some educators have varying feelings.
Is prompting ChatGPT to summarize a novel you were supposed to read for class cheating?
That’s a tricky one…
There’s no doubt that AI tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard can be used to cheat, but they can also be used to transform learning. Generative AI can help students understand complex concepts, brainstorm ideas, boost creativity and critical thinking, and receive guidance—all while upholding high standards for academic integrity.
Let’s dig deeper.
Generative AI as a muse to unlock inner creativity
Concerns about academic integrity are always valid, but it’s important to recognize one of the most remarkable features of many generative AI programs: Its ability to be a wellspring of creative inspiration.
Take, for example, Google’s new TextFX. TextFX bills itself as a collection of “AI-powered tools for rappers, writers, and wordsmiths,” with tools to help develop similes, evaluate topics through different points of view, generate sensory details about a scene, and more.
Imagine a student facing writer’s block on a creative writing assignment. With the click of a button, AI like TextFX can offer suggestions that help students explore new angles and tickle ideas in their brains. It serves as a virtual brainstorming companion, encouraging creativity and pushing the boundaries of imagination.
In this screenshot, TextFX gives a list of sensory details about the writing prompt, “Traveling to outer space.” It includes prompts such as, “The taste of freeze-dried space food,” “The feeling of weightlessness as you float through the air,” and “The smell of ozone, a sharp and acrid odor.”
Students can use these prompts as a starting point to add more imaginative details to bring their story to life.
AI like TextFX is a great tool to show students that, instead of viewing AI-generated content as a finished product, it should be considered a starting point or a spark to ignite their creative fire.
In this light, using AI for academic purposes isn’t cheating; it’s using AI as a collaborator that guides students to novel ideas and solutions.
ChatGPT can enhance critical thinking capabilities
Beyond helping students discover their inner creativity, AI can be a valuable catalyst for fostering critical thinking.
For example, a student can feed ChatGPT their original writing and prompt it to analyze the grammar, structure, and clarity of arguments and expression.
Using AI for these purposes is similar to peer or teacher review. As students study feedback and incorporate it into their own writing, they’re actively participating in viewing their work with a critical eye. Self-assessment, in this way, plays a crucial role in developing critical thinking skills.
Generative AI can also take a basic concept or idea and expand it into a more detailed and comprehensive explanation. This encourages students to think deeply about the core principles and related concepts and consider perspectives outside their own.
I recently went to ChatGPT with a topic that was often heavily discussed in the high school social studies classes I co-taught. I pretended I was a student who wanted to know more about the Treaty of Versailles beyond its role in ending World War I. Here’s how it went:
In the above screenshot, ChatGPT was able to tell me about the impacts of the Treaty of Versailles that I might not have previously considered, including its harsh and punitive impacts on the German military, economy, and territory. These are just a few of the 12 examples it provided, each of which students should be encouraged to research and fact-check (we all know AI can get it wrong, sometimes!).
If students use this type of support and adhere to ethical standards that prohibit plagiarism, they won't be caught up in “AI as a cheating tool” trap.
Similarly, ChatGPT and other AI chatbots can engage students in simulated conversations or debates. This allows them to practice constructing arguments, anticipating counterarguments, and refining their communication skills. In world language classrooms, ChatGPT can personalize conversation practice and so much more.
Generative AI as a brainstorming and organization companion
Another handy, yet ethical, use for AI chatbots in the classroom? They’re great at assisting students when they need help organizing their work.
For example, generative AI can take a jumble of ideas and coherently structure them into outlines and summaries, and even provide brainstorming prompts to get students “unstuck” when starting their writing. These features can be a game-changer for students struggling to structure their thoughts or articulate their ideas effectively!
In this example, Google’s Bard provides a list of ideas for a student who is having trouble starting a paragraph about American involvement in the Vietnam War. It gives tips such as, “Start with a question,” “Start with a surprising fact or statistic,” and “Start with a quote from a historical figure or expert.”
Maybe you’re thinking that asking ChatGPT or Bard to outline writing skirts the boundaries of academic honesty, but this is a great example of why we need to explicitly teach students guidelines for ethical AI use.
When done correctly, like in our example above where the student tells Bard not to write the paragraph, AI is a valuable tool to enhance academic performance without cheating.
Generative AI can bring clarity to complex topics
Generative AI, with its natural language processing capabilities, is great at simplifying complex topics.
For example, students can input dense or convoluted information (such as a peer-reviewed science article they’d like to understand for a paper they’re writing) and the AI can distill it into more digestible, straightforward explanations—with some caveats regarding length (AI distills dense information better when it’s in smaller chunks). This process helps break down comprehension barriers, making it easier for students to grasp difficult subject matter.
Generative AI can also come in handy when a student needs to understand less complex, but still potentially confusing, information.
As a high school math, social studies, and special education teacher for 16 years, I spent innumerable hours rewording directions, trying to figure out how to explain a prompt in different ways, and breaking down information into smaller, more manageable chunks. If a student can use generative AI to ask for alternate explanations, not only could it save the teacher time—it also fosters the student’s sense of autonomy and agency.
As long as students are adhering to their school’s standards for academic expectations and aren’t presenting the AI chatbot’s explanations as their original writing, we can safely say they’ve avoided traditional notions of cheating.
Using ChatGPT and generative AI the ethical way
Ultimately, the dawn of the new digital age in education requires us to reevaluate our understanding of cheating to consider the dynamic role AI plays—and will play—in education. When used thoughtfully and with guidance, generative AI tools can unlock the full potential of every student—while avoiding traditional notions of cheating.
Interested in exploring the ethical considerations of using AI in your classroom? Check out this blog for our top 10 ethical AI practices for K–12 students.
Before joining Carnegie Learning's marketing team in 2022, Karen spent 16 years teaching mathematics and social studies in Ohio classrooms. She has a passion for inclusive education and believes that all learners can be meaningfully included in academic settings from day one. As a former math and special education teacher, she is excited to provide educators with the latest in best-practices content so that they can set all students on the path to becoming confident "math people."Explore more related to this author
Generative AI can help students understand complex concepts, brainstorm ideas, boost creativity and critical thinking, and receive guidance—all while upholding high standards for academic integrity.
Karen Sloan, Math and Special Education Teacher of 16 Years