Durham opts out of Turnitin’s ChatGPT detection system

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As of 4th April 2023, Turnitin can now identify the use of AI writing tools, such as ChatGPT, in submitted pieces of work. The plagiarism detector claims to have a 98% accuracy rate in determining whether a sentence was written by a human or not. The software is able to distinguish the likelihood of AI input in individual sentences even if the author had edited the original AI-produced writing.

Durham University’s policy on AI writing tools can be found in the Teaching and Learning Handbook, where the University states that, “the requirement that submitted work must be a student’s own means that inappropriate use of generative AI in the production of assessed work is likely to constitute academic misconduct”.

The University advises that, “if students have any queries, they should contact their department”. Speaking to Palatinate, a spokesperson from Durham University said, “inappropriate use of generative AI in the production of assessed work is likely to constitute academic misconduct.

“Any student work may be uploaded to a plagiarism detection system to check for possible academic offences. We frequently review our policies to take account of new developments. We currently have no plans to use Turnitin’s AI detection tool.”

“Any student work may be uploaded to a plagiarism detection system to check for possible academic offences. We frequently review our policies to take account of new developments. We currently have no plans to use Turnitin’s AI detection tool.”

Durham University

The response to generative AI in academia has been mixed: the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have already announced bans on ChatGPT, though the University of Cambridge has also opted out of using Turnitin’s AI detection tool. A self-selecting online survey ran by Varsity showed that 47.3% of students at Cambridge have used AI chatbots to complete work for their degree.

Many believe that ChatGPT can help with academia without replacing essay writing. The software can be used as a reading or writing assistant, summarising long paragraphs or articles. Mike Sharples, emeritus professor of educational technology at The Open University, argues that, “ChatGPT should be seen as a tool for creativity not as a substitute writer”.

At the Durham Centre for Academic Development (DCAD), AI is being examined in greater detail. A spokesperson from DCAD has announced that a “one-day online symposium” covering the use of AI tools in academia will take place on 3rd July 2023.

“ChatGPT should be seen as a tool for creativity not as a substitute writer”

Mike Sharples

This will include “a range of experts from across the sector speaking and discussing the likely current and future impact of AI on our practice as teachers and researchers”.

Booking for the event will be available from early May from the DCAD website. In the statement, DCAD state that, “2023 will be the year of generative AI”.

Image: mikemacmarketing via Wikimedia Commons

5 thoughts on “Durham opts out of Turnitin’s ChatGPT detection system

  • Turnitin’s claims of accuracy should not be taken at face value. They won’t allow independent analysis of their data, nor of the methods they use to detect GAI use.

    The crucial statistic you miss is the false positive rate – how often does GAI detection identify GAI use when it’s absent? GAI detection software tests suggest this could be as high as 4%, depending on the level at which you look (whole piece, or sentence-by-sentence), and which GAI detection software you use. That’s the key reason universities are turning this off – not just Durham and Cambridge, but I know KCL have also made that decision recently. A student wrongly accused of GAI use by faulty detection software would have a very hard job of proving their innocence to the standard required in disciplinary cases (the balance of probabilities). That’s not a risk the University should impose on students. 1 in 25 is far too high a rate – imagine you’re the 1.

    Meeting the challenge of GAI has to emphasise different responses focused on assessment design, including ways of incorporating GAI so students learn about and assess its strengths and weaknesses. It’s really useful in quite narrow circumstances, so students must appreciate that things GAI can’t (at least at present) do – like be creative and think critically – are what matter for getting a good degree and will be why they get recruited for good jobs.

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  • The right solution is for students to write their papers independently, without using the GPT chat, but, unfortunately, now there are no programs that reliably determine who wrote the text being checked. how many cases have there already been that a text written entirely by a human was scanned, and the program recognized the presence of AI in this text.

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