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Why It’s Critical to Maintain Academic Integrity in the Era of AI Writing Assistance

As new AI technologies like ChatGPT emerge, stressed students may find themselves faced with the temptation to cheat on assignments. Eric Harter and Raymond Lo explain why maintaining academic integrity in this environment is so critical, from the serious implications of getting caught to how developing strong writing skills is a necessary component of students’ long term success.

In the last couple of weeks, new AI technology like ChatGPT has come to the market, enabling students to cheat on assignments by having the website generate an essay for them—merely by typing in a prompt. While this technology may have some beneficial applications as a teaching tool, the negative consequences of using AI to write school or application essays can reach far beyond the immediate assignment.

We agree it is impressive to see what technology can create, from AI art to AI essays. We also respect our students and families immensely and know that most would never even contemplate taking the easy way out for a moment, but we understand that the pressure of finals, college applications, and papers can sometimes make students do unexpected things. And since our goal as mentors and coaches is to not only educate students but also guard against the long-term ramifications of taking the easier path, we wanted to address this issue now. While this is never an easy conversation, we feel that it is vital to our mission and central to our core role as mentors to discuss it.

ChatGPT and other AI technologies have caused teachers to be more suspicious of any writing that does not “feel” or look like the writing the student has presented throughout the year so far. While ChatGPT creates a logical narrative, it is different from how most students write, and it is very easy for a teacher to spot the difference, especially as we are almost halfway through the school year. Students should be wary of taking this “easy route,” which could easily lead to disciplinary action at school or even cost them a chance at many universities.

Regarding college essays, admissions officers are looking for students who have a unique voice, perspective, or story, all of which is incredibly difficult for AI to emulate, also diminishing the acceptance chances if an essay looks and sounds just like the average essay. In college and high school, we have heard of some students being vigorously interrogated about their essays and required to show “proof” that it is their writing—something that would not be possible when the paper is generated for you by AI. The same challenge rings true for admissions essays, where students don’t even get the chance to argue their case; if admissions officers don’t believe your essays were written by you, they simply won’t consider your application.

We cannot stress enough that using something like ChatGPT not only jeopardizes a student’s grades and college prospects in the short term but also has implications for their long-term development as writers and communicators. Relying on AI technology to complete assignments risks these apps becoming a “crutch” because students are no longer required to think through the process of writing, which is one of the most invaluable skills needed for their future educational and professional careers.

In the course of a day, how often are we asked to defend our positions, to discuss our perspective, or to help solve a problem? The process of developing a thesis, constructing an argument to defend it, and writing with one’s voice is a skill that takes time to mature. We are constantly striving to strengthen these mind-muscles in our students, since we know that these foundational skills will outlast any singular essay, translating to a higher degree of success in college and career.

At ESM Prep, one of our core values is to "Live and Teach with Integrity."  We want our students to always Live with Integrity because it matters. Technology makes many things more accessible, but that doesn't mean it makes them right. While we "Embrace our Inner Nerds" at ESM Prep and love technology, we also value education, which an AI-written essay simply cannot replicate. It can, however, cost students the chance at a quality education.