- An Oxford University course module allowed students to use AI tools to write essays in a class.
- The task was to help students understand how to write a much better essay by using AI responsibly.
- The essays weren’t part of any formal assessment, Professor Steve New told Business Insider.
Oxford University students were given the go-ahead to use AI tools like ChatGPT to help them write an essay for a class, The Telegraph reported Tuesday.
Professor Steve New, who teaches a module on technology and operations management, told The Telegraph that undergraduates studying Economics and Management were made to undertake the task in his class and that it wouldn’t be part of any formal assessment.
He explained that when AI tools are used “thoughtfully and critically” it “should help you produce a much better essay than you would produce unaided.”
A note on the course said that the assignment has been adapted to the current academic year because of how generative AI systems like ChatGPT, Bard, and Claude have “changed the environment in which we work.” It said that AI tools “can greatly enhance your ability to generate essays”.
After OpenAI released ChatGPT to the public in November 2022, college professors saw a sharp rise in students using the chatbot to write assignments. At the time, two philosophy professors previously told Business Insider that assignments written by ChatGPT raised red flags because they’re really “well-written” on the surface but upon closer examination, they made no sense or lacked context and depth.
Since then, the Russell Group, a group of 24 leading colleges in the UK including Oxford and Cambridge, agreed to a set of principles that would allow students and teachers to become “AI-literate” and use the technology ethically.
In New’s class, the students were told to write out an answer to an essay question using an AI tool of their choice, and then pass it on to their course mates for review.
Their course mates would fact-check their essays because AI tools have frequently made up facts and even used fake citations. The students were still subject to standard rules on referencing and plagiarism when writing the essay.
New told students that AI should “increase your ability to think hard about the subjects you discuss, and make you more confident in framing a clear and persuasive argument”.
He added: “But the document that emerges should be yours. You need to write stuff you will stand by. The AI can produce humdrum ‘some say this, some say that…meh’ essays in a fraction of a second; you should be producing compelling, tightly-argued, evidence-based prose that you believe in.”
Speaking to Business Insider, New said that AI tools can “help students think more deeply and more broadly about the issues under consideration. The tools can suggest ways of thinking about a problem that students might otherwise miss.”
He said that allowing the use of AI tools was only possible thanks to the way in which Oxford University runs its classes.
“This is possible for us because of Oxford’s unusual and distinctive ‘tutorial method’ – the students write essays that play no part in their formal assessment, and then get to discuss their work in very small groups with their tutor.”
Use of AI for any work that forms part of a graded assignment is banned, he added.