Spotting Plagiarism vs. AI Assistance: A Guide for Educators

Learn how to distinguish acceptable AI assistance from academic dishonesty

In the digital age, the landscape of education is rapidly evolving, bringing both new opportunities and challenges. With the spread of generative AI, students have now access to tools that can help students complete a multitude of tasks, including writing. AI tools - such as Chat-GPT- allow students to complete an assignment in a fraction of the time that it would normally take for them to write an essay.

Whereas using AI to assist in writing essays may improve students vocabulary, help them correct grammar mistakes and aid in the learning process, it also represents a threat to academic integrity and ethics and has raised concerns about the effect on critical thinking and creativity.

One big issue of AI-assisted writing is that it is much more difficult to detect: In fact, using AI is not outright "plagiarism", since the student is not copying someone else's words or ideas without proper attribution, but rather feeding text ("prompts") to a program that uses a set of parameters to generate content.

While AI can be an invaluable tool in the learning process, educators should be able to identify the subtle boundary between acceptable AI assistance and academic dishonesty. Here's how you can differentiate between the two:

Language Complexity and Style Consistency:

AI-generated content might exhibit a sudden shift in language complexity or style due to the algorithm's influence. Educators should be vigilant if the writing abruptly transforms from simple to highly sophisticated language or vice versa.

Unusual Vocabulary Usage:

AI tools sometimes introduce advanced vocabulary that may not align with the student's typical writing style. Detecting unfamiliar words in the context of an otherwise basic essay could raise suspicions.

Idea Cohesion:

Plagiarism often results in disjointed ideas and paragraphs, as students struggle to blend copied content seamlessly. In AI-assisted essays, ideas may flow logically but lack the personal touch present in a student's original work.

While these principles are useful in theory, they become hard to implement with large sections of students or when there are tight time constraints. This is where tools like txtReplay can help in identifying dishonest behaviours, such as outright copy-pasting from external sources. txtreplay allows professors to monitor the entire writing process of an essay, obtaining important metrics (such as amount of text that was copy-pasted, writing speed and accuracy) and enabling a complete replay of the writing process.