Using AI at university
How to use these new technologies responsibly and transparently
New artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT, DALLE-2, CoPilot and Google Bard could change the way many of us work and study.
They can all be helpful for generating content that might contribute to assessments. However it’s important that they’re used ethically and constructively, and in a way that doesn’t seek unfair advantage.
University position on AI
The University believes that AI tools are potentially transformative as well as disruptive, that they will feature in many academic and professional workplaces, and that rather than seek to prohibit your use of them, staff will support you in using them effectively, ethically and transparently.
Whilst AI tools are powerful and easy to use, they can also easily provide misleading or incorrect information. They can negatively impact your learning as they can reduce the need for reflection and critical engagement that is key to deep and meaningful learning. Students that rely on these tools too much risk losing their own skills and expertise, and may struggle to study or work without them.
You also need to be able to judge the difference between reasonable use, and at what point you have an inappropriate advantage.
It is crucial that you don’t use AI tools to simply generate a piece of work and submit that as if it was your own work. This will be considered academic misconduct.
What is AI good for?
These tools can help students in a number of ways. Examples might include:
- Answering student questions (24/7) based on material which can be found on the internet.
- Drafting ideas, and planning or structuring written materials.
- Generating graphics, images and visuals to support your work.
- Reviewing and critically analysing written materials to assess their validity.
- Helping to improve grammar and writing structure – especially helpful if English is a second language.
- Experimenting with different writing styles.
- Deriving explanations.
- Generating, explaining, executing, debugging, and optimising code.
- Overcoming writer’s block.
- Generate formative “exam style” questions
Limitations of AI
These AI tools don’t understand anything they produce, nor do they understand what the words they produce mean when applied to the real world.
Generative AI tools are language machines rather than databases of knowledge – they work by predicting the next plausible word or section of programming code from patterns that have been ‘learnt’ from large data sets.
As a result, their results can be flawed:
- Whilst their output can appear plausible and well written, AI tools frequently get things wrong and make up information (so called “hallucinations”) so they can’t be relied upon for factual accuracy.
- They may perform better in subjects which are widely written about, and less well in niche or specialist areas.
- Unlike a normal internet search, some AI systems interrogate current resources and may be some months out of date. This is changing though as systems develop.
- Some can now provide references – however sometimes they are out of date, or the tool fabricates well formatted but fictitious citations. Always check that the references suggested are correct, are ones that you have read and that contribute meaningfully to your work.
- Their use can raise ethical concerns. For example, they can perpetuate stereotypes, biases and Western perspectives. They may also generate racist or misogynistic content.
- There may be data privacy concerns. Most private AI companies operate on the premise that data collection is opt-out. It would be easy for staff or students to accidentally share data that was not meant to be shared.
- Some systems will generate code - that code should be carefully checked before running it on University systems.
Overreliance on AI tools
More fundamentally, overreliance on these tools may reduce your key skills and knowledge that you are at university to develop. Using AI tools too much can harm your writing, critical thinking, and evaluation skills – key academic and professional skills that you will need as you progress through your studies and beyond.
However, what these tools can provide is an opportunity to build critical analysis and evaluation skills. You can study and critique what they produce, and make judgements about whether what they produce is actually valid and accurate.
AI and academic misconduct
When you submit work via Moodle or Wiseflow you are reminded that academic misconduct is strictly prohibited in the University Student Conduct Policy.
Using AI tools to help with aspects like idea generation or your planning may be appropriate - however your context and the nature of the assessment is important.
It is never acceptable to use these tools to write your entire assignment from start to finish.
Words and ideas generated by some AI tools make use of other, human authors' ideas without referencing them. This is controversial in itself and considered by many to be a form of plagiarism.
Unfair use of AI
Your lecturers will be able to provide more specific guidance on what tools, if any, are allowed in the context of your own assignments.
However the following is considered academic misconduct for all University of Portsmouth students:
- When you hide something and aren't transparent about your approach.
- When you take something generated by an AI tool and don't reference or acknowledge that.
- When you breach the assessment regulations, thus securing a personal benefit.
If staff suspect that you are trying to use AI-generated output as if it is your own work then that may be classed as a breach of the Student Conduct Policy.
How to acknowledge AI sources in your work
The University has issued a statement on the use of Generative AI in assignments. We advise all students to check this guidance regularly, and particularly before submitting your work. This is so that you’re aware of the most up to date advice prior to using AI in your initial thinking or assignment.
If lecturers have made clear that you may use AI sources in your assessed work, then you should acknowledge, describe and reference its use.
The University library offers guidance on referencing your use of AI tools. Currently this is only present for APA 7th Edition but this will be developed for other referencing systems.
Our University Library is home to a vast array of publications you'll need for your studies, including rare archives and special book collections.
It's important to think about the digital skills you already have and the new skills you'd like to learn.