As generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT raise concerns about academic integrity, a study conducted by South African academics sheds light on how university students are using AI in their academic practices. Contrary to moral panics, the survey of 1,471 students across five universities suggests that students have a nuanced understanding of generative AI tools. The findings indicate that students primarily use AI tools for engaged learning, clarifying concepts, and improving academic writing. The study emphasizes the importance of factoring in students' perspectives in shaping assessment and learning pathways.
- Survey Details
- The survey included 1,471 students across five South African universities, primarily first-year students in Humanities.
- The study aimed to understand how students use generative AI and AI-powered tools in academic practices, with a focus on ethical considerations.
- Tool Usage
- 41% of respondents primarily used laptops for academic work, followed by smartphones (29.8%), with a range of other AI-powered tools used, including translation and referencing tools.
- While ChatGPT was used by 37.3% to answer an essay question, other tools like Grammarly were more commonly used (80.5%) for improving writing in appropriate English.
- Positive Perceptions:
- Students expressed overwhelmingly positive views about the potential of digital and AI tools to aid their academic progress.
- Perceived benefits included clarifying concepts, formulating ideas, structuring essays, improving writing, saving time, and enhancing various aspects of the learning process.
- Engaged Learning:
- Generative AI tools were often used for engaged learning, allowing students to tailor content to their strengths and weaknesses and create a more personalized learning experience.
- AI tools were seen as "tutors" facilitating conversations to help students understand complex concepts.
While concerns about plagiarism and the impact on learning were acknowledged, students reported using AI tools responsibly and not engaging in problematic practices.
The research underscores the importance of considering students' perspectives in addressing concerns about AI tools in academia. Factoring in student experiences can contribute to the development of new pathways for assessment and learning in the context of evolving technology.
The study challenges moral panics surrounding the use of generative AI tools in higher education by revealing a nuanced and responsible approach among students. The findings emphasize the need for ongoing dialogue and collaboration between educators and students to shape ethical and effective integration of AI tools in academic practices.