Dubai university set to reinstate pen-and-paper exams after students use ChatGPT for tests

Education expert warns how dishonest use of AI could mean end of online tests

Curtin University Dubai found that a third of students in one class had used ChatGPT to write their essays. Reuters
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A leading Dubai university plans to reinstate handwritten, tech-free exams in order to combat widespread cheating by students using the ChatGPT app.

Curtin University Dubai — a campus of Curtin University in Western Australia — is taking action after a third of students in one class were found to have used the artificial intelligence program to write their essays.

Students in the Introduction to Management class were caught out by teaching staff, who asked them to submit handwritten writing samples for comparison.

“The difference in style was very easy to spot between what they wrote themselves and the typed submissions they provided,” said Daniel Adkins, group chief executive of the Transnational Academic Group, which operates the campus in Dubai.

But the problem is so rife that universities could become obsolete in the not-too-distant future, he warned.

Mr Adkins was speaking on the sidelines of the Getex Education Forum, taking place this week at Dubai World Trade Centre.

Curtin University was in July ranked as one of Dubai's best in a league table developed by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, in partnership with Quacquarelli Symonds, a UK company specialising in analysing higher education institutions around the world.

The likelihood of students being tempted to use AI programs such as ChatGPT has led to the university considering a permanent return to handwritten exams.

This would include students being supervised by staff, with oral one-to-one sessions also being part of the process.

“We’re trying to get it implemented by our curriculum committee that all exams are handwritten on paper in the future,” said Mr Adkins.

“We also want it to be the case that exams are personally invigilated so students cannot use any form of technology.”

Clamping down on cheating

The National reported in February that UAE schools were trying out new technologies to help prevent pupils from using AI to cheat their way to higher grades.

Italy became the first European country to ban ChatGPT at the start of the month, following in the footsteps of other countries including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, due to privacy concerns.

The application was launched late last year by San Francisco company OpenAI, a company cofounded by Elon Musk, who described it as “scary good”.

Online learning tools were embraced by most education providers during the Covid-19 pandemic, with many pupils learning remotely.

However, it could be time to rethink this, Mr Adkins said.

He admitted it would be a measure that would not prove universally popular with his peers.

“A lot of the exams moved online during Covid-19 and, even before ChatGPT, there were videos popping up on YouTube about how to beat the software and cheat,” he said.

“We were already getting examples of cheating before ChatGPT came along.

“We’re actually getting some resistance from faculty members because automated grading online makes their jobs easier.”

But the future credibility of universities everywhere could be compromised if the right measures of protection are not adopted, he added.

“Future employers could say they can’t trust that a person actually gained the knowledge required to achieve a degree — if that happens, then it won’t have credibility,” he said.

“If someone can easily cheat their way to a degree, then the qualification will be worthless.

“I expect all universities will return to pen-and-paper-based exams because there’s no real alternative at the minute.”

Part of the solution to the use of ChatGPT could come from how it is regulated, said Brendan Vyner, business development and student recruitment director at Amity University Dubai, speaking at the same conference.

“The big issue at the minute is who is responsible for the regulation of ChatGPT,” he said.

“That’s the thing that nobody can answer right now and why it’s banned in several countries across the world.

“There isn’t a central regulatory body for it like you would find in sectors like education.

“There needs to be assurances it is used ethically and not by the likes of hackers.”

What is Chat GPT?

The artificial intelligence-based chatbot created by San Francisco-based OpenAI, which was co-founded by Elon Musk, has been creating waves across the internet with its writing ability and responses to requests.

It has been used as a cutting-edge aid across a range of fields, from essay and poetry writing to scientific concepts to job application tasks, with the results often being posted on social media.

It can even offer possible solutions to errors in computer code.

“Its answer to the question, 'what to do if someone has a heart attack' was incredibly clear and relevant,” Claude de Loupy, head of Syllabs, a French company specialised in automatic text generation, told AFP.

“When you start asking very specific questions, ChatGPT's response can be off the mark”, but its overall performance remains “really impressive”, with a “high linguistic level”, he said.

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Updated: April 28, 2023, 2:39 PM