Algorithms capable of writing essays are becoming a problem for teachers trying to keep students from cheating.

If you get on your favorite search engine and look for help writing essays or homework assignments, many of the top results will be, under clever euphemisms, resources for having the work done for you. Formerly, that was usually other students selling old homework, then overseas students advertising their services worldwide, but now it’s mostly algorithms that can do the work for you.

Not always well – any language generating AI has quirks and failures. They don’t sound quite natural. But neither do most students writing an essay for class, especially those trying to reach a minimum word count. So they get through.

By some definitions, it isn’t plagiarism as there’s no source you could find any specific sentence copied from. Better algorithms even include bibliographies, citing the sources they drew their language from. But the student claiming to have written the end result didn’t write it. So plagiarism or not, it is cheating and academic dishonesty.

Scanning dozens to hundreds of essays, an instructor can easily miss the signs of algorithms writing a work. So teachers are scrambling for ways to ensure this method of cheating can’t get past them. Tightening essay requirements is the primary one – making essays about comparing and contrasting sources, rather than summarizing a topic, or requiring classroom discussion to be referenced. But the algorithms will continue to improve. Stricter teachers have pivoted to requiring essays to be written in class or on paper, or to having students present their essays and answer class questions on their topic, which would at least demonstrate understanding of their work.

As these algorithms get better, we may even see schools step away from the essay format entirely, moving to in-person presentations or classroom discussion to demonstrate understanding instead.

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