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Artificial intelligence in IB assessment and education: a crisis or an opportunity?

Latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI) software that can write sophisticated essay responses has generated a great deal of interest and discussion.

Matt Glanville, Director of Assessment at the IB, shares his views on the short-term impact this new technology will have on IB assessments and how it could change education as we know it in the long-term.

The IB believes that this AI technology will become part of our everyday lives—like spell checkers, translation software and calculators. We therefore need to adapt and transform our educational programmes and assessment practices so that students can use these new AI tools ethically and effectively. The IB is not going to ban the use of such software but will work with schools to help them support their students on how to use these tools ethically in line with our principles of academic integrity.

Immediate impact on IB Assessment

Work produced by artificial intelligence tools (even only in part) will not be considered as a student’s own. As with any quote or material adapted from another source, it must be clear that AI generated work included in a piece of assessment has been taken from such software—it must be credited in the body of the text and appropriately referenced in the bibliography. If this is not done, the student would be misrepresenting content as it was not originally written by them.

Of course, the emergence of AI essay writing tools creates greater opportunities for some students to test the boundaries of what is acceptable. The below four points highlight what the IB expects when a teacher confirms that a students’ work is their own:

  • They have seen the student develop the work over a period of time. IB coursework is not designed to be completed in a single evening. This is probably the best approach to ensure that the work belongs to the student, and it will also encourage best practice in writing the coursework.
  • The student can explain their work sufficiently, providing confidence that it has been created by them.
  • The student is clear when they are quoting other people’s ideas and when they are claiming an idea or conclusion as their own work—this is the expected way of referencing.
  • When comparing the quality of the final piece of work, it is in line with what they would expect the student to be able to produce.

This is not a new assessment problem. The issue of students being disempowered to think, whether because of too much support in completing their work or asking someone else to write it for them, is a longstanding variation of current issues that the IB is familiar with managing. Of course, these new technologies are significantly different in terms of speed, ease of access and scale, but the problem of students getting someone else to write their work for them has existed for many years. Teachers and the IB regularly deal with cases of essays bought from the internet (from so called “essay mills”), completed by external tutors or even by family members.  As all IB coursework requires regular check-in meetings between students and teachers, there is an opportunity for teachers to ask the student about their ideas and to expand on their arguments to ensure that the student work is a true reflection of what they understand.

The future of learning

The IB is focused on exploring the educational opportunities that this software has created and is now trying to imagine what a world in which AI software is routinely used would look like. In this world, what key skills and understanding should a high-quality education equip students with? For example:

  • Students may be asked to evaluate an AI-produced essay and then to refine the prompt (question) to get closer to what they want. At the moment, a common theme in comments about ChatGPT is that slightly changing the question you ask the software can dramatically alter what it produces.
  • Students will need more expertise in identifying and addressing bias. All work produced by AI is based on the information it has “learnt” from, and particularly in today’s internet this is heavily biased by its human authors. Students need to understand that AI will inherit the bias and blind spots of its programmers (or source material in the case of self-learning systems).
  • Students will (continue) to learn to think around problems and be creative, rather than seeking simple answers or following a routine process. Even today, AI tools can complete the latter more quickly and effectively, while creative problem-solving is where students can excel.

Artificial Intelligence as a support for teaching and learning

An initial idea is to use AI to provide example work for the students to evaluate and criticise. Many teachers find asking students to mark examples of work a great learning experience and using AI addresses many of the ethical and practical problems in this classroom activity. The teacher would need to explain why it is ethical for them to use the AI tools in this way but not for the student to use it to write their work, but this is part of a much more important point. Teachers should role model best practice when using AI, as students learn by observing the respected adults in their lives far more than by listening to them.

Be excited and see opportunities

In summary, we believe AI is not a crisis in education or assessment, but it does create significant challenges and opportunities. In the short term, we must teach students the ethical use of AI for assessments and the IB is well placed with assessment tasks that focus on understanding and not the coherence of written answers. However, in the medium to longer term, IB education practices will need to evolve as these types of tools improve and become a significant part of everyday life.

Matt Glanville is Director of Assessment at the IB. IB teachers can find guidance documents on the Programme Resource Centre and helpful information is also available on the IB website. A recent article published by The Times on the impact of Chat GPT on education was informed by Matt’s thoughts on this issue.