From education to employment

AI, the rise of exam cheating, and what it means for the future of further education

As the adoption of tools like ChatGPT and Bard gather pace, this article examines how they are shaping the way that student’s in further education are assessed, and what the future holds.

Recent reports of exam cheating have called into question the future of teaching and assessments at university level. Namely, whether the current systems are appropriate for the times ahead.

One report from revealed that roughly a quarter of surveyed teachers caught at least one student cheating using OpenAI’s ChatGPT. This unauthorised access to resources has only increased since hybrid learning became a nationally adopted practice.

This, combined with the rise of ‘click through’ culture within universities, not only undermines the integrity of the entire education system, but also leads to further questions around whether the degrees being completed today are as credible as those that came before.

Ultimately, the sophistication of ChatGPT is limited, and reports of its factual inaccuracy are extensive, but it draws attention to the increasing challenges faced by the current education system and poses the question: where do we go from here?

Why do we go to university?

On a fundamental level, the purpose of a university is to educate. On a higher level, these institutions can act as a bridge between students and their future careers, facilitating the in-depth exploration of countless rich, fascinating fields of study and helping to define the path ahead.

Universities act as hubs for the dissemination of knowledge between students and lecturers alike, and play a critical role in shaping the future of society and fostering progress in a variety of fields. Students who decide to enrol in a university course do so to develop their knowledge in a particular subject matter, conduct in-depth research and analysis into a specific topic, and help them to unlock the next stage on their career pathway. To effectively help them to do so, the way in which education is delivered has significant opportunity to be improved.

Underlying issues in learning & development

Education up until this point has been modelled on a linear learning approach, where each individual is provided with the same structure, same resources, same timeframes and ultimately follow identical paths to each other. It’s very much based on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.

However, given that no two people learn in the same way, it’s fair to say that this current approach is flawed.

Learning programmes that are structured to cover everything a beginner needs often result in the more advanced individuals becoming bored and dropping out, causing low completion rates. They can also incite a lack of engagement in the content, with learners quickly clicking through to completion, which is a waste of time for the student and makes the role of the lecturer largely redundant. At the same time, programmes that are structured to find the medium between advanced learners and beginners can cause the latter to be overwhelmed with the complexity, further fuelling dropout and failure rates.

All too often these programmes are constructed against averages. However, there is no such thing as an ‘average’ learner.

Expert learners are never going to be served by an ‘average’ journey. They’ll want to get ahead and breeze through the early stages of the course. Whereas those with less confidence will need far more examples and supportive elements throughout the learning process, which a ‘one-size-fits-all’ linear journey will not give them.

To click, or not to click

Universities are becoming increasingly aware of a rising ‘click through’ culture. If students are not incentivised to engage with the course, they often resort to shortcuts, whereby their minds switch off and the cursor remains on one part of the screen: the ‘next’ button.

At this point, learners are solely looking for ways to accelerate the time it takes to complete assessments. Whilst they are still more than capable of achieving strong results through this approach, the results fail to fully reflect the true extent of a learner’s understanding of a topic.

Examinations and assessments that are deemed to be at a lower level of comprehension than a student can deliver are therefore seen as a burden, detracting from the time that could be better spent further developing their skillsets, or engaging in many of the other aspects that university life has to offer. 

And then there’s the added challenge from recent technological advancements. Recently, Australian universities announced a return to pen and paper exams after students were caught using AI to write their essays, providing clear evidence that a change is needed to the way that students are assessed.

What lies in store for education?

Universities are facing additional challenges as a result of rising costs and alternative education and career paths rising in popularity amongst students. Individuals are being drawn to apprenticeships and other education models that offer on-the-job learning and a steady paycheck. 

Engaging in a university course is an attractive proposition due to its link to career development and long-term economic benefit. But in today’s world, more than ever before, ‘time is money’.

The moment that universities become detached from the labour market, or where good performance in education no longer yields a competitive advantage, the system becomes unviable.

There is, however, an opportunity for universities to transform into a new form of entity which optimises existing operations to enhance efficiencies and capabilities. A chance to embrace the technologies which will otherwise lead to the collapse of universities as we know them.

In this new future of education, students and learners who are able to demonstrate a higher level of understanding can accelerate their speed to competency, perhaps fast-tracking their way through the course and graduate at a much quicker rate than was previously achievable.

If a student can demonstrate full understanding of a subject so that they meet all the examination requirements within a shorter time period than the typical three-year course, why shouldn’t they have the option to do so, fast-tracking their pathway to a fulfilling career?

For universities themselves, utilising adaptive learning programmes that are capable of automatically analysing and understanding content and assessments, forming tailored learning modules for each user in the process will enable them to focus on generating more relevant, creative content.

Bespoke adaptive learning experiences that take into consideration a person’s level of knowledge and experience will enable the fastest route to completion, helping to identify the individuals ready to take the step into the modern-day workforce. 

Learning programmes and assessments need to achieve three core outcomes: keep students engaged, verify understanding at every stage, and be easily adapted to incorporate any necessary adjustments.

If successful, universities will remain instrumental in helping future generations hone their skills and nurture their passions on a pathway to a successful career, whilst simultaneously supporting businesses in their mission to plug the skills gap. Adaptive learning supports the few as well as the many.

By Chibeza Agley, Co-founder and CEO at OBRIZUM

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