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Turnitin's New AI Writing-Detection Features for Educators are Now Live

As of this week, plagiarism detection software Turnitin now includes new AI-writing detection features that “identify the use of AI writing tools including ChatGPT, with 98% confidence,” the company said.

Turnitin had been working on its AI-writing detection capabilities for nearly two years before the public introduction of OpenAI's ChatGPT last fall, according to Turnitin.

The Sky Is Not Falling: Former Teachers Behind Turnitin AI Features Urge Educators to 'Meet the Moment' of ChatGPT

Two former teachers who have been working on Turnitin's AI writing detection tool and ChatGPT features for educators both believe that ChatGPT has presented a growth opportunity — or perhaps more of a growth demand — for writing instruction, which they explained in an interview with Campus Technology's sister publication THE Journal recently. Read the full report or listen to the podcast.

The new features were “built to help educators and academic institutions identify AI-generated text in student-written submissions” and do not recommend or imply any judgment on how educators should handle the identified AI-generated text. The new capabilities are integrated into the existing Turnitin solutions — including Turnitin Feedback Studio (TFS), TFS with Originality, Turnitin Originality, Turnitin Similarity, Simcheck, Originality Check and Originality Check+ — and are also accessible through learning management systems, the company said. No additional steps are required for current Turnitin education users to access the AI detection tools. 

Two former teachers leading the development of Turnitin’s AI writing tools shared their insights on ChatGPT’s implications for education and argued that educators should be capitalizing on ChatGPT — not simply avoiding it or banning it altogether. 

David Adamson, principal machine learning scientist at Turnitin, and Patti West-Smith, senior director of customer engagement, have been working on Turnitin’s AI writing detection feature and related tools to help educators using Turnitin solutions to better understand ChatGPT — and show educators how to use AI to save themselves time and how to tweak assignments so that ChatGPT cannot earn a good grade on writing assignments. Adamson gave a virtual demo of the AI-writing detection feature recently, which can be watched at the bottom of this report.

Adamson, who taught computer science and math at Digital Harbor High in Baltimore, and West-Smith, who worked in public schools for 19 years as a teacher, curriculum supervisor, and principal, both believe that ChatGPT has presented a growth opportunity — or perhaps more like a growth demand — for writing instruction. They indicated that additional AI-detection and ChatGPT tools for educators are on the way.

“We need to stay abreast of how the tools are being used and which tools are getting used to collect representative examples of, of that usage — and, more importantly, adapt to what's appropriate in classroom usage,” Adamson said. “We want to do more than just … show you a number … we're starting with just showing the instructor what's there so they can understand how AI writing is being used in classroom where it might be being used. But we want to add explanation, we want to add next steps and interpretation.”

Turnitin’s AI detector provides an evaluative measure of how many sentences in a written submission may have been generated by artificial intelligence, which educators can use to decide whether further review or discussion with the student is needed, the company said. 

“Educators told us that being able to accurately detect AI written text is their first priority right now,” Turnitin CEO Chris Caren said. “They need to be able to detect AI with very high certainty to assess the authenticity of a student's work and determine how to best engage with them. It is equally important that detection technology becomes a seamless part of their existing workflow, which we have done by integrating AI detection capabilities into Turnitin solutions.”

“Turnitin’s technology has high accuracy and low false positive rates when detecting AI-generated text in student writing,” said Turnitin Chief Product Officer Annie Chechitelli. “What we are providing for educators now has been in development for years. In the coming months, we will continue to refine and adapt our detection capabilities, using field data to increase accuracy.” 

Caren said in a blog post published Tuesday that the company would be incorporating GPT-4 updates in planned updates to its on AI-writing detection features.

“The technology is constantly evolving and just a few weeks ago, OpenAI announced the release of GPT-4 with broader access to the web and third-party sites. We will continue to adapt and respond to the next iterations and innovations in AI writing, putting the safety of students and the needs of educators and institutions first. 

Educators can learn more about using ChatGPT and best practices and policies for educational use of AI writing tools on Turnitin’s AI Writing Resource Page


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