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More than Half of Students Will Use AI Writing Tools Even if Prohibited by Their Institution

In a recent survey by Tyton Partners, nearly one in three college students reported being a regular user of generative AI. And 51% of students said they will continue to use generative AI writing tools, even if prohibited by their instructor or institution.

The consulting firm surveyed 2,000 instructors and administrators as well as 2,000 two- and four-year college students about their use of and feelings toward generative AI, as part of its annual "Time for Class" research series. Perhaps not surprisingly, faculty and staff were well behind students on the generative AI adoption curve. A whopping 71% of instructors and administrators said they have never used these tools — and 32% reported they are not at all familiar with the technology. In contrast, nearly half of students said they have used generative AI writing tools at least once; 14% considered themselves occasional users (i.e., monthly); and 13% were frequent users (i.e., weekly).

Although instructors and administrators reported concerns of academic integrity related to the use of generative AI tools, just 3% of institutions have developed a formal policy around the technology's use, the survey found. Fifty-eight percent said they intend to develop a policy "soon." Interestingly, respondents who have used generative AI tools firsthand were more likely to be optimistic about their impact on learning. Among instructors, for example, 54% of AI non-users said they believe generative AI writing tools will have a negative effect on student learning, while just 22% of AI users felt the same. And 50% of AI-using faculty said they believe generative AI writing tools will have a positive effect on learning.

"Instructors, administrators, or students who have experimented with generative AI tools are far more likely to recognize the tools' potential value in education and advocate for policies and practices at the institution-level that enable 'responsible use' of generative AI tools as part of teaching and learning," the researchers inferred.

When instructors were asked what student uses of generative AI writing tools they would allow in their courses, three scenarios topped the list: brainstorming ideas for an assignment (permitted by 45% of respondents); helping edit writing (41%); and outlining a structure for an assignment (30%).

"Currently, many instructors report drawing the line at using the tools to generate text, whereas non-generative uses of these AI tools (e.g., brainstorming, editing, and outlining) are seen as more permissible," the researchers said.

"At their core, generative AI tools like ChatGPT are just that: tools. They are incredibly powerful and can be harnessed by students and instructors to either improve education or to rob students of foundational skills," the report concluded. "The path forward will require an iterative approach, but for higher education to make informed decisions about where and how to monitor or integrate, the 71% of instructors and administrators who have yet to try generative AI tools need to spend hands-on time with these tools. Outside of campus, education companies and service providers can explore ways to assist instructors in monitoring, regulating, and integrating AI, potentially offering resources, and facilitating conversations. Only once all parties have a sufficiently deep understanding of generative AI tools will we be able to engage in thoughtful discourse and experimentation around the future of this technology in education."

For more survey results, visit the Tyton Partners blog post.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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