Using Generative AI in Academics

Video credit: Generative AI: what is it good for? – posted by The Economist on YouTube



Generative AI (GenAI), a type of artificial intelligence that can produce text, images, audios, videos and other media in response to prompts, is a rapidly developing technology that has stormed the world in recent years. In November 2022, OpenAI released a demo of ChatGPT to the public. The chatbot based on large language models (LLMs) soon gained over 100 million users in two months, becoming the fastest-growing consumer software application in history. With other emerging GenAI tools such as Gemini, Midjourney and DALL-E, different industries are now finding ways to incorporate the new technology into their operation. For example, Google has launched a virtual try-on (VTO) feature to improve online shopping experience.

Heated debates have been ignited regarding the use of GenAI in higher education. AI text generators can now produce well-structured academic essays with sufficient prompts, ringing the alarm bell about authorship in academia. Springer Nature, the world’s largest academic publisher, has clarified that ChatGPT can’t be credited as an author. At the International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) in January 2023, a statement was made about prohibiting the use of LLMs in papers unless the produced text is presented as a part of the paper’s experimental analysis. Universities around the globe have also responded to the use of these tools in teaching and learning by setting their own policies, while students are developing ways to utilize this cutting-edge technology in their assignments, for example, writing essay outlines and drafting thesis statements.

Indeed, the development of GenAI tools makes writing much easier than before, as these tools are useful for brainstorming ideas and creating grammatical error free texts. However, there are also potential issues caused by the use of these tools. Copyright is one of them. LLMs generate content based on public data, meaning the information they scrape from the internet are used without the author or owner’s consent. With more LLMs tools entering the market, lawsuits have been filed against the companies behind these tools for their unethical use of online personal data.

Another issue raised by the use of GenAI is privacy concerns. Currently, there is no legal basis for the collection and storage of personal data used to train these tools. The information collected is also subject to data leaks. In June 2023, a report by a cybersecurity firm revealed that there are over 101,000 compromised ChatGPT login credentials for sale on dark web marketplaces. Hackers may then have access to the sensitive information users previously input into ChatGPT.

As students, the challenge of using GenAI tools is the proper application of these tools in your studies concerning academic integrity and privacy. When using GenAI tools in assignments, you may consider the following methods to better protect yourself.

  1. Check your university’s policy on the use of GenAI tools in assignments (See UBC and UofT’s policies). Communication with your lecturer can also address your concerns about the appropriate application of these tools in completing different learning tasks.
  2. Be mindful of the credibility of the responses these tools provide you. Always do your own research after obtaining information from these tools, as misinformation may be presented. Not only can fact-checking help you ensure the accuracy of the information, but it can also help you locate the information source in order to avoid copyright issues.
  3. Avoid inputting sensitive information into these tools. Remember all the information you feed the systems contributes to training them, and there is still no clear policy on how the data can be used, not to mention the risk of data breach.


Think before you ink

  • What is your university’s policy on the use of GenAI tools in assignments?
  • What kind of information are you inputting into GenAI tools? Are they sensitive or confidential?
  • What are the sources of the information generated by these tools? Is there any copyright issue? 



The Digital Tattoo Project encourages critical discussion on topics surrounding digital citizenship and online identity. There are no correct answers and every person will view these topics from a different perspective. Be sure to complete the previous sections before answering the questions.

  • How can and should we address the ethical issues involved in the use of GenAI tools in academics?

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