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With the rise of ChatGPT, how are universities planning on assessing students this year?

The software can produce essays on almost any topic in seconds, causing worry among colleges about academic integrity.

AS UNIVERSITIES AROUND the country prepare for assessment season, students and lecturers are facing major changes to how they learn and teach due to the rise of AI software which can produce essays in seconds.

ChatGPT, which was launched in December, is perhaps the best-known example of such software, but tech giants such as Google and Microsoft have launched their own AI tools in an attempt to maintain dominance of the web-search industry.

ChatGPT takes the form of a chatbot which responds to commands and prompts such as explaining scientific concepts, writing scenes for a play, summarising lengthy articles or even writing lines of computer code.

The bot’s abilities go so far as to be capable of mimicking the writing styles of various newspapers and poets, which has startled educators.

Universities have been accused of overreacting to the advent of ChatGPT by replacing take-home assignments with in-person exams, to preserve academic integrity and ensure students are submitting their own work.

Dr Dónal Mulligan, a lecturer and researcher in DCU’s School of Communications, said that an “arms race” of ensuring students are not using AI to write assignments for them is not necessarily the most productive response.

Speaking to The Journal, Mulligan said he understands why the reaction of colleges to this new technology has been so strong, because it poses a threat to the institutions’ ability to “stand over the results we give to people.

“You now have the panic response of going back to the exam because it can at least be invigilated whereas these things [cannot].”

But he said “it’s going to become a part of lots of people’s lives, it’s going to become a direct part of people’s jobs.

“So the idea that the answer to this is somehow to ignore it or lock it away is, I think, a little bit too short sighted.”

Lockdown assessments

When college campuses closed due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, assessments were shifted online, in many cases to open-book exams or essays. Some inventive forms of assessing students which were introduced out of necessity “turned out to be a pretty good model for assessing lots of different things”, Mulligan said, but ChatGPT and tools like it have “thrown a spanner in that”.

After ChatGPT was launched, it quickly became apparent that it was not flawless – if you ask it who the Taoiseach of Ireland is, for example, it will tell you it’s Micheál Martin. That’s because the bot’s information cutoff point is currently September 2021.

But beyond factual inaccuracy, ChatGPT does not have the ability to perform reasoning or logic, Stephen O’Riordan, the Education Officer at UCC Students’ Union, said that lecturers must be “aware of where the pitfalls in these technologies are.”

He told The Journal: “It would better inform design of assessment to actually assess students’ skills on reasoning, on higher-order learning, on the things, really, that assessment should be for in the first place.”

Mulligan added that DCU, as a member of the European Consortium of Innovative Universities, is “trying to integrate this as a teaching tool itself”. Students could be asked, for example, to generate a piece of writing by ChatGPT and then critique it.

O’Riordan added told that “it would be a shame to see like a regression in the kind of developments we’ve made in continuous assessment.”

He said he’s concerned that in “the rush to kind of have the security of the exams and have the academic integrity of the exams”, that colleges won’t look for “the best form of assessment” for students.

Blocking access

Some educational institutions, including New York state’s Department of Education and Sciences Po university in Paris, have responded by blocking access to ChatGPT.

A spokesperson for Trinity College said it does not plan to impose a similar ban: “The university has not sought to block the use of AI-text generators but will continue to support teaching staff in considering how to mitigate the threat posed to the integrity of assessments and how to equip students to use these emerging technologies responsibly.

“Trinity has briefed teaching staff on the potential challenges posed by AI-text generators to some forms of assessment and invited them to make changes to assessments as necessary in light of these potential challenges.”

However, in O’Riordan’s experience, artificial intelligence is “like Voldemort – no one wants to talk about it.”


Some 78,025 people have applied to the CAO this year, an increase of 13 applicants on the previous year.

Applications to further education courses and apprenticeships were included in the CAO portal for the first time last year.

The number of mature applicants was down just over 10% from last year, from 6,587 to 5,904.

Some 9,913 applicants indicated that they wish to be considered for the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) – an increase of 1,200 from last year.

8,624 applicants indicated that they wish to be considered for the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) – a decrease of 623 from 2022.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has announced a rake of new third-level places in recent years to address growing demand, but his approach has been criticised.

The Irish Pharmacy Union was critical of his announcement of over 1,000 places last June, saying there had been a “failure” and “inexplicable oversight” to include any additional spaces for pharmacy students today’s list.

Universities have also said that adding new places without additional resources is not sustainable.

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