Plagiarism in College in the Age of AI

AI is affecting colleges and universities. Find out how it's changing their approach to plagiarism and compare the differences between AI assistance and plagiarism.

The arrival of AI (artificial intelligence) transformed the academic world. As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly sophisticated, it poses challenges to academia. Although AI can enhance learning, AI writing can also generate human-sounding essays, research, and works of art. 

Some of the key questions that arise around AI and plagiarism in college include:

  • How do we define authorship and originality in the age of AI? 
  • How do we maintain academic integrity?

Take a closer look at how AI is affecting colleges and universities and how it’s changing their approach to plagiarism

AI Technology and Academic Integrity

Today’s AI technology is capable of writing human-sounding content in just a few clicks. Questions are being raised that challenge the interpretation of academic integrity and the authenticity of student work. 

Educators are now under more pressure than ever. They need to be able to identify student-written work from AI-generated submissions, so AI is changing how institutions enforce and uphold their policies.

The approach to plagiarism detection is changing with the rise of AI

Plagiarism detection tools were once fairly straightforward and could easily detect text or quotes that were copied verbatim. They could also fact check and flag highly likely unattributed sources in essays or papers. 

It’s much more difficult today. The software must be able to detect subtle changes in content to decide whether something is human or machine. In the academic world, AI technology is at the center of it. 

There are concerns that core academic skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and original analysis, are falling by the wayside. It’s up to colleges and universities to reclaim them and decide how to balance the new opportunities AI brings together with its responsible use

AI Tools and Plagiarism Detection

Traditionally, plagiarism detection software compared student-submitted text to a large database of existing academic papers, books, and internet sources

When AI-generated content entered the fray, it was able to mimic different writing styles and craft original words. Although it didn’t directly copy existing texts, it still sounded somewhat different from a student’s ordinary writing style. 

Not surprisingly, AI tools have become more accessible and powerful, as have the methods used to detect them. 

Some scholarly approaches look to shift toward using the technology as a tool to help students understand the importance of academic integrity itself (rather than flag plagiarized text and penalize students). To do this, they offer options to help educate students on plagiarism in its many forms

  • Some tools teach students the importance of using citations or generate the citations, cleanly reflecting the latest MLA or APA standards. 
  • Other tools, like, use sophisticated algorithms and machine learning to analyze and understand AI-written text alongside human-written text. This enables the tool to continually learn to differentiate between the two. 

The takeaway? As AI continues to advance and become more attuned to the human style of writing and expression, so too will the tools designed to detect it. 

AI Assistance vs. Plagiarism

Another area that deserves a closer look when talking about plagiarism in college is the use of AI assistance

What is AI assistance?

AI assistance describes AI-powered tools like writing assistants, content generators and even translators that give students a high level of support and direction. With these tools, students can better express and refine their ideas, overcome writer’s block, check their grammar, and writing style.

Although AI assistance helps to level the playing field (expanding access to resources) it also walks a fine line between helping students and facilitating academic dishonesty. AI assistance, in short, is changing how we traditionally understand plagiarism.

An example scenario of AI assistance in college

Let’s take a look at an example of AI assistance and two different ways that it could be interpreted. 

For illustrative purposes, let’s say our student is in college and is majoring in history. He has been assigned a paper on writing about the impact of the Industrial Revolution on European Urbanization.

The topic needs him to do a deep dive into things like socioeconomic analysis, how urbanization happens, and what different areas of Europe were like at this time. 

The student uses AI to help. Here’s a hypothetical comparison of possible positive vs. negative approaches. 

A positive scenario depicting the educational support of AI assistance.

The student uses AI as a tool to help organize notes and create an outline. He adds key terms he’s uncovered from reading — technological advancements of the age, human migration patterns, and differences in living conditions. He asks AI to help him structure these ideas into a coherent outline. 

The AI then logically suggests a flow of how to present the different themes. AI refines these suggestions based on his research findings and understanding of the topic. 

He continues to use the AI to review his grammar and check the readability of his content. He remains in charge of the research and writing process, only using AI to enhance the quality of his work. This is an example of the correct use of AI assistance.

A negative scenario highlighting the challenges that AI assistance poses.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, a student is overwhelmed by the assignment. He doesn’t have much time, so he puts the essay prompt into an AI content generation tool. He asks it to come up with a comprehensive essay on the Industrial Revolution’s impact on European Urbanization. 

The AI dutifully generates a detailed paper, complete with ‘made up facts’ (known as AI hallucinations) which the student submits under his name, having made very minimal changes. There’s no research, analysis, or understanding of the topic itself. 

Rather than using AI as a tool, in this case the student used it as a shortcut to sidestep the work needed to complete the assignment. This highlights the challenges that AI assistance poses when it is used as a crutch to consciously avoid work instead of using it as a tool.

Key takeaways

In both of these scenarios, what makes the use of AI assistance right or wrong depends on the student’s intent, how transparent their use of AI is, and the extent to which they contribute to the final version. 

If used properly, AI can boost the learning experience and help the student refine their work. Misuse does a disservice to the student’s intellectual development, their capacity to do the work, and learn from mistakes. 

Educational Strategies in the Age of AI

Placing the responsibility of monitoring, detection and understanding of AI on the college or university’s shoulders is a heavy responsibility. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re without resources. 

There are several ways that colleges and universities can better prepare students for a world in which AI plays a considerable role.

Incorporate AI into the curriculum 

Education institutions could work together to incorporate AI literacy into the curriculum.

  • Make sure that students understand the technical and ethical use of AI and how to use it responsibly. 
  • Develop approaches that focus on critical thinking skills, creativity, and problem-solving. 
  • Example: Design projects that require students to evaluate information with a more critical eye rather than just relying on what the AI says. Alternatively, it could involve complex, open-ended problems that AI cannot solve with a simple paper or essay. 

Professors could implement AI assistance in teaching

Another approach could be that professors implement AI-assisted learning and teaching tools. 

  • AI can be used to great effect to personalize learning experiences, give students adaptive feedback, and support different learning styles and needs. 
  • It can be an incredibly helpful tool to expand understanding of areas where students struggle and give targeted feedback that adds to the educational experience — without replacing or minimizing the human part of teaching. 

Update academic integrity policies

Today’s colleges and universities also need to update their academic integrity policies. 

  • Clearly define what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable use of AI in assignments.
  • Explain how to reference and transparently use AI tools. 
  • Offer training for faculty and staff on the latest AI technologies. 
  • Help them to understand how to better recognize AI-created work and guide students in using AI ethically.

Final Thoughts

Colleges and universities are continuing to adopt more sophisticated strategies when it comes to detecting AI-written content and plagiarism in student works. They can use advanced plagiarism detection software like to recognize the subtle shifts in patterns and style. Further using additional tools like the readability checker presents opportunities to support students in improving their writing style.

Finally, educational institutions can continue to adapt by training faculty to spot inconsistencies in student writing and by creating new policies to address AI and its place in academia.

Sherice Jacob

Plagiarism Expert Sherice Jacob brings over 20 years of experience to digital marketing as a copywriter and content creator. With a finger on the pulse of AI and its developments, she works extensively with to help businesses and publishers get the best returns from their Content.

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