Anti-Plagiarism Service Turnitin Is Building a Tool To Detect ChatGPT-Written Essays

Turnitin, best known for its anti-plagiarism software used by tens of thousands of universities and schools around the world, is building a tool to detect text generated by AI. The Register reports: Turnitin has been quietly building the software for years ever since the release of GPT-3, Annie Chechitelli, chief product officer, told The Register. The rush to give educators the capability to identify text written by humans and computers has become more intense with the launch of its more powerful successor, ChatGPT. As AI continues to progress, universities and schools need to be able to protect academic integrity now more than ever. “Speed matters. We’re hearing from teachers just give us something,” Chechitelli said. Turnitin hopes to launch its software in the first half of this year. “It’s going to be pretty basic detection at first, and then we’ll throw out subsequent quick releases that will create a workflow that’s more actionable for teachers.” The plan is to make the prototype free for its existing customers as the company collects data and user feedback. “At the beginning, we really just want to help the industry and help educators get their legs under them and feel more confident. And to get as much usage as we can early on; that’s important to make a successful tool. Later on, we’ll determine how we’re going to productize it,” she said.

Turnitin’s VP of AI, Eric Wang, said there are obvious patterns in AI writing that computers can detect. “Even though it feels human-like to us, [machines write using] a fundamentally different mechanism. It’s picking the most probable word in the most probable location, and that’s a very different way of constructing language [compared] to you and I,” he told The Register. […] ChatGPT, however, doesn’t have this kind of flexibility and can only generate new words based on previous sentences, he explained. Turnitin’s detector works by predicting what words AI is more likely to generate in a given text snippet. “It’s very bland statistically. Humans don’t tend to consistently use a high probability word in high probability places, but GPT-3 does so our detector really cues in on that,” he said.

Wang said Turnitin’s detector is based on the same architecture as GPT-3 and described it as a miniature version of the model. “We are in many ways I would [say] fighting fire with fire. There’s a detector component attached to it instead of a generate component. So what it’s doing is it’s reading language in the exact same way GPT-3 reads language, but instead of spitting out more language, it gives us a prediction of whether we think this passage looks like [it’s from] GPT-3.” The company is still deciding how best to present its detector’s results to teachers using the tool. “It’s a difficult challenge. How do you tell an instructor in a small amount of space what they want to see?” Chechitelli said. They might want to see a percentage that shows how much of an essay seems to be AI-written, or they might want confidence levels showing whether the detector’s prediction confidence is low, medium, or high to assess accuracy. “I think there is a major shift in the way we create content and the way we work,” Wang added. “Certainly that extends to the way we learn. We need to be thinking long term about how we teach. How do we learn in a world where this technology exists? I think there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Any tool that gives visibility to the use of these technologies is going to be valuable because those are the foundational building blocks of trust and transparency.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Successful Strike at University of California Sparks Organizing Surge Among US Academic Workers

An anonymous reader shares this report from the Los Angeles Times:
The University of California strike is over, culminating last month in significant improvements in wages and working conditions after 48,000 teaching assistants, tutors, researchers and postdoctoral scholars walked off their jobs in the nation’s largest labor action of academic workers. But the effects of the historic strike still reverberate across the nation, helping energize an unprecedented surge of union activism among academic workers that could reshape the teaching and research enterprise of American higher education.

In 2022 alone, graduate students representing 30,000 peers at nearly a dozen institutions filed documents with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election. They include USC, Northwestern, Yale, Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago, Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Caltech plans to officially kick off its organizing campaign this month, and other academic researchers are working to form unions at the University of Alaska, Western Washington University, the National Institutes of Health and such influential think tanks as the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute.

A confluence of several factors has propelled the burst of labor activism: disaffection with rising inflation, unaffordable housing, limited healthcare, growing student debt, university treatment of academic workers during the pandemic, and a more union-friendly Biden administration. But students and labor experts also point to the influence of the UC strike, which drew national attention by marshaling four UAW bargaining units on all 10 campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to pull off a massive walkout that shut down classes, suspended research, roiled finals and upended grading — ultimately winning some of the largest wage gains ever secured by academic workers.

In the article there’s examples of stipends recently increasing at other universities, either as a result of student strikes or the need “to remain competitive” in attracting top talent.

A Cornell senior lecturer/director of labor education research also cites some interesting statistics from a 2021 Gallup poll: 77% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 support unions — the largest level of support among all age demographics.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Does Computer Programming Really Help Kids Learn Math?

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes:

A new study on the Impact of Programming on Primary Mathematics Learning (abstract only, full article $24.95 on ScienceDirect) is generating some buzz on Twitter amongst K-12 CS educator types. It concluded that:

1. Programming did not benefit mathematics learning compared to traditional activities
2. There’s a negative though small effect of programming on mathematics learning
3. Mindful “high-road transfer” from programming to mathematics is not self-evident
4. Visual programming languages might distract students from mathematics activities

From the Abstract: “The aim of this study is to investigate whether a programming activity might serve as a learning vehicle for mathematics acquisition in grades four and five…. Classes were randomly assigned to the programming (with Scratch) and control conditions. Multilevel analyses indicate negative effects (effect size range 0.16 to 0.21) of the programming condition for the three mathematical notions.

“A potential explanation of these results is the difficulties in the transfer of learning from programming to mathematics.” The findings of the new study come 4+ years after preliminary results were released from the $1.5M 2015-2019 NSF-funded study Time4CS, a “partnership between Broward County Public Schools (FL), researchers at the University of Chicago, and [tech-bankrolled] Code.org,” which explored whether learning CS using Code.org’s CS Fundamentals curriculum may be linked to improved learning in math at the grade 3-5 level. Time4CS researchers concluded that the “quasi-experimental” study showed that “No significant differences in Florida State Assessment mathematics scores resulted between treatment and comparison groups.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Google Makes $100,000 Worth of Tech Training Free To Every US Business

Alphabet’s Google will provide any U.S. business over $100,000 worth of online courses in data analytics, design and other tech skills for their workers free of charge, the search company said on Monday. Reuters reports: The offer marks a big expansion of Google’s Career Certificates, a program the company launched in 2018 to help people globally boost their resumes by learning new tools at their own pace. Over 70,000 people in the United States and 205,000 globally have earned at least one certificate, and 75% receive a benefit such as a new job or higher pay within six months, according to Google.

The courses, designed by Google and sold through online education service Coursera, each typically cost students about $39 a month and take three to six months to finish. Google will now cover costs for up to 500 workers at any U.S. business, and it valued the grants at $100,000 because people usually take up to six months to finish. Lisa Gevelber, founder of Grow with Google, the company unit overseeing certificates, said course completion rates are higher when people pay out of pocket but that the new offer was still worthwhile if it could help some businesses gain digital savvy. Certificates also are available in IT support, project management, e-commerce and digital marketing. They cover popular software in each of the fields, including Google advertising services.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

MIT Grad Students Vote To Form Labor Union

Graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology overwhelmingly approved forming a union in a two-day vote this week by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. From a report: MIT is the latest Boston-area school where grad students have voted to join a union following pivotal federal ruling in 2016 recognizing grad students as employees with the ability to unionize. In all, 1,785 MIT graduate students voted in favor of unionization and 912 against, a figure confirmed by Jonathan Zong, a grad student organizer, and MIT. Three-fourths of graduate students voted, according to MIT. The vote seeks to join United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, or UE. MIT grad students were pushing for help with affordable housing, support for international students, dental insurance coverage, and a better emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We are grateful to the many members of our community, on all sides of the debate, who have engaged constructively and respectfully in this conversation,” Melissa Nobles, the chancellor, and Ian A. Waitz, the vice chancellor, said in the message to grad students. The memo continued: “Indeed, as we wrote to you during this campaign: We agree that there are areas where MIT can improve, and we share many of the same goals as the MIT Graduate Student Union. … With the election outcome now clear, we will continue to work alongside you to improve MIT for all of our students.” MIT’s Zong said being unionized will be a more democratic and formalized way of making grad students’ concerns heard compared to MIT’s Graduate Student Council. He described the council as more advisory to the school’s administration.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

MIT Reinstates SAT/ACT Requirement For Incoming Classes

“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced it will once again require applicants to take the SAT or ACT, reversing a Covid-era policy that made the standardized tests optional and rejecting the idea that the tests hurt diversity,” reports CNN. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a blog post announcing the decision, writing: From the policy announcement, there’s an excess of delicacy — to the point where you might find it funny or terribly disturbing: “Our research can’t explain why these tests are so predictive of academic preparedness for MIT, but we believe it is likely related to the centrality of mathematics — and mathematics examinations — in our education. All MIT students, regardless of intended major, must pass two semesters of calculus, plus two semesters of calculus-based physics […]. The substance and pace of these courses are both very demanding, and they culminate in long, challenging final exams that students must pass to proceed with their education. In other words, there is no path through MIT that does not rest on a rigorous foundation in mathematics, and we need to be sure our students are ready for that as soon as they arrive.”

Did the entire admissions department threaten to quit? Or did the incoming class turn out to be morons? “Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT,” Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill wrote in the policy announcement.

“We believe a requirement is more equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy.”

A number of elite schools, including Harvard and University of California, announced plans to stop using the SAT and ACT college admissions exams. Last May, Colorado became the first state to ban “legacy” admissions and signed a bill that removes a requirement that public colleges consider SAT or ACAT scores for freshmen.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

40,000 Chromebooks and 9,600 iPads Went Missing At Chicago Public Schools During COVID

theodp shares a report from Chicago Sun-Times, written by Frank Main: When the school system [Chicago Public Schools] shifted to having students learn remotely in the spring of 2020 near the beginning of the pandemic, it lent students iPads, MacBooks and Windows computer devices so they could do school work and attend virtual classes from home. CPS then spent about $165 million to buy Chromebook desktop computers so that every student from kindergarten through senior year in high school who needed a computer could have one. Students borrowed 161,100 Chromebooks in September 2020. By June 2021, more than 210,000 of those devices had been given out. Of them, nearly 40,000 Chromebooks have been reported lost — nearly a fifth of those that were lent.

“Schools have made repeated efforts to recover the lost devices from families without success,” according to a written statement from CPS officials in response to questions about the missing school property. Also missing are more than 9,600 iPads, 114 televisions, 1,680 printers and 1,127 audiovisual projectors, among many other items. Officials say CPS has bought new computer devices to replace the missing ones. Longtime Slashdot reader theodp notes that “there were 340,658 students enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Ask Slashdot: Do We Need Better Computer Programming Courses For Visual Learners?

Two-thirds of technology firms are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, reports the BBC (citing a recent report from recruitment firm Harvey Nash).

But what’s the solution? In an article shared by Chrisq, the BBC’s business technology reporter field-tested some computer programming training:
I attended Teach the Nation to Code, a free one-day Python coding workshop run by UK training firm, QA… But when it works, there’s not much pay-off — just some lines on a screen. I also took classes with Cypher Coders and Creator Academy to teach me Scratch — a coding language for children with a simple visual interface… [I] found the step change from learning Scratch to Python similarly jarring in the children’s toys — you suddenly go from colourful blocks to an empty screen with no handholding. What could help bridge this gap from fun games for kids, to more professional level complex coding?

Garry Law, founder of Australian coding training firm, Creator Academy, says IT education needs to be better. “We need to teach kids coding with visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, and we need to adapt this learning method for adults, to attract more people to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),” he says….

Cost is also a big problem. According to Anna Brailsford, chief executive of social enterprise Code First: Girls, it typically costs £10,000 to learn coding and often there isn’t a clear link between what is taught and the jobs available.
Long-time Slashdot reader AmiMoJo remembers that “the way I got started was by borrowing books from the library that contained example programs.”
Back then there were loads of books that were nothing but little BASIC apps for various machines. That got me started with a program that worked and often did something quite interesting or useful, like a graphical effect. Then I could tinker with it and learn that way.
But is that enough of a reward to attract new programmers — or should beginning courses target more learning styles? Share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Do we need better computer programming courses for visual learners?

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

California Moves To Recommend Delaying Algebra To 9th Grade Statewide

California is in the process of approving new guidelines for math education in public schools that “pushes Algebra 1 back to 9th grade, de-emphasizes calculus, and applies social justice principles to math lessons,” writes Joe Hong via the San Francisco Standard. The new approach would have been approved earlier this month but has been delayed due to the attention and controversy it has received. Here’s an excerpt from the report: When Rebecca Pariso agreed to join a team of educators tasked in late 2019 with California’s new mathematics framework, she said she expected some controversy. But she didn’t expect her work would be in the national spotlight. […] Every eight years (PDF), a group of educators comes together to update the state’s math curriculum framework. This particular update has attracted extra attention, and controversy, because of perceived changes it makes to how “gifted” students progress — and because it pushes Algebra 1 back to 9th grade, de-emphasizes calculus, and applies social justice principles to math lessons. San Francisco pioneered key aspects of the new approach, opting in 2014 to delay algebra instruction until 9th grade and to push advanced mathematics courses until at least after 10th grade as a means of promoting equity.

San Francisco Unified School District touted the effort as a success, asserting that algebra failure rates fell and the number of students taking advanced math rose as a result of the change. The California Department of Education cited those results in drafting the statewide framework. But critics have accused the district of using cherry-picked and misleading assertions to bolster the case for the changes. The intent of the state mathematics framework, its designers say, is to maintain rigor while also helping remedy California’s achievement gaps for Black, Latino and low-income students, which remain some of the largest in the nation. At the heart of the wrangling lies a broad agreement about at least one thing: The way California public schools teach math isn’t working. On national standardized tests, California ranks in the bottom quartile among all states and U.S. territories for 8th grade math scores.

Yet for all the sound and fury, the proposed framework, about 800-pages long, is little more than a set of suggestions. Its designers are revising it now and will subject it to 60 more days of public review. Once it’s approved in July, districts may adopt as much or as little of the framework as they choose — and can disregard it completely without any penalty. “It’s not mandated that you use the framework,” said framework team member Dianne Wilson, a program specialist at Elk Grove Unified. “There’s a concern that it will be implemented unequally.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.