Students at S’pore universities allowed to use AI tools for assignments but must stick to rules

Undergraduates are required to adhere to rules and restrictions to make sure they learn to think independently and understand the course material. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Since 2023, students enrolled in Singapore universities have been allowed to use artificial intelligence (AI) tools to complete their assignments, but they cannot flout rules on things like academic honesty and plagiarism.

Incorporating the use of AI tools is aimed at boosting the quality of teaching and learning, and embracing technological advancements, said university lecturers and administrators The Straits Times spoke to.

However, undergraduates are required to adhere to rules and restrictions to make sure they learn to think independently and understand the course material, they added.

The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), for example, said on its website that students are not to use generative AI as a primary source of information. Instead, they are encouraged to use it as a tool – unless, of course, the assignment is to “critically evaluate the generative AI response”.

Generative AI refers to software or tech tools used to create content like text, images and videos based on prompts from a user. The AI tool is able to learn writing patterns and structures through a training period in which users test and use the software.

It is then able to generate new data that has similar characteristics to what it has learnt. Some examples of generative AI tools are ChatGPT and Sora.

Associate Professor Karin Avnit, who is deputy director at the SIT Teaching and Learning Academy, said the university’s approach is to take advantage of AI tools when they contribute to the learning process and experience.

She said: “We adopted this approach early last year when it became clear that generative AI has a great potential to enhance teaching and learning practices, as well as the potential to change industry practices.”

She added that different disciplines have varying needs in terms of teaching, learning and assessment, and so, “having hard rules may not serve the needs well”.

Prof Avnit said students who use AI tools to generate written work without the required analysis and other requirements of the assignment will not be awarded marks.

The other five public autonomous universities – the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) – all adopt a similar position on the use of AI by students.

For instance, NUS, on its website, said students have to acknowledge the use of AI-generated content through a note or via the methods section at the end of an assignment, and explain “which AI tools were used, in which parts of the process they were used, what were the prompts used to generate results, and what did one do with the outputs to add value”.

NUS education and technology associate provost Melvin Yap said AI can play an important role to unlock, guide and support the development of such skills.

“It is, therefore, important that our students know how to use the AI tools effectively in their studies and in the future when they join the workforce,” he added.

However, Associate Professor Yap added that passing off content that was generated by AI as one’s own work is plagiarism and academic dishonesty, which is prohibited.

“Our students are given guidance on how to correctly acknowledge the use of AI tools in their projects and assignments,” he added.

SUTD on its website said AI tools can be used to enhance students’ learning, but it is “not a replacement for their intellectual contribution”.

It said: “Students can use generative AI tools in class, assignments, assessments, examinations... only when explicitly permitted by the instructor.”

In response to queries, SUTD spokeswoman Tammy Tan said the university “relies on both AI detection tools and instructors to identify the potential use of generative AI”.

She added that students are not given extra marks for not using AI tools, so they have little incentive to not acknowledge its use in their work.

In response to queries, an SUSS spokeswoman said the university has measures in place to ensure the ethical use of AI tools. For instance, it uses a software tool called Turnitin to detect work generated by AI technology.

She added that plagiarism policies are also in place, and if a student is found to have plagiarised schoolwork or is suspected of academic misconduct, SUSS will take steps to determine the originality of the written assignment.

An NTU spokesman, responding to queries, said: “Preventing the use of generative AI in classes will not stop students from using it.

“Hence, it is important that we equip students with the knowledge and skills to use these generative AI technologies productively in an ethical and critical manner... to help them sharpen their cognitive skills.”

In a speech on March 6, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said: “We see AI as having great potential to disrupt.

“However, if we harness it well, and we manage it well... it will allow us to transcend our constraints of old, to ride the next S-curve of economic growth.”

He added that Singapore’s educational institutions must train a new generation of people that will enable this disruption to be harnessed and managed.

Experts said the move to embrace AI in public universities is a step in the right direction, but it must be managed carefully.

Associate Professor Jason Tan, who teaches at the National Institute of Education, said it is important for students to first understand that one key purpose of higher education is to “provide students with the opportunity to further develop higher-order thinking skills”.

Once students are aware of this, they will understand how to appropriately use AI tools in their education, he added.

Prof Tan said higher-order thinking skills include “gathering, synthesising, organising and evaluating information”, and students require “explicit guidance” for them to know how to best use AI tools.

Dr Felix Tan, who has been teaching at Singapore polytechnics and universities for more than 20 years, said AI tools can help students with framing their thoughts and ideas, but educators should examine written assignments and ensure that a fair amount of work has been put in by the student, and grade it accordingly.

He said: “I will look at whether their essays are supported by legitimate evidence and research. How are the points crafted? Is it well-structured? Did it use the theories that were discussed in class, and how they are applied?

“A good essay should have a voice and an opinion of sorts. It should remain personable but also be backed by academic resources.”

Social sciences undergraduate Geneve Tay, 21, who declined to name the university she attends, said she welcomed the move to allow the use of AI tools for written assignments, and that she has occasionally used such tools in her schoolwork.

She said: “Being allowed to use such tools shows we are progressive and keeping up with technological advancement.

“However, I do not use generative AI often because it requires a lot of work, like tweaking the content it produces and editing it to suit the assignment objectives. Sometimes, it may take even more effort than doing the entire assignment myself.”

Clerical assistant Sujatha Maniam, 53, whose 24-year-old son is a final-year student at NUS, said she was at first concerned when her son said he could use AI tools for schoolwork.

She said: “What’s the point if a computer is going to do all his work for him? Will he learn?”

However, her fears were dispelled when he assured her that he still has to use his own words and not use wholesale whatever is AI-generated, she added.

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