Australian educational institutions are finding themselves in a sudden tech-driven crisis, as students across the country take to disruptive AI tool ChatGPT to complete their homework.

ChatGPT is one of many chatbots in a new wave of conversational AI tools that can generate human-passing, well-constructed responses to nearly any given prompt.

Whether it's creating a weekly grocery list, composing a song in the voice of a famous singer, or writing an essay on a given topic, ChatGPT is found to be highly capable of responding to given requests at a 'passable standard' within a matter of mere seconds.

While not always factually accurate, students have inevitability taken to the tool for completing homework tasks not only at a primary or secondary level, but also within tertiary education, fooling teachers into believing the work is their own.

Since its initial launch date of 30 November 2022, four Australian states – NSW, Queensland, WA and Tasmania – have already enacted strict bans of the tool in public schools.

"A lot of the work is done in class, and of course students won't be able to access ChatGPT," said WA Education Department Director General Lisa Rodgers.

Rodgers told ABC Radio Perth the ChatGPT website would be blocked via a firewall just in time for the new school year.

"There's no doubt it's incredible technology ... and it could present exciting opportunities, but for us, we consider a lot of third-party applications ... in this case, I've asked for access to be blocked," she said.

The controversial AI tool is also banned internationally in school districts across France, India and the US.

Unprecedented potential for plagiarism

ChatGPT has received widespread criticism for its potential ramifications upon student learning and plagiarism – particularly within the Australian tertiary education sector.

"This can help you learn, but it can also help you cheat," said Federal Education Minister Jason Clare.

Given the tool's capacity to generate convincing, human-esque content at a rate incalculably faster than humans, experts have been quick to point out an alarming potential for near-imperceptible cheating and plagiarism.

"It’s a big issue for universities here and all around the world," he said. "We don’t want people to misuse it so they don’t get the marks they don’t deserve."

This week, following global school bans of the generative AI tool, ChatGPT maker OpenAI introduced a new tool designed specifically to distinguish AI-written text from human-written text.

The new solution, however, is far from perfect – the company itself says its "classifier is not fully reliable" and "should not be used as a primary decision-making tool" – and disclosed a small 26% success rate when attempting to identify AI-written text as "likely AI-written".

Universities adapt with the times

In the midst of these ubiquitous cheating and plagiarism concerns, some universities are moving quickly to rewrite exams and integrity procedures – others, however, are leaning towards embracing change and recognising ChatGPT as a powerful research and education tool.

AI and education expert, University of South Australia's Professor, George Siemens, claims generative AI will "create opportunities" for teachers, rather than impede them.

"Chatbots, such as ChatGPT, are innovations that are here to stay. But rather than avoiding or banning them, it’s far more beneficial for teachers to explore and experiment with them to get a better sense of what is possible,” said Siemens.

"For example, if you ask ChatGPT to produce a sample lesson plan for grade 5 algebra, the platform creates a set of objectives, any materials you’ll need, plus range of suitable activities for students at that maths level. Or if you’re teaching programming, ChatGPT can create and debug code."

"Existing assessment models that only test the product, but not the process of learning, will not fare well under an AI-shaped future," he said.

University of New South Wales (UNSW) Professor Toby Walsh also highlighted the tool's potential as a "fantastic personal tutor," citing a fellow colleague's experience while trying to learn the programming language Python.

"She said the fantastic thing was it didn't matter how silly her questions sounded or how repetitive her questions, she had this infinitely patient computer assistant who could help her understand from the very basic to the quite complex."

Fellow UNSW Associate Professor Sam Kirshner says he already intends on implementing ChatGPT as a tool in his first-year business analytics class.

"Why ask me when we have this great tool?" said Kirshner.

"We are aware of these things, and we are going to meaningfully incorporate these tools into our curriculum to give you the best experience possible."

Kirshner says following the COVID-19 pandemic and the advent of Zoom-based teaching, lecture attendance is dropping significantly – from about 75 or 80 per cent in week one down to about 10 per cent by the end of a course.

"There's not much additional value in a lecture beyond what you can get by just watching a recording," said Kirshner.

"So really, this is kind of like the straw that, I think, is going to break the camel's back in terms of really assessing what we are actually doing as a university and where we want to go.

"It's really just time to take reflection and start experimenting with different methods of education," he added.