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Artificial Intelligence and Higher Education

What is AI?

Artificial intelligence, or AI, has been around for decades. AI simply refers to computers performing intelligent behaviors, such as the chatbots you might encounter when trying to contact a company's customer service, Netflix's recommendation engine, or virtual assistants like Siri.

AI is currently a hot topic in higher education due to the recent launch of generative AI writing tools, like ChatGPT, which can write essays, create computer code, solve math problems, and provide citations. There are many uses for AI text and image generators, and each of your professors will have different rules for whether and how you can use AI in your classwork. If you choose to use AI, it is your responsibility to make sure that you follow your professor's guidelines and respect the rules of Wofford's Honor Code.

AI is evolving quickly, and so is our understanding of ethical uses of AI in the classroom. If you are unsure about whether it is appropriate to use AI at any point in your education, just ask your professor!

Here are some examples of generative AI tools that you should ask your professor about before using them to complete coursework:


Google Bard

Bing Chat




Stable Diffusion

 published on Aug 22, 2023 

How AI Finds Information

Right now, open AI tools, like ChatGPT or Bard, do not have access to anything that is not on the open internet - that is, anything that requires you to pay or have an account to access. This means most scholarly information, such as books and journals, which libraries and individuals must pay for, are not included in AI's knowledge base. Instead, open AI tools use sources like Wikipedia, open access books and articles, and other open internet websites. ChatGPT's training data set ends in 2021, so it does not "know" anything that happened in the last two years.

When you ask AI to write an essay on a particular subject, it will include citations to show where it got its information. If AI does not have access to scholarly information, then where is it getting its citations and sources? When we asked AI to provide citations for the sources it cited in an answer, here's what it told us:

"I apologize for the confusion, but as an AI language model, I don't have direct access to external sources, including databases or academic journals. The sources mentioned in the essays were for illustrative purposes, and the citations provided were not actual references. I provided fictional author names and book titles to demonstrate the types of sources that could be used to support arguments. 
If you are looking for real scholarly sources, I recommend conducting a search in academic databases, such as JSTOR, Google Scholar, or academic library catalogs. This will help you find peer-reviewed articles, books, and research papers written by experts in the field, providing reliable information for your essay. Remember to properly cite and reference any sources you use in your writing."

So, AI purposely generated false citations as examples of the types of sources you might use, and it recommended that you use the academic library catalog to find real sources! Fortunately, Wofford provides access to millions of real, scholarly resources for you to use through Wofford OneSearch, and librarians are available to help you find sources and develop your topic.

Finding Citations Generated by AI

If you ask AI for a list of sources on any topic, it will quickly provide titles of books, articles, journals, and websites. However, many of the sources are likely to be hallucinatory - that is, they are not real articles or books; AI has simply created sources that sound like they could be real when, in fact, they are not. Therefore, you will need to verify that a source is real before you can access it via Wofford's library or interlibrary loan.

Signs that a citation generated by AI is not a real source:

  • Author names are incomplete, often including only an initial instead of a first name
  • Article citations are missing the journal name
  • The citation includes a DOI or link, but links to a completely different source

For example, I asked ChatGPT to suggest articles about the French Revolution. The first citation provided was:

Doyle, William. "The Origins of the French Revolution." Past & Present 133 (1991): 78-116.

This is a complete citation that includes the author's full name, the names of the article and the journal, the issue of the journal, publication date, and page numbers. To try to access the article, I first copied the entire citation and performed a Google search. If this article is real, I would expect to find it on a journal website. Instead, I found many other articles, but none with this author and title.

Google search for William Doyle's article. The search results are not for the article in question.



Next, I tried the same search for the article's citation in Wofford OneSearch.

On the Wofford library homepage, I have copied the article citation into the main OneSearch search box.


In my search, I chose the "Expand My Results" button to look for articles both owned by Wofford and articles beyond Wofford's collection. I see a source written by William Doyle that has part of the title I'm looking for, but it's published in the wrong journal, and it's book review, not a scholarly article.

OneSearch search results with the "Expand My Results" button toggled on. There are 3 results that have William Doyle as the author, but none that are the right article.


The second source has the correct author and title, but is published in the wrong journal in the wrong year. When I click through to the article, I see that this, too, is a one page book review, not the 40 page article AI referenced. Therefore, I can conclude that William Doyle is a scholar who studies the French revolution, but he never wrote an article called "The Origins of the French Revolution" in the journal "Past and Present." This is not a real citation.

A snippet of the book review on Project Muse's website.


Instead of getting citations from AI, we recommend that you use Wofford OneSearch, Google Scholar, or ask your professor or librarian for help. It will save you the time and frustration of searching for a perfect-sounding source that does not exist!