Online Learning

How to Use AI in School Without Cheating: The Line Between Helpful Study Tools and Academic Dishonesty

Learn the difference between ethical and dishonest use of AI in schoolwork, from papers to exams, and how to use AI tools to help you study and improve your original work. 
Lauren Ambrosio

Lauren Ambrosio

AI isn’t just a tool for educators–students are using AI in a variety of ways that weren’t widely accessible until the 2020s. There are ways to misuse AI in academics, and we’ll cover that. But what are some ways that AI can be a helpful tool, and how can students–and educators–get on the AI train in an ethical way?

What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. Every day examples of AI include Google Maps, you social media algorithms, face ID for unlocking your phone, autocorrect on your phone and computer, customer service chatbots, and Siri and Alexa.


That may sound complicated–and it is–but for the end user, accessing AI tools has never been easier. While some students may use tools like ChatGPT and Grammarly ethically, other learners may be tempted to do otherwise. So, is using AI considered cheating? Where is the line between using it as a resource and having it do your work for you? Let’s break down the ethics of AI, cheating, and plagiarism, and then we’ll talk about how to use AI the right way.


Read more: How to Write A Quality Essay


What is Penn Foster’s policy on using AI to write papers and assignments?

Here’s what Penn Foster’s 2023 academic year undergraduate catalog says about using AI tools like ChatGPT:


“Using artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT, to write all or parts of any assignment is a form of academic dishonesty.”


In other words, if you use artificial intelligence like ChatGPT to write all or parts of your assignment, it could be just as bad as copying someone else's work. When you write for school, it's a way to show that you understand what you're learning, can think deeply about it, can find out more on your own, and can explain it well.


Academic dishonesty is taken seriously at Penn Foster. If students are suspected of cheating, they are notified and must respond to the accusation in writing. Then, the Academic Review Board will make a decision that could include termination of the student’s enrollment.


So, let’s talk about the consequences of cheating and plagiarism since having AI write your assignments for you is akin to copying someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. Plagiarism of any kind is not tolerated at Penn Foster, and it’s handled with disciplinary measures as severe as expulsion.


Here’s what you need to know about Penn Foster’s plagiarism policy:

  • Instructors use Grammarly to scan assignments for plagiarism and ensure the work is original or other works referenced are cited correctly.
  • If it detects less than 20% plagiarized content, the teacher grades the assignment based on the rubric. However, if it’s obvious that part of it was copy-and-pasted and not just a coincidentally common string of words, then the student will receive a 1% grade and an academic warning.
  • If there is more than 20% copied work, the assignment will receive a 1%, and the student will receive an academic warning.


Read more: 4 Tips for Being Successful in Online High School


If AI is a tool, then how is using it cheating?

There is a difference between using a resource to help you study or gather your thoughts for an assignment and having it write all or parts of it for you. So, what qualifies as ethical use of AI for students, and when does it fall into cheating territory?


Using AI unethically looks like:

  • Completing assignments: Students might input their homework or essay questions into ChatGPT and submit the generated responses as their own work.
  • Feeding it test questions: During an online test, a student could use ChatGPT to answer questions for them, especially if there is no proctoring system in place.
  • Copying content: Utilizing AI to paraphrase content from the internet or other sources makes it difficult for plagiarism detection tools to identify misconduct, but it still falls under academic dishonesty.
  • Skipping the learning process: Relying on AI for quick answers without attempting to understand the material being reinforced.

Using AI for school the right way looks like:

  • Research assistance: Utilizing ChatGPT to sift through given research, generate ideas, or understand complex topics, which can then be used as a starting point for a student’s own work.
  • Writing aid: Using an AI tool like Grammarly to help proofread and edit assignments for grammar, punctuation, and style, while the student actively learns from the corrections and suggestions.
  • Study buddy: Prompting AI to create flashcards, practice quizzes, or explain difficult concepts in a different way to aid in studying and knowledge retention.
  • Creative inspiration: Using AI to brainstorm ideas for projects or papers, helping to overcome writer’s block or spark creative thinking.
  • Learning new skills: Using AI to learn coding, languages, or other skills through interactive lessons and personalized feedback.


Did you know… AI chatbots like ChatGPT are language learning models and can’t discern between fact and fiction, so they may respond to your questions with inaccurate data or facts? It’s called hallucinating, and it’s why it’s best to use AI as a jumping-off point more than a way to gather information on a topic for a school assignment.


Read more: How to Break These 5 Bad Study Habits


How to use AI chatbots to help you study

Something that educators should be excited about is the use of personalized, one-on-one tutoring with chatbots. In-person tutors are expensive and aren’t always accessible in rural areas.


As Dr. Andy Shean, Chief Learning Officer at Penn Foster, explains in a conversation about AI and education, there’s “inequity in [in-person tutoring], and so you fast forward to AI, and to me it’s the beginning of one-on-one tutoring for everybody… there’s a real democratization and at least what I view as the potential of AI.”


AI chatbots like ChatGPT are going to level the playing field. Now, everyone has access to one-on-one help 24 hours a day. So, how do you use AI to help you in school–the right, honest way?

  • Researching can be daunting since it requires a lot of reading and rereading, along with annotating passages to cite in your papers. An AI tool like Humata.AI, Wordtune Read, and some premium ChatGPT plugins act as research assistants that summarize your research to understand better and find what you’re looking for. You can upload academic papers and ask questions to find the information within the document instead of searching the web at large, where results will be affected by AI’s limitations to recognize researched facts over opinions.
  • Studying used to involve hours of tedious flashcard making to help with rote memorization. With generative AI, chatbots can create digital flashcards and even multiple-choice quizzes–within minutes–if you copy and paste your study guide into the chatbox. Then, you can prompt it to ask questions without multiple-choice answers to ensure you have a good grasp of the material [1].


Read more: How to Study for an Online Course


Common questions about using AI in school

Is using ChatGPT plagiarism?

If you use ChatGPT’s generated content and pass it off as your own work, that’s plagiarism. ChatGPT can be used to help create an outline and for brainstorming, but it doesn’t count as a citable research source, nor does it count as original if you didn’t write it yourself.


Is using AI plagiarism?

Using AI-generated content in academic work is plagiarism unless properly cited. However, it’s acceptable to use AI for brainstorming and idea generation as long as the student writes the final work and showcases their understanding.


Is using Grammarly cheating?

Using Grammarly’s editing function is not considered cheating. It’s a resource that helps you spot and fix grammar mistakes, improve word choice, and make sure those commas are where they’re supposed to be. It’s a tool to help you identify writing errors, which can make students become better writers by seeing grammar rules applied in their writing. Grammarly has a generative text feature, which would be considered cheating if you have it create your writing for you.


Is using AI academic dishonesty?

Using AI to generate parts or the entirety of an assignment is considered academic dishonesty according to Penn Foster's academic policy, as it misrepresents the student's own work and abilities. However, AI can be ethically used for brainstorming, creating outlines, and learning citation styles, as long as it doesn’t replace the student’s own work.


While AI is a great tool for studying, it’s important to use it as such rather than as a replacement for original thought and comprehension. Ultimately, the onus lies with students and educators to uphold academic integrity, using AI as a guide rather than a ghostwriter, ensuring a future where technology and education coexist to make a brighter, smarter future.


Embrace your educational future with integrity

Unlock the potential of AI for studying and take your education to the next level. Our accredited programs may help you develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in today's world. Plus, our Admissions Specialists are here to help you every step of the way so you can be sure you're making the right decision for your future. Call us today at 1.888.427.6500, and let's talk about how Penn Foster and AI can help you reach your full potential.


Read more: 5 Facebook Live Videos to Help You Be a Successful Online Student


The author wanted to add that she ran her copy through Grammarly’s plagiarism detector, which said that 4% of the text matched already-existing content on the internet. The goal isn’t 0%. The goal is to cite your sources and make sure you’re thinking critically and not just copying someone else’s (or a robot’s) ideas.



  1. Chen, B. X. (2023, June 30). Don’t Use A.I. to Cheat in School. It’s Better for Studying. The New York Times.


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