The Stack Overflow Podcast

Does AI-assisted coding make it too easy for student to cheat on schoolwork?

Episode Summary

The home team talks students using AI pair programmers to complete their assignments, how the Godot game engine may be monetized through W4 Games, and whether paid tiers and subscriptions provide a healthy option for social networking apps.

Episode Notes

You can find a great essay on AI helping students, and what that means for their teachers, here.

Here's a piece on W4 Games plans to monetize the Godot engine.

Snap says it now has one million subscribers for its Snapchat+ offering.

There were no fresh lifeboats badges this week, so shoutout to Jemo for being awarded the Great Question badge. They asked: What's the difference between thread and coroutine in Kotlin

Episode Transcription

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Ben Popper Are automation and AI on your roadmap? Well you can connect with peers to explore the latest knowledge and events, programs, hackathons, even an academy and certifications. The forum is the core knowledge hub where you can find guidance on all these things, so join the UiPath community at

BP Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Stack Overflow Podcast, a place to talk all things software and technology. I am your host Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow, joined I often am by my wonderful co-hosts, Matt and Ceora. Hey, y'all. 

Ceora Ford Hi! 

Matt Kiernander Hello! 

BP How's everybody doing? 

CF Good! 

MK Good. I feel like everyone's doing good today.

BP Yeah, some positivity. That's great. I have some fun news stories I picked out for us today. The first one that I want to get to is a professor in the world of computer science who teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The piece is called ‘Coping with Copilot’, and it's about how AI-based developer tools make it far too easy for students to “cheat,” “get help,” and use these AI pair programming assistants to write a lot of their homework or their assignments for them. So let me stop there and get a few thoughts. 

CF That's so funny. Sorry, the title of the article itself is hilarious. Kudos to him for coming up with that. 

MK The first thing that jumped out to me was one of the quotes saying, “Students armed with Copilot will be bringing uzis to a knife fight.”

BP Yes. It's just not fair on these poor educators. 

CF I actually was in high school during the time when a lot of those websites and apps were coming up that could solve mathematical equations for you.

MK WolframAlpha! 

CF Yeah. So I wonder now if this is a thing that teachers on a broader scale are annoyed with. You know the whole thing with Spark Notes and looking that up instead of actually reading the book so you could have a loosely informative book report or whatever. It's interesting to see this trickle down into computer science now that tools like Copilot have been introduced. I wonder if this is one of those things where long term it'll end up being more detrimental to the student. I wonder if they're skipping out on really internalizing the basic concepts that are going to help them solve problems. Because for professionals obviously, if you've made it to the point of being a professional, you probably have a pretty decent grasp on basic programming concepts that will help you throughout your career, so using a tool like Copilot to make things a little faster makes more sense. So I wonder what that’s like for students. 

BP Yeah. I think you make a really good point. Where is the line between, everything I do in a word document now has a grammar checker and a spell checker built in so it's just picking that stuff up for me, and me actually knowing and remembering those rules. And the line is, every once in a while when I have to write something by hand and I become terrified that I don't know how to spell anymore. But you sort of offload a lot of that work and as the professor pointed out, the way Copilot is built, you can give it a problem statement or even just a function name, and I don't know if he was being facetious or it was just hyperbole, but as far as I can tell he said Copilot was specifically trained on all the intro programming assignments. So I think another issue here is that you might have to rewrite the curriculum. You've always used these intro assignments year after year. Well they're not valid anymore. Because why would the kids, to your point Ceora, need to learn this stuff if they can just tab it once they get to their job or whatever. 

MK Well so I think that's a big part of maybe a fundamental shift we might see in computer science and development over the next five to ten years. Instead of building the puzzle, you’re actually just responsible for putting the pieces together, and those are two very different skills. Learning the algorithm and binary search and knowing that stuff is good and useful if you are building for that, but if your role and responsibility is more about fitting together the different pieces that you need, you know what functions you need, you know what functionality you need, you can just point a system at it and go, that might be a fundamental shift in what being a software developer means. You could actually get the more high-tier software developers or you could get the more lower level ones who are building that functionality in the first place. 

CF Yeah, and I wonder if that's necessarily a bad thing. 

MK No!

CF Is it bad that students are cheating? When I say that out loud it sounds funny, but if you really think about it.

BP No, is it bad that students are just using the technologies available to them? Cassidy was on here once talking about how she got in trouble for programming her old TI-83 calculator with all the physics equations and then she would just plug it in and the calculator would do it. And if you were really savvy, you could take this tool, this specific kind of calculator– the graphing calculator that you're allowed to have on the SAT, and preload basically a bunch of this stuff that you would otherwise have to memorize. So people have always been kind of utilizing the technology to a degree. 

CF Yeah, and I feel like even with professionals, we've been having tons of conversations with people creating companies and startups that specifically target issues in programming and computer science and software development that are tedious and that take away from the creative work or the problem solving that people actually want to do. And technically it's made software development “easier,” I put that in quotations, in a lot of different ways. I think it's honestly just made it different, so we're dealing with different problems now focusing on different things. So I kind of see this as the same potentially. I'll have to see longer down the line in a few years when all these people who are students who are in computer science programs graduate and become software engineers if are we going to see real issues with software development because they were cheating or is it going to be that they just worked smarter not harder. I don't know, we'll see. 

MK I feel like this is very much the same as when web frameworks became a thing, like React and Angular. It was like, “Oh no, that’s cheating. That's not doing the proper HTML and CSS and building it Vanilla JavaScript.” And this is just a different version of that. You see this argument a lot with the low-code/no-code movement and really all it is is just making us work faster at the end of the day. We still have to know what we're doing. But yeah, there might be some negative flow on effects where people are just trusting Copilot too much and then that results in a bunch of people and a bunch of bugs and some nefarious things happening that we may not intend. 

BP Yeah. Understanding what's really going on underneath the hood, I think to Ceora’s point, we don't know yet. We'll see if that makes a big difference if they're less inventive or less able to deal with issues in the future or if they're just getting rid of the cruft. There's one part of here I have to read, very important. The professor who wrote this said, “Copilot is different from searching for answers on Stack Overflow. You can already find examples of code online, but then the instructor can Google them and compare the code with a plagiarism detector. Copilot generates novel solutions.” So there he's saying, “Well, we know kids are already copying but at least I can catch them. This way, I have no idea.” So that's a professor problem. That's not a student problem. 

CF Yeah. I think the thing that makes this situation different is that we're not talking about professional software developers who have gone through learning the fundamentals, we're talking about students. So I really don't know how this is going to affect them long term, but I would like to hope that it's not going to be that big of a deal. I don't know. I don't want to be mad at people who are trying to just make things easier. You know that's my whole motto at this point.  

BP Yeah. I mean, the professor at the end kind of says that we can't just plug our ears and pretend the internet doesn't exist and plagiarism doesn't exist. What reasonable developer in their future life is not just going to use this amazing sort of second brain machine? What we need to do is rethink from an evaluation standpoint, how do you evaluate kids and make sure that they do grasp the concepts and that they can get to this stuff from first principles. 

MK I feel like a lot of these technologies, just with the rise of a lot of these kind of AI generational programs, there are going to be things that need to change over the next 10 to 15 years, and that's going to range from education to professional work and everything else in between. 

BP Yeah. All right, great. I want to go on to another story. This one has a couple of interesting links to things we talked about before. This story is about monetizing the Godot game engine. So Matt, on the wonderful episode full of discussions of moose and Pokemon Go!, you brought up Godot as an open source technology you might want to get involved with. It's very highly thought of in the community. Some other game engines are catching flack for how commercialized they are. This one's open source, very popular in game development, lots of fun. So what's interesting about this is that it kind of parallels another discussion. We had this woman, Heather Meeker, come on the show to talk about open source and how and when does it make sense to commercialize open source. You have this super popular project Godot, but how are you going to build a business around that now? So it turns out that OSS Capital, which is the venture firm that invests in commercial open source software where both Cassidy and Heather work, is one of the investors leading a new round of funding into sort of a spinoff from Godot called W4 Games that plans to use kind of like the Red Hat playbook to create a business that sits side by side with the open source engine which they hope will still continue to grow. Okay, wow. Big windup, apologies for the big windup. I just wanted to point out all the cool connections between previous episodes. Go ahead, Ceora, yes.

CF I have one quick question before we jump into the discussion. This is coming from someone who knows nothing about gaming or game development. What is a game engine?

BP Good question. 

MK Yeah, a game engine is essentially a collection of tools and functionality, kind of similar to what React is to a website, for developers to use. So it provides a bunch of pre-worked on tools for game developers to use to build an engine so you're not having to rebuild everything from scratch. They'll have movement systems, shooting systems, they'll have inbuilt shaders and physics and all that kind of stuff so you don't have to build that from scratch every time you get going. And within the world of game engines there are three more popular ones, and that's Unreal Engine, which is run by Epic. There’s Unity engine which is run by Unity, and then Godot. And Unreal is an insanely powerful engine because it has Fortnight money. Fortnite is built on the Unreal engine and it's one of the few examples within the game industry where you've got a game engine with its own parent company also developing a successful game so you've got that really tight synergy there. And that's one of the main problems with Godot. It doesn't really have any commercially viable games available. I think there was a Sonic game that came out a little while ago but it really doesn't have any kind like hero things. I could talk about this for a very long time, but the things holding Godot back really are the lack of commercial games for larger projects. Also it's not currently available to port to console. So with a game engine, you typically can port to desktop, to Nintendo Switch, to Xbox, to PlayStation, but the problem with that is that you need the proprietary code to integrate with those consoles. And with Godot being open source, they can't actually provide that so at the moment it's only available to desktop, mobile, and web. And one of the things that they're doing with W4 is offering that service to be able to help port to games. To sum this all up, I'm super excited about what this means for the Godot engine, because they're addressing a lot of the pain problems that it needs. And it's another interesting way to monetize open source as well. 

CF Yeah.

BP And Ceora to tie it back again to our earlier conversation, like Matt was saying, you put out a great game, you want it to be on all the different platforms or whatever, but it's been under this open source MIT license and that means they can't provide support for consoles. So they're going to create sort of a forked version for W4 Games that uses a different more commercial license, kind of like what Heather was telling us about. 

CF Oh, cool. 

BP Yeah. So it's a fun bit of news and fun to see a bunch of stuff that we've been talking about and people we've had on the show making some news out in the world. So I like that. 

CF Yeah! 

MK Also if I can do a quick shout out, there is a very, very wholesome YouTube channel called DevDuck, who is making a game in Godot about a marine biologist who is trying to kind of clean up the ocean.

CF Oh, that's so cute! 

BP It's super awesome.

MK It’s so cute. And also for his Patreon subscribers, whenever somebody subscribes to Patreon or reaches a certain tier, he's got all these aquariums dotted around his office. And so he buys little aquarium based shrimp or fish and names them after the Patreon. It's so cute and wholesome. So I would 10 out 10 recommended DevDuck.

CF Adorable. I'll have to check that out too. Cool. 

BP All right, one last one before we head out. We had a big conversation like a week or two ago about social networks and how they're all sort of copying each other and blending. They're all chasing each other trying to become the same. I don't know who dropped this link, but Snapchat, which I was too old to ever really get into– I'm the wrong generation. I remember when it came out and I was like, “I'm not cool. I can't do this. Sorry. It seems cool. It's not for me, I'm old.” Remember, I was in college when Facebook came out. I was there, it came out. Snapchat has 1 million subscribers on Snapchat Plus system, which I guess you get– I don't really know. What kind of perks do you get if you're a Snapchat subscriber? 

CF Yeah, I added this link because I've noticed that at least Twitter has struggled with monetizing. And I feel like the broader conversation around social media is the drive to monetize. It's like we're trying to get more mindshare by imitating TikTok or whatever so that we can push them out of the market and get more money. So I thought this was interesting because Snapchat has kind of been essentially the same in utility for years. They haven't really tried to be like anybody else or add features like anybody else. And they've had a lot of ups and downs. I remember when Instagram first started adding the filters like Snapchat I thought Snapchat was done. I thought it was over for them. But it's interesting to see a social media network monetize in a way that's through subscribers, that's not through ads or eCommerce or anything like that. And it actually generates a considerable amount of income. 

BP One thing I just wanted to get back to with where do social networks feel like they have to go? We talked about this last time– the attention economy, they want to grab more and more of your time. One thing that I think is kind of unique about Snapchat, again, not having used it but I know some people who work there stuff, is that for people who did get really into it as it grew big, it became very much like a text messaging, group chat, DM type platform. More about having really long term deep relationships with people on Snapchat. And so in a context like that I think a subscription makes a lot more sense. It's just like, “This is the place where I hang out with my friends from 5, 10 years ago and we still hang out here because this is where we became friends,” or whatever it is. So it makes a lot of sense, Ceora to your point, that they could have a different business model.

CF Right. And they really dug into that and stuck with that. And one thing that's really interesting is that they have added one of the premium features, which I didn't even realize Snapchat was being used this way, but one of the premium features is that you get pushed up to the top of the queue when you message or respond to a celebrity’s story. So that means that it's more likely that they'll see you or respond to you, and I think the subscription is 3.99 a month. So that's one of the benefits. And then I think you get some other extra perks that I guess make sense if you're a heavy Snapchat user. I also don't know if you guys knew this, but Snapchat is also really big in the dating scene. Instead of trading numbers people will exchange Snapchats.

BP I can safely say I had no idea. I had no clue. 

CF Yeah, so for keeping up with celebrities, keeping up with your friends, keeping up with dating and stuff like that it has its use and Snapchat has really stuck to that and they're able to monetize off of that, which I think is interesting. And it's really cool to see honestly, that they haven't really changed their tune too much. I'm not going to say that Snapchat is a saint or anything, but I do think that's cool that they've stuck to their main purpose. They didn't try to chase after what other platforms or whatever social media networks were doing and they just focus on what their users like and come to Snapchat for and monetize off of that. 

BP And they made a selfie drone, which nobody bought, but hey, that was a good idea.

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BP All right, y'all. It is that time of the show. I don't have any new lifeboat badges, not because people aren't trying hard but just because we do so many podcasts. So this week I will shout out the winner of a great question badge– they asked a question that got a score of 100 or more, which I think means it's a question that a lot of people have and it's helping a lot of people. So awarded five hours ago to Jemo, “What's the difference between a thread and a coroutine in Kotlin?” Gemo, thanks for the question. Asked five years ago and helped 25,000 people, so we appreciate it. 

CF Ooh, nice!

BP All right, y'all. As always, thanks for listening. I am Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper. You can reach us with questions or suggestions, And if you like the show, leave us a rating and a review. It really helps. 

CF And my name is Ceora Ford. I'm a Developer Advocate at Auth0. You can find me on Twitter. My username there is @Ceeoreo_.

MK And I’m Matt Kiernander. I'm a Developer Advocate here at Stack Overflow. You can find me online on YouTube and Twitter @MattKander. 

BP Awesome. All right, everybody. Thanks for listening and we'll talk to you soon.

All Bye!

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