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Why Computer Science Students Cheat 694

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-comments-will-be-analyzed-for-plagiarism dept.
alphadogg writes "Enrollment in undergraduate computer science courses is at an all-time high at colleges nationwide. But this trend that's been hailed by the US tech industry has a dark side: a disproportionate number of students taking these courses are caught cheating. More students are caught cheating in introductory computer science courses than in any other course on campus, thanks to automated tools that professors use to detect unauthorized code reuse, excessive collaboration, and other forbidden ways of completing homework assignments. Computer science professors say their students are not more dishonest than students in other fields; they're just more likely to get caught because software is available to check for plagiarism. 'The truth is that on every campus, a large proportion of the reported cases of academic dishonesty come from introductory computer science courses, and the reason is totally obvious: we use automated tools to detect plagiarism,' explains Professor Ed Lazowska, chair of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. 'We compare against other student submissions, and we compare against previous student submissions and against code that may be on the Web. These tools flag suspicious cases, which are then manually examined.'"
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Why Computer Science Students Cheat

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  • by nebaz (453974) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:54PM (#31900100)

    If someone asked me to (in Java say) print the numbers from 1 to 10, I would probably do something like

    for (int i=1;i=10;i++) {
        System.out.println(i);
    }

    So would most other people. Would this flag me as a cheater?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Surt (22457)

      Typically even an introductory level course is more involved than that, even for the first assignment.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Derekloffin (741455)
        While true, the general issue is that there are only so many ways to go about doing X. Further there are only so many of those that are good ways among those, and even fewer still that students are taught about. When you then compare against both the net and all previous solutions, the odds of a match coming up greatly increases. At a certain point, particularly when we're dealing with introductory courses, you have to ask, are these true or false positives. I know at my work, I rarely can tell if it wa
        • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:01PM (#31901296) Homepage

          Let's say a professor gives us both the same very easy assignment. Something that can be done in ten lines or less, and is meant to display how a for-loop works. We're to comment the code and explain what each line does (because it's a classroom assignment, and that's almost always a requirement even for the simplest tasks). Now chances are we'll need at least two or three variables, and just like the comments we'll be expected to use descriptive names; even though the task is mind numbingly simple. You just have to do these thing in classrooms, even when you're only dealing with two variables and "x" and "y" would serve just fine.

          So, what are the chances that we will choose the same variable names, use the same comments, put the same number of spaces and/or tabs in our indents, and insert our white space lines in the same places? Pretty slim most likely. It's more than just "did they use the same basic approach to the problem" or even "did they use the same functions and control structures in the same order?". It's more like "Is this exactly the same program?" or at least "are parts of these two programs completely identical or nearly so?" Of course they also manually chaeck what the automated tools flag. Or at least they should and they claim too.

        • I TA'ed an intro to CS class that used these error tools, and this was almost 10 years ago. Cheating is a very serious accusation, or at least was taken very seriously by the professor of the class, and several methods were used to ensure there weren't false positives. The first half of assignments were not run through the cheat system, because they were a bit too simplistic and could have caused false positives. The latter half of assignments were all 100+ lines of code.

          The system did several checks, and included positives with and without whitespace. In most cases where we had matches, there was a 100% whitespace match, right down to sloppy indents, trailing whitespace, etc. Clear cut copy and pasting. Smarter students would try to clean up the whitespace, usually by adding extra lines, changing comments, or removing some, but it was usually pretty obvious from the diffs as to where they would miss some and it would blow their cover.

          The system also did code structure tests, and could pretty easily tell if you just renamed some variables and messed around with whitespace. This was a little harder to review, but when you checked their analysis, I agreed with the results.

          All positives were personally reviewed by the professor and TA's, and to be quite honest we were conservative when actually making formal charges against a student- if only a non-critical function (IE the code to load in the list of items in a file in a binary search problem, but NOT the function that actually performs the search) or two seemed to have a direct match, we would warn the students not to share code again and let them off with a warning. I can't recall ever seeing a real false positive. The professor more or less forced you to use vi or emacs on the linux cluster to write your code, so there was no IDE manipulation of the code, and CS students have no sense of coding standards or consistent style, or even reasonably formatted code for the most part, which made cheats even easier to spot.

          We taught source control (RCS) pretty early. We told students to check in early, check in often. We understood that beginning CS students were pretty poor at frequent check-ins, but my professor would often give them the option of trying to prove that they were at least not the mere copiers by providing their RCS logs to view intermediary versions and progress. Often the cheater and the cheated on were pretty obvious. The source of the code usually had a few check-ins well before the deadline by someone with a B or better in the class. The copier, if he had any, was usually a few hours before the deadline and had been a C or worse student.

          The professor wouldn't punish to the full extent that he could unless there was 100% certainty there was cheating going on.

          Personally, I think there is (or at least was at my school) more cheating in CS because it takes a LOT of time to produce relatively little output. A "page" of code could easily take a CS student 4-8 hours to produce fully debugged. When it comes down to deadline time, there is intense pressure, and if someone leaves their files in their home directory undetected, or walks away from their terminal to use the bathroom, the temptation was too great for them, if they couldn't get the code by begging and schmoozing. Some thought they could just use code from previous years, except that we already had a database of previous years assignments (oops).

          The only time we ever had a gray area was in the case where a student claimed that they had no idea how the other student got their code. Even then the professor would generally error on the side of caution, but watch the student like a hawk in the future. It was all pretty obvious, I don't think anyone was unfairly persecuted, ever.

    • by keithpreston (865880) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:59PM (#31900218)

      This would be flagged but wouldn't pass the manual review. As a former Graduate Teaching Assistant, cheaters are easy to spot because they are LAZY! They turn in the exact same files (same comments with same misspellings) with maybe a different name at the top. The only good way to cheat is to make sure every things is perfectly correct and has no identifying characteristics.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by adwarf (1002867)
        Other signs of cheating: When you get a student that does A+ work on programming assignments, but fails the exam (not always the case, but usually). Another sure sign is when they turned in two or three sub par programming assignments and then turn in a beautiful program using concepts that haven't been taught yet. Also once you suspect them it is easy to verify. They can either explain the code or they can't, if they can explain it maybe they cheated, but at least they spent the time to learn what the c
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by MartinSchou (1360093)

        Actually, if you are particularly evil, and you happen to know that the person you're cheating off of hasn't used any kind of repository, just introduce some tricky bugs that keep the program from running properly.

        The kind of bugs that you'd fix if you wanted the program to look like your own.

        That way you get your okay grade, and the guy you cheated off of gets booted for cheating off of you. After all - if you are willing to steal their work, why not kill their career as well?

      • by Khisanth Magus (1090101) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:06PM (#31901378)
        One of the more amusing moments of my time as a Graduate Teaching Assistant was when I caught 3 students working together in a class where no collaboration was allowed. The sad thing is that in this particular class, there was only one correct way of doing the assignments, so anyone who did it correctly could not be caught. These three had such a horribly wrong answer that there was no way that 3 independent people could have gotten that answer.
        • by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Monday April 19, 2010 @04:45PM (#31902676)

          I had a similar experience. Technically, a correct assignment could be done in different ways, but it was a limited enough assignment that I'd be hard pressed to identify cheating on a correct assignment. Fortunately, the two people who decided to cheat not only did it wrong, they did it hilariously wrong. The assignment was to create "bank accounts" based on an input string (c for checking, s for savings, m for money market). Each account created got $400 more than the previous (the initial account got $500). Then you ran each of them through three months of accruing interest (only difference between account types was interest rate), printing the value at the end of each month. The instructions were far more explicit than I'm being; output was provided for enough example inputs so checking your work was trivial. The two cheaters interpreted it in a hilariously incorrect fashion: they statically created exactly three accounts, one of each type, then used the input string to determine which ones would earn interest. So a string of "csm", instead of creating three accounts and running them through three months interest would run each static account through a single month's interest, then terminate. "ccc" meant the checking account ran for three months, and you saw nothing at all for the savings or money market.

          And of course, they were lazy as hell about the cheating. The only difference in the code was variable names, and they weren't even well disguised; rather than changing them, the other submitter just appended to the original name. A variable named "cash" in one submission became "cashMoney" in another.

          Lesson to future cheaters: If you're going to cheat, cheat off someone who isn't a complete moron. In CS1, you can only solve the problem correctly in a few ways; identifying cheating is hard, and you're not likely to get called on it unless your solution is character for character identical. But if you solve it in a uniquely dumb way, you'll get caught, and provide amusement to TAs for quite a while.

    • by TitusC3v5 (608284) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:01PM (#31900266) Homepage
      If the person you copied it from also mistakenly used an assignment operator instead of a conditional, then yes. :)
      • by nebaz (453974)

        Good catch. Slashdot pruned my < character though as it was not escaped. I don't think the code that appears would compile. :-)

    • If someone asked me to (in Java say) print the numbers from 1 to 10, I would probably do something like

      for (int i=1;i=10;i++) {
      System.out.println(i);
      }

      So would most other people. Would this flag me as a cheater?

      Would a professor run an assignment like that through the system though?

      While you do have a limited number of 'ideal' ways in which to accomplish a simple problem (one you would see in an early programming course) beginning programmers aren't going to come up with the same

    • by DannyO152 (544940)

      Why, no. You'd get a bad grade nonetheless of your originality because the predicate portion of the for loop should be i == 10;.

      Now, if a lot of people made that same mistake and there was a correlation between where they sat or what fraternity they pledged, that might make it flaggable.

    • by Nadaka (224565)

      for(int i = 0;i 10; System.out.println(++i));

      That is how I might right it.

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        forgot slashdot would mistake a less than sign as partial html and escape it.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      No, it would flag you as a bad programmer, because you left out the "less than" symbol. (Actually, I suspect it got stripped by the HTML.) But you raise a valid point: for simple programs, independent sources will create very similar code.
    • by Normal Dan (1053064) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:31PM (#31900822)
      I have a similar question,
      If someone asked me to (in Java say) print the numbers from 1 to 10, I would probably do something like

      for (int i=1;i=10;i++) {
      System.out.println(i);
      }

      So would most other people. Would this flag me as a cheater?
    • by Mike Buddha (10734) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:44PM (#31901058)

      If someone asked me to (in Java say) print the numbers from 1 to 10, I would probably do something like

      for (int i=1;i=10;i++) {

          System.out.println(i);
      }

      So would most other people. Would this flag me as a cheater?

      No, the system would flag you as being wrong. "i=10" would give an error either in compile time in a strongly typed language, or in runtime in a loosely typed one. FAIL.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        The poster commented else where that /. removed the less than sign from the equality portion. It should have been less than or equal to 10.
  • You're not supposed to provide balanced, reasonable, fairly probable explanation as part of the summary. What are we supposed to write about? (no, really, give your suggestions below)

    • by COMON$ (806135)
      You are assuming most of us read the summary...noob.
    • My opinion: (Score:5, Funny)

      by butterflysrage (1066514) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:00PM (#31900260)
      Enrollment in undergraduate computer science courses is at an all-time high at colleges nationwide. But this trend that's been hailed by the US tech industry has a dark side: a disproportionate number of students taking these courses are caught cheating [networkworld.com]. More students are caught cheating in introductory computer science courses than in any other course on campus, thanks to automated tools that professors use to detect unauthorized code reuse, excessive collaboration and other forbidden ways of completing homework assignments. Computer science professors say their students are not more dishonest than students in other fields; they're just more likely to get caught because software is available to check for plagiarism. 'The truth is that on every campus, a large proportion of the reported cases of academic dishonesty come from introductory computer science courses, and the reason is totally obvious: we use automated tools to detect plagiarism,' explains Professor Ed Lazowska, chair of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. 'We compare against other student submissions, and we compare against previous student submissions and against code that may be on the Web. These tools flag suspicious cases, which are then manually examined.'"
  • Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by COMON$ (806135) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:55PM (#31900142) Journal
    True CS curriculum require a massive amount of critical thinking and other analytical skills. Something the recent graduates of HS are not prepared for. Match that up with the sense of entitlement and you get expected results. Back when I was in CS the dropout rate was around 90%. There were no rent-a-coders and using the web for a resource was a very new thought. So it was write your own damn code or head over to liberal arts...
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)

      CS: It is all sink or swim...oh and did I mention there are sharks in that water?

      Speaking of the CS metaphor in your .sig, I've actually gone swimming in a pool full of sharks. It was part of the 8th-grade class field trip. They're pretty benign critters.

      That said, you still need to be able to swim, and if the sharks scare people off, perhaps it's for their own good. :)

    • Re:Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eln (21727) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:12PM (#31900498) Homepage
      Leaving aside the usual nonsense that kids today are worthless and can't do anything right, the problem is more complicated than that. Many universities have stepped away from the idea of going to college as a way to get a well-rounded education and have positioned themselves as places to get a piece of paper that will let you get a good job. Combine this with the increasing number of positions requiring a college degree, and you get a lot more people more interested in just getting through and getting that piece of paper as quickly as possible than they are with actually learning anything.

      College is quickly becoming like high school: It's a base requirement that everyone has to go through if they don't want to spend the rest of their lives picking lettuce, so people are going to go and try and get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. There have always been people who do this of course, and cheating is certainly not a new problem, but the above-mentioned issues may make it more prevalent than it once was.

      Remember, though, that our generation cheated as well. Every college in the country has an honor code, and many of them have been in place for decades (or longer). These codes wouldn't exist if no one was cheating before.
      • Re:Problem (Score:4, Insightful)

        by volsung (378) <stan@mtrr.org> on Monday April 19, 2010 @05:19PM (#31903242)

        Yeah, most of the cheating I heard about in my CS program 10 years ago was not from people who were necessarily lazy or "party-people" or whatever the usual stereotype is. Most of the temptation to cheat was for people who were completely in over their head with the entire subject and felt backed into a corner. They were wedged between a lack of preparation and social pressure to succeed. ("I did OK in math class, and I like using my computer, so why can't I do this?") The first time many of them had ever thought critically about the structure and function of a computer was day one of CS 101 (consider trying to do college algebra if you had never seen mathematical operators before) and they just got more behind as time went on. This was not helped by the cattle herd design of public university classes.

        The ethically smart ones got extra tutoring from classmates and teaching assistants, or worst case, switched degrees when they realized they were hopelessly behind. The not so smart ones abused the help of their friendly/naive classmates or found some other way to BS through the material. Most of the time, this didn't work out even on semester timescales, but I do remember one group project where a guy couldn't write a single line of code unprompted, yet somehow had landed a job at IBM to start at the end of the semester.

        I don't have any sympathy for people who cheat in classes, but I agree that characterizing the problem as simple laziness or the "moral bankruptcy of the kids these days" teaches you nothing about how to address the problem. Sadly, the solution probably involves things that are socially or economically infeasible: Smaller intro classes, actual focus on pedagogy and not teaching fads in intro classes, de-emphasis of 4-year degrees as a prerequisite for white-collar employment, more investment and advertisement in focused two-year programs for technical fields, etc.

      • by electrosoccertux (874415) on Monday April 19, 2010 @05:42PM (#31903532)

        Leaving aside the usual nonsense that kids today are worthless and can't do anything right, the problem is more complicated than that. Many universities have stepped away from the idea of going to college as a way to get a well-rounded education and have positioned themselves as places to get a piece of paper that will let you get a good job. Combine this with the increasing number of positions requiring a college degree, and you get a lot more people more interested in just getting through and getting that piece of paper as quickly as possible than they are with actually learning anything.

        College is quickly becoming like high school: It's a base requirement that everyone has to go through if they don't want to spend the rest of their lives picking lettuce, so people are going to go and try and get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. There have always been people who do this of course, and cheating is certainly not a new problem, but the above-mentioned issues may make it more prevalent than it once was.

        Remember, though, that our generation cheated as well. Every college in the country has an honor code, and many of them have been in place for decades (or longer). These codes wouldn't exist if no one was cheating before.

        Undergrad diploma is the new HS diploma because companies can't depend on people having a HS diploma to mean that they are capable of critical thinking.
        That's what happens when you give them out willy-nilly (big thanks to the folks that implemented no-child-left-behind, and the liberals that won't let us fail students; but both of these are passing the buck-- the real problem is the parents not engaging in their childrens' lives.)

        So now an M.S. is the new B.S., but this whole education thing is approaching unsustainability due to the exorbitant cost, both fiscally time required. Quick example, my MicroEcon test that I aced today had 20 questions, took me 20 minutes, and if they gave me all the slides up front I could have learned the entire course in 2 days or less of studying. But this amount of work was spread out over an entire semester. Is that economically feasible? No, we do it for the paper that gets us a well-paying job. With the cost of post-secondary education running away from us, the supply of students getting degrees from legit schools (aka not DeVry, ITT Tech, or your local community college that passes everyone for the same reason the high school does-- because they need the money) will dwindle. Eventually the cost of employing those with legit degrees will be so high that it will be economically feasible to consider employing someone straight out of highschool and just train them yourself. The two requirements for this to work are
        1). student is smart enough to teach self things if you gave him a book and the internet
        2). student is either a). self-disciplined, or b). can be managed to do work.

        You can devise a test for 1), and if you just hire people you know and trust (and have people you know and trust who can refer you to people that they know and trust) then 2) is solved as well.

        The point I'm making is I could have learned all my circuits stuff a lot faster with proper documentation and material written down than it took me in the classroom. Further, frankly I didn't need chemistry and Calculus I-III & DiffEq to help me design circuits or code. And I certainly didn't need a semester each to learn the applicable parts. A much more efficient solution (and it's much more motivating) is to worry about that stuff when you need it-- when you run into the term "eigenvectors and eigenvalues" while learning on the job about applying neural networks to power systems, you go teach yourself the linear algebra. It's much more motivating when you're stuck at the job for 8 hours, can't surf the web all day, and the most entertaining thing you can do (and it's actually quite entertaining) is learning things. Even better, it's always need-based, never an arbitrary "you have to learn this so that y

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm European-trained, but working as a visiting professor in the USA. I hear a lot of people here throw out the "sense of entitlement" phrase, and it's almost always when talking of today's students.

      Based on my experiences here and in Europe, I don't think that they exhibit that at all. Most of the students I work with put forth much effort, and don't expect anything other than to be taught the material properly, helped when needed, and graded fairly.

      The only people I see with a "sense of entitlement" are t

    • Re:Problem (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AstrumPreliator (708436) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:23PM (#31900680)
      I also find it interesting that the TFS mentions "...excessive collaboration..." as a form of cheating. Considering many CS students will graduate and get jobs as some type of programmer I would think collaboration would be a really good thing to impart on students. Granted this is a computer science degree and not a software engineering degree, but I personally know my university treated it more like the latter, and I'm sure this happens in many other universities. Even if it were taught more like a proper CS degree collaboration is still something that should be required to learn. The most collaboration I ever did was with three other people in a software engineering course.

      I also did a major in mathematics in college. In contrast with the exception of first year courses like calculus you were always encouraged to work on problems together. Most of my classes were small enough (8 people or less) that the entire class including the instructor worked on the problems. Of course in math your grade was 50% homework and 50% exams. So even if you worked on problems as a group and just took the answers without contributing, you would still fail the class since exams were worth so much (and a C- and under is failing).

      I agree that true CS curriculum requires a lot more critical thought, it's actually largely a subfield of math, but that's not what a lot of CS students get. I know I didn't.
  • keyword: caught (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Surt (22457) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:56PM (#31900154) Homepage Journal

    They're cheating just as much in other disciplines, it's just in CS we have a lot of good tools to catch them. Plus, we get a lot of false positives with no defense, so we get to inflate our successful catch statistics.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Hm, also that cadre at CS departments is much more likely to be able to sensibly use "computers" (hence also plagiarism tools) can only help...

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Are the CS tools 'local' or are they like the ones for essays/papers where you contract out to a private company that claims ownership of anything you send them?

      • by i.r.id10t (595143)

        Wonder what the legal effect would be if you uploaded code under the GPL to turnitin or a similar site?

      • My CS program uses a piece of software developed by another university - we, and several other uni's form an ad-hoc network of code. Occasionally (a few times a semester) a few people get caught by it.

        The TA's know us very well, though, so if there was a close-ish match and it was in our code style, they'd write it off as coincidence. This happened to me, actually - I had a method that was almost verbatim of some kid from Washington, but in my coding style. My TA knew that I'd written it, because it matched

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:57PM (#31900170)

    CS is just difficult for some people. We didn't all grow up programming in the basement. I've seen students who finally got their program to "run" by commenting out every line, and sadly, were so clueless that they were quite proud of the fact.

    Oddly, it's actually easier now that computers are ubiquitous and going to the CS lab to complete an assignment isn't necessary.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jwinster (1620555)
      Please mod parent up. I agree wholeheartedly with this comment in that there is a really large barrier to entry in CS. I'm a CS grad, and I remember reading the introductory paragraph to my "Introduction to Programming" book stating that this is not a good book for first time programmers, only people with some experience should use it. Luckily I was able to keep up with the learning curve (despite that being my first time programming as well), but it's choices like that which lead to CS dropout rates of
  • ...why the possession of a degree is only a tertiary (at best) indicator of ones ability in any particular field. Schooling != Education
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:00PM (#31900252) Homepage Journal

    When the most optimum solution to any problem is frequently the same code, and the same exact question gets asked every single time for that course, is it cheating or is it just optimization?

    I use code libraries and recode old stuff to new uses every day - is that cheating or just efficient coding?

    • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:09PM (#31900442)

      I use code libraries and recode old stuff to new uses every day - is that cheating or just efficient coding?

      Most of the professors I had would state that you were allowed to use a set list of libraries. If you wanted to use a different library, it had to be written by you and included in your submission.

      The set list of libraries was quite small, usually something like std.h and not much else (I don't know if that was the library, I haven't written anything in C or much else for 10 years)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by patternmatch (951637)
      It depends on the point of the assignment. If you're at your job, and you just need to get something working quickly, then you're not "cheating" by using a library or re-using someone else's code. But when you're in school, the point is to learn the material by solving the problem yourself. So if you just use someone else's solution, you're perverting the intent of the assignment, and that counts as cheating.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by noidentity (188756)
      You must be one of those hippie coders who never trims his hair. In the real world, we always avoid using outside code or libraries. Only code we've written passes our quality standards. These schools are right to teach students that collaboration and reuse are cheating, because they are! Now excuse me, a customer has found yet another bug in our software today, so I need to see if I can fix it.
  • by rodrigoandrade (713371) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:01PM (#31900286)
    For the same reason Psychology students cheat.
    For the same reason Math students cheat.
    For the same reason English students cheat.
    For the same reason Economics students cheat.
    For the same reason Biology students cheat.

    You get the idea...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tool462 (677306)

      I like that you (correctly) left Physics students off that list.
      Physics students don't cheat. Their wave functions become entangled, so when you solve for the eigenvalue of one, the other is necessarily solved as well.

  • how to not cheat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:02PM (#31900300)

    I used to cheat in college, and all my friends do. I don't cheat anymore. My secret? I switched to a major I like. For the most part, I enjoy and look forward to assignments, and haven't cheated on any since changing majors. For me the subject is CS, but I'm sure that most people could find something they like well enough to look forward to assignments.

  • If we're talking introductory courses like Data Structures, then it's pretty hard not to look like everyone else. I don't code most of the basic data structures anymore, but I expect that anyone I hire would have been through the basics at least, so I see the value in teaching these things. But I can imagine that if I were to write basic code to manipulate a hash table or binary search it would look a lot like everyone's else code.

  • You're looking for it [cheating] more often!

    This is very similar to finding bugs in QA phase of software (or hardware) testing. The only way you're going to stop finding bugs is if you stop looking for them...

    TZ

  • Perhaps it has more to do with the hacker mentality that seems to be prevalent (or was when I was earning my CS degree) amongst first year cs students. Aren't they just gaming the system for maximum benefit with minimum work?

    The only issue is that the cs depts are able to detect this more easily....
  • by Antony T Curtis (89990) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:06PM (#31900370) Homepage Journal

    When I ran a tutorial group for fellow students who were taking the Imperative Programming module, I can guarantee that there was no plagiarism nor cheating going on. I helped them learn coursework and each of their assignments were done by them and I only intervened if they had made a mistake. They experienced some frustration because I would not give them the solution: I had them work through it themselves and figure out their own mistake. Only one time, I was concerned that they really were considering throwing me out through the 3rd floor window.

    Only after they had completed their assignments, would I show them how I would complete the same assignment.

    I think a difference was that each of them really did want to learn the material but many students today taking these courses just want a job and have no personal interest in the topic.

  • If you are one of those who cheat in an Intro. to CS class, then chances are pretty good that you won't make it too far with your programming aspirations. Just don't complain when the college keeps taking your tuition money for the same course!
  • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:07PM (#31900400)

    The professors say:

    "Many of our students like to collaborate, but at what point are you copying?" Pitt asks. "The course policy needs to be really clear. Some courses will allow you to work in pairs but not in triples. If you don't follow that policy, we would call that cheating."

    The industry says:

    "In the real world, people write code in teams where they are given pieces of a project to work on," Foote says. "The academic world should be mapping onto the real worldThey shouldn't be handing out assignments where people are coding on their own."

    Ladies and Germs:

    We see here where academia isn't keeping up with industry. I can't tell you how many times I've seen where jobs descriptions demand "team players" and "the ability to work in teams".

    And I'd argue that academia promotes the prima donna. Someone who was a 4.0 CS student is going to have the impression that he's better than everyone else (maybe true) and that everyone else should get out of his way and let him do it all (not good). I worked with the latter. He was a GA Tech grad and he was rather brilliant. Unfortunately, with all his smarts he was a liability to the team. He couldn't possibly do everything himself (2 million+ line project due in 6 months) and he caused a lot of problems to the point where he was slowing the others down even more.

    The geniuses need to be off on their own developing - whatever - that's what we had to do with this guy. He was still miserable, though.

    • by pclminion (145572) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:19PM (#31900612)

      I disagree. Computer science has never really been about what happens in the real world. What happens in the real world is engineering. And before you scoff that most code you've ever seen is terribly engineered, remember that these people didn't study engineering at all -- they studied computer science. The problem is that people keep trying to glob CS and software engineering into a single idea, when it's not. CS is no more engineering than organic chemistry is chemical engineering. The goals, practices, daily ways of thinking are not the same.

      If I work with CS graduates who can't engineer their way out of a wet sack, I'm not very surprised, because engineering wasn't what they actually studied. And it's not their fault either, because the distinction is never explained in the first place. Students are prepared and told that to be a programmer, they need to study CS. I think CS is something you should study if you want to be a computer scientist. If you want to develop real world code, you need to be on an engineering track.

  • software sucks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by InsprdInsnty (1793100) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:08PM (#31900412)
    One of my lecturers decided to test our university's plagarism software as it was coming back with a unusually high number of false positives. As soon as he submitted a sample he wrote it came back positive for plagarism even though he answered a question just using the knowledge he had gained over his 20+ years experience in the industry. He and many other people in the department put hardly any weight on the results that pop up. His issue with using it is that the content of the course changes so little that with every iteration of students passing through the school its more likely to have incorrect results as its saves a copy of the submission to add to its database. I myself have had work come back as plagarised beacuse there arte only so many ways to write the same damn sentance.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How does a student defend against a false positive in this environment?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by blair1q (305137)

      You want to speak to the Law School.

      In CS, we just throw exceptions. If someone has written an intelligent handler, fine. If not, there's always a default.

  • by mindbrane (1548037) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:12PM (#31900496) Journal

    Our big brains are deeply tied into our social matrix. Our value systems, our ethics and our morals, echo within our social system and inform our actions. Context informs values and actions. If disciplines like the hard sciences advertise their wares as facts and require students approach their studies with a "just the facts" attitude then that context will lend itself to a cut and past approach to homework that will more readily accommodate obvious borrowings from other students. If you're in an arts programme and your task is to display imagination and your core inner values in a medium and venue that accentuates individuality and creativeness then, ceteris paribus, it's more likely that context will not only encourage innovative output in homework but also encourage a more guarded attitude toward a peer borrowing your ideas. If you're a C.S. student and the world around you is rife with computer hacks and the news about those hacks inform you that you should be able to not only understand them but, possibly, be able to come up with something similar or better than to a considerable extent the ethics that inform your homework production will reflect the same ethics that inform the hacker culture.

    If as educators you advertise your discipline as an empirical activity scrutinized by peer review then undergraduates just trying to fill out their curriculum with a few tasty bits for their upcoming resume are likely to think, well it's just facts, cut and paste. Let it wash out in the exams.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:13PM (#31900504) Journal
    While it is almost certainly the case that comp sci assignments face the best algorithmic scrutiny(CS professors, shockingly enough, are probably more likely and better able than modern literature professors to subject them to such), there are similar algorithmic tools(albeit generally 3rd party contracted stuff) being used against writing assignments at many schools.

    I suspect that there are other factors at work, as well. I'll put out the following conjectures(whether you would prefer to say that I "reasoned from first principles" or "pulled them out of my ass" is at you discretion):

    1. Intro level courses, in all areas of study, will have higher rates of cheating than later courses. Two basic reasons: Intro level courses are much more likely to be mandated under "core curriculum" or "breadth requirements" or whatever the institution's term for the concept is. This makes them much more likely to have a substantial population of students who are deeply disinterested and/or very poorly suited to the subject. People who don't care, or who can't hack it, are the ones with the strongest motives to cheat.

    2. The level of cheating, broadly speaking, will reflect how profitable the area of study is. Other than the accolades of your tiny group of peers, the rewards for being a world-renowned expert in late-middle Assyrian civic structures are basically fuck-all. If you work hard for a decade+, and get lucky, you might get a steady but not-especially lucrative tenured position, maybe a few advances from books, and that's about the best case. Therefore, only people with a genuine enthusiasm for the subject will bother to take more than "Intro to World History 101". There won't be zero cheating(putting your name on the output of your toiling grad students, for instance, is practically a best practice); but there will be less. Things like law, medicine, business, CS(more before the bubble burst than now; but still some) offer relatively good monetary rewards, and so are more likely to attract people who have comparatively little interesting the the subject and just want the diploma. You will therefore expect higher levels of cheating.

    3. The level of cheating, broadly speaking, will reflect the student body's belief about "how relevant" the academic material is to the goals that they seek(this is partly covered by #2; but goes more broadly than that). If you, say, want to make it as an English professor, or in Real Serious Math, cheating is largely counterproductive. You learn to write by writing, so if you skip much of the writing, you won't know how to write at the end of the course. You gain facility in math by doing, so you won't be facile if you cheat rather than work. If, though, you are sitting through CS, with visions of being a .com millionaire(or even just a workaday java monkey) dancing in your head, you'll be thinking "why do I need to know this crap about NP complete Turning machines and O complexity and stuff? I just want to write Facebook 2.0!". People smarter and/or wiser than you may well suggest that you are wrong; but you will still be tempted to cheat your way through the "irrelevant" material.

    I suspect that Intro CS sits at the intersection of the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, since it's an intro course, you get all the people who aren't really cut out for it learning the hard way that programming isn't as easy as playing video games, even though they both involve computers, who then freak out and start cheating(either to pass at all, if they are really hopeless, or to pass without cutting into their drinking time too much). On the other hand, you have all the people who are seeking Technology riches, and don't want to hear this ivory-tower-crap, they just want to write some programs and get a job.
  • How much of that would be frowned upon in the real world? If you can find an example on a web site, your manager isn't going to care if you lift it. As long as it doesn't cause a IP lawsuit. In fact, for probably 20 years since the introduction of object oriented design, the industry has preached "code reuse."

  • I see a whole bunch of people posting the most basic "for loop"

    If this is your opinion of what CS is, and thats all there is to cheat on, then are you ever way off base. Although I grew up a "basement coder", I was pleasantly surprised that my university education consisted, in addition to the top three (programming, networking, databases), philosophy of pirating, algorithm analysis, history of databases, research into certain figures (Alan Turing, among others), future of AI, etc. I still see many ar
  • Lack of talent, this is a profession that can be taught but unless there is a underlying talent and real interest in it the student will not succeed. The best programmers and system administrators are born with the genetic makeup and thinking patterns required to succeed in this field.

  • by mschuyler (197441) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:16PM (#31900560) Homepage Journal

    The many examples here of array declarations or variable initializations are not sufficient to get you pegged as a cheater. But when you get multi-line programs of dozens of lines that are precisely the same, even including comments, THAT will ring alarm bells. I don't think anyone writing a simple 'Hello, world' program that is exactly like mine will get called out. If you turn in a hundred line program full of regression equations to plot the Fry Readability Index in a matrix graph that is precisely like mine? Busted!

  • Much easier to catch (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cfulmer (3166) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:18PM (#31900594) Homepage Journal

    So, back in the 'day (1989 or so), I was grading for the first data structures course for computer science majors, and wrote a very simple program that stripped comments out of programs and then counted the number of semi-colons, colons, parentheses and so in in each program's source code, then sorted them. When two programs were sufficiently close, I compared them side-by-side and came up with more obvious cheaters than I was expecting. (Including one from two roommates who happened to be alphabetically next to each other.) If those programs have advanced *at all* in 20 years, they're now comparing parse-trees.

    The problem is that computer programs have structure, and it's impossible to copy somebody else's work and then 'only' replace the underlying structure. Instead, cheaters reorder their code, add a bunch of comments, rename variables, change indentation and so on. That sort of thing doesn't change the structure, so it's easy to catch.

    And, yes, this method only works on sufficiently large programs -- there are only a handful of ways of doing "Hello World." But, nobody cheats on "Hello World."

  • When I was a CS student in the introductory classes, I had a lot of prior programming experience. I had a few peers who wanted to work together on projects (more-or-less do our own work, but they needed more hand-holding than was given by the instructor.) Simply by helping debug their code or explain "how-and-why" I tackled a problem in a specific way naturally caused their work be conceptually like mine. Even discussing the problem colored their solution toward my implementation.

    It didn't help that the ins

  • by proarchist (865368) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:39PM (#31901816)

    It has always bothered me why CS assignments in some classes are so strangely off from what is supposedly being learned. Often there is some trick and the solution can be found only by not being deceived by the weaselly wording of the assignment, nor by being misled by the current subject matter in the class.

    If you are already a successful programmer, these CS projects seem especially surreal given that "cheating" is the label given for all those things you would do in real life to learn and solve, including collaboration and seeking example code.

    As an assignment in a computer ethics class I gave a talk on how the internet was going to bring college level CS education, especially self-education, to global masses. (Some universities even put their class materials online and available to everyone.) The idea was that once these useful information and materials got out there, they become part of a more advanced world culture.

    During Q and A the teacher criticized that I didn't account for how hard it was to come up with new problems year after year to test and grade CS students, and that putting everything online made this only more difficult. The teacher was actually advocating holding information back to make it easier to rate students.

    I answered by saying that there are two competing motivations for teaching methods in university classes: one is to enlighten, feed and grow minds, especially all the minds that paid through the nose for the service; the other was to "weed out," and to grade--like putting the class into a series of sifting screens--the course objects getting removed first and labeled low grade, and the finest ones coming out the end and getting labeled "academic excellence." I asked how much the former was to be sacrificed for the latter.

    Didn't finish that class.

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