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Cheating in Computer Science

Ubiquity, Volume 2010 Issue October, October 2010 | BY William Hugh Murray 


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Many computer science teachers are very concerned about students cheating in their courses. Surveys report that almost three-quarters of high school students admit to cheating within the past year. John Barrie, founder of the plagiarism-detecting Web site, says that about a third of the papers submitted to the site have significant levels of plagiarism. Many people say that the Internet has made cheating easier and harder to detect and they wonder if the moral fabric of our youth is fraying. In the trenchant analysis below, Bill Murray approaches the teaching-learning system as a game in which students, teachers, and others play various roles. He wonders whether the game itself encourages cheating, and suggests that teachers could restructure the game so that cheating is less rewarding and less likely.
--Peter J. Denning

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The author shows interesting ideas about teaching in CS, but I also was expecting some ideas about how the author grades in a way that leaves cheating aside. Maybe the only valid solution is that if you want no cheating at all, then you teach, but yo do not grade.

— Jose L. Crespo, Tue, 01 Mar 2011 09:59:54 UTC

I'll fess up to cheating on my CS exam as soon as the prof fesses up with stealing the test questions.

— Doug, Thu, 16 Dec 2010 21:58:17 UTC

In 1999 I was accused of cheating on the practical portion of my first year CS course at Edinburgh University. The evidence was that my submission was very similar to my best friend from high school. For this all of my marks for all of my practical assignments were discounted causing me to fail the year and requiring me to re-sit the written exam but not the practical. I passed the exam easily with ~ 90%. This was no surprise as I had previously scored a similar mark in the original written exam. A decade later I look back on this with some bitterness, not because it affected my career (I am employed as an engineer at Apple) but that it affected my ability to learn while at school. After this experience I was loath to talk to other students regarding assignments or to discuss what we were learning in class. Today I know that I did not cheat but was penalized for was collaborating with my peers. Edinburgh University's stance on this was, in my opinion was backwards. They were teaching student not to collaborate or share information. Collaboration skills are as important as technical knowledge in industry!

— Alex Carter, Thu, 16 Dec 2010 18:24:15 UTC

Based on what you said about the style of education as a whole, in comparison to how you teach, I think you would really enjoy Paolo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" if you haven't already read it. It's his most popular work on education. It focuses on the creation of a new student/teacher dichotomy wherein both parties are mutually invested in learning from each other and there is a mutual respect where expectations are high. It strives to create an environment where actual learning takes places, instead of what Freire refers to as the banking method. It's far too common for teachers to think of their students as receptacles to be filled with information and using that basis to grade them. The more information they can hold, the higher an arbitrary number gets. It's a problem in so many fields and has been for far too long.

— Anonymous, Thu, 16 Dec 2010 16:44:38 UTC

The article states that "there are more academic honor violation accusations among computer science students than in any other single academic discipline". Having graduated from a top-ten engineering school Summa Cum Laude without cheating at all, but being very aware of all the cheating going on and having questioned students who practiced it, I know the reasons for this. A major reason for this is that the majority of CS students at any American university are students from overseas cultures that have completely different ideas regarding cheating. In particular in Asian cultures getting together to work with others is considered cooperation and not cheating. Getting ahold of the test questions in advance is considered fair game. Plagiarizing entire papers is fine, the asian economies are based on copying those who are better. That is how you compete. About the only thing that is considered cheating is copying from someone during an in class test. As you must know, many Chinese students in particular have Chinese translations of many textbooks which are sent to them from China. These textbooks come with supplementary sections, sometimes including the past exams of a specific professor. This is all considered just being smart and well prepared.

— Richard Michelson, Thu, 16 Dec 2010 08:22:18 UTC

As the author correctly puts it, the major problem is that CS education has become too focused on grades rather than actual learning. When I get assignments which are boring and require little creativity, I do not feel guilty at all copying it from my friends. I can spend that time learning something that I like.

— Rohit Mishra, Thu, 16 Dec 2010 08:06:36 UTC

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