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Technology vs. Cheating at the University of Virginia 590

Isaac-Lew sent in this story about a professor at the University of Virginia who heard rumors that his students were cheating and took action - he wrote a program to search through all the papers, identify common phrases, and flag the cheaters. Now a large chunk of the class is facing possible expulsion for plagiarism.
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Technology vs. Cheating at the University of Virginia

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I must concur. As a former History major, this is simple laziness! If you are not acute enough to MANIPULATE the ill gotten goods, then you should get a job flipping hash until you decide you're ready to fill your cup of knowledge at a university trough.
  • A case can be brought up against a person only if the offense has been in the past year.

    A couple fwiws:

    The honor system is a single sanction system. If you are found guilty of lying, cheating, or stealing, found to have intended the act, and if it is determined that similiar acts would be detremental to the coummunity of trust, the student is asked to leave the university.
    Otherwise, all records of the trial are destroyed.

    Students (and alumns) are only formally bound by the honor system while in the county in which UVa is or when the person identifies themself as being from UVa.

    One of the primary reasons I chose to be here at UVa was because of the honor system, and while any system certainly has issues, I've found the honor system to work amazingly well. I'm able to leave during finals and come back if I please, take home tests are abundant, I can leave my things laying about outside and they're still there when I come back, etc, etc. Sure, you have to use common sense, but it really is amazing how nice it is to be able to pretty much trust everyone!
  • ...should you really be in college to begin with?

    - A.P.

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • The cheaters, having both low coding skills and morals, but an impressive sounding degree, are doomed to become senior managers and CEOs.

    Or, in rare cases, President of the United States.

    - A.P.

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • Als ehemaliger englischer Major muß ich zustimmen. Ist nicht nur er faul und zu überspringen locker, Ihre eigene Forschung tuend, aber, wenn Sie nicht sogar die Gehirne REWORD das Material haben, stehlen Sie dann Sie sollen burgers für einige Jahre leicht schlagen, bis Sie entscheiden, daß Sie betriebsbereit sind, ein wirklicher Kursteilnehmer zu sein.
  • Depending on your particular class and university, you could always consider talking to your professor and/or teaching assistant. And I don't mean to direct this at you personally, but thinking longer and harder is also an option in many cases.

    If you start the assignment the night before it is due, and don't have time to ask the professor for help, or have time to think longer and harder, there is no reason you should get a good grade. The purpose of the grade is to estimate your _demonstrated_ ability at solving a particular problem within the given _constraints_.

    That said, grades are still bogus because of what they don't include.

    -Paul Komarek
  • Hmmm: "all your base are belong to us", hey, there's a nice 7 word common phrase...
  • I used to be one of the people who would share his programs out. I would do my version of it, then do a completly different version that looked nothing the same. I'd also introduce some errors, or put comments saying "figure this out yourself" in it. Not everyone liked 360 assembly!

    I knew who would take my code and tinker with it. They are the people that even with their CS degree, they are not gonna get far. They are the same people who could do the modula-2 code, but could not figure out how to save the code from the hard drive to their floppy.

    As for group projects, on one of our group projects, one guy did next to nothing. He was supposed to handle the printing code. What he gave us did NOTHING. I had to rewrite it rather quickly. We let the prof know that as well, since we worked our ass off (won a programming contest with the code as well!!!)

    The other group project (OS) went much better - different members. The other groups hated us. The idea was each group would submit two programs that would run on the (batch) OS you had to design. My roommate's program was self-modifying code.

    One piece of advice for group projects: If all three people of your group do not know C, do not do your project in C. We decided to learn it that way. I'd spend all day putting pointers in the code, my roommate would spend all night taking them back out.
  • katute no nihonngo wo sennkou sita mono no watakusi ha, daisannsei desu. jibunn no kennkyuu wo yaranai koto ha nasakenai dake deha naku, nusunnda jyouhou wo iikaeru tisei mo nakereba, tyantou sita gakusei ni naru ki ga deru made, 2,3 nenn gurai ra-mennya to ka de tutometa hou ga ii kamo siremasenn.
  • Once, in my CompSci studies at Southwest Missouri State University [smsu.edu], my class was given a fairly straightforward assignment. You know the type:

    "Given a telephone switchboard with a certain number of lines, and an average call time of n, what is the number of calls that can be processed in a given time period." or something similar.

    Well, I set down to turn the description into a specification. When I did, I turned some phrases into variable names:

    "number of lines": numLines
    "average call time": averageCallTime
    "number of calls": numCalls

    ...and so on. The assignment was easy, and I turned in my homework a few days later. Not too long after that, the professor called my best friend and me into his office to discuss the assignment. It seems, and I swear to God that I'm not exaggerating, that our independently-written programs were pretty much line-for-line identical. The only difference was the "// By ..." line at the top.

    What happened? My friend apparently went about completing the homework in the same style I had, and (probably because we worked together a lot) had converted all of the key phrases into the exact same variable names. The algorithms were reasonably standard and we both had the same idea in mind. We'd done enough projects together that our commenting and indenting style matched pretty much exactly.

    Honestly, given that two best friends and frequent collaborators turned in identical work, the common response would've been dire. However, the professor was pretty cool, and he knew the two of us well enough to actually believe our story and trust our reactions to the discovery (my version began with a stammered "NO F...ING WAY!").

    There's no way, ever, under any circumstances that I would actually expect a teacher to believe that we hadn't cheated. Fortunately for us, ours did. The moral: hey, sometimes coincidences happen.

    P.S.: I graduated a while ago. Posting this excuse isn't meant to get me out of any current trouble. :)

  • They are embryonic OpenSource coders!
  • I had a cool Algebra teacher in high school. I loved programming and she loaned me one of the school calculators (TI-80). I wrote a huge complicated (for that simple language and not having a real text editor and the ability to save to a computer) program that did the Quadratic Formula (for solving quadratics).

    I wrote it so that if the solution wasn't an integer, it would hand me the peices in the same form that I would have when I was done solving it by hand.

    I handed in homework with no work and a handwritten copy of the program to the teacher. She liked it, handed it around, and gave me an "A+". :-)


  • I hated group projects. Every academic discipline has them now (especially colleges of Education and Business) with the supposed goal of "teaching the students to work in groups".

    We "learn" how to do this in real life, we don't need the university to do it for us. In real life, you can fire people too, or at least pawn them off on a disadvantaged (doomed) project. In a university setting they happily cruise along thinking that life is going to be easy until they smack into a real job with real responsibilities. Universities do these people no favors by using fake group situations to coddle them.

    The wheel is turning but the hamster is dead.

  • by drix ( 4602 )
    I was just joking, but you aren't even being humorless correctly. I guess code reuse is fine if you wrote it the first time, but the whole underlying point here is that you should be able to use code you've never even seen the internals of before. And you've done that, assuming you've ever written anything in C or C++ or Java or any language that relies on a standard set of libraries. Did you ever dig around in the glibc source to "learn" how printf() really works? I should hope not, because by that logic you'll eventually work your way down to some assembler statements in the kernel. You just used it, because it's to spec and always works and you don't have to have a clue how. And whoever wrote glibc (I wouldn't know, because despite having written literally hundreds of programs based on that library, I've never looked at the source) did the same when making low-level IO calls to the kernel, etc. That's called black-box abstraction, and without grasping that concept a lot of important things in computer science are lost upon you. The logical leap from abstraction is of course code reuse. Hence "i'm not sure what my friend did in this part of the program, but he says to write this and it works so i'm keeping it" is like the highest design principle you, as a computer scientist, can aspire to, assuming your friend writes his code bug-free and to spec.

  • by drix ( 4602 )
    It's called "code reuse" and it's been drilled into our heads since day one. You mean you haven't gotten the old "when engineers want to build a bridge, they don't design the whole thing from scratch" lecture ad nauseum for the past four years? I have, and I'll be a sophmore next year :)

  • There are different techniques for finding plagiarism. I used to work at a University where they used a program to scan Java source files for plagiarism.

    What it did was to concatenate the whole thing into a stream of data; it stripped out comments, indentation, spacing etc. In short, you had a line of elements (it didn't even bother about variable names, so changing 'int i' to 'int x' wouldn't bypass the system). Then, it looked for commonality with other submissions. If a stream of elements of a certain length matched another submission, it flagged it up as a potential plagiarism.

    Very smart and it caught a few people out, despite them having been warned that electronic means were going to be employed. I actually took the course that semester and it was pretty obvious to the lecturer I hadn't plagiarised; I was using C style coding stuff (I think I embedded a calculation in an if statement, IIRC) which he hadn't taught :)

  • The article says not that there were similar phrases, but that, in papers with similar phrases, it turned out that there were significantly larger phrases, and even entire sections, that were all but identical.

    The Prof didn't use the pattern matches on their own, he used them as an indicator of papers to give a closer look.

  • The article implied, that the cheated papers seem to span multiple semesters as well. So at the very least, you should be able to call newer versions of an older paper copies. I think the later students would be hard pressed to claim that they were preparing homework prior to joining the class.
  • Actually, 6 words really isn't all that much. If you have 500 students for 10 years writing on the same subject, you are highly likely to have a few 6-word phrases be the same. There just aren't that many ways to describe the cause of the Civil War, or the tone of 1984, or the application of Turing's writings to modern computing. Then again, I'm sure he was not going on single matchings of 6-word phrases, but multiple occurances of the same.

    Now, I'm not sure that the "corrective feedback mechanism" necessarily worked, or students got better at embelishing to not be caught by a simple computer program, but that's another story.

    -Alison, who is happy to be done with College finally...
  • I used them so that students could teach each other.

    But what if you've got students who are not only weak, but are only in the course to get the subject points and only want a bare pass? Inflicting this kind of person on people who are either a) very strong in the subject, or b) not so inherently strong but are working very hard, is an unfair burden.

    As a TA, I dealt with situations like this all the time. The subject was the second semester of CS, and taken by a lot of engineers who couldn't code to save themselves. The pain and suffering they put their group partners through convinced the department that group projects were *not* a good idea until later on in the course.

    Go you big red fire engine!

  • Exactly how DO you make a lightbulb shine by microwaving it in a cup of water???

    But seriously, how can you expect everyone to come up with a unique expression describing how an airplane wing works? It's pretty cut and dried - this type of crackdown might be appropriate for a creative fiction writing course, but for the hard sciences it's expecting too much. Of course a verbal definition of energy as being equal to "mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light" is going to come out quite similar on different papers.
  • Frankly, I'm skeptical that performing this kind of lexical analysis on source code could be helpful, especially if the class places strong emphasis on good coding style. Maybe a better method is to try what we had at Purdue so many years back...compare the runtimes and memory footprints of each submitted program, and if you get a match between two programs, start the investigation.

    ObJectBridge [sourceforge.net] (GPL'd Java ODMG) needs volunteers.
  • I do have pity for some students, mostly because I'm skeptical about possible false positives. Intuitively, six-word phrases shouldn't match from paper to paper, but what I'm not seeing here is scientific verification that the professor's code can reliably (low false negatives) and accurately (low false positives) tell the difference between two students with similar writing style (on the one hand) and actual plagiarism (on the other). This especially bugs me because I'm left wondering whether the results of the professor's analyzer are being used as evidence against the accused students.

    I'm also concerned that someone might have gotten their hands on the professor's analyzer, and then written a script to alter individual papers in order that the analyzer wouldn't pick it up. (I know this is unlikely, but the point is, without more evidence, I don't know how unlikely this is.)

    Please understand, I worked my ass off for my (sometimes admittedly miserable) grades and I'd love to see cheaters strung up by their feet and used as pinatas. I'd just like to make absolutely positively sure that they cheated before it happens.

    ObJectBridge [sourceforge.net] (GPL'd Java ODMG) needs volunteers.

  • Whoops, despite "plain text" on my last submission, Slashdot removed the words I put in angle-brackets as unknown tags. What I meant to say was:

    See BAR for your grade (on Foo's program)
    See FOO for your grade (on Bar's program)
  • Although there is a catch22 on this. In programming, if you get stuck, you need help. There are two places to turn usually.

    1) Look on the web for some sample code that is doing what you need to do.
    2) talk to a friend to figure out how to do it.

    Either way, you are going to end up with code that looks like another bit of code. There are only SO many ways to code a certain algorithm. Just because two people in this case happened to, for example, code the same bug into their software doesn't mean they cheated.

    It can mean that they collaborated, or one tried to help the other out with the basic concepts, and the other got the same flawed idea and implemented it in the same flawed way.
  • Maybe I missed something. I don't know how performing a pattern match on Term Papers in order to identify cheaters relates to the "community of trust"

    Actually, it relates quite closely to it - by driving out the cheaters, the students, and future employers will know that they can trust the degrees and professed knowlege of the graduates in a field.

    If an employer hires some Computer Science graduates from University X, and they all turn out to be incompetant cheaters, who plagerized their way through their degrees, then that employer will no longer trust Computer Science degrees from University X - they've seen that the degree in question is meaningless. Other students in the meantime, see cheaters getting good marks, and figure "Why should I bother working, that person cheated, and they got away with it." - Then the problem gets worse, because the students no longer trust the faculty to reward hard work and knowlege. If that pattern repeats, word spreads around, and eventually, no-one will hire people with Comp.Sci. degrees from University X, because the community no longer trusts them. Then, nobody will bother taking that degree, because you get nothing out of it anyways, so the department gets closed down. Thus, by not bothering to try and stop cheaters, the department becomes untrustworthy, and ceases to exist.

    Asside from that, I do much the same thing myself, and got to fail one student, and have another thrown out of the University just this past semester. (I submitted the last of the paperwork for it an hour ago.) Strangely enough, those of my students who know that someone is being thrown out for cheating are quite happy about it - it makes them feel that their own hard work and studying was worth the effort they put into it.

    Incidentally, the methods I used mostly involved copying sections of student's projects into the search box on Google [google.com], - I got perfect matches on both of the cheater's projects. The other part to catch cheaters was the fact that I had about 16 different tests scattered around the class during test time, with minor changes like different numbers, order of multiple choice questions & their answers, and different HTML code for the relevant section of the test. Since nobody had the same test as the people beside them, it was really easy to catch the guy who copied answers from the one beside him - his answers weren't related to his questions, but if he'd been doing test number 7 instead, he'd have had perfect... strange, eh? It makes for a bit more time marking, but in the end, it's worth it.

  • ... you die by the sword.

    I don't have one bit of pity for the students.

  • And of course it's difficult for someone who copied a paper to apply their own acrostic.

    But the real point is, if you have no idea that you are being copied, you have no reason to go the the extra trouble of watermarking. And since you don't know when the copying is happening, you need to have each version watermarked. And you don't really feel as if you have an excessive amount of spare time. Certainly not extra time that you want to spend writing papers. So this precaution comes at a high cost.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Is on-line at www.findsame.com [findsame.com]. You may run any piece of text or document through it and find out from where on the web they have used material. The side-by-side view simply rocks.

    One interesting note as to the usefulness of this tool is that it can be used both ways: you can find the cheaters, but cheaters can now change their material just so to avoid getting caught.


  • I'm all for encouraging teamwork while at the same time discouraging verbatim copying... up to a point. In the real world you want to borrow as much as you can without limiting yourself to that. So it is a matter of how much you can lift and still add something. So verbatim copying isn't per-se bad... but you'd better be able to add something beyond that. That is where value is added. Sometimes the "good enough" is the enemy of the great. But sometimes the "great" is the enemy of the good enough. The hard part is deciding on what is important. The important is worth putting the effort for the great on, the unimportant, it is a waste to do more than the good enough for. There are only so many hours in the day, and deciding what you put forth your effort on is often the most important thing in the real world.

  • I've heard of people flunking or getting a D in CSI@RPI ... if you can't get an A or a B, then you don't belong at RPI. Period.

    Guess it's my turn for "RPI TAing experience."

    CS I is required for virtually everyone on campus (at least it was when I was there, '91-'95. I undergrad TAed CS I for my last two semesters). People who were business majors (read: hockey players) or pre-med (6-year accelerated program with Albany Med) had to take a course which went pretty in-depth in C. I wouldn't expect an automatic A or B for those people; they aren't (computer) geeks. You haven't really taught a programming language until you've tried teaching pointer arithmatic to a hockey player ;-) Some were good; some clearly just wanted to get through the course.

    The number of cheaters in CS I is astounding. Ever since they made it a requirement and started putting everyone through it, the quality of CS@RPI has declined. Period.

    I'm not excusing cheating in CS I, but I don't think you can judge the quality of RPI's CS dept by CS I, either. It'd be like judging a school's math department by the performance of the remedial algebra class.

    Personally, I think the changes made to the curriculum in '94 were a serious mistake; everyone should have to suffer though two semesters of data structures and program proving ;-)


  • > What about in the real world where coding is always done in groups???

    The real world can be remarkably like school sometimes. I remember one real-world project where I literally hid from a cow-orker for several weeks, so I could actually get the project done by the time it was needed.

    > Fret not, because the good coders are often recognised rather quickly, and are the first to be promoted.

    Not in my experience. I have never worked in any environment where there was anything approaching a concensus that the best programmers got the best pay.

    Usually, the dumb fucks make the rounds of the experts until someone tells them how to fix the problem (if only to get the DF out of their hair), and then the dummy makes a bee-line for the supervisor's office so he can announce his "discovery" of the problem.

    But perhaps Joe Supervisor does see through this nonsense; usually the good programmers get assigned about five times as much responsibility, and get 2-3% more pay in compensation.

  • Is this any harder in the "real world" than it was in school? Nope. The internet is out there for everybody, and it's now just too hard to track everyone's work in a foolproof way

    You don't understand. In a school you have to prove something about yourself, viz. that you have acquired some knowledge. In the real world nobody really cares about what knowledge happens to sit inside your head. In the real world people care about getting things done and if you can do things by getting stuff off the net, more power to you.

    If someone handed you one and it looked real, would you call the university to verify that it was real? No, you'd say "wow, MIT!" and hire him/her.

    Heh. Haven't worked for large companies, have you? A mom-and-pop shop might not check, but a big corp *will* check, and it will check your previous jobs, and dates on them, and etc. etc.

  • However, as a UVa Alum who has his fair share of bitterness as well (and most certainly DOESN'T call the school "The University", "Mr. Jefferson's School", or any of that bunk, I will defend the honor system. Sure, every university has one but is it so ridiculous not to expect honorable behavior on the part of students much less your average citizen?

    Fine, PHYS 106 is a gut. Does that in any way lend any more credence to cheating in it? I think not.

    Tell me, what's wrong with requiring honorable behavior? What's wrong with sanctioning those people who don't live their lives ethically?
  • First, I'd like to point out that the article does not clearly indicate that the students accused of cheating are necessarily currently taking the class. That is to say that I don't believe that 122 of 500 students in a particular class cheated but that 122 of 1500 cheated. Still, 1 in 15 is pretty pathetic.

    Now, I attended UVa (granted it was several years ago now) and have been on an honor jury so I can speak a little to the system.

    I can't recall for certain if UVa even HAS a statute of limitations on honor violation accusations. In other words, it doesn't matter if you are currently in a class, have recently taken a class, or already graduated. I believe that students have even had their degrees revoked after graduation due to past honor violations. In addition, if memory serves, the UVa honor system still technically applies to an alum beyond the scope of the University as well.

    Also, from my experience, honor jury members are as cautious as the Post article suggests. After all, someone's entire college career is at risk.

  • If the University system has little enough regard for its students to place them in a classroom with 200 peers, where the professor is TELEVISED in, where they don't have an opportunity to interact (or maybe even MEET) the professor, why is the professor surprised that the students didn't bother to do all their own work?

    I've got two problems with this article.

    1) The degree to which the papers are similar seems to have been totally ignored. If I find a clever turn of phrase in a textbook, it's entirely possible that it will turn up in a document I'm writing, maybe even for another class. What EXACTLY has been plagiarized? A sentence? A paragraph? An entire paper? I've used the word "the" enormous numbers of times, and I've never cited it once. I have no idea WHO I'd cite to begin with...

    2) Using this as a last-minute "Gotcha" for graduating students is absolutely despicable. I'm not proposing that there should be a statute of limitations on academic dishonesty, but to tell a graduating senior "Oh yes, by the way, for the last three weeks of class you're going to have to defend your academic integrity by proving that you didn't cheat." How is this reasonable? What recourse does a student have? Why should the student have been allowed to enroll (and pay for) seven more semesters of school, after "plagiarizing" a Freshman physics paper? It seems to me that this is unjust.

    Hell...I dunno...it just seems like an awfully stinky deal to me.
  • "There are always stories of files being kept of old papers," Bloomfield said, "but I had never heard of it being made real."

    Apparently Mr. Bloomfield never saw the upstairs closet of any fraternity. Our "files" were crappy and we still had hundreds of papers and class notes going back a decade. Some houses have huge libraries organized by class and professor.

  • "This article is a good illustration of the failures of the current university system."

    Let me draw your attention to a factor no-one seems to have commented on here so far.

    The article relies on two unfounded assumptions: one, that choice of identical phrases means plagiarism, and two, that there is some permissible proportion (NOTE: *unnamed*) which this instance supposedly exceeds.

    There is a vast difference between plagiarism, being the original author of a piece (which is one reason correctly picked up on) and everyone having permitted access to a common source.

    Let's look at this another way. You get me 20 school kids with a homework assignment: provide free buses for them to get to the library as well. Now say what amount of `identical phrases' you can *expect* back - because they all cheated? Because exactly half of them did? Or, just perhaps, because they all went to the library and had a look at the same books, one after another.

    s/library/internet/, now re-run the above program.

    I suggest realizing where the article excesses on hype and where it jumps to conclusions are good things to be doing right now, especially if you're a professor at the university in question.
    .|` Clouds cross the black moonlight,
  • "The funny thing is, this is plagiarism!"

    Well, as you go on to say, it *might* be, it doesn't have to be.

    If I were to feel inclined to write a paper tomorrow, I'd go to the library, get a list of resources, maybe photocopy interesting pages, go home, crank up Xemacs and start typing. And I'd be using a regular method to cite all the authors I could, wherever possible - either footnotes or parentheses, one style or the other.
    My point is, there are only a finite number of styles. If you were to take a sentence such as `well could they say they had an annus horribilis', for example, then bounce around the number of ways you can re-say that same meaning amongst 500-700 odd people, you could expect a 9-word phrase to be identical in large numbers of these texts; more so if they'd had access to a record of me saying it in a library book.

    Anyway, this deviates somewhat. My point was that the article is making a massive jump to a conclusion that it needn't do, except for publicity purposes. I hope the professor has more sense.
    .|` Clouds cross the black moonlight,
  • When I was in school I absolutely hated group discussions and group work. I was not paying $20,000 a year to hear the opinions and thoughts f a bunch of uneducated morons like myself--I was trying to cease being an uneducated moron and paying for the thoughts of someone who actually knew what he was talking about.
  • Exactly how DO you make a lightbulb shine by microwaving it in a cup of water???

    I haven't tried it with an incandescent bulb (I wouldn't expect that to work), but it's quite easy with a neon bulb, with or without the water. (I suspect the water was just added to ensure that the magnetron had some significant energy sink while the class filed past and looked through the window in the door - otherwise you could burn it out fairly quickly...)
  • Of course the program isn't making the accusation. It's only doing pattern matches that MIGHT indicate cheating, after which it will require a human to read over the actual papers to see if its really cheating, or just an unlikely coincidence that a 6 word phrase matched. All the program does is eliminate those that while they might be cheaters, they at least had enough sense to do some paraphrasing.

    Ultimately that would be the most dangerous type of program. A program that can take any document and paraphrase it randomly to result in an entirely new document that covers the same information. At the simplest level, a language parser that isn't much more than a glorified word substitution program could be effective. At the more complex level (for reorganizing the entire paper from the outline down) would require fairly sufficient AI to accomplish. THAT would be a fun project though. 500 students could turn in the same paper on the same topic and it would be nearly impossible to accuse any of them of cheating. :)

  • I'm pretty sure the university gave fair enough warning. I remember when I went through orientation in college they gave us a pretty extensive explaination of what constituted cheating and what would happen if we were caught. In addition, most of the individual instructors brought the issue up briefly at the beginning of the semester. Of course, each class had a somewhat different definition of what constituted cheating. Group work was generally not frowned upon, expecially in those classes where homework was more or less optional or only counted for a small percentage of the final grade.

    Still, acedemic dishonesty was explained quite thouroughly, and I'm sure the university in question was not timid in explaining it either. There may be an "Honor Code" but an honor code requires that you're honest or the system falls apart. Salting the system from time to time doesn't degrade it. Its unnecessary to warn the students that they're going to check for cheating, they shouldn't be cheating in the first place.

    And there's a lot to be said about making examples out of others. It only helps to keep the others honest. :)


    Wait just a damn minute.....


  • So a student is doing badly in a class, and really needs to Ace the final to get by.

    The professor hands out the test, and the student is blown away. No possible way to pass this test, much less ace it. So the student thinks about it for a while, and eventually pulls out a $100 bill, attaches it to the test, and writes "$100 = 100 points = I pass" at the top of the paper. Having done so, the exam is turned in.

    Next week, the exam is returned, and attached is a $50 bill and a note that says "$50 = 50 points = you fail".

  • is that this was for a 1500 word essay. it's not like it's hard to come up with 1500 words about some everyday example of physics in action.

    these people are in college, if they can't come up with 1500 words about something that easy, they deserve to fail the class.
  • describing how an airplane wing works. It's pretty cut and dried

    Ok, how does it work?

    And before you say "Bernoulli's effect", consider that planes can fly upside down. If Bernoulli's effect was the cause, the plane would fall to earth rapidly when flying upside down.


  • Umm, were you in my class? Somehow, I doubt it.

    The caring students didn't help the uncaring.

    They didn't? Gee, I suppose watching them do exactly that was a figment of my imagination?

    simply because you don't really understand something until you have to teach it to someone else

    Another gross misconception; an academic cliche if you will. Every time I hear that my brain translates it into proper English: "Your professor is lazy."

    Methinks you've never done much teaching. Someday maybe you will, but until then trust those of us who do it for a living. How do I know this? Simple: I see it in myself, and in the strong students in my class. (And if you think I was being lazy, it took far more effort for me to create the projects than a simple lecture would have taken me.)

    I was asked far better questions by the students who helped others

    That's because we know what you want. We ask hard questions because it will get us a good grade,

    Not in my class it doesn't. I have no grade for class participation and my grades are totally numerical. Try again.

    I learned the least from group think pseudo-philosopher teachers with an agenda other than that of teaching the subject at hand.

    So, a group project focusing on the relationship between the wavefunction and probability density, or another to come up with the spectrum of a hypothetical system is "group-think pseudo-philosophy"? Ok, whatever you think.

    I realize you don't much like group projects. Some people don't. But perhaps you're so busy tarring them with a wide brush you never actually consider they might be a bit different from your experience?


  • "...I've found it much easier to do in a real job because everyone (me included) is prepared to tolerate other people's ideas when it won't mean the plummetting of a good grade"

    And here we see why a lot of commercial software sucks. With school, it's the grade that suffers. In the real job, it's the product.

    The difference is that a grade is on a permanent record. A goofy product gets sold anyway with comparatively little accountability.

    If you cannot teach someone else concepts presented in an undergraduate (or high school) environment, chances are (a) they had a bad teacher and/or (b) they do not have the proper prerequisites for the class. If a person appears to have the knowledge required to be admitted to a particular course, the fact that they cannot be taught a concept invariably points to the instructor.

    Never attribute to stupidity what can be explained by an elephantine ego and an unwillingness to find an appropriate metaphor.

    Most of the time I find a frustration in teaching others to be a symptom of what I like to call "lifelong geek syndrome." This means that some poeple have know something for so long, they have forgotten what it was like to first learn it. I have a hard time remembering what it was like not knowing immediately what a for-loop or a while-loop look like, how they work, and what they are for. This does not absolve me of the responsibility of showing compassion when someone new to the topic ends up working with me on a project (which happens a lot in a web development environment).

    Compassion does not mean passing off the busy work or mundane tasks. This helps no one. If they do substandard work because of lack of skills, the mundane tasks will show this and reflect on others. If the person really can't hack it, you need to check the prereqs. If they haven't got the prereqs, YOU ARE NOT DOING THEM OR ANYONE ELSE A FAVOR BY CARRYING THEM. If they have got the prereqs, a little extra care can go a long way. If they have the prereqs and no amount of effort on their part is taking them anywhere, the prereqs probably need to be checked.

    Sometimes people have to fail in order to shift gears. If they don't shift gears, I don't want them coding my software.
  • Having studied both math and physics to the graduate level, the need for assistance varies with the level of the material.

    First-year calculus is baby math. Computer assistance can help many students learn the concepts, but it's not really necessary.

    But by the time you hit the highest math most engineering students see - vector analysis, matrix theory, differential equations, computers become valuable tools even if they do nothing but keep everything neat and tidy. If someone thinks it's cheating for the computer to do this rote stuff, I DEMAND that they say the same thing about all of those cheating students using MS Office instead of quill pens - the former includes spelling checkers, grammar checkers, a thesaurus and dictionary, etc.

    (I do have concerns about these programs being used to actually solve the problem, but most (all?) can be used in an "editor" type mode.)

    When you get into the heavy math - PDQ with boundary conditions, special functions, and (shudder) tensor analysis, you're at the point where you *will* be shelling out big bucks for your own copy of thick reference books. You can do this by hand (I did), but you can easily spend 30 minutes at each step just copying the information from one step to the next, carefully checking that you didn't transpose entries, convert a contravariant index to a covariant one, etc.

    As an aside, I actually revisited my PDQ boundary problem class 15 years later in a parallel computing class. I had done the Fourier transforms analytically before, and could only handle very limited forcing functions. Doing it numerically (with FFTs) I could handle a much broader range of problem but I was the only person in the class who had a clue what was going on.

    I'm a strong believer in the value of analytical techniques for getting the deep insights, but at the same time I think it's not an exaggeration to say that a quarter of my college experience was wasted in mindless rote work. At that time, a "small computer" was still a departmental PDP11/780, so it was probably unavoidable. But not today.
  • "One of the things we have not yet understood is the power and potential rascality of the Internet," said Spanish professor Gies, a former faculty senate president. "I don't think we've trained students yet about what is fair and not fair."


    You mean to tell me that these individuals have gone through grade school, gone through middle school, gone through high school, and now are adults in a university, and yet they still don't know the difference between what is right and what is wrong? Betweeen what is accepted and what is forbidden?

    I don't have a university diploma/degree - but I damn well know and learned how to write a paper in high school, what was considered right and wrong, what was plagiarism and what was quoting a source, footnotes and a bibliography. You know, it is all part of the "standing on the shoulders of giants" (Newton) thing!

    Those that have stooped to this level should be expelled: They have demonstrated a lack of disregard and respect for thier fellow man. They are still children, not worthy of attending university, nor a degree.

    I can't see any justification - especially for the class in which it occurred. I understand that it is a common thing in all classes, but in this class - damn! - can you say bone-head physics? Not that it wouldn't be educational (heck, it sounds like a fun class, actually), but with that kind of class one should be able to easily describe the physics and such of common devices, off the top of thier head, with few if any references (now, of course, getting it to 1500 words could be a chore, but just have a few cited examples - key word "cited")...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • That's the key part about avoiding plagiarism - you noted the outside sources that you used, rather than trying to skate by as if it was all your own work. Score one for the prof...

    Copy one person, it's plagiarism. Copy many, it's research.

  • Just read this article [thecrimson.com]

    Call it the Big Brother of introductory computer science courses--always watching, anticipating students' every move, a little mysterious.

    Every year, students in Computer Science 50: "Introduction to Computer Science" (CS50) debate whether the course's instructors really use a special program to weed out cheaters and plagiarists.

    But the software is real, instructors say--and it is highly effective in tracking cheating.

    "I always have students who say to me, 'Do you really have a software that checks for cheating?'" says Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science Stuart M. Sheiber, who teaches CS50. "They think we're making this up to put the fear of God in them."

    (more at the link)

  • ...for ease of memorization. Each stanza beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet, for example. Makes reciting several pages' worth a lot easier when you won't have a printing press for several centuries.

    Now that would be an interesting use of acrostics in a term paper. "Prof, I can prove that this paper is mine. Here, follow along while I recite it from memory..."

  • I'll grant that much (most) of what takes place here on /. is pretty trite, but at least the people are intelligent and can get through the day without referencing Survivor...

    I've never seen Survivor. Sorry, you'll have to explain this one.

  • Not really. Here is why:

    Lets assume that this testing for cheats is done and that everyone knows it (ie, it's mentioned once per semester).

    This would mean that (as at the end of the article) very few people would cheat this way.

    For each set of "matches":
    If paper(s) match against a paper from a previous year or semester, then it's obvious that this current student is cheating.
    If the paper(s) match only in the current semester, bring both of the students, and interview them seperately. It would be fairly easy to ask questions that would make it obvious that he or she cheated. Why? Because people cheat to be lazy. If they could provide the answers off the top of their head, they'd not need to cheat.
    For the really odd case that both answer questions equally well, then you'd either have to mark it down for both or let them go. Your choice (I'd make it depend on whether they both seemed well versed let 'em go, else get 'em both in trouble).

    This process is made easier if one has records of prior cheating or potential cheating.


  • by The Famous Brett Wat ( 12688 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @06:00PM (#234561) Homepage Journal
    Far simpler would be to use an acrostic. Acrostics, for those of you not in the know, are where the first letters of sentences or lines form other words, or adhere to some special pattern. Many authors have used this: Lewis Carroll is one famous example, and even one of the Psalms in the Bible is an acrostic. Of course, you have to make sure that your acrostic is embedded in such a way that it will be copied by the plagiarist, unnoticed. Usually it's not all that hard to "watermark" your work in this manner. See this post for an example of a reasonably subtle acrostic.
  • by Bob Dobbs ( 21396 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:34PM (#234562)
    The honor system at UVA is student run so the folks that get the money don't control it (in theory, there's always possibily of behind the scenes manipulation by the suits).

  • by Khelder ( 34398 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @01:54PM (#234563)
    Certainly only punishing the guilty is important, but in this case I'm not worried. The standard of proof in an honor trial at UVa is "beyond a shadow of a doubt." I was on an honor trial once and the jurors, judge, and advocates take it all very seriously. I think conviction of innocent people is very rare.
  • by edremy ( 36408 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:48PM (#234564) Journal

    Every academic discipline has them now (especially colleges of Education and Business) with the supposed goal of "teaching the students to work in groups".

    Speaking as a professor who introduced group projects into his PChem course this semester, I think you miss the real point of them.

    I used them so that students could teach each other. I wanted the strong students to help the weak, simply because you don't really understand something until you have to teach it to someone else.

    Did the weak students benefit from the stronger ones helping them? Of course. But IMHO the strong students benefit even more: I was asked far better questions by the students who helped others.


  • by Wog ( 58146 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:17PM (#234565)
    Even though I'm only about to finish up high school, this has helped me to make the right choices about copying. Whenever the temptation to copy something directly from the internet, or a book, the thought crosses my mind: "Will this come back to haunt me later?" Not that it's possible now, but eventually computers will be fast enough, programs inteligent enough, storage cheap enough, that it won't be an unthinkable task to scan and OCR all my past work. How easy would it be, then, to compare everything I've done with copies of the works of others? I can easily imagine a scenario where an exectutive/polititian/whatever makes some enemies, who decide to run this check. Can't you see it as well? Will we, in a decade or so, start seeing tabloids announcing that a certain presidential candidate copied his way through college? Walk the straight and narrow - if for no other reason than to prevent future retribution.
  • by e-Motion ( 126926 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:11PM (#234566)

    One of the CS professors at the university I attended was incredibly paranoid about cheaters. He wrote a similar program for scanning different students' submitted source code and flagging those that seemed similar. It's a pretty smart thing to do, if you ask me. Heck, I even know someone who got caught by it. I'm not sure how effective it was in general.

  • by ekrout ( 139379 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:32PM (#234567) Journal
    Although I'm a Computer Science & Engineering major, I still have to write -- programs, that is. I believe that there is at least one professor at my school that uses a program s/he created to scan through all of the source code of each student for every project. It is set-up to find similar styles among students (so that even if student A copies student B's entire program and then changes the variables, it still sets off an "alarm" because they're written in an identical manner).

    Regardless, though, receiving a poor grade on any type of project is a million times better than copying someone else's work, even if you don't get caught.

    I don't cheat and I don't steal, which is common sense in my mind, but unfortunately, not in the minds of many other students.

  • by stain ain ( 151381 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @04:20PM (#234568)
    I am an EE student and have been working in group for many years now. Usually on labs (2 people, 3 at most) were you need to get some results at the end of the session.
    I can tell you that still now, I am amazed on how well it works, many many times it happens that before the LAB session neither my partner(s) nor me have any clue on how to do it and don't feel capable of getting anything; but it happens very often that the pieces of knowledge that we both have add up to the knowledge needed to solve the given problem.
    At the end, we get a good solution, and we both learned from each other.

    Also I've been working in group projects and I really think it is worth it, usually they require quite a lof of thinking (and not easy) and sharing your thoughts and explaining your points helps in understanding better the problem and reaching a right solution; many times one thinks in one way about a problem, and when sharing the ideas with your group some difficulties in your reasoning are found, or improvements, or maybe a new different approach.

    The main importance of group working is that the strong points of all the partners are added together.
    Of course that there are drawbacks: the main beeing having bad group partners that are not at the same level than the others, then they cannot add to the group.
  • by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:15PM (#234569)
    Maybe students should try and claim "First Pos..er..Paper"?
  • by jesterzog ( 189797 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @02:16PM (#234570) Homepage Journal

    As I'm writing this, I'm currently a graduate student working as one of two currently employed by the university who are qualified to mark assignments in what is a popular course. From this perspective, group projects are great, because I only have to mark 1/3 as many assignments. My experience with actually working in a group as a learning experience is the opposite, though.

    To date I've been in groups from both points of views. In computer science groups, I've been a very strong member of the group, and in some cases I've been a very weak group member. In both situations, I've hated it.

    In university, people traditionally get assessed individually. Whether working in groups or not, everyone's primary aim is to get good marks for themselves. This is completely opposite from what group work implies.

    The real world has teams everywhere. Realistically, it takes years for a really good team to form, where everyone's strengths and weaknesses are used efficiently and people work together. In the real world though, people aren't paying to be fairly assessed. In contrast, they're paid to work with other people. And there's a reasonable chance that if they're dragging other people along, they can leave the job or at least will eventually get reassigned - without effectively losing anything.

    In an student team though, you're effectively thrown into a group and given about a week to work out each other's strengths and weaknesses. Then you're required to fight to the death about the best way to get the job done instead of being told by a team leader of some sort who takes responsiility (since everyone's geared towards their own individual assessment). Once a path's chosen at the expense of everyone else's ideals, there's not much option to change it down the track.

    When I've been a strong member in a group, the weak members are often just completely left behind. Right now I'm working in a group of four. Person 1 has been sick for the last five weeks (the entire project so far), person 2 has no clue whatsoever about how to do anything, and most of everything's been done by person 3 and myself.

    I'll ignore the sick person for now. The second person is a very nice guy, but he's just not grasping the subject at all, for as much as he's trying. He's repeatedly asking how things work, and no matter how much I explain, he simply doesn't get it, and in the process anything that he does related to contributions is likely to drag the mark down or break everyone else's code if it's not completely overhauled and rewritten beyond his understanding before it's used. Effectively, he's a liability. The group mark gets unfairly distributed to him, and our marks get dragged down because of him.

    Having said that, I can sympathise with him completely because I've been in the same sort of position with other subjects in other courses. A couple of times I've ended up in groups where the other members are completely ahead of me, or think about problems in completely different ways. It's a really awkward position to be in, knowing that you're piggybacking on what might be a good mark, and not being able to contribute anything useful.

    In these situations, strong students don't benefit at all, because of the typical assessment system. They end up with a proportionally unfair workload, doing their bit and redoing other people's bit so their grade won't suffer. Weak students don't benefit either - they just end up in a sea of not having a clue. If anything they might end up doing the drudgery work like writeups. Even then, it's really hard to find useful drudgery work.

    Usually, the only way groups can work effectively when people can actually learn from each other, is when they're evenly matched - and that's a very unusual situation.

    When I'm in a weak-student position, I've benefitted a lot more from working with other relatively weak students who are working through and figuring out the same problems that I am. The mark might not be as good, but it's more representative for everyone concerned and I feel much better about it as well as understanding more.

    Asking good students is perfectly okay within reason, but it's unrealistic to expect them to work as tutors for weak students at the expense of their own work. From a strong student perspective, it gets really tedious answering the types of questions all the time, and often it doesn't help anyway, because students aren't trained teachers.

    With respect to the idea that being able to work in groups is a good thing, I have trouble understanding what use it is to teach this in an academic environment. That is unless or until the assessment system is completely overhauled.

    There's almost nothing that can be learned in 12 weeks (give or take) of infighting about the best way to do something. This is easy enough to pick up in a real job, and in many respects I've found it much easier to do in a real job because everyone (me included) is prepared to tolerate other people's ideas when it won't mean the plummetting of a good grade. Such group dynamics exercises would be better left to psychology and sociology subjects.

  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @04:22PM (#234571)
    I ran all of the posts through a plagiarism check and found most of them can be failed for copying, "as a former [degree] [student/major]".

    As Eric wrote in his post [slashdot.org], from a different perspective, anything we get from a computer we tend to treat as absolute fact. It is all to easy to find some connection that implies plagiarism.

    There's a great statistic on birthdays. How many people do you think you'd need to have in a room before the odds were in favour of two of them having the same birthday? About 365/2=182? Actually about 30.

    In a new year's science lecture on the BBC, a lecturer asked the left half of a room of 1024(ish) people to think heads, the other half tails. He flipped a coin and discounted the half that got it wrong. He carried on subdividing until he got to one who got it right ten times.

    The problem is that most people don't realise how common some probabilities really are. In the first group of 30 (about a class size), "two of them clearly copied each other's birthdays!" In the second group, "no one can guess a coin correctly ten times in a row, he clearly went forward in time and copied what the coin was going to do - or the coin was rigged and he was told the answers!"

    These are amusing, semi-trivial examples but they demonstrate the point that putting all of your convictions behind apparently conclusive numbers is flawed. Six word sequences can only be an indicator of cheating, not conclusive proof. All a six word phrase may really be showing you is that two students come from the same area and share the same turns of speach or that they were both equally influenced by something that was presented in a lecture.

    I don't mean to maintain that statistical analysis is impossible, simply that it is all too easy to put too much weight behind it. Add that to the very valid point that in two identical papers, you may only have one cheat and one victim [slashdot.org], expelling based on the system seems very flawed.

  • by canning ( 228134 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:12PM (#234572) Homepage
    I think technology really is a double-edged sword when it comes to cheating. The means for detecting cheating are catching up with the means for cheating.

    Think a program like this will send a wake-up call to those students who have forgotten what the community of trust is all about.

    Technology has made some of the easy ways out very seductive and blurred the lines between what's acceptable and what's not. Cheating is on a gray scale. Things come rolling into your computer, and you feel ownership of them even if you don't own them.

    And that's what I think.

    Murphy's Law of Copiers

  • by hillct ( 230132 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:25PM (#234573) Homepage Journal
    I once had a vary forward thinking economics professor who, gave me the assignment of calculating valuations of certain options contracts. I turned in the work and (honestly) included the URLs to three options valuation calculators I had found on the web. He actually found this to be acceptable because in his view, the goal (in the non-academic arena anyway) is to get correct answer, not to prove that you can trudge through laborious equasions. - note that this was about 6 years ago.

  • From the article:
    Added David T. Gies, a longtime Spanish professor: "It will send a wake-up call to those students who have forgotten what the community of trust is all about."
    Maybe I missed something. I don't know how performing a pattern match on Term Papers in order to identify cheaters relates to the "community of trust"i> .


  • by einhverfr ( 238914 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `srevart.sirhc'> on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @06:44PM (#234575) Homepage Journal
    Speaking as a prof, I ban them. Indeed, I ban all calculators.

    Good for you. Speaking as an astrologer, I knwo the value in this. I use a calculator for my astrology more often than a computer program because I have found that I understand how it works much better and can theneasily spot data entry errors with regard to computer programs.

    All because I can think through the laborious calculations. (about 5 min. with calculator, 3 hrs by hand, less than 1 sec. with a computer). In this case the abilit yto set up the tables by hand is a tremendous asset. I wonder if I could do this if I had not learned to do it without a computer....

    However, I am more prone to stupid errors by hand than I am with a calculator. The essence is not that I do not understand the problems (I can help those who are strugling to improve their grades drastically) but rather than little bits get flipped somewhere along the line, so to speak. So I learn best with a calculator OR forced to write my mathematics programs from scratch.

    There are two sides to the coin in this case, I think.

  • by TrollFeeder ( 396384 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:22PM (#234576) Homepage
    I read your commment, and then I read your sig.

    That's irony.

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house"

  • by xyzzy ( 10685 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:18PM (#234577) Homepage
    He had to write a program to do this?

    For about 3 years, I TA-ed an intro-level CS class that tought some rudimentary Pascal programming. It was a computer literacy course, so the bar wasn't high, and it wasn't for majors.

    In sections of 50+ kids, I regularly found people who had copped each other's (sometimes non-working!!!!) programs, right down to variable names, etc. How lazy could you get! And this, despite the fact that if they had cheated with someone in one of the other 4 TA's sections they would never have been caught. I never had to diff anything -- you could just tell.

    When I found someone doing this, I would hand the printouts back with the following written on them:

    See for your grade (on Foo's program)
    See for your grade (on Bar's program)

    They got the point. :-)
  • by OWJones ( 11633 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:14PM (#234578)

    As a UVa grad, let me point out that the class in question here is generally regarded as a complete "gut" class. The large majority of students taking it are either athletes or people who just need a basic physics class to get their degree. It doesn't surprise me at all to hear that a large number of students got buster in that class.

    Oh, and the honor system is regarded by many to be much of a joke, too. This really sucks for the students that got busted, but if they're going to cheat that blatantly in what's essentially a "gimme" class, they deserve every little bit that's coming to them. And it's always nice to see the honor code coming under scrutiny instead of simply being exhaulted as the greatest thing since sliced bread. :)

    -jdm, (I'm not a bitter grad ... why do you ask?) :)

  • by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:23PM (#234579)
    Maybe I missed something. I don't know how performing a pattern match on Term Papers in order to identify cheaters relates to the "community of trust".

    Well, it wouldn't relate to a community of blind, unquestioning (and arguably in this case, naive) trust, but how it relates to a community of earned trust seems fairly obvious to me.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @03:22PM (#234580) Homepage Journal

    Indeed, we've seen many cases here where the person whose work was copied ends up in a situation where they have to prove their own innocence.

    Sounds like a job for watermark technology.

    "As you can see, prof, if you take any paragraph of my paper and checksum it and rad-50 decode it, you get the word SLOPPY. That's why I had to use the strange word 'strategery' in the 5th sentence; it was the only way I could make the checksum come out right. Let's see the bad kid who sits next to me, who isn't named Sloppy, explain why his paper also has that mathmatical feature."

  • by SoftwareJanitor ( 15983 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @01:07PM (#234581)
    While there is a point where plagiarism can be a bad thing, unfortunately all too often the academic world teaches people that teamwork is cheating, and that is not always a good thing. One of the biggest problems (second in my opinion only to the fact that a large percentage of people in the computer business are functionally near illiterate) is that too many people don't work well in teams.

    Many Hackers have a bent towards solitary work, and often reinvent the wheel more than they need to in the first place. We don't need the educational system encouraging this bad behavior.

    The world of the Internet and open source development is finally providing a way that hackers from around the world can share their work and learn teamwork. This is a good thing.

    While I don't know that the professor that was the subject of this article is really a good example of what I'm talking about, his actions are sure to spur on others to crack the whip and take things too far.

  • by edremy ( 36408 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:56PM (#234582) Journal
    Speaking as a prof, I ban them. Indeed, I ban all calculators.

    I'd rather have the students think about the answer than sit there pushing buttons on the magic box and taking whatever it gives as the truth.


  • by Spyky ( 58290 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @02:10PM (#234583)
    Another problem is also overzelous professors going too far trying to catch cheaters. I am a college student, and I definitely agree that cheating is a major problem, especially in lecture/paper oriented classes like liberal arts. However, professors must be equally cautious in accusing students of cheating. I like this professors system of checking a database of previous papers, but even so, it is very difficult to find who was the original author.

    Some professors aren't so careful, and will accuse students of cheating on a whim. I was so accused after submitting a final paper for a liberal arts class I was taking. The professor thought it was "too good" for me to have written it, and said that I must have copied from some other source. In fact, the entire work was 100% my own, using my own language. I didn't even do any direct research, just wrote a bunch of BS off the top of my head. After discussing the issue with the professor, and he relented and gave me an A-.

    I want to stop students from cheating (and artifically raising the grading standard) as much as anyone, but not at the expense of trust between the student and the professor. Thats why I support systems that log papers submitted and run heuristics checks on them, but students should also be made aware that such systems are in use. I think this will be the necessary disincentive to force students to not cheat.

    Ultimately I think the problem is exacerbated by massive classes (like this 500 student lecture) where the sole requirements for grading are usually a paper or two plus a final exam. If the particular professor who accused me had known me personally, or been at all familiar with the previous papers I had submitted, he wouldn't have been so quick to pass judgement. Huge classes also promote cheating because students know they are far less likely to be caught in such an evironment.

    But thats just my 2 bits.

  • Holy vehement slashdot! I didn't know everyone here was so spittin' mad about cheating. I'm certainly not in favor of it, but I doubt this approach would routinely work, and here's why.

    This particular prof was acting on a report that there was rampant cheating, and he was more or less looking to confirm. That makes sense.

    However, in other fields where it's more text based (like "read these 4 books" instead of "study chapter 3 on partial differentials"), the papers could be excessively similar because they all draw phrases from the same sources.

    Of course, you could argue plagiarism if students are pulling quotes and not citing, but a realistic instructor would realize that the students obviously draw from the assigned texts, and kind of take them as an "implied bibliography."

    Which doesn't make it right to take other people's words and pass them off as your own. But it's so damn common that it passes for decent paper writing at 5/6 of the institutions in this country. While that's depressing, I don't think the kids need to be busted for cheating as much as get some remedial paper writing classes.

    Again, these arugments may not apply to this particular case; these students might indeed deserve expulsion. However, I don't know that the approach is widely applicable.


  • by malfunct ( 120790 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @01:08PM (#234585) Homepage
    Most of the time you CANNOT get a resonable answer out of a calculator without understanding the concept of solving the problem you are working on. The exception to this of course is ripping off programs that just take a few inputs and spit out an answer, but a calculator itself rarely gives you much help, except for not doing the long division incorrectly like I tend to when in a hurry.

    Bottom line is a computer can't think, only calculate extremely quickly and accurately.

    Another note, to discourage calculator use, give partial credit. The calculator program user will have no work so if they have a typo in thier calculations or whatever, they lose 100% of the value of the question where as someone that showed all thier work and got one little step wrong could get nearly full credit. The other way is to write intelligent test questions that require you to think to understand the solution but have easy setup and calculations so that even if the calculator helps you its not on the important stuff. Word problems rock for this purpose.

    Though I must say I pulled off a LOT of B's by heavily using partial credit. Sketch down the first few steps of solving the problem that I could remember and get 75% to 90% credit on the problem even though I had no idea how to actually complete the solution.

  • by Prime Mover ( 149173 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @01:12PM (#234586)
    Greetings, This guy doesn't hold a candle to Phil, Destroyer of Lives. If you were a CS student at RIT in the late 1990's, then you know who I am talking about. He knew all the tricks. He printed out programs, laid them on top of each other and held them up to the light. Sure, they changed the variable names, but the silhouettes looked the same. He also saved programs for four or five semesters and had all sorts of scripts to diff them against each other. He caught people all the time. Luckily, I worked with Phil and wasn't a student of his ;) Eric
  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @01:11PM (#234587) Journal
    Are you kidding?

    I love these guys, and you should too.

    They're the ones who come around the corner every half-hour asking me to explain pointer arithmetic or how a driver interface works.

    I'm the star, they're the droids. Pay is commensurate. If this was an egalitarian industry with no pyramid of skill distribution, we'd all be making low-five-figure salaries, and thinking it was as right as the mid-six we're making now, because our peers would be, too. The broader the competition, the better your superiority stands out. It's better to be one in a million than one in a thousand. You get my drift.

    It will take a few years after you graduate to sort you to your spot in the hierarchy. But you know how the playing field is laid out. Use that to your advantage.

    "U. of Macchiavelli, '84"
  • by Zal42 ( 311906 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:42PM (#234588)
    Excellent point! I have a fond memory of running into my 3rd grade teacher once I was an adult. She actually apologized to me after all those years, because the kid who sat next to me copied from my papers, and she thought it was _I_ who was cheating (I didn't know the kid was copying). She realized her mistake the next year when I wasn't in her class anymore, but the other kid was, and the quality of his work plummetted.

    A potential solution to this would be to simply not punish the ones whose paper got copied -- only the one who plagerized. Sure, some people will get away with "aiding and abetting", but better to a let a few guilty go free than to punish someone who was truly innocent.
  • by dillon_rinker ( 17944 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:40PM (#234589) Homepage
    Those who can't manage, manage managers.
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:12PM (#234590)
    Hope he doesn't analyse my Slashdot posts!

  • by hugg ( 22953 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:26PM (#234591)
    As a former CS major, I must concur. Not only is avoiding doing your own research an act of sloth, but if you are not cognisant enough to PARAPHRASE the purloined material, then you should employ yourself at a fast-food restaurant until you decide you're ready to fill your cup of knowledge at a state university.
  • by E-prospero ( 30242 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @04:05PM (#234592) Homepage
    Group projects in general are worthless.

    I beg to differ. Like it or not, in the real world, you have to deal with other people, and sometimes, other people are dolts. This doesn't change the fact that you have to work with them.

    In surveys of employers, `communications skills' are almost universally listed as the most desirable characteristic of new graduates. Actual technical proficiency usually slips in at number 4 or 5 on the list. Group projects are intended to give practical experience at communicating in and with a group of other people.

    The problem with small group projects is twofold.

    1. Firstly, they have to be simple enough so that four moderately talented people can complete it - that means that one very talented person will be able to complete it. Any small group will usually include one person more talented that the other - this person will pick up the slack of the others to preserve their own mark.

      I was once of a similar opinion as you - given a group project (group of 4 or 5), I would usually end up doing the whole damn thing, and everyone else in the group shared in the good mark: a fact that pissed me off no end. Then I did a _real_ group project - in a group of 60. This was a second year uni project. We had a semester to organise a conference, each write a paper for the conference, peer review the paper between ourselves, and present the paper at the conference. We had to raise funds, organise every aspect of the conference from tea and cookies to keynote address. At the end, we published a 300 page book of proceedings, had it printed. I still have some copies sitting on my shelf.

      A project this big cannot be completed by a single person. This forces you to organise, and work in groups. Rather than trying to finish everyone elses job (which is not feasible), you learn that you have to convince others to do their job.

    2. Secondly, the marking scheme is critical. I can't stress this enough. If your entire group is given a single mark, then your lecturer/tutor is slacking off of their responsibility.

      The best feature of the large project I did was the peer review at the end. Students were asked to assess every other student. These asessments formed a large part of the final grade. Surprisingly, when given the responsibility, students will identify those who are not pulling their weight.

    Group projects, if done properly, can be extremely rewarding. However, if group projects are to succeed, the project needs to be big, the group needs to be big, and the marking scheme needs to be independent.

    A group of people working in concert can acheive much more than a single individual - I would not have been able to publish a book of proceedings by myself. In addition, for the remainder of that degree, the entire class had a great sense of comraderie, as we had all been through something gruelling, and we had done it together.

    Russ %-)

    PS: Any educators who are interested in the project I talked about here; I'm more than happy to advocate student centred learning to those looking to implement it.

  • by devphil ( 51341 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:12PM (#234593) Homepage

    The article says that it takes a six-word phrase to trigger the initial match. That's quite a bit if you think about it; three- and four-word phrases are going to be relatively common, but beyond that...

    It seems to have worked, too:

    Word got out about the honor investigation a week before this semester's term papers were due. When he tested the latest batch, he found almost no plagiarism. "It was a very fast educational process," he said.

    Good corrective feedback mechanism there.

  • by The Queen ( 56621 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:15PM (#234594) Homepage
    As a former English major, I have to agree. Not only is it lazy and slack to skip doing your own research, but if you don't even have the brains to REWORD the stuff you're stealing then you ought to flip burgers for a few years until you decide you're ready to be a real student.

    "Smear'd with gumms of glutenous heat, I touch..." - Comus, John Milton
  • by TomatoMan ( 93630 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:30PM (#234595) Homepage Journal
    This interests me a lot. Joe Cheater cheats on his final exams and graduates - let's say college - on other people's work and with a slippery-at-best grasp of the subject his diploma says he's reached a certain level of comptence/knowledge in.

    Then he goes out into a workplace that expects him to know what his diploma suggests he should. What now? Well, his strategy is going to be either to catch up fast, or keep looking for work to borrow/steal and pass off as his own. Probably the latter, because if the former was an option he probably wouldn't have had to cheat in the first place.

    Is this any harder in the "real world" than it was in school? Nope. The internet is out there for everybody, and it's now just too hard to track everyone's work in a foolproof way. Will he get caught? Maybe eventually - but he's got a pretty good shot at becoming a comfortable PHB too, since so few of us have the energy to verify everything people claim. How hard would it be, for example, to print up a realistic-looking diploma or grad school transcript on a laser printer at Kinko's? If someone handed you one and it looked real, would you call the university to verify that it was real? No, you'd say "wow, MIT!" and hire him/her.

    I used to teach GED classes, and I had students who passed who came back and told me that they had essentially closed their eyes and guessed at the multiple test questions, and done this over and over until they got a passing score. So they were out in the world with the equivalent of a high school diploma, who were barely literate and couldn't add 12+13.

    We can write nasty things about cheaters, but they do it because we're all too lazy to police/stop them or really verify what their diplomas say they can do. The professor in this article was a very rare exception (he sounded like a cool professor, too). As long as people accept paper credentials as proof of ability (IT certification, anyone?), cheaters will keep doing what they do. Why shouldn't they? It's a much faster way to the top, and most of the time, we don't mind that much.

  • by Arctic Fox ( 105204 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:06PM (#234596) Homepage Journal
    "extensively footnote my paper, referring to classmates paper as source...."
  • by StevenMaurer ( 115071 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:19PM (#234597) Homepage
    On the other hand, the cheaters, when they get a job their lousy skills will forever doom them to maintenance programming. :)

    Not at all. The cheaters, having both low coding skills and morals, but an impressive sounding degree, are doomed to become senior managers and CEOs.

    Don't you read Dilbert at all? I assure you it wouldn't be as funny if it wasn't mostly true.

  • by StoryMan ( 130421 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:37PM (#234598)
    Do you "get buster" or "make a buster?"

    I always thought it was the latter -- either "make a buster" or "had a buster". Buster, of course, being synonmous for "fart" in the midwest. Or at least in my specifically midwestern high school where people used to sit in chem and phsyics class in hard plastic chairs and make a lot of loud, long busters.

    Now, lest this post be marked off-topic, I'll say that as a former freshman comp teacher, I found myself spending more time checking search engines for "matching phrases" than I did actually grading and putting comments on student papers.

    What's remarkable about cheaters -- freshmen cheaters in particular -- is that they tend to steal from the most obvious sources. I had one student in a film class filch an entire review from Roger Ebert. The only thing she changed was the byline on the review.

    When confronted -- and I made the confrontation as quick and as business-like as possible -- she threatened to report *me* to the deans for harrassment. I laughed. She stormed out of the empty classrom and, sure enough, the next day I heard from a dean that I'd been "reported."

    I explained the situation to the dean. He was floored by it -- floored by the cheating, the flagrant theft, and then floored finally by the formal report filed by the student.

    I flunked the student. I was contacted by the parents and reported a second time. (I had *driven* the student to cheating because my teaching style was sub-par, said the parents)

    A week or so later, I dutifully trudged down to the dean's office and came face to face with mommy and daddy. They were furious with me. "What was a graduate student doing teaching a class?"

    The dean explained that, well, that was how it was usually done. We all agreed -- myself included -- that grad students weren't *always* the best teachers, but for the most part they were more than adequate and -- oddly enough -- sometimes *more* enthusiastic about the subject matter than their professional peers.

    That was the end of that arguement but not the end of the case. The parents insisted that their daughter was innocent. I said, well, it's kinda hard to claim innocence when I have proof.

    "Proof? What proof?"

    "I have your daughter's paper and Ebert's review."

    That's not proof, they insisted.

    I was confused. I looked at the paper, looked at the review and then wondered aloud: er, what is it then?

    It's proof of nothing, they said. That's not my daughter's paper.

    The dean and I looked at each other.

    Eh? I said.

    The dean explained that, yeah, that *was* their daughter's paper.

    "Did you see her turn that paper in? Did you see her give you that specific paper?"

    I knew where this was going. The dean did, too. But the parents persisted. They wouldn't let this thing rest.

    And on and on ...

    The thing was never really resolved. I personally didn't change the student's 'F'. As far as I was concerned, she flunked my class. But I could never get further confirmation from anyone if, in fact, my 'F' stuck. It was all very insidious.

    Anyway, my point with all this?

    Some students are lazy fuckers with peabrains. Many students are not.

    The lazy fuckers deserve to get caught and flunk.

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:26PM (#234599) Journal

    ...let me just say that anybody who cheats "How Things Work" probably doesn't deserve to be at UVa in the first place. I could not take that course, because I was an EE. The course was considered both redundant and overly simplified for engineering majors.

    However, I would be really surprised if even the most hung-over College of Arts and Science people couldn't at least pull a "gentleman's C" in that course. It's reputation was on par with other offerings such as "Cinema as an art form" and "History of Jazz", aka "History of Guts" if you catch my drift.

    The other thing that non-Wahoos may not have picked up from the article is that there is a "single sanction" honor code at UVa. If you are convicted of cheating, you are expelled. There is no other punishment for "honor violations". The system has been criticized for inflicting its penalty disproportionatly on minorities. The flip side of that is that affirmative action programs encouraged people to enter UVa when they were not prepared. These are the people who will feel most pressured to cheat.

    Of course, that was the way things stood when I graduated eight years ago. I'm sure some aspects of this are different now. OK, probably not, but one can hope.

  • by chipuni ( 156625 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:15PM (#234600) Homepage
    I had been a T.A. in Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. And, indeed, many people were handing in programs that were either exactly the same, or with very slight changes (substituting the variable names, for instance.) On at least two memorable occasions, students handed in programs that had someone else's name on them.

    What's shocking to me is not that people are handing in papers with long portions taken from other papers, but that the school is doing something about it. Even when I pointed out that a student had handed in a paper with a different name, the student got no formal reprimands.

    Universities know where money comes from. I'd be very interested to see any followups to this article.

  • by milo_Gwalthny ( 203233 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @01:50PM (#234601)
    So, a TA is overseeing the final final-exam of the graduating class in the gigantic lecture hall. After the allowed two hours he calls out "pencils down!" Almost all of the students put down their pencils, trudge to the front and deposit their papers in a messy stack. The TA calls out again "pencils down! Anyone who continues will not have their paper accepted!" The rest of the students put down their pencils, trudge to the front and deposit their papers on the stack. Except one, who continue to work on the exam for another fifteen minutes. The he puts down his pencil and trudges to the front.

    The TA looks on bemusedly the whole time. When the student arrives up front, the TA says "I'm not accepting your exam, we finished fifteen minutes ago."

    "Do you know who I am?" says the student.

    "No." says the TA.

    "Do you know who I am?" says the student, "Do you know who I am?"

    "No." says the TA.

    "Good" says the student and sticks his paper in the middle of the stack of papers and walks out of the room.


  • by NathanL ( 248026 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:07PM (#234602)
    I am graduating with a CS degree this June. I have to tell you that about 50% of the people graduating in my class don't deserve a degree. They got it by copying programs from past classes or riding the coat tails of others in "group" projects.

    Do your own work, never have a problem.

  • by Salieri ( 308060 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2001 @12:52PM (#234603)
    As former Jedi master I am, comply I must. Sloth leads to plagiarism, plagiarism leads to trolling, trolling leads to -1! Go to a domain of burgers for two years you must; only then, a student will you be.

  • As a seasoned systems administrator in a college department and former student myself, I know that in a college environment, the efforts to which some students will go to cheat show an astonishing amount of creativity---breaking into accounts, exploiting lack of permission control on other users' accounts, searching through the recycle bins, etc. The use of technology in this environment has made cheating easier, and harder to trace.

    The risk is that some of the students are probably innocent, merely being guilty of having their own papers copied without their knowledge. Indeed, we've seen many cases here where the person whose work was copied ends up in a situation where they have to prove their own innocence.

    Unfortunately, the technology of online composition and submission of papers (as typically done at most Universities) lacks sufficient security, encryption, and authentication standards.

    I just fear that the cost of this action could possibly end the academic careers of too many students guilty of nothing more than failing to see how their work could be copied.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.