I had a somewhat drama-filled day yesterday. First, two students had isomorphic take-home exam solutions. I emailed them to ask what happened, and both replied briefly by email. Student A later came to my office to explain: he had taken the other student’s code and simply changed some of the variables. They had worked together on the solution, but Student B knew about the “align” environment. Student B gave the code to Student A, and Student A absent-mindedly neglected to include his wording, rather just keeping Student B’s wording.
I asked Student A what he thought would be a fair resolution. He said that he should not be allowed a redo for half points (edit for clarification: I give my students a second chance on midterms. They can resubmit with a chance to regain half of the points they miss. In other words, they get to do the exam twice, and I average their two scores This student forfeited his second attempt.), and he would write a letter of apology to Student B for stealing the solution. I found this to be reasonable.
Here was my part in this event:
- I emailed both students letting them know their solutions were a little too similar.
- After a couple of response emails from them, I emailed back the exact problem that I saw—it appeared one had just copied the code from the other.
- I listened to the student’s suggested fix, and agreed to it.
I am sad that this happened at all, but the rest of the process went smoothly. I have found that students do unethical things like this, but they are pretty quick to own up to it. Your mileage may vary in these situations, but I think that there are two key things kept this bad situation from being terrible: I have students who are truly interested in “doing the right thing” (they fail sometimes, but don’t we all?) and I make a conscious effort to treat them like adults. I wonder what would have happened if I had threatened the students with a poor grade on my initial email; it may have turned out the same, but I doubt it.
My second bit of drama involved a homework assignment. A significant number of students (probably more than half) had clearly copied a solution from Yahoo! Answers. This was obvious to me because there were aspects of the solutions that were common among many students, but were extremely bizarre. A quick Google search led me to find where they had gotten the answer (I was actually relieved, since I was truly hoping that my students were not creating the weirdness on their own). A couple of students understood the notion of plagiarism and cited the Yahoo! Answers page, further supporting the result of my Google search.
So I had the unpleasant task of lecturing my students on honesty, integrity, the purpose of homework, and the value of good sources (Yahoo! Answers is not a good source for mathematical solutions). As I said before, my students genuinely want to do the right thing, but I fear that they are not very good at it; I have had to give this lecture once every semester I have been here. This makes me sad, but it is a good reminder that my students are only 18-23 years old and still have a lot to learn.
Tags: academic dishonesty