I can kinda see the students' point. If the exam was unreasonable as they claim (they claim it was completely unrelated to the lectures), it may be grounds for cheating rather than go through a lengthy costly path to correcting the exam or ousting the professor, perhaps unsuccessfully. Software developers (or their employers) do this all the time when they ignore frivolous patents.
Um, you're kidding, right? Of course the students are going to claim the exam wasn't fair; why would you believe them? (On reading the article linked to, the few specific exam questions that were described didn't seem to me to be unrelated to the course.)
Also, even if the exam was "unrelated to the lectures", tough luck; they are paying a lot for a degree, on the understanding that the school makes the rules. If the school is being unfair, the correct response is not to cheat; it's to stop placing so much weight on a degree that really doesn't mean much.
Finally, your suggested analogy between frivolous patents and a supposedely unfair exam is nonsense. The correct analogy would be between a business that ignores a patent because it is convinced the patent is unfounded and would not stand up to a court challenge, and an employer that ignores a C in Government from Harvard (for a job applicant who took the hit on an unfair exam rather than cheat) because it knows Harvard's grades are no longer an accurate reflection of a person's job potential.
So your argument is basically, it's a dog-eat-dog world, so it's OK to cheat to get ahead? I see. I don't agree, but I see.
(Also, it's laughable to suggest that Harvard students are stuck with minimum wage if they don't cheat on exams. We're talking about Harvard; most employers won't even care what the applicant's GPA was.)
It's okay to sometimes cheat on an exam in the same way it's okay for software developers to ignore the dozens of patents they infringe on, instead of paying the holders. In the same way it's okay to sometimes exceed the speed limit without asking the police for a ticket. In the same way it's okay to buy stuff online tax-free and not pay use taxes on it in your own state. Everyone cheats.
I said they won't get much past minimum wage if they take the attitude "tough luck". Successful people get used to knocking down the hurdles others endlessly throw at them, often unfairly.
Well, yes, if you lump all the things you named together and call them all "cheating" without differentiating between them, yes, everyone "cheats". But I don't think everyone would agree that all the things you named should be lumped together. That's a subjective judgment, which means we probably won't get anywhere arguing about it--but see further comment below.
> Successful people get used to knocking down the hurdles others endlessly throw at them, often unfairly.
But the way you are putting it, anything I don't like or anything I don't want to comply with is just a "hurdle" that I'm justified in knocking down. By your logic, if I want my boss's job, it would be OK for me to murder him and then fill the vacant position; after all, he's just a "hurdle", right? Or if you don't think that would be OK, where do you draw the line? What principle lets me differentiate between things that are just "hurdles" that I'm allowed to knock down to be successful, and things that I'm not?
You're not getting gold, you're restoring fairness where the rule or law is unfair. You get the gold by leveraging your renewed equal opportunity.
"All versions and forms of the proverbial Golden Rule have one aspect in common: they all demand that people treat others in a manner in which they themselves would like to be treated." The Golden Rule doesn't only demand that you treat others that way; it also demands that others treat you that way, which may require action on your part.
> You're not getting gold, you're restoring fairness where the rule or law is unfair.
But how do you know what's fair? More to the point, how do you know what all the other people, whom you're supposed to treat the way they themselves would like to be treated, think is fair? You've assumed that cheating on an exam which you believe to be unrelated to the course material is "fair"; how do you know all the other people who are affected by your action would agree?
Also, I probably should have made it clearer at the outset that judging that something is "unfair" to you is highly subjective and prone to error. I do not really believe that the exams the Harvard students cheated on were "unfair"; I think the students were just too lazy to learn the material and then tried to weasel out of the consequences. But they themselves probably sincerely believe that the exam was unfair and unrelated to the course. The fact that so much was at stake makes their judgment that the exam was unfair quite different from, for example, my judgment that I know better than the people who put up speed limit signs what a "safe" speed is under the current driving conditions. See further comments below.
> You get the gold by leveraging your renewed equal opportunity.
Cheating doesn't give you "equal" opportunity; it gives you an extra opportunity that the people who don't cheat don't have. Whether that is actually "fair" is, as I said above, highly subjective, and it's very easy to judge wrongly if you have a strong personal stake in the outcome. That's why we have ethical norms that don't allow people to make such judgments unilaterally in cases where self-serving judgments are highly likely and have large consequences.
Since I asked for a principle that distinguishes when it's OK to "cheat" and when it isn't, I should offer one of my own--actually two, following on from the above comments. I see at least two key differences between, for example, the case of exceeding speed limits, and the case of cheating on exams:
(1) I can make a good case that I, driving my car on a particular road under particular conditions, can better judge what a safe speed is in that situation than lawmakers or regulators who just have very general rules for setting speed limits: I am there and they are not, and I'm the one who risks injury if I have an accident. So I have more information and am motivated to make good judgments. The case of students cheating on exams is opposite in these respects: the students do not have more information than the professor does, and they are highly motivated to make self-serving judgments about whether the exam is "fair", rather than accurate ones.
(2) I gain no significant advantage over other drivers from speeding. I get where I'm going faster than I otherwise would, but that does not hinder any other driver from getting where they're going. There's no competitive element involved. In the case of students cheating on exams, there certainly is a competitive element; a student who cheats does not just gain an advantage, he takes away an advantage from others.
So I would distinguish "cheating" that should be prohibited from infractions like speeding, by these two principles: the motivation for self-serving judgments, and the competitive element where one person gaining an advantage means others lose it.
> The Golden Rule doesn't only demand that you treat others that way; it also demands that others treat you that way, which may require action on your part.
I'm not sure the Golden Rule includes this, but that's an argument about terminology, not ethics. Basically, you're saying that you have to let other people know how you want to be treated. I agree with that general principle, but I'm not sure cheating accomplishes that purpose. Are the students who cheated at Harvard being treated more like they wanted to be treated because they cheated?
> Are the students who cheated at Harvard being treated more like they wanted to be treated because they cheated?
Had they gotten away with it, maybe! It depends on what the circumstances actually were. Like you say, they may have just been lazy. My point is that cheating, rule-breaking and lawbreaking can be okay under the right circumstances. If it's to unfairly gain an advantage over others, that violates the Golden Rule. In this case the students may have been justified, if indeed the exam was completely unrelated to the lectures.
> how do you know all the other people who are affected by your action would agree?
It doesn't matter what they think; they may well disagree with you. It was illegal for Rosa Parks to sit in the front of the bus, but her interpretation of fairness trumped the law. No doubt plenty of people felt that killing her would be a fair punishment; after all, her crime had large consequences, namely it fomented a rebellion, encouraging millions of others to break (Jim Crow) laws. Had the rebellion failed, history may have recorded that she was a horrible person, instead of her bus being in a museum.
> That's why we have ethical norms that don't allow people to make such judgments unilaterally in cases where self-serving judgments are highly likely and have large consequences.
So when there's a draft, people should trust their leaders and submit to combat, not bothering to examine whether the war is just? Many of those ethical norms are designed to benefit the privileged few at the expense of the rest. The "large consequences" are often a lie. The norms should be used only as a guideline for your own judgement, lest you become someone's pawn.
> So when there's a draft, people should trust their leaders and submit to combat, not bothering to examine whether the war is just?
Avoiding the draft is a good test case that we haven't considered yet. It certainly meets my second condition, that people have a strong motivation to make self-serving judgments instead of correct ones. It also may meet my first condition: citizens who judge that a war is unjust probably can't claim to have significant information that their political leaders do not. (In fact, the political leaders probably have information that the citizens do not.)
However, I can see a third principle that this example brings out: does the other party in the case, the one which is being "cheated" (the government in the case of the draft, the professor in the case of the exam), also have a strong motivation to make self-serving judgments? Certainly that is the case for a draft: political leaders have all kinds of motivations to claim that a draft is justified when it isn't. So in this case I would agree with you that "cheating" might be justifiable.
I'm not sure the case of cheating on exams meets this third condition, although it could be argued that professors do have motivations, if not to purposely make exams unfair, at least to not expend a lot of effort making them fair. But professors also have motivations to keep students coming to their school, for financial if no other reasons, which gives them an incentive to expend effort to make classes and exams fair.
> The norms should be used only as a guideline for your own judgement, lest you become someone's pawn.
I don't disagree with this, but "your own judgment" is not infallible either. That's why I have been trying to find some principles that can help guide one's judgment. You appear to agree with this general idea, since you too draw a distinction between justified "cheating" and unjustified cheating. Your definition of "unjustified" is "if it's to unfairly gain an advantage over others", but that merely postpones the problem: what counts as "unfairly" gaining an advantage? That's what I've been trying to get a handle on.
I'm a bit biased. I had a professor who informed his classes, after the drop deadline, that < 85% on any test meant an F for the semester. I had no opportunity to cheat. All but a few students failed. It was $hundreds wasted for me. He was demoted to a non-teaching position when everyone complained.
In this case Harvard may go overboard on a crackdown, to shore up their reputation that's worth a lot of money to them. In that case the students may need to counter with a lawsuit, to restore fairness.
> what counts as "unfairly" gaining an advantage?
Ultimately it's best for you to decide, as fallible as your judgement may be. Anyone else may have their interests at heart, over yours. Their pet interests may be enshrined in the rules, the law, and/or the public psyche.
> I'm a bit biased. I had a professor who informed his classes, after the drop deadline, that < 85% on any test meant an F for the semester.
Wow. In that situation I would certainly agree that the professor was being egregiously unfair. I'm glad that complaining at least got him demoted, but the school should also have corrected the grades of everyone who was affected--I'm guessing they didn't since you didn't mention it.
This is not surprising. The culture of varsity sports on campus is a relic of an institution that has optimized its admissions process for corporate job placement over academic integrity and originality of thought. This makes sense--if you can swell your endowment by letting in athletes who are a-ok with taking easy classes and then using their one-track brains to 'flip decks' at Goldman, why not? It's good for them (Goldman pays) and it's good for your own job security as a university administrator. The culture produces student-athletes who are some of the most tenacious, personable, and loyal people you can find. They make great leaders of companies that consist of giant pyramids of people doing menial tasks.
This culture, however, does not optimize for original thought.
Regarding the exam structure: (humanities + short answer questions + take-home) = increased likelihood of similar answers, given internet search.
The professor here was lazy, too--these problems could have been avoided with a comprehensive 20-page paper instead of a more-easily-graded short-answer final exam.
Exam room essays are a great way to measure knowledge, and difficult to cheat on. You have to know the domain thoroughly in order to be ready to write an essay response. Being able to write this demonstrates integrated understanding of the concepts. And probably breadth of knowledge. The easy solution for universities is give people take-home work during the semester and return it marked, but have 100% of the course score determined by a sit-down exam at the end of the period.
You're correct. I taught high school history for several years and used in-class essay responses as the primary testing method. Essays allowed me to understand what students actually know and how their overall knowledge on a topic has developed.
Multiple choice-style questions (or any memorization-style question) do test knowledge, but I regularly found that many of the students who could easily memorize facts had a hard time explaining them in a coherent essay describing how the events were interconnected. And students who might get a C on memorization tests often had a better grasp of the period as a whole.
Unfortunately, most teachers don't want to take the time to read essay responses because shoving scantron tests through a machine is much easier and less time consuming.
Take home exams are somewhat common at modern universities, and in fact are sometimes used as an anti-cheating measure.
Rather than having questions which can be easily answered with access to research materials, the exam is designed to be difficult even if you have the textbook open on the desk right next to the exam. Take-home exams often specifically grant permission to use the textbook and any other class materials.
Because a take-home exam is built on the premise that the student will have access to all of their materials, the professor writes the exam expecting that you have attended all the classes, read all the textbook chapters, and understood all the notes, so the exam is much more difficult!
It's also meant to make exams more like real work. Nobody at my company gives a damn if I need to crack open a math textbook to find an algorithm, or Google something - but a real job requires that you can understand and synthesize the information you find. You can't build an entire (...good) product out of copy-and-pasted answers from Stack Overflow but you can look up specific issues or points where you get stuck.
Remember that we're seeing this story because the students failed to get away with cheating - in part precisely because of the nature of the exam. One of the questions is an open-ended invitation to pick two events and explain them, and it's very suspicious if a group of students all pick exactly the same two events and present similar-sounding explanations.
>the professor writes the exam expecting that you have attended all the classes, read all the textbook chapters, and understood all the notes //
As opposed to?
Seriously the exams should test your knowledge and application of elements from the whole range of the course material. Giving that as a reason why you can take the exam home and [have someone else] do it sounds entirely absurd to me.
I always found take-home exams to be the hardest exams I ever took, and I think they most accurately test a person's depth of knowledge about a subject. The problem with in-class exams is that they often reward test-taking and memorization skills rather than organization and analysis.
I had a lot of take home mid-terms and in class final exams with the same "figure out 2 or 3 proofs" format. The professors were always more forgiving on the final exam since you only had 3 hours. But if you missed one step in the take home mid-term that you had 4 or 5 days to complete, BAM mark that baby way down.
Take home final exams are everywhere and they can easily be some of the most challenging. I like this story of one of Tyler Cowen's final exams:
"Tyler [Cowen] once walked into class the day of the final exam and said, “Here is the exam. Write your own questions. Write your own answers. Harder questions and better answers get more points.” Then he walked out. The funniest thing was when a student came in late and I had to explain to him what the exam was and he didn’t believe me!"
I don't, but I went to Caltech so am used to the idea of take home exams. At Caltech, essentially all exams, including finals, are take home. If a professor wants to give an in-class exam, he has to get special permission to do so.
I think MIT now also has take home exams, but I'm not sure. Any MIT people here who can clarify?
I think MIT now also has take home exams, but I'm not sure. Any MIT people here who can clarify?
I had at I think one take-home exam at MIT during my time there (1991-1995) and we were explicitly allowed (and encouraged) to collaborate, so long as we gave credit to the person we collaborated with. During one of the other HN Harvard-cheating-scandal threads, another poster mentioned that a take-home exam s/he had at MIT specifically forbid collaboration.
I had take home exams (2000-2004) but they were rare. I think professors abstained from take home exams as a favor to the students -- a sit-down exam is only going to consume 2 hours of your week, whereas a take home exam will balloon to consume all of the time you have available to work on it, to the detriment of your other classes/activities.
Somewhat; because of its nature, cheating is very hard to quantify - I know there was some at my school but I can only speculate as to how much went on behind closed doors.
Was collaboration permitted/encouraged on all assessment? In a lot of the group work at my school there tended to be some people who contributed nothing but complaints about their hangover - but who got good grades on the back of the group. I would have thought more group work would exacerbate this problem; do you think that was the case?
I never took any take-home exams when I was at MIT (1983-1988). Most of the in-class exams I took there, though, were open-book, open-notes, etc., so making them take-home would not have been too much of a change. (Someone upthread commented that a good take-home exam is much more difficult because the professor can assume you have access to all reference materials. That fits my experience with the open-book, open-notes MIT exams.)
It's a report from their Faculty Policy Committee's Subcommittee on Examination Terms and Regulations, undertaking in 1998. Among the things the report covers is consideration of lifting the ban on take home tests. From the documents they reference, it appears that MIT tried in experiment starting in 1992 to allow take home tests, and discontinued the experiment in 1994.
In that report, they recommend allowing out-of-room exams, where the exam would be given out at 1:30 PM, the students would have until 7:30 pm to turn it in, and the students can take the test where they want. It looks like the main point of this was to make it so students could have access to computers and libraries during these tests.
Their concern with allowing take-home tests seems to be that professors might give monstrous take-home tests that would consume too much time.
It's much better preparation for the post-college world anyway. The internet enables unparalleled access to information, so knowing a disparate collection of easily searchable facts is not really that useful. Rather, successful people know how to analyze, synthesize, and summarize information, test sources, weigh competing claims, reconstruct arguments, etc. A take home exam is more than able to measure that at least, or better, than an in-class exam.
The board's procedures do give the accused the right "to review all materials considered by the Board in making a decision". The confidentiality rule forbids disclosure of that stuff to those without a "need to know", which would include reporters from the campus paper and the general public.
If everything is typed, it seems they might be able to run that through http://turnitin.com. I think it is meant for mostly essay papers, but I would think with the influence of Harvard they could get a special deal to adapt it to traditional question/answer things and be done with it.
Academic dishonesty is a no win situation. It makes the students look bad - and then it makes the school look bad for having low quality students. maybe ethics needs to be a required first quarter class.
I have a minor pet peeve about using turnitin.com. Teachers need to understand how should be used. Too many professors will just run your paper through the site, conduct no other checks at all, and assume that if turnitin says your plagiarized, then you did.
Turnitin has several major weaknesses. First, it cannot detect whether or not you've properly cited sources.
Secondly, if you've published your own writing anywhere and use it in your paper, it will detect it as plagiarism, though it's not.
Third, it is very limited to what it can detect.
Fourth, major parts library depends on the violation of student copyrights. It keeps a copy of every paper submitted for comparison with future submissions. This is a violation of student copyrights. Now, I'm against these kind of copyright restrictions, but since students are many times on the losing side of copyright battles, this is one which should be an easy win.
Cheating detection is far from a solved problem. Plagiarism is just one part of it, and turn it in only covers the basics. Students using an essay mill will not be detected by the site.
The best way to fight cheating is an engaged instructure. Of course, with the movement in education towards automated courses, there is no way that's going to happen.
I had a professor who stopped using Turnitin because, according to him, "There arent't enough original things left to write about The Inferno for anyone to write something that looks less than 60% plagiarized."
Our computer science professors always claimed to be able to detect cheating because of similar answers, however, I never really believed them.
Change the way the program works here or there and rename all the variables, and always use the same variables for your loops (x,y,z or i,k,l for example) between assignments and it'd be hard to detect.
Of course, if you went through the effort of doing all that, I always figured it'd be faster just to do it your self.
Then it isn't really the same program if the changes are fundamentally different, so in essence, it isn't direct copying anymore. But changing another person's program in non-superficial ways is often as difficult as just solving the problem from scratch.
Cheating is also harder to detect in introductory classes because there are often few good ways to implement the algorithm in the first place (say, factorial, or pre-order traversal of a binary tree). Consequently, these tools tend to work better in larger projects, such as in an operating systems class.
> rename all the variables, and always use the same variables for your loops (x,y,z or i,k,l for example) between assignments and it'd be hard to detect.
It turns out this is trivial to detect; see MOSS  for an example of the type of analysis that is done on programs.
However, more often than not, cheating is detected by teaching assistants simply by hand ("Hmm, this submission looks familiar"), but instructors pretend that there is some sophisticated cheat-finding system to scare off students. Usually typos are dead give-aways, especially when two students have the same typo in the same comment at the same identical spot. In my academic misconduct cases, students were most often identified through spelling and grammar errors.
I imagine that there exist many more instances of cheating than instructors catch, and that we really only get the low-hanging fruit (and frankly, my job isn't to be the cheating police, so I don't go out of my way to find it). But catching the most obvious cases and having a severe punishment as a deterrence is often enough. ("If you cheat, you likely won't get caught, but if you do, goodbye -- it's automatic failure at minimum, and possibly suspension or expulsion.")
Specifically regarding changing how the program works. I meant it in the sense of using hashes in place of arrays, and maybe even using while instead of for loops, etc. So fundamentally, it's the same input and output, but how the program stores and computes that is the same.
The variable thing makes sense though. I would use the 'changing the program' tactic to stop computers and the variables to stop teachers from detecting it. However, from another poster, using the same variables between assignments maybe unnecessary.
If the program is non-trivial (e.g. contains some classes, many functions), then usually the program structure alone will give it away (1), unless you invest a lot of time into changing things.
From my experience (as a student), the people that copy programs don't even work that hard to obfuscate their plagiarism. Usually they just rename a couple of variables and reformat things a bit. A former professor of mine wrote a program to "fuzzily" compare two source codes and show how close they are, which quite nicely showed of clusters of programs where a bunch of students had copied-and-slightly-modified from one student.
(1) i.e., give the instructor a feeling of "Hm, I've seen that before...".
I was a TA for computer science classes. I barely read variable names when grading. It was quicker to compile/run and then check over the structure of the program.
Also keep in mind that if you're grading 50 people like I was, you won't remember what variables the students used between assignments. The stuff they would do to throw me off the trail wouldn't help much at all.
If I found a student had copied from a neighbor or whatever, I'd ask them both what had happened. It was uncommon that they would deny it. I'd tell the professor and mark the assignment a zero. After that, it was between the students and the professor.
Try it yourself, write a small program, perhaps a script to read a CSV of numbers and do a pivot table or something, then copy it and use whatever technique you like to hide the copying. Now read them back to back. Give no more than 1 minute to each (since they both compile and pass tests). You'll spot the copying immediately.
Disclaimer: I did TA work for undergraduate stuff; typically for students in liberal arts and sciences just trying to get through their comp-sci requirements.