It's "cheating" though in the sense that it's against a TOS on a website, but tons of things are against a TOS and almost no one reads them. They're pretending to be one, but Coursera is not a college, is not accredited and does not hand out degrees. This is a free online self-study course being taken by hundreds of thousands of people with varying degrees of seriousness. Some people may treat it like a college course and want the certificate (for what I am not sure), but I bet most people just want the knowledge. I signed up for a similar course once and never logged in because my schedule changed, should I get an F and have that publicized?
I have also worked through some iOS courses from Standford on iTunes U and I would not think twice about helping someone with one of the problems. Is that cheating?
If people sign up for a course like this and then turn in work they copied from the Internet, I definitely don't want to hire them. Even if they weren't after the certificate. That's like cheating at solitaire. It's just sad.
Also, do you have any evidence that the no-cheating, no-publishing-homework policy is buried in a TOS? If Coursera hasn't made it obvious enough, then sure, people could have made a mistake. But Odersky's a smart guy so his reaction makes me imagine he made the requirement obvious.
Nobody smart hires purely based on the certificate, but the question is what value one assigns to it. Anybody with a degree from a strong CS program is much more likely to get an interview from me. Ditto for anybody with a good online portfolio. I'd like to assign some value to Coursera courses, but we'll see.
Right know there are actual students at EPFL who are taking the Functional Programming Principles in Scala course, using the same web site that random joes like me are using at the same time. So for me it's not an actual college, but it is for those students at EPFL. They have no choice but to enforce academic honestly rules, given that real students at a real institution are involved.
It makes sense for EPFL to use the course lectures and quizzes to help the students, but it makes absolutely no sense to use it for the grading part. It is trivially easy to make a second account, take a quiz, and just answer randomly to be able to see all the correct answers. It's absolutely absurd to not have a totally independent grading system.
I disagree with your assertion. Cheating is not necessarily an act of malice. As an example, a friend of mine (who is from India) helped another student (also Indian) with a programming project in an intro to CS class at my alma mater. My friend was trying to help a friend out, not intentionally trying to break the rules. This took place during the first few weeks of school, mind you, and neither student had any significant experience with the ethical standards of American institutions. Both students readily admitted to what had happened- neither was trying to hide anything. Nonetheless, the professor gave my friend a two letter grade demotion and the person whom he helped an F. Arguments about the fairness of their punishments aside, I don't think it's fair to assert that either had a lapse in ethical judgement more than a cultural misunderstanding, but nonetheless both students did cheat.
There's a difference between cheating and helping. If the professor believed that there were cheating, that meant that the work didn't appear to be original. Helping someone else means that you're helping them with the concepts related to the problem. If you want to be hands on with helping them through the problem you create a similar problem [that doesn't have the same requirements and help get them over what got them stuck]
I am taking this course - it's impossible to not notice these rules, there are annoying confirmations at every single submission or multiple choice test that you are submitting your own individual work only. I.e., submitting a program copied off web is 100% intentional fraud.
Forget the certificate. If you enroll in a coursera course to learn, and you need some help getting started on the code or checking your work, why not take a look at the code? Not submitting it as your own, of course, but taking ownership of your education, which is all that matters.