Cheating vs. collaboration: It's a fine line for computer science students

Our recent article entitled "Why computer science students cheat" hit a raw nerve for the undergraduates, software professionals and hiring executives.

The article discussed how more college students are caught cheating in introductory computer science courses than in any other course on campus, thanks to automated tools that professors use to detect unauthorized code reuse and excessive collaboration. The article explored the implications of this trend for hiring managers, who are looking for ethical employees who also can function in teams.

The article prompted more than 50 comments on Network World's Web site and 670 at Slashdot. The comments show IT professionals are split on the idea of whether computer science students who work in groups to complete their homework should be punished for cheating or rewarded for collaborating.

One camp said that computer science students who collaborate on homework shouldn't be accused of cheating because they will work in teams when they are in the workforce.

"These students should not be punished, and they should not be called cheaters," one comment said. "They are collaborative, using ideas from each other and outside sources to get their jobs done. Is that wrong?"

Another commenter took shots at computer science professors for assigning excessive amounts of homework.

"Homework assignments that are given out are often gross overkill and take inordinate amounts of time to complete if done by oneself. Students that collaborate the best learn the essence of what they are being taught and also have learned to minimize the amount of work they have to do to get it done. This is exactly the way things work in the real world," this reader said.

Another camp argued that computer science students should do their own homework so they learn the underlying concepts and are better prepared for the workplace.

"What we refuse to accept is a string of employment candidates right out of college that are not ready for the workplace because they don't really understand the work. I have to sift through far too many resumes with false claims of expertise, then bounce a large group of candidates who clearly have no clue what they are doing," one IT manager wrote.

"While collaboration is great, if I were a hiring manager (and I have been) I want someone who can solve the problem, not someone who got his/her answer from Google," said one commenter. "At the same time, many problems in the real world don't require innovative solutions, just fast ones. Still, way too many of my students can’t even do that."

Some of the most insightful comments are from teaching assistants with first-hand knowledge of the questionable code being submitted by students.

"I had students who turned in identical code. I could tell they were cheating because both students had the original student's name in the comments. Cheaters are mostly dumb and easily caught," wrote one former teaching assistant.

"A lot of the cheating is unimaginative," wrote another."You are not going to have two people produce identical code, line by line, including all comments, unless they just copy and paste each others work. (I've seen this.) And the simple problems usually can be written in code in a virtually unlimited number of ways."

To read all the comments on this article — and perhaps add one of your own-visit our community Web site.

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.

This story, "Cheating vs. collaboration: It's a fine line for computer science students" was originally published by Network World.

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