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Would-Be Cheaters Warned by E-mails

By Krista L. Niece
Associate News Editor

As the term begins, many students are receiving e-mail from their professors warning them against cheating.

One incident of code duplication has already been noted this year. On Oct. 1, a warning message was sent to the mailing list of Laboratory in Software Engineering (6.170).

"It's ok to discuss how to solve problems with other students, but you must write your own code. It appears that some students did not follow this rule in problem set 1," the e-mail said. The duplication will be ignored for this problem set but in the future "we will pay attention to it," the message said.

The last major cheating incident at MIT occurred in the spring of 1990, when nearly 80 students were accused of turning in duplicate code for their problem sets. The class in question was Introduction to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving (1.00).

Punishments in the case ranged from informal probation to suspension, though no students were expelled.

MITclarifies cheating policy

The episode also led to more explicit written instructions on the amount of collaboration allowed. Some problem sets are now checked through a program designed to pick out identical code. A program like this was used to detect this year's suspected cheating in 6.170.

A study undertaken in 1991 by the MITColloquium Committee indicated that many undergraduates were "confused by what constitutes academic honesty" and unsure of the amount of collaboration allowed.

MIT policy, published in the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty in 1995, states that "the attempt of any student to present as his or her own the work of another or any work which he or she has not honestly performed is regarded by the Faculty as a most serious offense, and renders the offender liable to immediate expulsion."

Many professors, however, encourage their students to work together on assignments. The 6.170 homepage even gives instructions on subscribing to the class zephyr instances on Athena.

"As a general rule, the amount of cheating is low,"said Professor Paul L. Penfield Jr. ScD '60, head of the department of electrical engineering and computer science. "The students here are here because they love [the work] and they enjoy it."

"We always try to make it as clear as we can" to what extent student collaboration is allowed, Penfield added.