This policy statement is unfortunately necessary, thanks to the actions of a tiny minority of students. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to ask in lecture, during office hours, on Piazza, or by email.
Each student (or permitted group of students) must write their own problem set solutions, in their own words, and must properly credit all sources. We strongly encourage students to use any printed, online, or living resource at their disposal to help solve the problem sets, but you must cite your sources. This includes but is not limited to: books, papers, websites, previous versions of this course, and finally, other students.
This is the same ethical standard that researchers are expected to follow in their formal publications. For comparison, see the guidelines published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the American Mathematical Society (AMS), the American Physical Society (APS), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Citing your sources will not lower your problem set grade.Avoiding plagiarism is really very simple: never present someone else's words or ideas as your own.
See Article 1, Part 4 of the UIUC student code for more examples and information. If you have any doubt about whether something constitutes plagiarism, talk to the tnstructors, and err on the side of caution.
There are much more serious ways to violate the university's academic integrity policies, such as collaborating with or copying from another student during an exam, hiring an impostor to write pset solutions or take exams for you, changing the answers on a graded pset or exam before asking for a regrade, falsely claiming to have submitted a pset or taken an exam, and modifying or destroying other students' graded work. Hopefully you already know not to do anything that stupid!
PENALTIESViolations of academic integrity will not be tolerated.
By department and university policy, all academic integrity cases are reported to the CS department, to the student's home college, and to the Senate Committee on Student Discipline. Multiple offenses, even in different classes, can result (and have resulted) in suspension or expulsion. These penalties are consistent with the CS department's recommendations.
Our high expectations for graduate students extend to issues of academic integrity. Any cheating offense by a graduate student will be reported to the student's advisor, and a notice will be entered into their file. For PhD students, this notice will be visible to the student's qual, prelim, and thesis committees, and to all faculty in the student's research area during the annual student evaluations. Several computer science faculty members have publicly stated that they would refuse to advise or serve on a committee for a MS or PhD student who has committed even a single cheating offense, no matter how minor or how far in the past. If you cheat, you are signing your own academic death warrant.
Except for pset 0, groups of up to three people are allowed to submit a single solution for each problem set. Every member of the group receives credit for the entire assignment. That means every member of the group is responsible for the entire assignment. If a submitted pset contains plagiarized material, every member of the group will be given the same penalty. Again, this is the same standard that is applied to coauthors of research papers. If you cheat, you are not only endangering your grade, and possibly your academic career, but your colleagues' as well.
Regardless of whether it constitutes plagiarism, or whether you get caught, getting too much help on your problem set will hurt your final grade. If you don't learn how to solve algorithmic problems on your own, you will perform poorly on the (closed-book, closed-notes) exams, which make up 75% of your final course average. Several students with pset averages over 90% have failed the course.
Except for problem set 0, groups of up to three people are allowed to submit a single solution for each pset. Every member of the group receives the same grade and the same credit for the entire assignment. That means every member of the group is responsible for the entire assignment.
Group solutions must represent an honest collaborative effort by all members of the group. In particular, groups must not delegate one problem to each group member; only the students who actively worked on a problem may add their names to the solution. At a minimum, you must read, understand, and approve anything submitted with your name on it. Allowing someone else to add your name to a solution to which you made no contribution is plagiarism. This does not mean that every student in a group must contribute good ideas or must help in the actual writing of every group solution. Asking "stupid" questions, proposing bad ideas, shooting down bad ideas, working out examples (even if they don't appear in the solution), uncovering bugs, and even just acting as a sounding board for other group members are all legitimate contributions.
If a submitted problem set contains plagiarized material, we will separately determine each student's culpability (if any) and penalty (if any), in accordance with Student Code. By default, every member of the pset group will be given the same penalty. (Again, this is the same standard that is applied to coauthors of research papers.) If you cheat, you are not only endangering your grade, and possibly your academic career, but your colleagues' as well.
As illustrations, consider the following scenarios. All scenarios involve a group of three students (A, B, and C) collaborating on a three-problem problem set, who agree in advance that each student will write up and submit the solution for one problem -- A will handle problem 1, B will handle problem 2, and C will handle problem 3 -- with all three names at the top. Variants of all these scenarios have actually happened. Yes, even the last two.
All three students are guilty of plagiarism and would receive an undroppable zero on the entire problem set.
Student A is guilty of plagiarism and would receive an undroppable zero on the entire problem set. Students B and C followed the rules; their problem 1 would be forgiven.
All three students are guilty of plagiarism, although for different reasons. All three students would receive an undroppable zero on the entire problem set.
All three students are guilty of plagiarism. An academic integrity infraction is added to their permanent records even though they dropped the course.
Student C is technically guilty of plagiarism, but they would probably receive only a warning. Problem 3 would be forgiven for all three students.
Let's go through this one carefully.
WARNING SIGNSAlmost every instance of plagiarism I've ever seen has been motivated by a combination of desperation and an expectation that cheating is tolerated.
If you find yourself in this situation, ask for help! If you need help understanding the material, come to office hours, ask questions in class, ask questions on the newsgroup, talk to your fellow students. The instructional staff will even make extra apopintments to help guide you through the material or give you feedback on tentative solutions, but only if you ask. (But please remember that our goal is to help you master the material, not just to help you get a better grade.)
If you think a pset question is unclear, please ask for clarification. Your confusion might indicate a gap in your understanding of the course material, but it might also indicate that the question is poorly stated, unfairly hard, or even impossible. Our job is to help you learn the material; please let us know if we aren't doing our job.
We do expect solutions to be written in clear, coherent English. If you are thinking of copying someone else's words because you are uncomfortable with English, you are probably better off taking a class to improve your English instead of this course.
Asking for help does not make you "look stupid". Quite the opposite—it means you are smart enough to recognize your own limitations and work to overcome them. Asking for clarification is not an insult to the instructor or the TAs. Quite the opposite—questions are valuable feedback that we can use to teach more effectively. Everyone suffers from Impostor Syndrome occasionally, including your professors. Most importantly, your grade is not a statement about your intelligence, your potential for success, or your worth as a human being; it's only feedback about your mastery of the course material.
If your situation is very serious, or not directly related to this class, you may prefer to discuss your situation with your department or college advisor, a family member, a trusted friend, or the counseling center, but please talk to someone.
Our standards for academic integrity may be different than what you're used to, especially if you are an international student. The standards we apply in this class are a proper subset of the standards applied to U of I faculty and most other professional scientific researchers. (Fortunately, we don't have to worry about authorship and author ordering policies, accurate recording and reporting of experimental results, or ethical issues with human or animal test subjects.)
Our job as instructors is to help you master the course material. We ask that you write everything yourself so that we can make an honest assessment of your facility with the course material, and therefore give you useful feedback. We allow wide latitude in choosing the resources you need to learn; we trust that you will use those resources responsibly. Plagiarizing other people's work to improve your grade is an abuse of that trust. It is unfair to us and to your fellow students.
We are painfully aware of differences in cheating policies and their enforcement in different classes, both within and outside the UIUC Computer Science department. Within the guidelines of the Student Code, the university gives faculty broad discretion (under the rubric of academic freedom) in defining what constitutes "cheating" and how stringently cheating policies are enforced. Sometimes these differences lead students to believe that cheating policies are overly restrictive or inconsistent, and so can be justifiably ignored.
We believe that our policies are fair, but even with the best of intentions, we sometimes make mistakes. If you believe that the policies in this class (or any other class!) are unclear, unfair, or inconsistently applied, we strongly encourage you to voice your complaints to one of the instructors, the TAs, and/or the department administration. If you wish to complain anonymously, feel free to leave a note with my assistant Elaine Wilson, or under my office door.