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 the course newsgroup, or by email.
tl;dr: Be honest. Cite your sources. We mean it. If you need help, please ask.
Each student (or homework group) must write their own homework 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 homework problems, but you must cite your sources.
Avoiding plagiarism is really very simple: Never present someone else's words or ideas as your own.
Immortality. I notice that as soon as writers broach this question they begin to quote.|
I hate quotation. Tell me what you know.
|— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (May 1849)|
|Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotations in the final paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes.|
|— James D. Lester, Writing Research Papers (1976)|
But computer science classes are different. In CS 374, we never ask you to defend a hypothesis or opinion by mere evidence or rhetoric. We are asking for formal, logical, mathematical arguments. Expert opinion is irrelevant here; the math must speak for itself. In particular, we are asking you to demonstrate your expertise in formal, logical, mathematical reasoning. You can only demonstrate expertise in something by actually doing it.
For more information and examples, see the CS department's policies and recommendations, the College of Engineering's Guide to Academic Integrity, and Article 1, Part 4 of the UIUC student code. If you have any doubts about whether something constitutes plagiarism, talk to Jeff or the TAs, and err on the side of caution.
There are many 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 homework solutions or take exams for you, changing the answers on a graded homework or exam before asking for a regrade, falsely claiming to have submitted a homework or taken an exam, and modifying or destroying other students' graded work. But you already know not to do anything that stupid!
In accordance with department, college, and university policy, we report all academic integrity cases to the Computer Science department, to the student's college, and to the Senate Committee on Student Discipline. We also report offenses by computer science graduate students to their advisors. Multiple offenses, even in different classes, can result in suspension or expulsion.
Except for Homework 0, groups of up to three people are allowed to submit a single solution for each homework. 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. If a submitted homework 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 homework 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 70% of your final course grade. Several students with ≥90% homework averages have failed this course.
Almost every instance of plagiarism I have seen was motivated by a combination of two factors.
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 appointments 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 homework problem 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, please remember that 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.
Please be aware that our standards for academic integrity may be different than what you're used to. This point is especially important for international students. The standards we apply in this class are a proper subset of the standards applied to Illinois 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, because we believe that freedom will help you learn more effectively. We trust that you will use those resources responsibly and ethically. 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 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, people sometimes make mistakes. If you believe that any policies in this course are unclear, unfair, or inconsistently applied, we strongly encourage you to voice your concerns to the instructor, any of the teaching asisstants, and/or the department administration. If you wish to complain anonymously, feel free to send me an anonymous private message on Piazza, or leave a note in my mailbox, with my assistant Elaine Wilson, or under my office door.