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Say you have a homework assignment and you're struggling with it. You ask a question about some portion of it on a site like physics.stackexchange or math.SE or stackoverflow.com, etc.

You then cite the help you received in your homework, as well as including a link to the post which helped you.

Given that you are removing the "dishonesty" part of the equation, is this still considered cheating? Or would a professor just not give you credit for the part which they feel you didn't do on your own?

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Is this a homework question for an ethics class? –  badroit May 3 at 2:09
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It's not cheating if you cite your sources. Whether getting help will preclude you from getting the credits is the teacher's decision. –  Raphael May 3 at 9:43
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The only person who can answer this question is your instructor. –  JeffE May 3 at 18:50
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@JeffE: IMO, we can all answer this question. Any given instructor may be an autocrat, but no class is a complete island unto itself. Many of us are instructors and can speak to policy in general, and most of us probably have some opinion on the ethics of the matter, which may be the intent of the question, rather than to seek prognostication on the outcome of any personal attempt in any specific class. –  Nick Stauner May 3 at 23:21
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Yeah, editing to something like "Would it typically be considered cheating..." (or "Should it..." or so on) would probably make your meaning clearer. JeffE is right that, for an individual student who wants to know what counts as cheating on their specific assignment, the only valid answer comes from their instructor or course policy. –  David Z May 4 at 6:40
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7 Answers 7

up vote 17 down vote accepted

This depends a great deal on the professor and course in question. Better to ask first if you plan to do this. Also, check the syllabus if there is a stated policy regarding help on homework.

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I would not use your opinion as a green light to do it, but, IYDMMA, what is your personal opinion on the matter? –  AmadeusDrZaius May 3 at 3:11
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My personal policy is that I do not grade homework, so my students are encouraged to get and use help from whatever sources they like. –  vadim123 May 3 at 3:36
    
Darn... lucky students you have. –  AmadeusDrZaius May 3 at 3:44
    
I looked over the syllabus for one of your courses and saw that you give 12 exams during a semester. I wonder why other professors don't do the same. (Maybe not 12, but more than a midterm and final.) It seems like a much better way to assess student progress (and is more cheating-proof), and it lets them get whatever help they need prior to the exam. –  AmadeusDrZaius May 3 at 3:49
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Agreed about homework, but you cannot compare it with an exam. With homework you have (at least in my classes) one week to deal with it. If you are responsible, you would determine early whether you get it or not. And you have office hours, free tutoring, the textbook, your classmates, and the internet to ask for help. So I wouldn't say it is equally easy to lose marks in homework than it is in a quiz. –  Martin Argerami May 3 at 17:53
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I think it is acceptable, but you might considering asking your professor first.

I have cited help from cross validated and stack overflow before with help on modeling in R. I tested my data for heteroskedasticity using a test (Breusch–Pagan)that the professor did not mention in class.I provided a link to the discussion in my assignment. I did not receive negative marks, in fact, he actually complemented my work in front of the class for "going the extra mile" and using alternate resources and finding a test he did not mention in lecture.

I think most professors want you to learn, it shouldn't matter how. Now if you post you data and someone does all the work for you, that is a different animal..

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As vadim123 says, it depends on the professor.

What I have done in the past (when outside help was not expressly forbidden) was write that I obtained help from someone on the internet or the tutoring center because I was stuck. Then I would go to great lengths to explain the concept in such a way that the professor could see that I had gained mastery of the concept, and I put some work into the problem. Sometimes I would do additional problems too. Other times I would turn in problems I had worked several times, never arriving at a reasonable answer, and ask the professor for help. As I recall, I was always given credit for doing the work. Your mileage may vary.

There is a difference between asking for help and cheating, and I think it comes down to ones motivation. By doing the additional work, it should show that your goal was not to just get an answer to turn in, but to gain understanding of the concept.

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I would say that it also depends on how you asked your question online. You should demonstrate in your homework that you have understood the procedure you're outlining as your answer, and then acknowledge that you received help online by providing the link where you asked your question. If I were the professor, I would click the link to see the question. If it were a question along the lines of "Here's a problem. What's the answer?", then I would give you no credit. If your question clearly showed some effort and understanding, and that you made sure you properly understood the answer(s), I would say it's ok. But most importantly of all (I think), you should admit in your question that you're working on a homework problem. That way people will try to help you rather than just give you the answer.

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The way the question is asked is indeed very important, as you point out. It also occurred to me that there is a danger that someone will post a complete solution as an answer to your question, even if you intend only to get hints on a select portion. Given this, I think it's important not to post the problem in full if possible... since we can't control what others will post. –  AmadeusDrZaius May 3 at 16:30
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I think that the other answers do not quite answer the question that was asked. My answer is no, it is not cheating to turn in a homework assignment that cites a website like Math.SE. (This is assuming that you put quotation marks around any text that you copy; otherwise it could still be plagiarism.)

Of course it would be a good idea to ask the professor beforehand whether this is allowed, but failure to do so would not constitute cheating any more than attempting to turn in a homework assignment late without first determining whether this was allowed would constitute cheating. As long as the student makes it clear that the homework uses outside sources (or was turned in late,) the professor has the choice to accept the homework or not according to his or her policy.

Keep in mind that if citing outside sources in your homework is a violation of the professor's policy, then the penalty could be significant (just as for failing to turn in the homework on time.) However, it is still not something that the professor could reasonably report to the university administration as cheating, nor is it something that a reasonable university would consider to be cheating.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the relevant definitions of "cheating" are

1a: to practice fraud or trickery

2b: to violate rules dishonestly.

In both definitions, dishonesty is a crucial element (and one which the OP has explicitly ruled out.) In fact cheating, plagiarism, falsification of data, etc., are often collectively termed "academic dishonesty," making this condition explicit.

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I should add a warning that, if your professor sees your question online, he or she might assume that you are planning to cheat. (The allegation shouldn't hold up without a submitted assignment as proof, but it wouldn't be wise to risk it.) –  Trevor Wilson May 5 at 21:25
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I think that there are two dimensions to this question:

- 1) Would it be considered cheating by your professor?
- 2) Should it be considered cheating?

The answer to 1) depends on your professor, university, curriculum, etc. If you are unsure, it's probably best to ask your professor. My personal experience is that lecturers actually like it when a student stuck with some homework exercise approaches them (as long as you show them that you actually thought about the problem and tried different things and don't just ask them for a solution). At my university most professors state at the beginning of the course how they expect the students to do the assignment - e.g., discussing it with colleagues is allowed (but you have to be able to explain your submitted solution in detail); using other sources than the course material is allowed (but you have to cite it properly), etc.

The answer to 2) very much depends on the personal code of ethics. I strongly think that it should not be considered cheating, as long as (i) the student can explain the solution in detail (ii) other material is cited correctly, and (iii) the student didn't use the solutions of other students from previous semesters. After all, the job of a student is to understand things - being able to ask the right questions at the write places if you are stuck is actually a very important skill.

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Asking for help on the internet may be considered cheating, depending on how much help you got versus how much of your own research you did.

Not crediting help received on the internet may be considered even more unethical, verging on plagiarism.

If you're going to incorporate other folks' answers in your own, it's polite to acknowledge their contributions. At the very least.

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