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I am currently correcting assignments (pass/fail) for a Bachelor's course in which I am a TA. Students write some code and then discuss their results and approach in a report (in groups of two). My task is to "review a report and provide feedback for students how to improve their report" then they do a supplementation and pass.

The task/content is the same for all students so I will naturally encounter similar results.

While writing feedback I've noticed that I was pointing out exactly the same mistakes in two reports (including the same typos in equations). Upon closer inspection I realized both groups provide the same results and (more importantly) fail to provide results in the same area, i.e. the program should be run with different parameters, both groups only run one (and the same) set of parameters.

Both reports follow the same structure with small permutations, e.g. renaming sections or rephrasing of sentences and make the same "meta" mistakes like discussing their results in the conclusion.

However, looking at the code it looks like two different implementations (i.e. they seem to be using their respective code).

My initial response was to escalate this to the professor in charge and let him deal with it, but then I realized that I might be too pedantic, which I sometimes am. (My impression is that any of the other TAs would just shrug it off as "odd", but not do anything further.)


One of the groups has already caused trouble for another reason, so I don't want to "accidentally" escalate the overall situation.

I guess my question is how to apply the ethical guidelines of "propper scientific conduct" in this gray(ish) area, given that it is some "unimportant" assignment (of many) for a Bachelor's degree course. Should the needle tip towards "turn a blind eye" or towards "no exceptions".

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Yes, report it to the professor. It is better to err on the side of keeping him informed.

If he considers that it's too minor to pursue further, then he can tell you so, and then you'll know not to report any similar incidents in the future. But this is ultimately his decision, not yours.

  • You could report it without giving names first, or just discuss the general behavior in such a case. If the professor doesn't care, you are not escalating anything, if he does care you can still give the names afterwards. All in all, I agree with this answer that it is not your choice to make. – Dirk May 3 '18 at 13:08
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You are acting on behalf of your professor here, so try to anticipate what your professor would do. Were you given any guidelines about cheating and plagiarism that you can apply? Have there been any analogous situations in the past from which you can extrapolate?

If not, you still should make an educated guess and err on the side of escalation.

Why? Imagine your prof would find the issue to be serious and you hadn't escalated. They would conclude that you made a mistake letting this pass. Imagine, by contrast, your prof would find the issue to be insignificant and you still had escalated. For your prof this would be a minor inconvenience (having to take a second look at two assignments about which they were briefed), but they would not conclude that you made a mistake.

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Students should learn about what constitutes plagiarism and what does not. Raising it with the students therefore has value.

Whether there is actual copying (from each other or a third source) is perhaps unclear, and it is not really your place to make that judgement.

Whether the students should be in any way 'punished' is sensitive to local rules/procedures and what they have been told about what they can/can't do (it is not as obvious to students what is acceptable as many academics think it is).

In most cases, the professor is the best person to make a judgement on how to proceed. In non-ideal situations, I might not point it out to the professor if I knew that they or the system would be very strict, particularly if you can't say for sure you've picked up on all instances of the same behaviour.

  • Actually, it is the opposite here. The system is very relaxed and I doubt there will be any consequences for the students either way. I think the worst case is that I will be a nuisance for the professor, but I'd rather be a nuisance and do what's right then the opposite. – FirefoxMetzger May 3 '18 at 13:34

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