I'd want to get perspective on what I feel is an unjustified case of academic misconduct.

I am taking a mathematics subject and part of my assignment was to submit answers to questions given.

One of the questions I was unsure of what method I should apply, I searched on youtube and found tutorials on how to solve this problem. I should make it explicit the direct answer was not part of the video, however, using the same method I could substitute my values and get the correct answer.

I may be accused of plagiarism and apparently, my use of the video was unfair and plagiarism. I suspect it's because I used the same symbols which in retrospect I could have, should have changed however I still feel this is unjustified and comparable to applying the chain rule or any other mathematical principle taught through the increasingly powerful use of the internet.

Do you think there are ground to challenge this? I thought I was doing my due diligence sourcing methods, not direct answers.

Do you think this fair?

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    Welcome to Academia.SE. Whether we think this is fair seems less important. What policies for the course were in place? At my undergraduate institution, what you did would have been find as long as we cited the YouTube video and how it helped us. Could you clarify whether or not there were course policies at play here? Was this a take-home test or homework? Oct 17, 2018 at 14:30
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    Is there such a thing as justified academic misconduct? ;-)
    – Flyto
    Oct 17, 2018 at 14:56
  • 4
    Would it be possible that another student, or several, watched the same video, and followed along plugging in the same parameters?
    – user94959
    Oct 17, 2018 at 16:55
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    Have you actually been accused of academic misconduct, or are you talking about hypotheticals here?
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 17, 2018 at 16:59
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    @jamesqf Why? There are thousands of high quality videos that provide instruction on all sorts of topics. I wouldn't blindly trust a YouTube video any more than I'd blindly trust a website, but there are a lot of useful videos that demonstrate math techniques (say, finding eigenvalues) that come from anybody from major universities to organizations like Khan Academy to individual professors making their own videos to random people. Oct 18, 2018 at 5:18

4 Answers 4


Whatever it was, it wasn't plagiarism. Whether it was within the rules set by your professor is another question. But, assuming that the rules permitted online research to answer the question, then that is all you did. You will have to judge conformance to the rules of your course.

If someone has accused you of plagiarism they are probably using the word incorrectly. That doesn't mean, of course, that you aren't without fault. That is for you and others to judge.

Using the same symbols in mathematics can hardly be faulted in any case, as many of them are standardized and used in the same way throughout mathematics. They might, however, have been a tip-off that you went outside the allowed bounds.

But, for your own educational progress, I hope you don't go to the web too soon to get such questions answered. Struggling with a problem expands your mind in a way very different from finding a solution or a solution framework. If you want to be a mathematician, you need to develop that skill.

Note that exercises given in almost every course, aren't given for the purpose of finding an answer. The professor already has the answer. The purpose is to help you grow your mental abilities. Work on the hard problems. If you want to learn more, work on harder problems.

  • 7
    It is unclear whether the OP went "to the web too soon." It seems like they studied a method to solve the problem on the web.
    – user2768
    Oct 17, 2018 at 14:06
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    @user2768, I didn't make a claim that they did. I recommend that students don't.
    – Buffy
    Oct 17, 2018 at 14:08
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    I did not jump on the web immediately to attempt to solve the problem. I did reflect on my lecture content, looked at my tutorial discussions and did try to formulate steps to the final answer. In the end I used the internet as an outlet to try and understand how a problem like this can be solved but I do admit I didn't linger on this question for hours wondering, thinking. Perhaps I moved on too quickly, I still don't think this justifies this punishment.
    – Goofer
    Oct 17, 2018 at 14:08
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    @Buffy Your phrasing includes "your [educational progress]" and "[I hope] you" which is somewhat suggestive of fault on the OP's part, a minor edit should clarify
    – user2768
    Oct 17, 2018 at 14:11
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    This started out as an answer and ended with a tangential lecture
    – Clay07g
    Oct 17, 2018 at 17:03

...I was unsure of what method I should apply, I searched on youtube and found tutorials on how to solve this problem...using the same method I could substitute my values and get the correct answer.

That is not plagiarism, that is learning: You were given a problem, you found a method that could be used to solve your problem, and you applied the method to your problem. That's exactly how we learn.

By analogy, suppose I'm asked to find the area of a circle, but I don't know how. So, I search the internet and discover that the area of a circle is π·r2. Now I'm able to apply what I've learnt to solve the problem (assuming I know the radius r or diameter 2·r). That's how we learn, that's not plagiarism.

  • 9
    Also, basic techniques like these don't normally need to be cited. If you use some obscure, advanced theorem that came out last year, then you should cite that, even in homework. For some techniques, it helps to name the rule (e.g. step 5: use L'Hopital's rule [work]), but you wouldn't need a formal bibliographic citation. Oct 17, 2018 at 15:29
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    I agree with all of this, but it is worth noting that many courses, especially in mathematics and related fields, discourage use of materials from outside the course because they want the students to learn the methods as presented. This especially makes sense in an area like PDE. Many homework problems have trivial solutions if any technique is allowed but the professor wants to force you to use techniques that are more difficult to learn that technique. Oct 18, 2018 at 0:03
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    Rote learning an equation without understanding it (or how to derive it) is arguably the most basic form of learning, if at all. That said, it’s probably the norm so it’s hardly unethical and definitely not misconduct. Oct 18, 2018 at 1:11
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    @user2768 Agreed, I remember specifically being told "if you learn only what's displayed here, you will get a C - higher grades require learning outside of the course materials"
    – Bilkokuya
    Oct 18, 2018 at 10:25
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    @user2768 It often makes sense in context. Professors often want to use relatively simple problems to teach advanced techniques rather than constructing complex problems that can only be solved with the advanced technique. The simple problems often have trivial solutions if the techniques available aren't limited. This comes up a lot with partial differential equations for example. Oct 18, 2018 at 16:40

I concur with @user2768 's answer. What you did was fine, unless the assignment specified "don't look anything up".

I think what you should have done was include in your submission exactly what you told us here:

I was unsure of what method I should apply, I searched on youtube and found tutorials on how to solve this problem.

with a reference to the link that helped you.

Had you done so the worst case would be an accusation that you misinterpreted the rules (which may not have been clearly stated), not that you cheated in any way.

This is what I provide my students for guidance: https://www.cs.umb.edu/~eb/honesty/

  • 1
    I like the guidance you provide to your students. What made you compose it? Were university policies insufficient?
    – user96258
    Oct 17, 2018 at 22:03
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    @St.Inkbug University policies were OK as far as they went, but they focused on the "don'ts". I wanted to use the opportunity to encourage exploring. I usually asked students to summarize this piece in the first assignment, so I could later remind them that they'd read it. Sadly, many paraphrased the don'ts and skipped the dos. Oct 17, 2018 at 23:46
  • well done indeed.
    – user96258
    Oct 17, 2018 at 23:51
  • @St.Inkbug Thank you. If you want to continue the conversation offline you can find my email address in my profile and on my web page. Oct 17, 2018 at 23:53

I suspect it's because I used the same symbols which in retrospect I could have, should have changed

This may well be the case. And I can understand the attitude behind it.

It is one thing to find an alternative source to teach you what you need, learn from it and apply what you've learned to a given task. This is perfectly fine (most of the time).

However, looking up the solution to your task, copying it, only putting in different numbers, and handing that in as your own work will look much more inacceptable.

No, you should not have just changed the symbols! That can be seen as an attempt to cover your 'plagiarism'.

What you should do in the future is:

If you find (part of) a solution to your task in some literature, pick it up and understand it. (That's not to memorize it!) Then put aside that literature and with your acquired understanding solve the task manually. This will help you avoid the accusations of plagiarism (no guarantee, depending on how much the source's solution differs from what you're expected to provide) and at the same time help you learn the required/requested skills and prove that you've done so.

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