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Basically, I coded several assignments and a friend turned in code which looks almost identical. I didn't give him my code, and, as far as I know, he didn't even have any way to access it - but it happened somehow. Anyway, the professor said that he can't prove that I let him have the code, so he won't/can't fail me for the class. However, he'll still give me 0s on the assignments he suspects cheating on.

Is there anything I can do? I already went over the code with the professor one on one, and proved with little doubt that I coded it myself. If the suspected cheating can't be proved, does he have the authority to give 0s on those assignments? Would an ombudsman be able to change the situation? I don't want to push this too hard and end up digging myself into a hole where an authority may decide to fail me (if that's possible), but I also proved that I coded those assignments and deserve a grade.

The professor said that if he figures out how he got my code (supposedly if he sees that I didn't willingly hand it over to him), then he'd give me the points back. But since the case is already going to be dismissed, is that a decision that he can make or something I can fight back?

I'm sure this all varies based on different universities and their policies, but any advice would be appreciated, thanks.

EDIT: I was mistaken to say that the case is going to be dismissed - Its most likely going to be though.

EDIT2: Between advice here and what I've found out on my end, I think I know what my options are and what I can do.

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    It sounds like you should have a chat with your friend! It would really support your defence if they came clean about how they copied your code without you knowing / without you facilitating their cheating. – user2705196 May 13 at 22:13
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    Check your university's academic honesty policy for your rights and obligations. As you say, it depends a lot on the university and the department. At my university, for example, you would receive a 0 as a minimum penalty even if someone copied over your shoulder without your knowledge. – Kathy May 13 at 22:15
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal May 16 at 14:07
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I have heard about professors threatening all kinds of stuff because of alleged cheating. In our university, such cases may not be judged by the professors or teachers of the course (and doing so, especially making threats can get them into trouble). Instead, they are required to present it to a commission consisting of a few higher-ups in the department.

I suggest you look up how this works at your school or university. I imagine you can ask your mentor or adviser (or just another professor / teacher you trust) what the procedure is there.

It shouldn't be a problem to ask what the procedure is, and if you like what you hear you can always try to make your case. Though I'd informally explain the situation to someone you trust, e.g. mentor, adviser, etc. first. If you are willing to make a case, you can probably tell the teacher beforehand, if they don't think they have a case they might drop it all together because they don't want involve others (especially if they have little proof).

Once you do involve other people (teachers / some commission), make sure to make your case as tight as possible. If you can prove that you wrote it (e.g. a cloud service that shows when you saved, Github commits or chat logs showing your worked on it together) then that can help you convince those who are judging the case.

  • 1
    Thanks! The only policy I see for cheating is that if found guilty, there's a department that will handle what consequences I receive. So I'm fairly certain the professor's punishment can't be following policies. I wish I had time to dig deeper, but it's the last week of the semester and official grades will be in soon. – zapshe May 14 at 2:45
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    @zapshe If I were you I'd contact them anyway if you want to take it up with higher-ups. Academic dishonesty is a serious thing. For example, at our university it will go on the record (after discussing with the parties involved). If it doesn't really impact you much you might not want to bother taking it up, but if it does (e.g. you mail the course because of the missing points, or the they somehow put it on the record without hearing you out) then I'd consider it. And contacting your adviser / mentor could be a good in-between step to consider your options with them first. – JJJ May 14 at 17:14
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    Thanks, it seems that the issue will be progressing and if it gets to the office of student conduct I will appeal it. After talking with an ombudsman, I was told the office of student conduct will tell me my options when I see them, which is short for I have practically only a few options. I can appeal or let it happen, but it has to get there first. There's still a chance it wont, but I'll see what happens. Thanks a lot JJJ! – zapshe May 14 at 18:14
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It seems that you are being treated unfairly, but it is a situation that can only be judged and handled locally. Your university probably has appeal processes and you can always go to the department head.

In programming as in mathematics there is often only one clear way to do something and if different students do "the expected" thing, then their programs come out similar - occasionally very similar.

"Suspicion" of cheating should never be the final determinant.

But no one here can help you. Seek a solution locally.

  • 1
    Anyone with coding experience could likely come to the same conclusion that there was cheating. I even questioned my friend, who I could not even find a way for him to have cheated, about whether or not he actually copied my code. So there's evidence for the suspicion, but I'm not sure how substantial that is. – zapshe May 13 at 21:48
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    Sorry to comment again. I am seeking "local" assistance, but thought some advice from here might be helpful too. Thanks for the post. – zapshe May 13 at 21:49
  • Of one programming course I once took in the university, the professor claimed that he had written an automated program to parse students assignments and check the similarity, and once the similarity is higher than a threshold (by whatever quantitative standards he specified), he would grade 0 for that assignment. Logically, I do think there will be non-trivial chances that two people accidentally write code being similar not only in structure but in naming too, so that the checking-program cannot tell. – Violapterin May 14 at 16:39
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    I once caught two of my students handing over the exact same solution with different code indentation, variable names and a few extra comments. I have no idea how they cheated, but I am sure about it because the code had the exact same functionality, the exact same dead/inaccessible code, the exact same bugs, and the exact same misunderstanding of the problem at hand. I've never seen two other solutions so similar in 4 years of teaching. Sometimes it's easier to tell someone cheated than how. – Patrick Trentin May 14 at 17:10
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    Why did you include the "can only be judged and handled locally" and "no one here can help you" parts? There are a lot of questions on here for which we can only offer advice, and for which we only have one side of the story, so it seems redundant to say this. I don't imagine anyone expects an answer saying "I got your grade fixed for you", and we should answer based on the assumption that OP is telling the truth. – NotThatGuy May 16 at 8:20
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You say you've already talked to your professor 1-on-1 and showed that you indeed coded the assignment yourself. If so, I suggest getting your professor to also talk to your friend 1-on-1. If your friend can also show that he coded the assignment himself, it would be sensible to give both of you the points. If your friend can't, then you have a good case for why he should be getting the zeros, and not you.

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    This did happen. My friend apparently couldn't justify the code to his satisfaction. The issue again is that he's still giving 0s based on the suspicion. Thanks for the post. – zapshe May 14 at 1:16
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    Therein is the most powerful point in your favor. Your professor knows you can justify the code design, but your friend was unable to do so. At this point your professor has to answer to the academic chair for acting against his knowledge. Suspicion alone doesn’t cut it. (Unless you are Kathy.) – Dúthomhas May 14 at 1:34
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    @Dúthomhas I'm not sure that's a point in the OP's favor. If the friend could clearly show they had coded it, that would contradict the hypothesis of cheating. As it is now, it looks like the friend cheated off the OP, and letting someone cheat off you is, for most if not all codes of conduct, a serious violation. – Acccumulation May 14 at 15:00
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    I don't see the relevance of @Dúthomhas's point. The OP could have written the code and willingly given it to the other student (or even willingly sold it to the other student, for that matter). The issue isn't whether the OP wrote the code, but whether the OP cheated. – alephzero May 14 at 16:11
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    @alephzero No, the issue is whether he helped his “friend” cheat, not whether he himself cheated. He has proven himself to the professor to have learned the course material and have been honest about all other aspects of his claims; yet he is disbelieved when he says the person he was studying with stole his work and stupidly presenteded as his own. Without solid evidence either way, the process has been decidedly guilty-until-proven-innocent. – Dúthomhas May 14 at 18:01
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If you did the assignment by yourself, then try asking your teacher to take the total points from the assignment/s he suspects you cheated on and add those points to your next quiz/test that covers those assignments. This way you have a honest opportunity to earn those points back and prove that you know the material covered in those assignments.

I know some teachers will do this if a student simply didn't turn in an assignment because they were sick, perhaps this same solution can be used for your situation.

  • He knows very well I can code the assignments myself. He's taking off points for suspected cheating, which I think isn't grounds for doing that. Thanks for the post and the idea! – zapshe May 13 at 22:42
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    If you did the assignment, why settle for not getting the points you deserve? That might even be considered accepting the case made by the teacher. If you aren't in the wrong, don't take the punishment as it will look as though you accept having been in the wrong even though you haven't. – JJJ May 14 at 1:59
  • @JJJ if you know the material and you did the assignment then you would get the points you deserve when you took the test. I am just offering an alternative solution in the case that the teacher refuses to give the points back, which is likely. In a perfect world the teacher would believe the student and he would give him his points for the assignments. – RAZ_Muh_Taz May 14 at 16:49
  • In a perfect world you wouldn't punish someone unless you are sufficiently (depending on the offense) convinced of their guilt. When you, as a teacher, are sufficiently convinced, you can't give them a second chance (especially if the school / uni has a zero tolerance policy on academic dishonesty). If the teacher is not convinced, then they should drop the accusation altogether or (have someone) investigate further. – JJJ May 14 at 16:53
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I have had a similar issue before, where I coded something that was extremely similar to something somebody else made. When confronted by the teacher, we went back and forth for a bit until I turned the project over to him and told him to ask me anything about the code and why I made the decisions that I did.

If you wrote the code yourself, you will be able to explain in detail your thought process and what your code is about. This should be enough proof that even if you didn't write the code yourself, you still have enough knowledge about the problem/solution for the teacher to accept it.

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    I don't see how what you have described provides any evidence that the code wasn't shared. Thus, A could independently create the code, after which A gives the code to B. Then A would be cheating and (presumably) A would also be able to explain the thought process sufficiently to establish that A independently created the code. – Dave L Renfro May 14 at 10:03
  • @DaveLRenfro i guess i forgot to specify that in my case i was never given time to prepare myself to defend, which is what made it believable. also your comment doesn't make sense to me, i think you mean that B could study the code enough to explain it. and sure while this is true. an argument could be made that if hes studied the code enough that he can explain the reasoning behind it that hes understood the source concept. which was the goal of the assignment in the first place – markveltman May 15 at 10:07
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    also your comment doesn't make sense to me, i think you mean that B could study the code enough to explain it --- In each of the 14 institutions at which I have either taught or was a student (more, if I've overlooked any), a student was considered to have cheated if that student provided unauthorized aid to another student. Indeed, I remember many times when I was a student having to sign a "I have neither given nor received aid" statements on major tests and final exams. In my description of events, A provided unauthorized aid to B, and thus A (in addition to B) engaged in cheating. – Dave L Renfro May 15 at 13:12
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Our policy is that there cannot be a penalty for academic misconduct without handing in a report of the incident. Instructors can do an "Instructor Resolution Form", meaning the instructor and student agree on the penalty and nature of the incident, or an "Instructor Warning", which means just about the same thing, with less penalty. Both are reportable events, and enter into discussions of penalty for future findings of academic dishonesty.

Other than this, if the students don't agree, then they are free to request a hearing.

I guess my point is that raising a stink about this brings on the possibility that the incident is handled through more official channels, where you may be exonerated or not. I suspect if you're in the US that your school policies are similar to mine (because of all the liability concerns), and your instructor may be misusing the policy in your favor, as the suspected incident is not being reported.

FWIW, if the situation is as I suspect it is, I would discourage your professors decision, and would recommend handling the incident officially.

  • I assure you it's being reported. – zapshe May 14 at 17:45
  • Then it's already an academic honesty issue, and you need to start with whatever office deals with academic honesty issues at your school to see what the appeal mechanism is. FWIW, for a first offense, our penalty would probably be a zero on all the suspected assignments plus a reduction of a full letter grade. The instructor involved would not necessarily be free to simply fail you, unless the penalty described results in a failing grade. – Scott Seidman May 14 at 17:53
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It could be as simple as checking the creation dates of the files in question. While these can be spoofed, it's likely that someone who was so lazy as to copy the files in the first place would also be too lazy to think of and then change the dates.

  • In the case that one person is caught copying off the other, both are usually considered perpetrators of the cheating. The one copied from is still subject to the consequences by allowing their files to be accessed. This question isn't about showing who cheated off of who, it's about consequences being placed on the OP when it hasn't even been proven that they helped the other cheat. Checking the creation dates of the files wouldn't help with the OP's issue, that would only possibly indicate who copied from whom, which isn't relevant at the moment. – Davy M went to fund Monica May 14 at 22:34
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This is a lower division computer science class, and the professor thinks that grading policy is acceptable? Seriously? Lower division computer science homework is convergent, almost the same way as a sheet of math problems is convergent. Expect multiple people to turn in very similar work. There are documented cases of identical work turned in by different students.

This grading policy is simply wrong, and I recall having to argue a few of these myself. Fortunately, my reputation preceded me and there was no doubt I was perfectly capable of the work and had no reason to cheat. I would argue the policy the first day of every class that had it in the syllabus on purpose, because I was a target and the electronic turn-in mechanisms were vulnerable. My professors continued to hold the policy, but not for my homework.

And oh yes, I reported a definite case of another student helping himself to my homework off the network servers. Unfortunately I couldn't tell whom it was.

Thankfully I never had to go to the dean about it.

Only later did I learn about the convergence of lower division computer science homework. Well, I should have known in the first class I took. All perfect grades should look the same except for comments. I only escape because my word choices are really unique. If I didn't bother to comment ...

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    Lower division computer science homework is convergent, almost the same way as a sheet of math problems is convergent. Expect multiple people to turn in very similar work. No, this is totally wrong. – Ben Crowell May 15 at 17:26
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    @BenCrowell: I guess you haven't heard about the high false positive rate for automated checkers such as turnitin on computer science homework yet. – Joshua May 15 at 17:46
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Talk to your student union representative

A Professor is in a position of power; an individual student, to the university system as a whole, is a passing concern, and will often be ignored, even if s/he has been mistreated. However, the student body is large and stable; and if it is organized, is often able to exert counter-pressure if necessary.

Your student union representative should have some experience with similar situations, or at least easy access to people who have it; and they should have both the ability and the venue to bring up such issues - or at the very least the option of public protest.

Also, they will know your university or department's rules, guidelines and procedures, and will thus be able to give you better advice than us even for acting individually.

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