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I overheard a student who said that they would use a project done in another course that semester as the final project in an entirely different course. (Let's call the original course Course 0 and the second course Course 2.)

I know it's bad practice to submit work to a class which had been submitted in previous semesters, but I've never heard of anyone turning in the same work to two different classes concurrently before. (Perhaps because opportunities to do so are rare?)

In any event, my initial feeling is that this is dishonesty, but I can't put the reason why into words.

So, is submitting the same project to course 0 and course 2 concurrently dishonest?

For the record: the project involves coding in a certain software (not for the sake of coding, it's just a means to an end), I do not know the name of the student who expressed their intent to do this, but I do know the professors of both courses. I'll edit this section with more pertinent information should anyone want it.

EDIT For the Comments:

The code really is a means to an end, and I furthermore would not describe either course as a programming course. The idea is to perform data analysis on a dataset of the student's choosing.

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    For all the courses I attended, there was a phrase somewhere in the documentation stating something along the lines of "any submission is the student's work and has not been submitted as part of any other course"... – Solar Mike Dec 4 '19 at 16:18
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    Why would it be dishonest if the work happens to fit the requirements for both classes? I would congratulate the student for finding a way for a single piece of software to pull double duty... – Sean Dec 4 '19 at 23:02
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    I think this one really really really depends on the the nature of the coding. Please edit it in! For starters, if the coding is a means to an end, why is the code being submitted?? – Mars Dec 5 '19 at 0:47
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    To justify the above: One of the main principles of coding is reuse. If the purpose of the assignment isn't the coding, then there should be no difference between the code in question versus the use of a public (software) library – Mars Dec 5 '19 at 0:52
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    Really, the issue is that trying to shoehorn programming into the rules that were developed for writing and communication leads to silly things. – eps Dec 5 '19 at 16:03

11 Answers 11

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Whether it is or not, the professors in the courses will have the last say. If either of them considers it dishonest or otherwise improper, for any reason, you will wind up in a bad place.

But there is an easy way out. Just ask both of them for permission to do this. They might say yes, or no, but then you have a clear answer. They might also give permission provided that you go a bit beyond the bare essentials to demonstrate sufficient work (and seriousness) to cover both.

But doing it without notice or permission seems dangerous, no matter the ethics.

And, you can even come off looking good on this if you actually make an offer to do more than the minimum and submit the result to both. It might mean a bit less work for you overall, and might also teach you some things you wouldn't otherwise have learned. Even for a previously submitted project, offering to extend the old work can be a plus.

FWIW, I would probably be inclined to permit it, with the proviso of some added requirements.

And, I actually did this in secondary school because I changed schools. I asked an instructor at the new place if I could submit a report that I'd previously worked on, but wasn't actually graded for (since I left). I was given permission and it saved me a bit of work.

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    Some institutions have explicit rules that this is not allowed without permission, e.g. Cornell (see I.C.2). – Nate Eldredge Dec 4 '19 at 14:19
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    @Buffy, may I ask what you would do if you discovered someone to have done this without your permission, in the case that you would have given permission if asked? – GridAlien Dec 4 '19 at 14:23
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    I would first talk to both the student and the other professor. Perhaps a not deadly solution could be found. I'm much more interested in educating students than most everything else. But the bottom line is that it "feels like" dishonesty. So we would need to work upward from there. But snap judgments probably aren't helpful to anyone. – Buffy Dec 4 '19 at 14:25
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    "not deadly" is exactly right. If the student didn't intentionally violate any ethical code (i.e. it wasn't explicitly stated that one could not do a project that satisfies multiple requirements), then it is in my opinion wrong for anyone to judge it as unethical without first talking to the student and trying to find a fair way to handle the issue. – user21820 Dec 5 '19 at 7:04
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    I actually did this back in undergrad. I had two classes whose final projects I thought I could knock out completely with one big project. After talking to both professors about it, each wanted things added (specific to their class) and didn't care or grade me on the add-on's the other wanted. Asking is definitely the right answer. – scohe001 Dec 5 '19 at 22:26
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This was actually encouraged in the university I attended. The lecturers were of the opinion that the goal is to learn, not to make projects. If one project can teach you the skills required for two courses, why do two projects?

An example of a project I used for multiple courses was a bit of software I developed as a volunteer activity. I used this for the course in which we had to learn to gather requirements, in the course in which we learned how to develop complex software and in the course that worked on the soft skill of communicating with a client.

I don't think it's dishonest in and of itself, but it is not okay if there are rules against it, obviously.

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Yes [if without explicit permission], and it is against many (most?) Student Conduct Guidelines

For example, at Montana State University, this is covered under "Multiple Submission" under Policies and Procedures (under Academic Honesty):

F. Multiple submission - submitting the same paper or oral report for credit in two University courses without the instructor's permission; making minor revisions in a paper or report for which credit has already been received and submitting it again as a new piece of work.

Every University I've worked at has had similar policy wording, and I can't think of any others where I've reviewed related sections of their policies where similar wording wasn't present, but I certainly haven't done an exhaustive search on this specifically.

The key provision here, of course, is "without the instructor's permission". If it has been discussed and approved, it is likely fine at most institutions (check the specific policies and procedures for your University or College, do not assume on this). It becomes academic dishonesty when it is not approved.

Work that is submitted for a course is expected to have been done for that course, not simply the student taking other work previously (or even concurrently) done and submitting it, even if they were in fact the one who did the work. Failing to discuss submitting the same work to multiple courses is an act of academic dishonesty, in the ethical sense at the least, as the student is not meeting the expectations of their actions in regards to the coursework for each individual course.

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    I understand your point and do not disagree, but the idea in which multiple submissions is unethical seems to place more emphasis on effort exerted than student comprehension. If the student meets the requirements and fully understands the details then redundant effort may be pointless. Education strives towards enlightenment, does it not? Perhaps pursuing the same goals in different ways provides an opportunity for understanding different points of view? – barrypicker Dec 4 '19 at 23:04
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    @barrypicker from a pedagogical standpoint, I ABSOLUTELY agree with you, but part of the concept of a class of many where grades are recorded and then used as both validation/credit for having worked to a given standard & as comparison mean that the ethics of engaging in University coursework are different from simply "did you learn it" in terms of the direct course conceptual material alone. Philosophically I agree with you as it pertains to ideals of pedagogy, but in terms of ethics within a University environment I feel it is quite straightforward: without permission it's an ethical breach. – taswyn Dec 4 '19 at 23:16
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I love this question. I’m a former professor and also had to answer to this exact question when I was in undergrad.

I think there’s an ethical part and a practical part.

Ethically, if you find yourself rationalizing and jumping through hoops to double submit, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Practically, if the work without major edit does indeed fulfill the requirements for two classes, I say go with it. After all, why would you not? Even if the institution had a rule against it, I might elect to fight, as there is no logical reason one should arbitrarily do two separate works if one truly satisfies all requirements. What would YOU the student, get out of such an exercise?

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    I guest the projects have more or less open topic and the details are chosen by students. In this case the student exploits the freedom in a bad way. – mcsim Dec 5 '19 at 14:36
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My personal view on it would be that the acceptability of this depends on how much overlap there is between the projects, and how deliberate you were at the outset in making things a single project.

If you have one class which is asking for a project which does A and another which is asking for one which does B, and you come up with a project which does both A and B, then that's likely okay. However, if they're both asking for slightly different variants of A, then it's less likely that a single project which does just A will be accepted.

For example, say you're in a Computer Science class which asks you to write a non-trivial program using multithreading and in a Biology class which is asking you to do a project on DNA sequence alignment. I think that most professors will think it actually a bit clever and pedagogically useful for you to write a computer program which does DNA sequence alignment in a multithreaded fashion to satisfy both projects. Similarly, even if it's two CS classes it can work if the courses are different enough (e.g. a compiler course and a GUI course).

A large part of this is how much "reuse" between the different project requirements there is. For example, in the multithreaded DNA alignment case, the part of the project the CS professor is interested in (multithreading) is disjoint from the part the biology professor is (DNA alignment). You're not really being "double graded", as even though project is the same, the core part being graded is different. -- It's less that you have one single project that you're submitting twice, and more that you are fusing the two distinct projects into one cohesive whole.

The other aspect is the deliberateness of combining. The point of projects isn't make work, it's to provide a demonstration that you have learned and are able to apply the course materials. There's thus an implicit requirement that the project should reflect and incorporate the course materials. To do so effectively, you need to have the class materials in mind while doing the project. This is one reason why reusing projects from previous semesters is frowned upon - you couldn't have consciously incorporated materials from the course in a project made before you took the course. That also potentially applies to projects made in the same semester. Did you deliberately set out to fulfill that specific project's requirements (incorporating and keeping in mind the course materials), or did you just happen to notice after-the-fact that the project for course 0 could be made to work for course 2?

That said, there can be a big difference in opinion between different professors. You definitely don't want to attempt to "slip one by" them. You should be upfront about the fact that you're combining projects. In certain cases, an attempt to deceive (even via omission) can be more ethically dishonest than the project combining itself.

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There's a key point in here the other answers are overlooking. You mention it's a portion of code. As a software engineer code re-use is imperative. Not doing so is like a slap in the face to the men and women that worked so hard over the last several decades to provide us these easy to use development environments, frameworks, and platforms. If these are for computer science or related courses, I would be shocked if the professors wouldn't accept it.

But as the current top answer states very clearly: in the end it is entirely up to the professors whether it is acceptable/ethical or not

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  • Heh... code reuse is not "imperative" even in a professional development environment, just a useful thing to do. In an academic setting, it's immaterial. (Would you consider it a "slap in the face" that everyone had to do the assignment individually, rather than just copying one student's answer? Think of the missed opportunity for code reuse!) – Sneftel Dec 6 '19 at 10:42
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    "Heh..." I was saying imperative in the context of what created our modern development environments. Obviously it isn't on every level. I learned in notepad without any idea of OOP like a lot of self taught devs. I still write a lot of procedural, depending on the use case. But I'm writing that in php, or even java and C. How's that translated and made useful ..? Hint, compilers that no one can feasibly rewrite every time they write a new program. But let me re-phrase for you; code re-use is imperative to practically develop in the modern world. – TCooper Dec 6 '19 at 18:14
  • @Sneftel And no I wouldn't consider it a slap in the face for each student to do their own work, but I think as a student in the field, having that mindset is integral to their success. Your statements are silly, shortsighted, and seemingly just for the sake of disagreement – TCooper Dec 6 '19 at 18:15
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I study Information Engineering in Romania at UPB and we have subjects that have many things in common. Usually we have one project per subject each semester.

Sometime, not only that the professors know that we use the same project for two subjects, but they also RECOMMEND it! No ones sees this as a hack or cheating, but it is just efficient and powerful. It is more fun to use several concepts in the same project or software than splitting them in 123 boxes.

At the end of the day, if your skills got better and you acquired more knowledge, that's all what matters.

This was my opinion and experience. If the school / assistant / professor has something against this, then we can no longer be subjective.

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I can give my opinion from the side of guy who codes a lot in the field of data analysis: if somebody created software that can do some computations which are easily transformed for needs of two separate tasks or projects, it is actually fantastic.

You can of course do copypasting things from your own code to make another look or even be different, but I doubt it adds anything to your skill as programmer, like is honest just being inspired by your code and do it very similar mor another course? ofc yes.

If in the university there are some very specific rules about it, then it is not great but on contrary one of the main aspect of programming is trying to stick to one style and one set of tricks(untill they are good) as much as possible and reusability of code is highly appretiated in software development in general.

In general if you have good reusable code and in the university there are indeed some strict rules about submitting same project I would recommend you just to use different datasets for your analysis, I bet where you found your dataset there are lots of others, so just make same approach to different data and it will never be your fault, but your achievement.

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Speaking only from my own experience, this would be fine. In the Computer Science department I graduated from the three key rules were:

  • Originality (did you copy it?)
  • Authenticity (did you do it yourself?)
  • Exclusivity (is it publicly available for others?)*

Since you wrote the software, you didn't copy it from anywhere, and (assuming) you aren't going to post your code in a publicly viewable location, the project would be perfectly acceptable as long as it fulfills all the stated requirements, for any number of assignments.

In practice the opportunities for the same project to fulfill the requirements of more than 1 assignment is so low that if you can find a way to exploit it, good for you.

*The logic goes: you are welcome to post your project anywhere you want. But if someone else can see it and copy it, you'll be given a 0. If you want your project to be graded, make sure no one else can also submit it.

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If it is the students own work then what difference makes it if it meets the guidelines for both classes. Same student. Their own work. Meets the criteria. Shouldn't be an issue.

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    You might want to clarify that this is your personal opinion, rather than advice for what the OP should do (since it violates a lot of institutions' academic honesty policies.) – Sneftel Dec 6 '19 at 10:44
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At any university I am familiar with, submitting a project in a class that you have submitted in another class without permission and without citation is considered self-plagiarism and, if discovered, will subject you to academic discipline. Check your student handbook. It's in there somewhere.

For example: [Washington University in St.Louis]

  1. Other Forms of Deceit, Dishonesty or Inappropriate Conduct

Under no circumstances is it acceptable for a student to:

Submit the same work, or essentially the same work, for more than one course without explicitly obtaining permission from all instructors. A student must disclose when a paper or project builds on work completed earlier in his/her academic career.

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