I was flagged for plagiarism on a programming assignment. We get 3 submissions a day for the ~3 weeks that the project is open. I finished my project in about 1 week, but on one of those days I used my friend's computer to submit my assignment to the autograder (so I really got 4 submissions in one day). The undergraduate Honor Council at my college found me guilty of cheating on the assignment, and I'll have to report to another Honor Council with 5 professors evaluating my case and asking me questions to determine my ultimate punishment.

In all honestly, I just submitted on my friend's account to see if it would work (I was curious if they checked on submitting on peoples' accounts who weren't in the class). I still had ~2 weeks worth of submissions when I submitted my project for the final time, so I don't really think I had an unfair advantage over my peers.

Is this really a serious offense? The undergraduate council recommended to the official council that I get a 0 on the project (I actually got 100 on it), which would put me at a <= C- in the class (which is failing) given how heavily weighted this assignment was, but this seems rather ridiculous given it was all my code.

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    Is the council calling this "plagiarism" or are they calling it "cheating"? Was this assignment supposed to have been completed within a lab? Did you use the information from the autograder to improve your score on your submission? Does your instructor allow you to submit to the autograder multiple times?
    – Village
    Nov 25 '14 at 12:02
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    Never, ever, ever do things by using other people's account. And what is that "I was curious if they checked on submitting on peoples' accounts who weren't in the class". Are you sure you are telling us the whole story?
    – Alexandros
    Nov 25 '14 at 12:56
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    The presumption is likely to be that if the code was submitted from a friend's account, then that friend was able to view it. Allowing another student to read your code would definitely be academic misconduct under any policy I can think of.
    – sapi
    Nov 26 '14 at 4:36
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    @sapi: and that's a very peculiar feature of student life, that students don't find intuitive at all. Showing your work to someone not even in the class is definite academic misconduct. Imagine if it were professional academic misconduct to allow another academic to see your work ;-) But it looks to me like the questioner is being pinged here for experimenting with a way to work around the constraints of the homework, not for allowing another student not on the course, to see his course homework. Nov 26 '14 at 11:16
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    Despite all the comments and answers here I still do not understand a basic fact: how is the council supposed to know it was you who submitted the assignment? Why should they believe you?
    – user541686
    Nov 26 '14 at 18:21

Given that the student Honor Council has already found you guilty of cheating, maintaining that what you did was simply out of curiosity does not seem like a good strategy. I don't find that explanation so convincing myself: your "curiosity" got you an unfair advantage in the grading of the assignment. Your position that this advantage was not relevant to the final outcome is really not the point: many if not most students who cheat on assignments and exams could have reached the same outcome honestly if only they had been more patient (and honest!). If you were really "just curious", you could have asked about it, and you certainly could have submitted only the allowed total number of submissions in a single day.

The real question is whether you deserve the punishment you've thus far been given, of a 0 on the entire assignment. Generally, when students don't follow all the rules of an assignment, they can reasonably expect to be penalized for it in some way, but the penalty need not be the entire value of the assignment. I think your position should be that you agree that you did not follow the rules and that you did this out of a combination of curiosity and stupidity. You can make a reasonable case that you did not violate any fundamental principles of the assignment: all the work you turned in was your own, and you got it 100% correct well before the final deadline. So all in all you did more good work than bad. You did exhibit poor judgment and agree that some penalty is reasonable.

I would suggest that you ask to be given the score that you got on the last attempt before you submitted on your friend's computer. This score is undeniably legit, and giving you that score for the assignment seems like a nice compromise between giving no penalty for breaking the rules and ruining your entire course grade.

On the other hand, all this is to answer your question "Is this really a serious offense?" (TL,DR: probably not too serious, but you did do something wrong.) What I suggested above is really more a suggestion for what I think a just outcome of the faculty deliberation would be. Depending upon how your system works, you may or may not have the opportunity to suggest a punishment. As others have said, your real strategy here is to remain calm, explain all the facts as clearly as possible, accept that what you did is wrong and convey the impression that you are nevertheless a good student overall. What they decide is really up to them.

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    Indeed if the aim were just to kick the tires of the system, the questioner could have submitted an empty source file using the friend's account, to see whether or not it got the detailed feedback. Then the plagiarism trigger wouldn't have tripped. But it's easy to say with hindsight what an ethical pen-tester might have done, the fact is the council won't accept that the student is any kind of legitimate pen-tester anyway... Nov 26 '14 at 11:23
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    +1 for "that you did this out of a combination of curiosity and stupidity". This is the only logical explanation of the OP's behavior.
    – Alexandros
    Nov 26 '14 at 15:02

What you did, in my opinion, doesn't deserve more punishment than a frown. Your problem now is convincing them that that is exactly what happened. It should be easy to see that the code is all yours, and that you had plenty of extra time. It would speak in your favour if the submission you did with your friend's computer was the same as one done with your account.

Keep a cool head and explain things clearly.

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    Thank you. The submission I had on my friend's account was a slight modification to one of my previous submissions that day (they were both < 100%). The undergraduate council felt like I gained an unfair advantage in knowing my project was < 100% more times in one day than any other student.
    – Ashley
    Nov 25 '14 at 12:01
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    @Ashley, don't you think they have a fair point there?
    – A E
    Nov 25 '14 at 13:47
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    @Ashley if that is the problem, your best bet is to show them that what you did was stupid, but you didn't get any advantage.
    – Davidmh
    Nov 25 '14 at 14:17
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    The advantage was getting more rapid feedback than you're supposed to. There's a reason the system gives you 3 responses per day for 21 days, not a total of 63 responses at any time during 21 days. Whatever that reason is, you're ignoring it by defending yourself with "I didn't use more feedback than I was entitled to anyway". People who administer these rules systems don't like it when you break the rules and claim it's OK because you don't accept that the rules have a good reason. They also don't like it when you say it's OK because you're smart (100% in much less than the time limit). Nov 26 '14 at 11:27
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    @Ashley Before you pat yourself on the back, please do remember that Davidmh's opinion isn't the one that ultimately matters. (Nor is mine.)
    – JeffE
    Nov 26 '14 at 12:42

Be ready to explain your code and prove it is yours. It was submitted from two accounts, the council knows it was from the same author, but they don't know who the author is yet. At my school the students are questioned about the code and how it works.

Explain to them what you did was dumb and that you did not benefit from it. Technically, you found a loophole in their system that could give you an unfair advantage. If possible bring the assignment sheet with due dates, and the dates/times of each submission. Have evidence that you didn't do that for fraudulent reasons, and that if submitted the next day it would still be on time.

And as Davidmh said, it is very important to be polite and calm. No one has ever gotten a warning from a police officer after being disrespectful to them. They may very well have not dealt with a situation like this before, and are treating it with a guilty until proven innocent approach. Treat it as a court case and professionally present your evidence and make your case as to why you didn't benefit and that you didn't plagiarize.

Lastly, learn from this. I have painfully learned like you that following your curiosity without either notice or consent from those in charge can end badly. People just see the outcome, with no knowledge of if the intent was malicious, and sadly most the time people assume the worst.

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    "Technically, you found a loophole in their system that could give you an unfair advantage." I think busting everyone trying to abuse this pretty much fixed the loophole. Perhaps not in a satisfactory manner, but for the Council it looks fixed.
    – Mast
    Nov 26 '14 at 10:12

You knew what the rules were (3 submissions a day) and you knowingly violated those rules (by making 4 submissions in a day). This gives them a slam-dunk justification for giving you 0 on the assignment. If this happens your response needs to recognise that you are in the wrong and accept the consequences of your actions.

It does seem on the harsh side however. To convince the council to favour you, I would suggest that you must first convince them that you (a) accept you did something wrong and (b) won't do it again. Once you've done this you may be able to achieve leniency by arguing that these were your submissions and they are of the highest standard.


This does not seem to be a case of plagiarism but identity theft (or "surrogation").

In all honestly, I just submitted on my friend's account to see if it would work (I was curious if they checked on submitting on peoples' accounts who weren't in the class)

Sure it's all your code, your programming skills may be unpaired, but you are going to be taught a lesson on ethics, protocols and behaviour. Be prepared. This is the result of curiosity, now you learn that and its consequences.

It's really not about the qualification or your skills, it's about sending a message about what is misconduct and the tolerance to that. Basically, you are questioning the rules (I can have 4 submissions in one day and that doesn't make a difference) and they won't like that.

I don't think a 0 in that project is too harsh. For the reference, real plagiarism in my university would imply a 0 in the whole course and waiting for 2 years to be able to take it again. This is not real plagiarism, hence just a 0 seems reasonable to me.

  • "This is not real plagiarism, hence" it doesn't matter how harsh the penalties for plagarism are. Or let me put it another way. Where I live, murdering someone will get you at least a few decades in jail, possibly even executed. Luckily what you did was not murder, so "only" getting a 0 on your assignment seems reasonable.
    – industry7
    Nov 26 '14 at 21:57

I was a tutor once for a couple of years and I had students like you who tried to push the boundaries, doing things that were forbidden and trying to make excuses similar to yours... Your excuse seems really poor, I'm not sure if they will believe it or even care, as others have pointed out, you could have:

  • asked whether it would work
  • upload something from your friend's account that is not your code
  • upload it on a day where you did not already have 3 submissions

Honestly, did you even think about what you where doing?

I don't mean to be offensive, I want to believe that you didn't mean to cheat or get an advantage, but from the position of a tutor/teacher, such behaviour is annoying. It means more work for them (5 professors have to deal with your case!) because of something that you think is not serious at all. I would probably give you 50% of the points you had on your last legitimate submission.

What I suggest you to do is to apologize (mean it!), say how stupid and unthoughtful that was and kindly ask to get the points you had on your last legitimate submission.

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