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In a course we have a lot of hard homework. We are allowed to share solutions etc, as long as each student's doesn't just copy but understands what he/she writes.

Is this acceptable to hire a tutor help me solve the homework I can't solve?

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    I think the answer depends entirely on what you mean by "help". If the tutor is explaining concepts but letting you figure out how to apply them, it's not only appropriate but recommended. If the tutor is telling you what words to write on the page, it's straightforward cheating.
    – JeffE
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 20:55
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    Identifying your mistakes would be fine, in my opinion. Fixing your mistakes is unambiguously cheating. You said it yourself: "as long as each student's doesn't just copy but understands what he/she writes". There's a built-in requirement that the student writes every word they submit.
    – JeffE
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 20:58
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    No. Having someone else fix your homework mistakes before you submit your homework is cheating.
    – JeffE
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 21:10
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    "It is unethical and everybody does it" - someone who never did it Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 21:40
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    Does the homework count for the course's grade?
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 21:50

3 Answers 3

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We are allowed to share solutions etc, as long as each student's doesn't just copy but understands what he/she writes.

This is the only information we have about your instructor's policies, so this is the only answer we can give to your question. It's OK to hire a tutor for help with the homework, as long as you don't just copy but understand what you write.

It's also possible that your instructor intends different rules for paid tutors than for cooperation with your fellow students. However, we would have no way of knowing that from the information provided in your question.

There are also general expectations about plagiarism and originality, and these are ethical norms that you're responsible for understanding and following, regardless of your instructor's policies. Your description of your working relationship with your tutor isn't specific enough to make it clear whether you have a problem here or not. As JeffE has pointed out, "fixing" your mistakes might entail plagiarism, if it means that what goes on your paper isn't actually what you wrote yourself.

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There is only one person who knows whether it is acceptable, the instructor for the course who is the one doing the accepting or rejecting. Ask them, explaining clearly what sort of help you would be getting from the tutor.

There are big differences between students discussing a homework and hiring a pro. When processing suggestions from another student, you have to apply your own judgement to determine whether you agree, you can't count on them being right. To continue to get help from fellow students you would also have to supply help to others, not just consume help the way you could with a paid tutor.

I think you are aware there is a significant difference. If not, why waste money on a paid tutor rather than discussing the homework with one or more of you fellow students?

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In a well designed course there shouldn't be a problem. What matters is that the performance at the exam won't be a lot worse than how you did on your homework assignments. The instructor has no way of checking if you stick to any rules, other than to measure your performance at doing the homework exercises and at the exam. So, all you need to do is make sure you have mastered the topic of the homework exercises well enough to be able to reproduce whatever you hand in all by yourself.

Just imagine not sticking to this rule. The instructor may notice that STUDENTZ who looked like such a brilliant student who should become his/her new Ph.D student, flunked the exam. For all the instructor knows, there can be many causes, like illness, even extreme nervousness for which there are remedies. So, such students who unexpectedly flunked the exam can be asked to meet with the instructor. By talking things over in a relaxed setting, the instructor can get an idea of what is going on. If the instructor notices that you have not mastered the topic to a degree that is remotely consistent with your homework performance, then you will be in trouble.

In contrast, if you choked up during the exam while during the meeting it is clear that you have completely mastered the subject, the instructor may be inclined to give you another opportunity to pass the exam, e.g. an oral examination right during that meeting itself.

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