I had a student in my C++ class a few years back who did well on tests and assignments, but rarely showed up. This was the first student I dropped due to attendance.

I have the same student again this semester and we're roughly halfway through. I suspect he has been resubmitting his previous labs to get an easy A. Is this self-plagiarism? When he actually does show up, he browses Reddit and ignores the lectures.

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    Why are you trying to "punish" students? Define your course policies in your syllabus (including policies about attendance, lecture participation, reusing previous course materials, and anything else that is important to your course) and then enforce them exactly as you said you would. It's not about "punishment".
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 0:15
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    If the student does well on tests and assignments, why does it matter whether they attend lectures? Or whether they pay attention to them, if attendance is required? The objective is for the student to learn the material. If they already know it, or learn better by reading and doing than by lectures, let them do it their own way. Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 0:27
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    And why are you giving the same assignments every time you teach the course? Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 0:39
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    Do not mistake blind obedience for work ethic. The student completed the assignments and tests, which is his "work".
    – Boris Bukh
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 0:45
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    The student not only completed the assignments and tests. The student somehow acquired the knowledge needed to do so. Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 1:04

2 Answers 2


Your complaints about your student's behavior consist in the following:

1) Failure to attend lectures.
2) Not paying close attention when he does attend.
3) Possibly recycling homework from when he took your class several years before.

None of these behaviors are what I would call "defiant": a defiant student openly and aggressively pushes back against your authority in a way that carries the danger of ruining the course for the other students. I don't see that here, except possibly a little bit in 2): perhaps students who see another student attend and not paying attention may themselves attend and not pay attention. But probably only if they don't find the lectures worthwhile.

I have to say that I don't really understand why you withdrew from your course a student who was doing well on both exams and assignments: for a CS course, presumably that's where all the assessments are coming from. If you were teaching a course in which the class featured discussions of a kind where absence would affect everyone -- e.g. a creative writing class where much of what the students are getting is critiques on their work from other students -- then I could understand, but if it's a lecture course and the student doesn't need to attend the lectures to do well...then in my mind withdrawing such a student is a solution without a problem.

(Perhaps I should add that in recent years I have had mandatory attendance policies in many of my undergraduate courses. Moreover I have withdrawn two students for lack of attendance. These two students would essentially never show up except for the in-class midterms, on which they would do badly. When I wrote to them to tell them that they had to start coming to class, they did not write back. So I withdrew them.)

I also don't have much sympathy for the idea that your student is "self-plagiarizing." Honestly, you sound like you are a bit annoyed with him and looking to punish him...wait, you came right out and said that last part. If it is specifically detailed in your course policies that reusing programs is forbidden, then you have a leg to stand on. Otherwise I think not. Self-plagiarism (I don't really like the term -- you cannot steal from yourself) occurs when you pass off old intellectual content as new intellectual content. But not all academic assignments ask the student to create new intellectual content. Some assignments are exercises, done to develop skills. And many exercises will be solved in essentially the same way by most competent people. I just don't think the task in a CS class is to write code different from all code that was written before, generally. In fact, I would go so far to say that when learning to write code, reusing old code is most often a good practice.

As an undergraduate math major, I would occasionally get assigned problems that I had also been assigned in a previous course. I usually would recopy my previous assignment: why not? But I never had a whole course in which the homework was a repeat from a previous course, not even when I took a course that I had taken elsewhere a few years before.

If you don't want your students to reuse material from previous courses, there is an easy solution by the way: don't yourself reuse homework assignments from previous courses. Your student could accuse you of "self-plagiarism." I think you should take the two self-plagiarism contentions equally seriously or equally unseriously.

  • I agree re-using coding assignments is self-plagiarism but it is absolutely trivial.
    – 123movies
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 2:03
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    "I have to say that I don't really understand why you withdrew from your course a student who was doing well on both exams and assignments"... Quick perspective: I'm in a math/CS department where officially strict attendance is required by department policy. I am not super aligned with that policy. Just saying that's one possible case. Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 2:49
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    @ff524: I agree that I haven't expressed things quite properly here. Tomorrow I will take another shot. But for instance: on a math problem set, it would generally be permissible to use a solution you found in a book...with proper attribution. It would not be permissible to do this in a writing assignment (this essay is taken from...?!?) I think that coding should be more like math: if you've seen some algorithm before, you can use it, right? Moreover building on what you've written before is a big part of coding. Starting from scratch every time is a bad practice. Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 3:43

Let me start with a preamble. As a student, I rarely attended lectures during the first three years, spending time in various ways I won't delve into here. Nonetheless, I was able to pass the exams, and with excellent grades. Given my past, I'm not inclined to see students punished for attendance (luckily, in my country, attendance is rarely mandatory).

As a professor, though, I am of course interested in having the students attending my courses, but I think that this should be achieved by attracting them rather then punishing them:

  1. deliver lively lectures;
  2. present the topics in ways different from those of the textbooks;
  3. present, if you can, some material that cannot be easily found in standard textbooks;
  4. don't recycle homework or projects.

Point 4 above is the answer to your question. You don't want the students to resubmit the same homework, reports, labs, whatever? Be the first to do what you ask them: don't reassign the same stuff.

Is this self-plagiarism?

Really, I wouldn't call self-plagiarism giving the same solution to the same problem.

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    "Really, I wouldn't call self-plagiarism giving the same solution to the same problem." +1: this is a better, crisper version of something I was groping for in my answer. Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 15:18

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