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I am an undergraduate student studying computer science. A student that I know told me tonight that in a class she is taking this semester, she was reported by the autograder that code she and her partner submitted was very similar to the code our group submitted when we took the course last semester. The professor has forwarded her case to the organization in the school for investigation, and he also passed the information to our professor who taught the course when we took it. So my teammates and I are expecting to hear from our professor, and I suspect we will also be reported for investigation into the case.

I am in total shock right now because I never gave our code to her and I never posted the code online, neither did my teammates (we talked after learning about this). So it is very confusing to me why our code would be so similar that would be flagged by the autograder. Even though I know we are innocent, I think it would be a very difficult situation for my teammates and I because: 1) it is already hard to believe the similarity is pure coincidence; 2) what is worse, all of us knows this person who is accused of copying our code, which makes it look even more suspicious; 3) if we are indeed reported and under investigation, apart from saying that we did not provide the code, we do not have any ways to show that we are innocent (in fact now I think the procedure is very unfair to people like us).

The student accused of copying our code told us that she was provided with both our codes for comparison, and she think they look similar in logic, and some shorter functions are almost the same. I do not want to think that she somehow managed to "steal" our code. I do feel that a possible reason could be that the course is quite difficult and every group would seek help from TA so in the end most groups have similar approach to the design of the code.

I still find the whole thing very bizarre. I am very aware of the college policy on academic integrity, and I have been always very careful not to let anyone see my code in a course (I have been asked by classmates to show my code before, but I never did that). I cannot understand why this could happen to me. This would the first time I have been falsely accused of anything. I imagine it would be very hard to believe for anyone else too. Could you help by offering some advice on how to deal with the situation? Thank you very much!

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    ...similar in logic, and some shorter functions are almost the same. Unless your investigation team is unusually strict, this does not seem to be grounds for a misconduct. If I read your post correctly, no one accused you yet. Do you have other reasons to believe you will be accused at all? – svavil Mar 30 '17 at 8:22
  • Hi, thanks for replying. I think we will be accused just because someone is already accused of copying our code, and from similar cases I heard about, people who are suspected to have provided the code will also be investigated for a misconduct. – whyyyyyy Mar 30 '17 at 8:26
  • Was the other person just flagged by the autograder (does not require human intervention, high probability of being mistakenly flagged) or indeed accused of misconduct by university officials? – svavil Mar 30 '17 at 8:29
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    Yes I believe so. She told me her professor informed her of being flagged by the autograder, and also provided evidence from the code which makes him think it was cheating. The case was sent to the officials. The professor also sent the information to our professor. – whyyyyyy Mar 30 '17 at 8:35
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    If the same TA helped each of you, then that seems like it could account for the similarities... – Dawn Oct 14 '18 at 22:09
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There are a couple of things to realize. Many departments run assignments through plagiarism detection software. The software typically reports a "similarity index" which needs to be interpreted by a human. The exact process varies from department to department (and sometimes even between professors/TAs). It could very well be that any assignment with a similarity greater than X is automatically forwarded on to the academic misconduct committee. It could be the professor looks at the assignment and decides the similarity is great enough for further investigation.

The key is that investigations are not accusations of misconducted. The accusation happens after the investigation and at that point you can appeal. Every department I know of has an appeals process and none allow an appeal prior to the investigation.

Back to your case, the investigation will have two parts, that will likely be carried out together. The first is to determine if the current student cheated. The second will be to determine if you violated any polices in terms of helping the student.

apart from saying that we did not provide the code, we do not have any ways to show that we are innocent (in fact now I think the procedure is very unfair to people like us)

While technically correct, there is the question of if the student obtained a copy of your code, how did they do it. My academic misconduct polices I am aware of require you to knowingly share past assignments with the intent of allowing the other student to cheat. Generally showing someone your past assignment, or looking at someone elses past assignment, is not cheating. Saying "here are my past assignments you can copy them if you want" is cheating. Saying "here are my past assignments make sure you only use them to learn and that you do not copy them" is not cheating.

If the student had access to your computer, or GIT hub account, or email, or notes, or ... but you didn't tell them they could look at your notes, you are probably in the clear. Knowing this would help the investigation. Maybe the current student is friends with the past TA. The key is to tell the investigation everything you know. You will also want to make sure the student tells the investigation how they got your past assignment.

  • Stay strong, I believe you. This happened to me and the prof accused me by name in class. Turns out, in THOSE days, if you opened file 'abc.c' on floppy disk a, then open the unfortunately same named file 'abc.c' on floppy b, the file isn't reopened. He apologized, but not so publicly as his accusation. He even had the audacity to remind me to 'change my conspirators' name to my own in the header next time'. Duh, my file wasn't opened. – HEITZ Mar 30 '17 at 21:39

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