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CS Integrity

This document presents the position of the Department of Computer Science, School of Engineering and Applied Science, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, on the subject of Academic Integrity. This document is consistent with the University's overall Code of Academic Integrity, and is presented in the form of a series of questions and answers. We are indebted to the Oregon State University Computer Science Department for publishing an excellent example for this document to follow; we have adapted (with permission) that department's very articulately written list of actions that are academically honest and others that are academically dishonest.

Q: What is academic integrity?

A: You are acting with academic integrity to the extent that you do your academic work honestly and ethically, and in particular:

  • taking full credit for your own work, and giving full credit to others who have helped you, or whose work you have incorporated into your own
  • representing your own work honestly and accurately
  • cooperating with other students, on academic exercises, only where specifically authorized

Q: Why should I act with academic integrity?

A: Here are some reasons why:

  • Pride in yourself: You should be able to look at yourself in the mirror and see an honest, ethical person looking back.
  • Pride in your work: You should be able to tell yourself that you completed your work using your own knowledge and skills, without deceiving your colleagues, your instructors, or yourself.
  • Pride in your profession: You should make yourself ready to move on to subsequent courses, graduate, or employment fully prepared. If you have "cheated" in your work, taking credit for others' efforts, you have cheated yourself. The main reason you are in a university Computer Science program is to learn to be a professional in this field, and if you cheat, probably you have not learned what you were supposed to learn.

Q: I'm an honest student. Why should I care if others are not acting honestly?

A: Here are some reasons why:

  • The value of your degree is reduced: If you graduate from a program with a reputation for tolerating unethical or dishonest behavior, what will employers or graduate schools think of you? They will have no way to know that you were one of the honest ones.
  • The world may be a more unpleasant place: In every aspect of modern life we are dependent on computers and the software that operates them. Indeed, we trust our lives, and our businesses, to computers and software. Nearly all Computer Science graduates will, at some point in their careers, be responsible for some important aspect of a computer system whose failure might hurt someone's business or body. Graduates who got their education on the strength of others' work, not their own, may well be incompetent and dangerous in the workplace. Would you drive a car whose computerized braking system was developed by former students you knew had cheated their way through school? Would you trust your credit card numbers to the e-commerce site developed by former students who cheated their way through school?

Q: Generally, how do we define academic dishonesty?

A: Here is a quotation from the GW Code of Academic Integrity:

  • Academic dishonesty is defined as cheating of any kind, including misrepresenting one's own work, taking credit for the work of others without crediting them and without appropriate authorization, and the fabrication of information.
  • Common examples of academically dishonest behavior include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Cheating - intentionally using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information, or study aids in any academic exercise; copying from another student's examination; submitting work for an in-class examination that has been prepared in advance; representing material prepared by another as one's own work; submitting the same work in more than one course without prior permission of both instructors; violating rules governing administration of examinations; violating any rules relating to academic conduct of a course or program.
  • Fabrication - intentional and unauthorized falsification or invention of any data, information, or citation in an academic exercise.
  • Plagiarism - intentionally representing the words, ideas, or sequence of ideas of another as one's own in any academic exercise; failure to attribute any of the following: quotations, paraphrases, or borrowed information.
  • Falsification and forgery of University academic documents - knowingly making a false statement, concealing material information, or forging a University official's signature on any University academic document or record. Such academic documents or records may include the application for admission, transcripts, add-drop forms, requests for advanced standing, requests to register for graduate-level courses, etc. (Falsification or forgery of non-academic University documents, such as financial aid forms, shall be considered a violation of the non-academic student disciplinary code.)
  • Facilitating academic dishonesty - intentionally or knowingly helping or attempting to help another to commit an act of academic dishonesty.

Q: What's academically honest, and what's not, in Computer Science assignments specifically?

A: Individual instructors set rules for their own courses, and specifically for circumstances, or project phases, when working with other students or adapting material from a textbook is permissible. The following general policy on cooperation on homework assignments holds:

In all circumstances it is acceptable to discuss the meaning of assignments and general approaches and strategies for handling those assignments. Any cooperation beyond that point, including shared pseudocode or flowcharts, shared code, or shared documentation, is only acceptable if specifically so permitted by the class instructor.

Courses involving computer programming require special consideration because use of the computer permits easy copying and trivial modification of programs. The following guidelines are provided to help in determining whether an incident of academic dishonesty has occurred.

  • The instructor may suspect you of program plagiarism if the student submits a program that is so similar to the program submitted by a present or past student in the course that the solutions may be converted to one another by a simple mechanical transformation.
  • The instructor may you of cheating, whether on a program or an examination, if you cannot explain both the intricacies of your solution and the techniques and principles used to generate that solution.
  • In a collaborative team assignment, the instructor may suspect you of failure to adequately complete that assignment if observation or questioning leads the instructor to believe that you have not shouldered an equitable portion of the burden in the assignment.

Q: Can you give some more examples of academic honesty and dishonesty in Computer Science assignments?

A: Here are some examples. These are just examples; obviously it would be impossible to produce a complete list that would cover every possible set of circumstances.

You are not acting dishonestly if you

  • have permission to collaborate with other students on a project, and you list all collaborators;
  • receive advice from instructors, teaching assistants, or staff members involved in the course;
  • share knowledge with other students about syntax errors, coding tricks, or other language-specific information that makes programming easier;
  • engage, with other students, in a general discussion of the nature of an assignment, the requirements for an assignment, or general implementation strategies;
  • compare, with other students, independent solutions to an assignment in order to better understand the nature of the assignment;
  • engage, with other students, in discussion of course concepts or programming strategies in preparation for an assignment or examination;
  • copy code and cite its source on assignments for which the instructor allows inclusion of code other than your own.

You are acting dishonestly if, unless specifically authorized by the instructor, you

  • turn in the work of any other person(s) (former students, friends, textbook authors, people on the Internet, etc.) and represent it as your own work;
  • knowingly permit another person to turn in your work as his or her own work;
  • copy material (code, documentation, etc.) from the work of another student;
  • deliberately transform borrowed sections of code or other material in order to disguise their origin;
  • fabricate compilation or execution results, representing a program that did not compile properly as one that did, or one that did not execute properly as one that did;
  • collaborate with other persons on a project and fail to inform the instructor of this;
  • steal or obtains examinations, answer keys, or program samples from the instructors' files or computer directories;
  • use unauthorized materials during an open-book or closed-book examination, or communicate during an examination in an unauthorized way with another person;
  • modify or delete another student's or an instructor's computer files.

Q: What happens to me if I'm suspected of an act of academic dishonesty?

A: This department follows the procedures given in detail in the GW Code of Academic Integrity. Read the university document very carefully! It is the policy of this department to file a report with the Academic Integrity Council for every incident of academic dishonesty.

Q: What sanctions does the department seek in cases of academic dishonesty?

A: The University Code requires the faculty member, in filing a report with the Council, to request a desired sanction (punishment) for the alleged violation.

The Code suggests a minimum first-offense sanction of failure of the work product (project, exam, etc.) in question. Generally we follow this advice in introductory courses, but in serious situations, and more advanced courses, failure of the course, suspension, or expulsion is often warranted.

In addition, in second and subsequent violations, and some serious first offenses, the department requests that the student be barred from taking any further Computer Science courses in this university, or transferring such courses in from other institutions. This sanction has been applied in past cases, and is important because of the professional nature of a Computer Science major. Don't put your career at risk!

Distribution of this Document

Copies of this document will be available in the department office and posted on bulletin boards within the department. The policy will also be posted on the department's World Wide Web site. For all Computer Science courses, a copy of this policy, together with a written statement of the instructor's specific rules on cooperation and use of published programs, will be distributed to all students in the course within the first two weeks of the semester.

Document history

  • Adopted by the Faculty of the Department of Computer Science, April 25, 2000.
  • Amended by the Faculty of the Department of Computer Science, August 8, 2002.
  • Adapted from document published at http://dev.cs.gwu.edu/academics/integrity/cs_integrity (retrieved 8/29/16, and "Last modified by MBF, August 8, 2002").
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