Plagiarism is a serious issue in education, computer science in particular. It is the deadly combination of a confused student with ease and availability of sample source code, that facilitates such behaviour. I already wrote on the issue of Plagiarism in Education, examining the motives, means, and consequences. Today I am forced to bring up the topic of copying code again.
Will S. has brought to my attention that one school board (that among other things acts as an ISP for all affeliated schools) is filtering out my domain.
I contacted the admin folks at my school board and they indicated that compsci.ca is blocked because of a request from a teacher at another school. This teacher requested it to be blocked because students were copying code from compsci.ca and using the code in their assignments.
For those not familiar with the larger CompSci.ca, there is also an active community forum that serves as one of the few resources available for the Turing programming language – popular in highschools across Ontario, Canada. Many students come there for additional help, resources, and tutorials on the programming topics they want to improve upon. Every month, the top search queries for this domain are:
It is clear that the majority are simply looking for help with a difficult subject. Now a school board in London, Ontario has blocked this resource to the 23,000 students they represent.
My previous stance on plagiarizm of computer code was that it is actually much easier to catch an offender. Simply ask. From the feedback, most seem to agree:
“when his teacher asked him to explain some of the advanced concepts in the program he got busted”
“Needless to say they got caught pretty easily as they had no idea what on earth the code meant.”
“if someone is too lazy to write out a simple program themselves, then they will inevitably be caught.”
The problem, and the solution, are not in the availability of information. This school domain filter is equivalent to restricting library access during school hours. Sounds like non-sense? It should! Writing code is very much like writing an essay, and the students will have this resource available from home requardless of what the school board does.
The solution is with the teacher. In this particular case, it is already known that students copy some of the sample source code, and even where from. It would have been so simple to isolate and deal with those cases. Instead I suspect that restricting students’ access to help and tutorials they need, will only hinder their attempts at understanding the concepts required for the programming assignments copied in the first place.
I stand by my previous conclusion: “An excellent check would be to have students explain the code, not just through comments, but with a very quick verbal presentation. It should be pretty obvious what a student is capable of.”