Cheating Among Computer Science Students contributes to 22% of the University's honor code violations

A recent study by the San Jose Mercury News shows that at Stanford, cheating in computer science classes account for 22% of the university's total honor code violations, despite accounting for only 7% of student enrollment. 

The tendency to cheat that seems to cultivate within the computer science department is most likely a function of how easy it is to “borrow” code. The problem that cheaters are facing, however, is that plagiarism in a code is just as easy to detect as it is to perform. Professor Roberts, who wrote a paper on strategies of using technology in the teaching of ethics explains, “There is a perception that cheating is going to be a lot harder to detect than they think it is going to be. Programs are idiosyncratic as sentences and no two are alike - they are not even comparable if they are independently generated. It’s particularly easy to detect if they’ve been copied.”

The computer science department at Stanford utilizes a computerized screening software to detect potential plagiarism. The software scans student's code and compares it with other students' and assignments from previous years.

Despite the eminent threat of being detected that this device exudes, students within the department continue to cheat. One student that was caught cheating recently explained that “ [he] wasn't even thinking of how easy it would be ... to be caught.”

One Stanford computer science student suggests that the high occurrence of cheating within the department is due to non-computer science majors students in lower level classes. He points out that, “If you look at intro classes versus upper-level classes, there is a higher incidence of cheating people that are not CS majors — the ones that are new to the field and potentially find themselves being in a situation where they can’t handle the assignment. People arrive at Stanford with the same expectations as they had in high school.”

Whatever the cause for cheating, Stanford professors such as Dr. Roberts have decided to step up their game in an attempt to deter the tendency to plagiarize. He as employed what he describes as a “collective incentive” for students to maintain honesty, by threatening to add 5 weight percent points to the final exam for every honor code violation in his class. 

The outcome of this is that each cheating incident contributes to a scenario in which the whole class must face increased pressure on the final exam. Whether or not fear of fellow classmates is a more effective deterrent than disciplinary action remains to be seen, however, one thing should be clear to students: professors are taking cheating matters seriously and will continue to step up their game until it is no longer an issue.

"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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