Life and Musings of Ed

Dear Student, Here is what’s expected…

In Math Tutor on 31 October 08 at 12:52 pm

Directly from one of my favorite bloggers at Casting Out Nines:

Explaining Submitted Homework

Explaining Submitted Homework

I was just listening to the introductory lecture for an Introduction to Algorithms course at MIT, thanks to MIT Open Courseware.  The professor was reading from the syllabus on the collaboration policy for students doing homework. Here’s a piece of it:

You must write up each problem solution by yourself without assistance, however, even if you collaborate with others to solve the problem. You are asked on problem sets to identify your collaborators. If you did not work with anyone, you should write “Collaborators: none.” If you obtain a solution through research (e.g., on the Web), acknowledge your source, but write up the solution in your own words. It is a violation of this policy to submit a problem solution that you cannot orally explain to a member of the course staff. [Emphasis in the original]

So in other words, you can collaborate within reasonable boundaries as long as you cite your collaborators, but you must write up work on your own. Normal stuff for a syllabus. But what I love is the last sentence. If the professor or a TA believes that you didn’t really write up the work yourself, they can ask you to stand and deliver via an oral explanation of what you turned in. And if you can’t orally explain, on the spot, what you did to the satisfaction of the course staff, then the presumption is that you cheated.  That’s a brilliant way to ensure students understand what they are doing, and expecting students to be able to do this oral explanation is absolutely reasonable for university-level upper-division work.

Academic integrity has long been a hot topic in education, especially at the middle and secondary levels.  So many students seem to copy the homework of others, just to get it done.  One plausible explanation, stemming from my observations in classroom situations, is a rather bizarre teacher sensitivity about embarassing indivudual students by calling on them to publicly explain submitted work.  I have heard teachers argue that any embarassment of a student, in this case by exposing cheating on homework, will squelch classroom participation and ruin motivation for learning.  Notice that the way MIT is handling acedemic honesty is by setting expectations high and holding students accountable.  In this age of “no student left behind” – MIT sets a fantastic example which needs to be implemented at secondary schools everywhere.  Raise the bar!


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