Sunday, 10 September 2006

Cheat4Success! How to cheat a Computer Science degree

Every time lecturers mark work, there is inevitably an amount of time spent dealing with plagiarism -- detecting it, checking sources, dealing with the resulting paperwork, and so on. With cut'n'paste making cheating ever easier, it seems that plagiarism will never completely disappear.

Cheating, in this sense, means taking credit for someone else's work. It does not mean discussing ideas with friends, making use of someone else's (abstract) ideas or choosing to do the same homework as someone else. It does mean downloading someone else's work and passing it off as your own. In work, this is professional (or gross) misconduct and would get someone sacked. At University (and Schools, presumably) it's treated seriously, but expulsion is not usually the first line of punishment.

Of course, this is totally unfair, right? Most students don't cheat, most students want to get a degree and take some pride in their work. However, more and more time is spent with the few percent who cause trouble, which wastes time, (public) money, energy, devalues good degree courses, causes apathy in both students and staff and is generally a complete pain. That time and money could be much more usefully spent helping students who are engaged in their work to do a bit better, rather than in policing a small number of students who cheat. So, in light of that, this is my guide to cheating and cheating well (4success!) on a Computer Science degree. If only students cheated better, no one would catch them out and any effort put towards dealing with plagiarism could be so much better spent.

1. No one else can use Google except for you.
You've probably figured out that many programs exist on the Internet and can be downloaded. Also, many people put their homework online and you can get hold of that too. There are only so many ways to teach any particular topic, so probably the questions you're set have been set elsewhere already, so the answers are out there for you to see, copy, paste, and claim as your own. Fortunately, students are the ONLY people able to use Google for this purpose. Your instructor cannot possibly google for the work s/he has set, certainly won't find the same links as you and (thanks to the genius of those guys at Google) is physically prevented from finding out how you cheated.

2. Mix your sources.
Some things in life are better mixed. Drinks, for example. And the same is true for sources. If you have an instructor who is particularly persistent in tracking down cheats, it's better to cut'n'paste code (or text) from as many different sources as possible. This way, even if you're caught, you've wasted as much time and public money as humanly possible. Also, as your number of sources tends to infinity, your false claims of ownership cease to be cheating and become research and everyone knows that lecturers love research. For top marks, you should find at least 20 different sources to copy from.

3. Change variable names
One of the nice things about programming (rather than wussy subjects like history) is that two programs are distinct and different if they differ by only the names of their variables. It doesn't matter if every single part of the two programs is identical, including the comments and whitespace. If you really want to cheat4success, you need to take someone else's code, change the variable names and Ta-Da! it's a whole different program. Then when your instructor challenges you, you can just say "Ha! Those programs are different, they have different variable names!". And your instructor will be dumb-founded. The posh word for this is "alpha-conversion". Which is to do with lambda calculus. Which is clever. So, now you can not only cheat well, but justify what you've done with Big Words. Even better!

4. Hand in code which doesn't work.
One good trick is to download someone else's code and break it. Now you can play a particularly clever ruse. Your code is broken, it can't possibly be someone else's code -- after all, why would anyone put broken code up on the web? So, it's just a coincidence that (apart from the small changes you've made) your program is identical to a published one. For best results, change filenames and libraries.

5. Copy from your lecture notes.
That's not plagiarism, it's flattery. Your lecturer won't be able to resist.

6. Deny the laws of probability.
If the worst happens, and despite following this guide your lecturer still suspects you've cheated, then the worst mistake you can possibly make is to appear rational. So, refuse to see reason, don't engage in meaningful dialog and certainly don't be honest (after all, that rather defeats the object). Your lecturer might want to engage you in strange thought experiments like "What's the likelihood of your submission being identical to that one. Oh, it's 1/10^googol. And 10^googol is more than the number of atoms in the Universe". Everyone knows that statistics lie. Don't be drawn into the discussion.

7. It weren't me 'guv.
no one can resist your charming smile. Just grin widely, tell your lecturer that you wouldn't dream of doing such a terrible thing and you'll be fine. If that doesn't work threaten formal complaints, litigation or the breaking of limbs. Works every time!

1 comment:

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