Cheating discovered in Coursera’s Scala course

This is the email all participants of Coursera’s Scala course received today:

We are saddened to report that some students have been uploading the solutions of the weekly exercises to public spaces. As you might have guessed, this is a clear violation of Coursera honor code article 3.

We have even discovered a number of graded assignment submissions that are identical to the submissions uploaded by other students. This is a clear violation of Coursera honor code article 4 (see link above).

So, we’ve decided to take the following action in response to these violations:

  1. We have staff monitoring for solutions being posted on all public venues.
  2. If we find that solutions continue to be posted, we will reconsider offering certificates of completion.
  3. We have identified several individual students with solutions publicly posted (github included) who will be expelled from the course in the coming days if these solutions remain public.

Thus, as a bottom-line:
If you have uploaded solutions to any public space, including github, please remove them ASAP or face immediate expulsion.

For those students for whom it’s been discovered have uploaded similar or duplicate solutions, cases will be handled on an individual basis. Though beware, that cheating in any capacity not be tolerated.

We’re truly saddened to have to be taking these steps, but we hope you understand that such steps are necessary in order to preserve academic integrity and the value of the course and certificates of completion.

Best Regards,
Martin Odersky & the Functional Programming Principles in Scala Course Staff

Two things worth mentioning here:

  1. Chasing people who post solutions on github or pastebin is like fighting piracy. It’s a cat and mouse game which the staff of the course will never win. I don’t think it makes sense.
  2. Similar solutions will occur and there’s nothing they can do about it either. This is a natural problem of all courses which employ automatic verification of program execution as the only method of evaluation. And since fragments of code are given (students are required to simply fill in the blanks), and certain variable naming rules are employed by the lecturer, there’s obsiously going to be many solutions that are alike or even identical. More than that — assignment solutions are checked for style, so there’s another factor that will likely make code formatting of different solutions similar. In general, I think if they start punishing people for having solutions similar to some of those which they found on the internet, they will harm some innocent students.

And finally, I can hardly understand why would anyone cheat in a course like this. You don’t get a grade here, and the certificate isn’t worth anything if you can’t actually code. What’s the point of cheating then?

The only reasonable solution I can think of is to either ignore the problem completely, or don’t issue any certificates.

Published by Piotr Kaźmierczak

I like jazz and cycling.