April 15, 2004

On honour and collaboration

Way back when I was TAing CS 17/18 at Brown, we had a policy of making kids sign a statement on their exam saying, basically, that they hadn't cheated. Cheating was disallowed in any case, of course, but the thought was that by forcing them to put their name to such an explicit statement it would make it harder for them to rationalise; it also made it clear that the otherwise liberal collaboration policy didn't apply to tests.

Working from essentially the same templates I used then, I went to write my first exam back in the fall, and my first thought was that I no longer really needed it. Knox has its Honor Code, after all. But it occurred to me that while I no longer really needed them to promise they hadn't cheated, the statement still served the useful purpose of calling attention to the exam's non-collaboration policy, in contrast with the relatively liberal homework-and-lab collaboration policy.

I didn't really change the wording, though, and a student just pointed out to me that as it is, it's a little insulting. The current text of this statement is

All work on this exam is my own. I have not discussed the problems or their solutions with anyone except for the professor.
which is really just a rehash of the collaboration policy stated in the previous paragraph. On some level, it says the the student "even though you've read the policy and signed the Honor Code that says you'll follow it, I don't trust that enough and want you to sign again". As soon as he pointed it out, it was blindingly obvious to me that this was at best, a terrible phrasing.

So I've fixed it. Well, I'm in the process of fixing it. I'm turning it into a statement that affirms that the student has read the instructions (you'd think that'd go without saying, but I've seen the counterevidence); the fact that they'll abide by the policy is implicit, as it should be. It now reads:

I have read and understood the above instructions regarding how and when to hand in, and the specific collaboration policy in effect for the exam.
I'll probably still go through another couple of iterations, but now that I've changed the focus, I actually like it a lot better.

"I didn't come up with 'pegging', my readers did. (My Aunt Peggy was really upset about it.)" --Dan Savage

Posted by blahedo at 11:33am on 15 Apr 2004
The old one was, if not insulting, at least redundant. Posted by blahedo at 10:09pm on 17 Apr 2004
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