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February 23, 2008


Yishay Mor

Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with downloading (legally free) code and using it. As a programmer, I do it every day. Programming is about using code to solve problems. If you can get someone else's code to solve your problem, even better.

The problem is with assessment. In a school environment, we need to be able to assess what the students learnt. So maybe we need a form of assessment that would focus on that, not on what they did (or did not).

For example, have students submit an essay describing what they wanted to create, what problems they had to solve, how they attacked them, what where the results, and what they learnt.

Another common problem I see with the standard forms of CS assessment is that they enforce the misconception that CS and software engineering are practices of code production. Code is cheap. Producing code is the lowest of all activities in the art of software engineering (let alone the science of computing). A healthy diet includes 20% design, 20% research, 10% coding, 20% testing, and 30% maintenance. Young grads often think that the 10% there is what its all about.

Think of it this way: if a student submits code that is %100 hers, and does what it claims to do, but can't explain how it does it or why, and can't easily get it to do something else - what grade should she get?


I guess most of the students do use source code which downloaded from www. But is it wrong? I guess no one can get a lot e-book on second life in internet for free with thousands of example. I strongly believe students need to be assessed based on their understanding on the script which they wrote not on based on what they have learn the course in the blog.

Judy Robertson

Bob - . Yip, I agree with you that we want to assess understanding. My point is really that they can demonstrate their understanding of their own code in a blog. They are assessed both on the blog and on their code (and a variety of other criteria). My worry just now is that students are downloading stuff which they have no understanding of. And a blog is a reasonable way to check for understanding given the class is so big I can't personally interview everyone.
In answer to Yishay's question I would seriously doubt that someone could submit something which is really 100% hers but which she can't explain or extend. I think you need to understand in order to write - what do you think?


Back in the days of Basic, I spent some time programming short computer games, working my way through the Sinclair manual and doing it all from scratch. It was about ten years later that I thought 'Why did I do that? Why didn't I make much more sophisticated games by stitching together other people's code?' I felt it was a failure in my learning that I didn't understand that programmers build on each other's work - they don't keep reinventing the wheel.

I can see that's a problem from the point of view of assessment, though. Perhaps for assessment it might be worth sending students to look for a bit of scripting that they think is poor, and explaining what is wrong with it and how it could be improved? Or giving them a selection of free scripts and getting them to combine them to make a theme park ride? Or scripting something fairly basic and challenging them to improve it?


Thanks for your input, Rebecca. We do some of your suggestions (e.g. giving them skeleton code and asking them to fill in blanks) when they are in first year and learning how to program in the first place. And constructing the theme park from a selection of scripts will work well next year with 1st years. At Msc and fourth year level they should be advanced enough to know how to learn a new language with minimal prompting/scaffolding from staff. That is, they should know how to learn from example without just copying. Unfortunately some of the students are not performing at the advanced level. This is probably because the MSc students have had a shorter time to learn programming. But they are still meant to be assessed at MSc level. this is quite a vexed issue!

Suku Sinnappan

Great postings and trail of discussion. I am wondering if there has been any approach taken by anyone to measure the level of plagiarism or even record plagiarism within Second Life?

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