Is Looking Up Homework Answers Online Cheating Affair

Discussion: Let's discuss the availability of hw solutions online.

We all know that many homework solutions are available online. With current search technology, it is easier than ever to find a specific solution one is looking for. Does looking at these solutions hinder learning? Is it ethical to look at them? What is the best way for a professor to deal with the availability of homework solutions online?

Let's discuss this "forum style" below.

  • Something interesting happened on the ECE301 page (Spring 2009) the other day: somebody revealed that there is an online version of the solution manual and gave the link for it. I personally have known about the existence of this online solution manual for a long time, so in the past I have always taken that into account when assigning homework in ECE301. But I suspect many professors are unaware that the answers to the homework questions they give can be found online. It would be nice to hear what students have to say about that. Mboutin 15:53, 2 March 2009 (UTC)
  • I think looking at online solutions is cheating. Anybody caught doing it should be punished. --Alibaba 16:12, 2 March 2009 (UTC)
  • Mmmmm… I think is a little bit insensitive to say that looking to solutions online is cheating. First, the objective of homework is to motivate students to familiarize with the course concepts, and develop a set of desired skills. Taking a look to a solution is part of that learning process. The unethical behavior shows up when the student does not study and/or does not try to first solve the problems without a solution. If the student works very hard on the homework without looking to a solution, then the objective of the teacher was accomplished—the professor made the student to study, think, and learn. Consequently, there is no problem with the student searching for extra help. Moreover, finding a solution (after trying the problem by him/herself) may help the student to learn where is his/her mistake. --Hsantosv 16:34, 2 March 2009 (UTC)
    • I strongly disagree! Homework is NOT just an exercise to learn. It is a test of your understanding of the material, and that's why it is graded! If you want to do exercises on your own just to learn, then fine go ahead and look at all the solutions you want. But when comes the time to do the homework, you are supposed to be the one doing the work, not somebody else. If professors wanted you to get the solution online, then they would not grade the homework! The fact that it is graded means that they expect you to come up with the solution on your own. --Alibaba 21:20, 3 March 2009 (UTC)
      • Then by your same account, students should not be able to ask the professor or TA for help on homework when they get stuck? If it is a "TEST of your understanding of the material" then shouldn't it just be called "weekly take-home test" instead of homework? I feel that the point of homework is to improve students understanding of the material by "forcing" them to work out problems--whether or not you do them individually, in a study group, or with the aide of the solutions manual. If people are you just straight copying the homework from the solutions manual, then yes, I think that you have a legitimate point. But in you original response, you said that anyone "looking" at the solutions is cheating...am I not "doing the work" if I work a problem, get stuck, check the manual and then continue? --Mdswanso 23:04, 3 March 2009 (UTC)
        • Did you ever asked your professors before looking at the solutions online? Did they tell you it is ok? I suspect you did not. I think nobody ever asks before doing it, because they know that the Professor will tell them not to do it. --Alibaba 10:52, 4 March 2009 (UTC)
          • I sense some concern trolling going on here. Of course, getting the solutions online and then copying them every single week is cheating and morally irresponsible. However, the concept of using answer sets as reference is certainly not something that should shock the conscience. As someone who is looking to teach, I want my students to understand. Students learn differently. Some learn by drilling a concept over and over, others learn by way of mimicking someone doing it correctly. If they can use the solutions to HELP them learn the material, there is absolutely NO harm in allowing them to use them. Perhaps, a teacher can dissuade at least a portion of the students from cheating in this manner by, themselves, providing solution sets to the problems that they've assigned after the assignment is due. This way the student can actually see what is going on without needing to cheat. Another way to help this concept is to, perhaps, distill the homework into only what is necessary. Often, students cheat because it is just quicker. If you provide homework sets that don't have a lot of superfluousness to them, it will be much more comfortable for students to complete. --Websterm 10:39, 26 March 2009 (UTC)
            • Actually, I am not a troll: I am a professor and I happen to have a strong opinion about the subject. --Alibaba 16:34, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
  • While it may technically be cheating for a student to find answers online, it would be very hard to regulate this form of cheating. I agree with Hsantosv in taking the "spirit" of homework rules above the "letter" of homework rules by saying that any supplementary help in doing the homework, be it a solution manual or studying with friends, is helping the student learn despite producing an element of unoriginality in the student's submitted answers. Resourcefulness in finding helpful references is an important skill for an engineer to have, however how this skill is wielded will either advance or hinder an engineer's overall effectiveness; e.g. using a solution manual to check your work will help reveal your specific mistakes, but copying from the manual will give no reference to your own performance and understanding. In the end, it is the student's choice how he will utilize available resources (to his advantage or disadvantage). It would be naive to ignore the accessibility of online solutions, so I feel it is better to present those available up front, with the Professor's knowledge, as was done in the ECE301 course which Mimi referenced, and in an ECE608 course I took several semesters ago. Now, particularly in undergraduate courses, it may be productive to "protect" students from their own temptations by also assigning original homework problems for which there are no online solutions (which was done in ECE301 after the online solutions were posted). I feel, however, that there is still something to gain from assigning problems for which the students do have access to the solutions, since it will drive at least some of the students to work problems and check their own work. --Landis Huffman 19:48, 2 March 2009 (UTC)
  • I personally think that solutions manual can be very helpful. Yes, you could just copy down the homework, but that will not help you when the exams roll around. And in many courses, professors put a much larger emphasis on the exams than the homework. The solutions manual can be a great tool for studying for exams I have found. What is the point of me spending hours working problems from the textbook if there is no way to check that I am doing them correctly? What good is studying and practicing problems if I am not doing them the correct way? But if I can work some extra book problems and then check my results to either confirm their validity or identify where I made a mistake, then doing this extra work becomes worthwhile and beneficial. And while I am sure I could probably check any extra problems with the professor or TA, it is much easier to check a PDF on my computer than commute to campus during office hours. I personally found it refreshing to see the solution manual readily available, I would be very surprised if a student, professor, or TA was unaware that they were available -- it is pretty obvious when a student is blatantly copying from the solutions manual and when a student is using it to supplement and enhance their understanding of the course material. --Mdswanso 20:25, 2 March 2009 (UTC)
  • I do not feel that looking at the solutions is unethical or should be considered cheating. The solutions are a helpful resource to have when working through difficult problems. Usually it is better to get a hint as to how a problem should be worked instead of giving up when one is truly stuck. Office hours are helpful for this, but they are not always convenient. Having the ability to double check one's work after doing the problem is incredibly helpful to reinforce the concepts being applied. This way, there is immediate feedback as to whether or not a problem has been worked correctly. Also, by the time solutions are officially posted on the website and the homeworks are returned, there is much less incentive to go back and compare the work. Of course, there are those that do abuse this resource by copying solutions, but doing this will make it extremely difficult to understand the concepts in the long run, and that will be reflected on exam grades. I think that it should be made known to students that solutions are available, but at the same time, it should be strongly emphasized and repeated that abusing the solutions will result in a poor grade. Those that don't take such warnings seriously (i.e., those that don't value understanding the material) probably don't deserve to get a good grade in the class anyway. Of course, this is all my own opinion based on my personal learning style. I've always felt homework solutions are very helpful in understanding the concepts for any class. I'm sure there are some that will not agree, but there are many that do benefit from using such resources responsibly. --Agregor 20:54, 2 March 2009 (UTC)
  • I think it was a good idea of Landis ( the TA) to post the solutions online as I often use the solution manual as a guideline rather than an outright source for my answers.Like the users above I agree that it depends on the students themselves whether they cheat or use the manual as a guide.If they cheat in the end it is their own loss and no one else's.And by uploading the manual online (in Landis' words) the playing field was upped.Some people already had the manuals so it was only fair to be made available to all.And as our Professor has often pointed out, the solution manual isn't always correct.Besides the point of homework is to make sure you learn and understand the concepts, be it by discussing with friends or by using the solution manual as a guide. -- Ansh
    • I just want to clarify that I did not post the solutions. They were posted by a student in the class who felt, as Ansh said, it would make things more fair, considering that many students already had access to these solutions. --Landis Huffman 9:52, 3 March 2009 (UTC)
  • I encourage my students to seek any help on the HW as long as they write and turn in their own copy of HW. Therefore I do not consider that students who use the solution manual as cheating. I do recognize that it might be unfair to the students who do all the HW questions themselves. By limiting the HW percentage to 15% and designing some questions myself, I am hoping to remove any substantial advantages of students' using the solution manual. As most my exam questions are relevant to the HW questions, relying solely on the solution manual may end up hurting the student's overall scores due to the lack of practice.--Chihw 15:13, 3 March 2009 (UTC)
  • I personally use solution to review and to double check what I have on my paper after I finish my assignments. At the same time the solution might also introduce some other method in solving the same problem. That's why I always check the solution after the HW is due.
  • On a related note: I just came across a website that offers to do your homework for a small fee. Here is the link. (Note: it's in french.) The site is not open yet and it's already creating a controversy in Europe. Now what do you think of that?--Mboutin 21:25, 4 March 2009 (UTC)
  • Oh, the irony...that French homework website has already been shut down!
  • It seems like many people on here are on the same page -- some people have access already, so why not give access to everyone? I think students should still be protected from the temptation to not learn the material in some way (possibly assigning new problems), but in most cases students have to learn the material at some time.--Norlow 10:37, 24 March 2009 (UTC)
  • What if the professor provided an attenuated version of the answer key that provides solutions and answers to all the related problems that WEREN'T assigned? I know, normally like problems are placed near each other. If there was a problem similar to the one assigned that I could model my work after, it would be very helpful. Sometimes, a professor cannot provide a heuristic that covers everything that the book expects and so, when these problems are assigned, the student gets confused. --Websterm 10:39, 26 March 2009 (UTC)
  • I personally think that the 301 solution manual is a great help in effective studying. Some People might not know but the solution manual is all over the place....DC++, Bit Torrent, esnips...you name it. Homework are meant to help students understand basic concepts.
  • Seeing examples of problems being solved step by step is, in my experience, an essential step in understanding material. Some textbooks provide very few sample problems, or the sample problems aren't representative of the questions your instructor expects you to know. If your course uses such a text, then you're perfectly entitled to find more examples to further your understanding, and typically, solution manuals are far and away the best way to do that. If you're concerned that the difficulty of your homework assignments is compromised, consider taking textbook problems and changing them slightly so that students have to extrapolate the technique from the solution manual, and not just the solution. dknott
  • I think all professors should give the solutions to problems they are assigned before they are due (in other words... pretty much give their students a solution manual). I think it's the same concept as attendance. If you go to class, you may gain the extra benefit of the professor going over the material, going over a hw question, or even giving away a test question. Since you did the right thing and went to class, you get rewarded. If you didn't go to class, you didn't hurt anyone but yourself. If you copy the homework straight out a solutions manual you're only hurting yourself. But if actually do the hw and use the manual as a guide or just to check your answers you gain the benefit of knowing how to do the problem for a test or quiz.
    • Would you want credit for copying the professor's solutions? --Walther 15:53, 30 December 2010(UTC)

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I do not view it as generally unethical to refer to these solutions. This situation is more complex than I think some other answers have admitted. Here is a list of claims:

  1. In an ideal world, the point of homework is for the student to learn the material.

  2. In a perfectly ideal world, we would not need to grade homework, because students would do it on their own to master the material. They might refer to other people's solutions to see if theirs are correct, and that would be fine.

  3. Experience shows this world is not perfect. Students will often skip ungraded homework, and their learning and exam grades will suffer.

  4. So instructors assign homework for a grade. But this isn't because the grade is really important: it's because we want the students to do the homework and learn the material!

  5. Some students then get the idea that the grade is the real goal of the homework, and simply copy their assignment from others. Professors often find this unacceptable.

One important point that others have answered is that, if you are going to turn in the homework, what you turn in should reflect your own understanding of the assignment. But, equally importantly, it is important to let yourself struggle with problems for a while before looking up the answer. That is the only way to really learn how to solve problems.

Most professors accept that the internet exists - we know you can look up other people's answers. It used to be that fraternities had giant files of old homework and exam answers for this purpose (maybe they still do). And students study in groups all the time - research shows study groups can dramatically increase learning. So getting help is not a bad thing.

But you don't want to get help too quickly. Make a genuine effort to answer the problems yourself first. If you find that you are looking up the answers to all the problems (even the easiest ones), then something is off - try going for more tutoring, or studying more before doing the homework.

If you find that you occasionally need to look up one of the most difficult problems, that's perfectly normal (but it still wouldn't excuse directly copying the solution into your homework, of course).

Of course, the usual caveats apply: some professors may specifically tell you not to collaborate with anyone or use any other resources. But most professors know that students usually collaborate with each other on homework (e.g. study groups) and know that students can look up answers using other resources. We have no problem with that, as long as each student's submission reflects their own understanding in the end.

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