I recently had a student submit an assignment (a computer program, Tweed Jacket is how I refer to myself in my role as Professor of Computer Science) that was not his original work. It was so clearly beyond the student’s ability, it was as if a 3rd grader had turned in the Mona Lisa as an art project. What surprised me was that the student defended what he did as his own work, but admitted that he used “internet resources.” When questioned, it was clear he could not even answer simple questions about how the program worked, yet he insisted that he had done something more than copy. After sleeping on the incident, I am coming to think the student really believed what he told me. We are all good at justifying our own behavior, and I can see how someone accustomed to quoting internet articles on assignments and rephrasing them here or there might imagine that taking a program and renaming variables, adjusting the indentation, and changing the comments might think he was doing nothing wrong. Except, in this case at least, sources were not cited. I think that a basic lecture about what constitutes copying, may not be obvious to students.
[ Oh, and if you’re wondering whether I’ve revealed anything by use of the masculine pronoun, I’m not. This is merely a subtle way of expressing how upset I am that there are so few female students in computer science. ]