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Harvard professors write clear collaboration policies for new semester after cheating scandal

Posted by Your Town  January 29, 2013 05:17 PM

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As students at Harvard College resume classes this week, many will find strict and extensive policies on collaboration in their syllabi.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris reminded faculty members last week to include their collaboration policies on course syllabi, Jeff Neal, a spokesperson for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said in an e-mailed statement.

The dean’s message came at the heels of Harvard’s announcement last week that the college has issued verdicts to the approximately 125 students who were accused of cheating on their “Intro to Congress” final this past spring, and will announce the results of the investigation at the beginning of the upcoming semester.

“In May 2010, the faculty approved changes to the collaboration policy for Harvard College,” Neal said in the statement. “As a result and since that time, faculty members have been regularly instructed that it essential that they set out carefully in writing and at the outset of a course or course assignment the extent of permissible student collaboration in the preparation of papers, computer programs, or examinations.”

In the syllabus for an Applied Mathematics course, students are told to write their problem sets individually, but for “extreme programming assignments” the class will be split into teams.

“For problem sets, students are strongly encouraged to collaborate in planning and thinking through solutions, but must write up their own solutions without checking over their written solution with another student,” the syllabus says. “Do not pass solutions to problem sets nor accept them from another student. If you are ever in doubt, ask the course staff to clarify what is and isn’t appropriate.”

The syllabus for the course “CS 152: Programming Languages” is similar to Applied Mathematics, in that students are encouraged to collaborate while working on problem sets.

The instructor, Professor Stephen Chong, writes that “after discussions with peers, make sure that you can work through the problem yourself and ensure that any answers you submit for evaluation are the result of your own efforts.”

Additionally, he requires that when submitting a problem set, students must list the names of other students with whom they collaborated.

He also explicitly states that students are forbidden from copying answers from students or looking for the answers online.

For a public policy course, “Water and Development,” Professor John Briscoe used excerpts from chapter two of the Harvard Student Handbook in his syllabus. The handbook says that the amount of collaboration can vary among classes, but students should always be cautious.

“Students must assume that collaboration in the completion of assignments is prohibited unless explicitly permitted by the instructor,” the handbook says. “Students must acknowledge any collaboration and its extent in all submitted work.”

For the course “Kant’s Ethical Theory,” philosophy instructor Chris Korsgaard writes that while discussion and the exchange of ideas are essential to all academic work, “they are the heart and soul of philosophy.”

“In this course you are encouraged to discuss all of the questions that arise, including those questions that you are invited to write about in your papers, with your classmates, your section leader, the professor, and anyone else you can manage to buttonhole,” she says.

Korsgaard writes that any written work should be “the result of your own thinking, writing, and research, and must reflect your own ideas about and approach to the topic.” Students may receive help with their writing, but they are required to tell her.

“Thinking together is an essential part of what makes us human,” she says. “But letting someone else do your thinking for you is a sacrifice of your humanity.”

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