So today while I was grading homework for a numerical techniques class I came across something interesting. I noticed that one of the student's solutions were a little too advanced for their level of experience. This lead me to suspect that they were pulling solutions from other places. I looked up one potential source of solutions and found a slightly modified version of what the student had given to me (or I should say the version that the student gave me was slightly modified. The thing that tipped my off was the use of a Matlab command that I had never seem before and I had to go look it up!). Also the reason why I looked at this potential source is because this is not the first student that has taken solutions from this source (the first two(!) students that copied solutions just did copy and paste). So I was not surprised when I found yet another student used this particular source to copy solutions.
What did surprise me was the name of the student. The first two students that copied solutions shared a similar root to their names, in that (names have been changed) one had the first name "John" and the second had a last name of "Johns". The third student that I just caught today also had a first name of "John". So of the three students that copied solutions from the same source (over three different homework assignments) they all had the same root name in their first or last name, and they are the only ones with that root to their name in the entire class. I mean, of a class of 25 students and the diversity of names in the US, what is the probability of that? I expected pigs to start diffracting through doorways, the Chicago Cubs to win the world series and other equally unlikely events to happen. But nothing did, so I had my little twilight moment and wrote this blog post.
On a related note, how do your schools deal with problems like this? Here at UNC there seems to be a disproportionate response between departments regarding this type of thing. In the chemistry department, I am told, if they find that you so much as talk to another person about your homework then they will give you a zero on the assignment, if you work with someone else then they will penalize you harshly, and refer you to the honor code office. But it is not like that means much since our honor code office has been doing so well in distinguishing themselves (sorry I meant extinguishing themselves). In other departments they rely less on the honor code office, and a majority of professors actually prefer to handle all such cases themselves since they view the honor code office as somewhat of a burden. So how is it where you go to school and have you had to deal with this type of stuff?