Just Because The Answer Is On Google Doesn't Mean You Should Use It

Future ECE 400 Student,

The purpose of this letter is to help educate students on the ethics, or proper conduct regard the use of the internet to complete homework for ECE classes. Since this letter is focusing on ECE classes specifically, it refers to technical and/or math-heavy assignments and ignores assignments that involve opinions or those that actually require research sources and citations, such as a paper for a writing class.

The internet is without a doubt the most important educational tool in existence; from Wikipedia to Wolfram Alpha, it can be used to solve anything and find everything. With this great power, however, comes great responsibility. Ultimately, you are still responsible for learning the material presented on the assignment, which is generally the goal of doing the assignment in the first place. Second, you are responsible for completing the assignment in the manor which the professor actually intends, which generally isn't “find the answer and put it on a piece of paper”.

The big question people tend to ask themselves when told this is “how is finding the answer on the internet any different from finding it in a textbook? If using the textbook isn't cheating, why is the internet?” While it is very much possible that you just have a grumpy old professor who is very behind the times and just doesn't like the internet, there is an explanation that applies to both textbooks and the internet: using either source to find the end product is dishonest. At this point, it is up to you to decide how far along this is, which tends to be fairly simple. If you are told to derive an equation, finding the derivation online is academic dishonesty, but reading a paper or article that explains the concept in a way that allows you to derive it yourself is not. If you are told to calculate a certain value, finding an example problem online and changing out the numbers with your own is dishonest, while finding a page that explains how it is done and using it as an instruction manual is not. If you are still confused, consider the following analogy: if you are lost, you should look for directions, not for someone to take you there.

Unfortunately, the world we live in isn't perfect and neither are its people, so you might be asking yourself whether it is really worth it to go through all this trouble just to get a simple homework assignment done, especially when you know that plenty of others will just copy and paste the entire question into Google, or even simply copy the entire solution from a friend. Most ECE classes grades on a curve, which you want to make sure you are in the top half of, and you've got plenty of other homework to do too. The huge perk to being as academically honest when completing your assignments is that the techniques used happen to be very similar to those used to master the material-doing it the hard way is the best help you can get in terms of trying to learn the material.

So on that final note, put the work in and you will get the knowledge out. That-and just hope you only have that cranky professor who is convinced everyone is always cheating and can’t turn the projector on for only one semester.

Keep On Grinding,

Matt Miller, class of 2014(hopefully)


  • Great letter! Very well written! But I hope I am not that cranky professor... -pm
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Ph.D. on Applied Mathematics in Aug 2007. Involved on applications of image super-resolution to electron microscopy

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