A real life academic ethics dilemma


Yesterday, when I was talking about Dawg, I mentioned possibly introducing concepts from a computer project I did for my course. On reflection, this presented a problem.

You see, my uni reuses the same courses between years. For this reason, there are explicit rules against sharing your project work, either mathematical or computational, with the lower years - if we have to slog through it, why should they get off scot free? As such, I could be causing the university (and myself, if they decide to spread it around) some serious problems. I don't want to do that - it's a nice university.

So I have a dilemma - how do I cover the material without giving the game away to the next generation? My preferred solution here is to shift the intellectual load onto the course administrator, and I have every intention of slavishly following his directions, but this is actually quite an interesting question in its own right. Does anyone have an opinion on this?

Possible compromises that I've considered (assuming that the university is actually bothered):

1) Maintain strict anonymity. Give people no information on which uni I studied at. Avoid becoming famous enough that people who know me personally come across my blog (that part at least should be easy :P).

2) Attempt a clean-room reimplementation of sorts. Invest in books on the subject and scrupulously avoid covering the questions raised by the computer project unless and until they intersect that syllabus. Reuse no code or mathematics - do it completely from scratch. That wouldn't necessarily solve the uni's dilemma, but would at least mean that I don't have any sort of unfair advantage as far as stuffing up their courses goes.

3) Give up on covering this topic. That option sucks somewhat, however - sequence alignment is a major cornerstone of bioinformatics.


Blogger John Wendt said...

Option 1 is sort of reasonable. It's not too hard to find examples of lots of things on the Web; somebody might have done the same thing completely independently.

Option 2 has the advantage that you know what went wrong on the first try. Frederick Brooks says that you should plan to throw the first one away. Why cheat yourself out of the chance to do it right?

Option 3 does indeed suck. It'd deprive me of the chance to piggyback on your work! :-))

6/28/2006 8:04 pm  
Blogger Coalescent said...

My personal preference would be for option 1, with shades of option 2. It's not like I'm going to be doing it word-for-word the same as it was in the project (will probably be including fewer damn graphs for a start...).

I haven't actually heard back from the course administrator yet, despite having emailed him about a week ago. I think I'll give it another week or so, then provisionally start blogging on the subject.

Although, even if I do upload my code, can't think why anyone would want to copy it. I'm not exactly Knuth, if you know what I mean.

6/28/2006 8:20 pm  

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