Friend Copying Homework Online

This is a clear case of plagiarism. Correct? I am not sure how to handle it. I know they are not realizing that's plagiarism, otherwise they wouldn't have shared those fb conversations. So I don't want to report to the school (yet!). But I am also not sure how to penalize them? Give a zero for the assignment? What do you recommend? Should I give zeros to both of them?

I'm going to disagree with Ben Crowell's answer, despite it being well-written and mostly sensible except for one crucial detail. The students have perhaps committed what we technically define as plagiarism (or more precisely, as StrongBad commented, one of them committed plagiarism and the other allowed her work to be used), but the element of mens rea, the "guilty mind" that we consider morally necessary to inflict punishment, is clearly lacking. So my verdict is not guilty.

The bottom line is, it doesn't matter how much we educators wring our hands about "kids these days". If someone clearly doesn't know that a behavior is wrong then it is foolish and harmful to penalize them for it. It is our job to educate students about what constitutes plagiarism and what are the standards we expect of them for independent work and citation of sources. All the things that Ben Crowell's answer lists are basically irrelevant, since if a student is showing you a facebook conversation proving that they did not realize what they were doing is plagiarism, that means your institution has failed to properly educate the students about this subject, whether it's written in the catalog or not.

I should add that in my opinion part of the problem with this common misunderstanding of plagiarism by students is that plagiarism is in fact quite a subtle concept, and that our expectations of how fast and easily students can understand and adapt to it are simply unrealistic. To criminalize a behavior that can result from a misunderstanding or lack of sophistication that is very common among students entering university is very problematic, and can backfire in all sorts of unexpected ways. (On the other hand, of course plagiarism is a real problem that needs to be dealt with; I don't have all the answers about what is the correct approach or balance to strike, and a detailed discussion of this topic is in any case beyond the scope of this question.)

To summarize, in my opinion it would be wrong to penalize the students in this case. You can and should use this as a teaching opportunity, and it would be reasonable to require the plagiarizing student to submit a revised paper that satisfies your standards for academic writing, after very clearly and carefully explaining to her what those standards are. This is also an opportunity for all of us to reflect on what we are trying to achieve with various "zero tolerance" policies that impose an unrealistically high standard of behavior on students who may not be adequately prepared to be capable of satisfying those lofty standards.

Edit: thanks to all the commenters for their lively and intelligent discussion and criticism of my answer. You have persuaded me that the answer is perhaps more subjective than I thought. I am willing to tone down my recommendation and say that the plagiarizing student may be deserving of punishment. I think ultimately it would all depend on specific details about the facebook conversation and other evidence that we do not have. At the same time, given the information presented in the question I still think an educational, rather than punitive, approach, would be the most appropriate one in this case. The key question that needs to be answered in my opinion is whether the student "knew what she was doing" in the sense that she had an understanding that basing her paper off of another student's paper was wrong. It doesn't sound like she did, but I'm only speculating and am open to changing my mind about this if presented with new information.

So you spent an entire night copying your homework and your classmate wants to get over with it by simply copying yours in five minutes? Are they planning to go behind your back and steal your assignments? Are you exasperated with their attempts and need those to stop? Well, just simply state your views. There will be someone or the other who would never do their homework and would ask someone else’s so that they could copy it down and not get punished for it.  Not only is it wrong, but it is also seen that sometimes, these cheaters get the best marks, even though they copied it from you.

That is something nobody can bear. Imagine staying up late at night, searching for online educational websites for online assignment help to make you understand the topic and help you out with the homework, only to have someone copy it in class in just under five minutes and get better grades! It’s preposterous and you need to put a stop to this habit. How you ask? Well, listed below are some ways to do so.

State your reasons

The best way to stop this is to explain why you wouldn’t allow your classmates to copy your homework. Children are more mature than adults give them credit for, and actually listen to the reasons you provide. You can tell them why you are reluctant to help them by stating the right reasons as below:

  1. It’s unethical: Copying form someone is unethical and wrong as the person doing the homework devotes so much time and hard work which the one copying does not and this not only demotivates the other student, but also makes fun of the entire process of studying.
  2. You learn nothing: Because the students copy the homework, the chances of acquiring any knowledge on that particular topic are zero. They learn nothing and do miserable at the tests which affect their future and their learning abilities as well.
  3. It will become a habit: It has been often observed that a student who gets a free pass to copying someone’s homework will do it again, until it becomes a habit. They are going to state all kinds of ludicrous tales so that you allow them to copy your homework until the very day, when they will be brave enough to outright demand your homework. So put a stop to it before it becomes a habit.
  4. It becomes difficult for the class:If you get caught by the teacher or someone else does for copying from one another then it proves to be a serious trouble. The teacher might shake things up and make the lesson plans more difficult which might be troublesome for the others students as it will be difficult to keep up with them.

Say no!

Sometimes, you simply have to refuse the demands of your classmates no matter how much they plea. This is the only option that you have which you can use to restrict other classmates from insistently pestering you and hankering about copying your homework. Be stern and just refuse to submit your homework to them.

What if it’s a friend?

However, when your friend or your best friend asks, the problem becomes a bit complex. You don’t want to lose your friend over a homework but also you don’t want to be caught cheating. So what do you do? You tell them not to copy blatantly whatever you have written for your homework. Also, give them a stern warning saying that this is just a one-time thing so that it doesn’t become a habit.

Emphasize on the repercussions

One thing students are well aware of is punishments. These maybe in any form: a detention, being grounded by parents, getting low marks or simply being assigned extra tasks. Highlight the repercussions which your classmates might have to endure if your teacher finds out about the copying incident. Just ask, ‘what if we get caught?’ and simply pause and allow the magic to happen.


Another way to get out of this fiasco is simply going to the teacher and complaining. Sure, it won’t make you really popular among your classmates, but they will never ask you again for your homework out of fear and you can keep your homework safe and sound. However, use your discretion and do not rat them out in the class. Tell your teacher in confidence when you are outside the class.

Bluff out

One way to get out of this situation is to bluff. Tell them you haven’t done your homework as well and instead first, ask for their homework, before they get a chance to ask you. Produce you only when the teacher asks for it. Also, you can bluff about complaining to the teacher if they harass you further in the class, for your homework.

Be the teacher’s pet for a day

Another way to avoid the situation is to be the teacher’s pet. Nobody will try to mess around with the teacher’s pet as they know they will go and complain. However, if you are not one of them, then you can always sit closer to the teacher for a day and avoid getting asked any questions about your homework.

Provide the wrong answer

Another way to restrict your classmates form copying your homework is to provide them with the wrong answer. Once you do that, and they learn that your homework is not correct either, they will never ask you again for it. However, do prepare your wrong answers before to avoid being caught.

Keep searching for your homework

Tell them you can’t find your homework and keep looking and searching for it in your bag. This has been an effective method, quite a few times, to avoid classmates. Or better yet, tell your parents to bring them in only when the bell rings. However, be sure to convince your parents about it beforehand so that they don’t rat you out.

Charge them!

Tell them that you would be charging them money for copying their homework. Most students would shy away as they so not want to spend their allowance money on this!

So, go ahead and use these methods to save your friendship with your best friend as well as to prevent people from copying your homework. Have a great day at school!

‘You can mimic a result, but not the creativity.’


I'm from Michigan, USA and working as Tutor at My Homework Help Since 2012. The teaching job is very challenging job, but I love to do. I'm helping students with their homework. If you need homework assistance, feel free to contact me!

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