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Entropy Based Verification Of Academic Integrity

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Computer Education Management Tools II

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.563.1 - 13.563.8



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Paper Authors

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Thomas Doyle McMaster University Orcid 16x16

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Adrian Ieta Murray State University

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Sheng Qian McMaster University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Entropy Based Verification of Academic Integrity


The usage of online submission provides an efficient means of facilitating course components; especially those with large enrolment. However, this convenience is not without caveat as student solutions are then as easily distributed as they submitted for credit. While services exist to combat academic dishonesty, such as online comparison databases, privacy concerns have been raised about their usage. We have developed and implemented an entropy based method for the verification of academic integrity. This tool was implemented primarily for a freshman undergraduate programming course with a yearly enrolment of more than 1000 students. Even with significant resources and effort dedicated to ensuring academic integrity, the result was difficult to quantify. Further compounding the challenge was the fact that computer program source code has rigidly defined constructs and syntax, thus a simple text comparison could indicate a high level of similarity that might implying a lower level of integrity. Conversely, two logically identical programs could be written with different variable names where a simple text comparison could indicate a higher level of integrity. Rather than performing a straight comparison, our entropy based method generates a symbolic library of the file and then analyses the library structure against all other file libraries as a measure of academic integrity; this method defeats the short comings of the aforementioned methods. This paper will present our entropy based method and its high level of success verifying the academic integrity of large sets of assignment submissions.

1. Introduction

Assessment of student work is one of the few methods we have as instructors to communicate if the student has attained an acceptable mastery of the subject. As instructors we also use this “conversation” to gauge our own success at the transfer of incremental pieces of the pedagogical puzzle. This feedback is used to refine and optimize the course for the student to get the most from the experience. This optimization is heavily based upon the premise that students have responded to the best of their ability using their own work.

When this premise is found to fail, a common response by the instructor is to reduce the course weight of the component(s) where academic integrity may be questioned (e.g. computer programming laboratories). While this appears to limit the gains of the dishonest student, it will also demotivate the honest students by: 1) Placing less emphasis on core aspects of the course building blocks, and 2) Continuing to reward questionable methods with high marks.

In the effort to limit the effects that cheating will have on the overall course assessment (macro- view), the instructor may actually be encouraging the cheating because from the student perspective the cheaters continue to be rewarded on an incremental basis (micro-view); this is regardless of how little the component may be worth.

Doyle, T., & Ieta, A., & Qian, S. (2008, June), Entropy Based Verification Of Academic Integrity Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4353

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