6.031 — Software Construction
Spring 2020

Collaboration and Sharing

In line with MIT’s policy on Academic Integrity, here are our expectations regarding collaboration and sharing of work.


We encourage you to help each other with work in this class, but there are limits to what you can do, to ensure that everybody has a good individual learning experience. This section describes those limits.

Individual work

Problem sets in this class are intended to be primarily individual efforts. You are encouraged to discuss approaches with other students but your code and your write-up must be your own.

You may not use materials produced as course work by other students, whether in this term or previous terms, nor may you provide work for other students to use.

It’s good to help other students. But as a general rule, during the time that you are helping another student, your own solution should not be visible, either to you or to them. Make a habit of closing your laptop while you’re helping.

During code review, you will see classmates’ solutions to a problem set. While it is fine to take inspiration from their approach, do not copy their work.

It’s fine to use material from external sources like StackOverflow, but only with proper attribution, and only if the assignment allows it. In particular, if the assignment says “implement X,” then you must create your own X, not reuse one from an external source.

It’s also fine to use any code provided by this semester’s 6.031 staff (in class, readings, problem sets, or projects), without need for attribution. Staff-provided code may not be publicly shared without permission, however, as discussed later in this document.

It’s also fine to import and use anything from the Java standard library. Previous courses like 6.009 sometimes restrict importing from the standard library; 6.031 does not.


  1. Alyssa and Ben sit next to each other with their laptops while working on a problem set. They talk in general terms about different approaches to doing the problem set. They draw diagrams on the whiteboard. When Alyssa discovers a useful class in the Java library, she mentions it to Ben. When Ben finds a StackOverflow answer that helps, he sends the URL to Alyssa. OK.

    • As they type lines of code, they speak the code aloud to the other person, to make sure both people have the right code. INAPPROPRIATE.

    • In a tricky part of the problem set, Alyssa and Ben look at each other’s screens and compare them so that they can get their code right. INAPPROPRIATE.

  2. Jerry already finished the problem set, but his friend Ben is now struggling with a nasty bug. Jerry sits next to Ben, looks at his code, and helps him debug. OK.

    • Jerry opens his own laptop, finds his solution to the problem set, and refers to it while he’s helping Ben correct his code. INAPPROPRIATE.

  3. Louis had three problem sets and two quizzes this week, was away from campus for several days for a track meet, and then got sick. He’s already taken two slack days on the deadline and has made almost no progress on the problem set. Ben feels sorry for Louis and wants to help, so he sits down with Louis and talks with him about how to do the problem set while Louis is working on it. Ben already handed in his own solution, but he doesn’t open his own laptop to look at it while he’s helping Louis. OK.

    • Ben opens his laptop and reads his own code while he’s helping Louis. INAPPROPRIATE.

    • Ben has by now spent a couple hours with Louis, and Louis still needs help, but Ben really needs to get back to his own work. He puts his code in a Dropbox and shares it with Louis, after Louis promises only to look at it when he really has to. INAPPROPRIATE.

  4. John and Ellen both worked on their problem sets separately. They exchange their test cases with each other to check their work. INAPPROPRIATE. Test cases are part of the material for the problem set, and part of the learning experience of the course. You are copying if you use somebody else’s test cases, even if temporarily.

Note that in the examples marked inappropriate above, both people are held responsible for the violation in academic honesty. Copying work, or knowingly making work available for copying, in contravention of this policy is a serious offense that may incur reduced grades, failing the course, and disciplinary action. Copying, or helping somebody copy, may result in an F on your transcript that you will not be able to drop.

This policy applies to all coursework that is handed in by an individual: problem sets, reading exercises, nanoquiz makeups, etc.

Group work

You should collaborate with your partners on all aspects of group project work and in-class collaborative exercises, and each of you is expected to contribute a roughly equal share to design and implementation.

You may reuse designs, ideas and code from your own work earlier in the semester. You may also use any code provided by this semester’s 6.031 staff.

You may also use material from external sources, so long as: (1) the material is available to all students in the class; (2) you give proper attribution; and (3) the assignment itself allows it. In particular, if the assignment says “implement X,” then you must create your own X, not reuse someone else’s.

Finally, your group may not reuse designs, ideas, or code created by another group, in this semester or previous semesters.

Public sharing of work

People often want to share their code publicly, e.g., on GitHub, in order to show off a portfolio of code they’ve written to potential employers. Building a portfolio is a great idea, but 6.031 is not a good class to use for it, because the problem sets and projects are fixed by the course staff, not chosen by you. Personal projects, hackathons, and IAP contests are much better ways to build up your portfolio.

Copyright for the starter problem set code is held by the 6.031 course staff, and does not allow redistribution of derived works without prior permission. Your solutions are a derived work, so you may not distribute your problem set solutions publicly. This means you cannot post them in a public Dropbox folder, on a public server accessible to others, or on Github. (Be aware that Github repositories are public by default.)

Keep in mind that when work on a problem set or project is copied, both the provider and the consumer of copied materials are violating academic honesty standards, as described above.

Group projects

For group projects, before you can post any code for public distribution, all authors of the code must agree to public distribution, and their authorship must be acknowledged.

  • Authors means anyone who worked on the project at any time. Even if Alice only wants to post one file from the project, even if she wrote that code herself, she must ask all of her teammates. Projects are a team effort, and code ownership is shared.

  • Agree means all authors must be asked whether public distribution is OK, and they must answer yes.

  • Acknowledged means the names of all authors appear either in a comment at the top of each source file, or in a README.md (or other prominent README file) at the root of the project. If you’re posting on a site like GitHub, keep the commit history – and for projects that use code from a previous group, import that code with its commit history. This history demonstrates each person’s individual contribution, and shows off your software development process.

These rules are derived from the standard practice for open-source code projects, in which it’s necessary to clarify the origin of all the code and obtain Contributor License Agreements from all identified contributors. Apache, Python, and Eclipse follow this practice, among others. You should follow this standard ethical practice of the software development community even for your own projects. If you want to publish code from a hackathon where you worked with other people, then make sure all the authors agree and are appropriately acknowledged.