Month: March 2012

Why I Publish My Homework Answers

On HUJI CS/Math assignments, there’s an odd (or maybe, not so odd) semi-don’t-ask-don’t-tell principle governing sharing and copying solutions. (This is in regards to the strictly theoretical assignments; any implementation exercises are strictly regulated for detection of fraud.) That is to say, you are graded on a personal basis, but there’s no rule against group efforts, which is inevitably synonymous with the occasional outright plagiarism/straight-out copying.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either; some educational theories (the run of the mill of Professors, I’ve noted) believe (at least outspokenly) that the best way to learn is to do your best effort by yourself. I disagree. Often, theoretical exercises are pushed to a level of difficulty most students (myself included) simply can’t solve. I can stare a question down for hours and simply not be able to overcome it. The solution, however, is often trivial (and/or ingenious). By viewing the correct solution (given by the Univ. itself, another student, whatever) – especially if it is during the little time and limited mental capacity I can afford to dote on this problem before I move on to the next emergency – I can often gain much more than by banging my head against the wall for another ten hours.

Granted, it might be only an illusion of learning, but at least for myself I have learned that this practice is far more efficient than stubbornly trying too much.

Which is why I post my answers. I believe the best way to learn is to try by yourself until you feel you’ve given your best effort, then look at the correct solution
immediately (or, in lack thereof, at others’ solutions.) and make sure you fully understand it. Since I’m usually too lazy to follow through, I only resort to comparisons if I feel I haven’t been able to solve the problem adequately myself (which is all too often). If I do well enough I feel it might help others (and of course, hopefully their peer review might solve some errors of my own), it’s worth sharing. This is for my benefit and for theirs; if someone decides to simply copy off – well, they’re not screwing over anyone but themselves.

So, to sum up:

  1. I hope my sharing helps you.
  2. You could probably find the same solution in other places; it just might have taken a little while longer.
  3. If you just copy, you’re only hurting yourself. Do your best to fully understand.
  4. If you’ve found a mistake, please write me about it. That’s your part of the bargain, don’t weasel out of it.
  5. If the paper has been of any assistance to you, please tell me. J

On a side note, over the years I’ve been surprised at how difficult it’s been to track who views and how much exposure anything I ‘publish’ gets. This is true from single-page solutions to entire textbooks. My pleading – nay, begging – of people to write me feedback (is a measly email too much to ask for all my trouble?) are hopeless; page-tracking or whatnot helps little, as many might simply download a PDF and forward it by other means. I’m sure there is some smarter solution to this, though I haven’t been able to hack the specifics out yet. Perhaps the best fix, on which I am still working (and this post is actually a part of) is flipping the equation – if you can’t track how many eyes view a paper, you can at least make some personal use of any pair of eyes that do see it (such as a personal message of some sort, or whatnot).

Well, whatever – what goes around comes around, I guess. I’ve sure received my share of good karma over the years; the least I can do is to pay it forward.

(tl;dr): Here’s my solution for HUJI Computation Ex1: Good luck!