When San Jose State University student Kyle Brady published the source code of his completed homework assignments after finishing a computer science class, his professor vigorously objected. The professor insisted that publication of the source code constituted a violation of the school’s academic integrity policy because it would enable future students to cheat. Brady stood his ground as the confrontation escalated to the school’s judicial affairs office, which sided with the student and affirmed that professors at the university cannot prohibit students from posting source code.
This conflict reflects some of the broader friction that exists between open source ideological values and an academic system in which collaboration and the ability to repurpose existing work makes it difficult to measure individual achievement. Free culture science fiction novelist Cory Doctorow shared his thoughts about the issue on Thursday in a blog post on BoingBoing. Doctorow suggests that assignments are ultimately more valuable to the students when the work that they produce can have broader purpose than merely fulfilling academic requirements. He also rightly points out that peer review of source code and studying existing implementations are both common practices in the real world of professional software development.