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Question about solution manuals and ethical behavior

  1. Mar 17, 2010 #1

    cwn

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    So, I'm a math major and when I'm take difficult classes I like to do extra problems in the textbook as a way to study. To help with this, I sometimes get text's solution manual.

    However, sometimes the problem sets include problems that are also in the textbook, and...I think you know where this is headed.

    Anyway, what are the ethics surrounding this?

    Personally, if I see the solution (whether it be on accident or deliberate), I find there are definitely places where I should "fill in the blank," which is what I do when writing up the solution myself. Typically, I will read through it, think about it, put the solutions away, and then attempt the problem again, which usually helps. I came to see it this way when one of my professors suggested it in class, and it seems fine to me.

    What do you think?
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2010 #2

    berkeman

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    Staff: Mentor

    AFAIK, instructor solution manuals are not made available to students. If you have some, you probably shouldn't. Is there any wording in the beginning of the book about appropriate use?
     
  4. Mar 17, 2010 #3

    cwn

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    Since I buy all of my textbooks used and online, sometimes the solution manual is shown on the side as "suggested" and "people who bought this usually bought that" (like amazon.com for example) so I assumed I wasn't the only one who sometimes got both in a package.

    You're right, though. They are not always available to me, so maybe I should take a hint from that.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2010
  5. Mar 17, 2010 #4
    You can make it an ethical question if you want, but really the only person you're hurting if you copy answer directly from a solutions manual is yourself. It may artificially inflate your grades in the short term, but you're shooting yourself in the foot if that material ever comes up again.

    However, if you use it to check the answers to problems that you've already done and fix a simple arithmetic mistake then I don't see a problem with that (although I may be biased, since I find myself getting worse at addition the further I go into more advanced math).
     
  6. Mar 17, 2010 #5
    I think there are two questions here.

    Is looking at the solution helping you to pass the class?
    Is looking at the solution making you better at math?

    From your original description of how you are using the solutions, I believe the answer to both of these questions is yes.

    There is a quite a bit of "stuff" that has already been solved. I see no problem standing on the shoulders of giants.
     
  7. Mar 17, 2010 #6
    In my opinion, there is a big ethical difference between having an *instructor's* solution manual and a *student's* solution manual. Having the first seems a bit unethical in any case, but I don't see any problem with the latter. Yes, you should try to avoid looking at your homework problems in it, but this is intended to be a resource for you to use, and your prof should avoid assigning problems that are known to be in the student's manual.
     
  8. Mar 17, 2010 #7
    I definitely think that a student's solution manual can be a good tool if you use it the right way. If you are opening it up and copying homework problems, then yes, there's obviously a problem. If you are doing individual practice and get stuck on a problem, the solution manual can be a great resource. I think that if you are truly attempting the problems and use the manual sparingly, you should not have any issues. What bugs me is when I see people who jump to the manual immediately without trying to play around with the numbers and solve the problem for themselves. They are missing the point of mathematics entirely.
    Long story short, I think what you are doing is fine.
     
  9. Mar 18, 2010 #8
    In my opinion the only question you ought to consider is the second one. If yes, use it, if not then don't. You're paying to learn at the university so you ought to be entitled to do things toward that end irrespective of any games they want you to play.
     
  10. Mar 18, 2010 #9

    Landau

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    Science Advisor

    Sometimes I have to prove some statement as an exercise, and I find this statement as a theorem (with proof) in some textbook. Most proofs require 'filling in the blanks', so I work out a detailed proof which I understand completely. In this way, I don't think there's anything wrong.

    If you want to play it safe, you could always cite your source ("This proof was partly inspired by [1]"), just make sure you understand what you write down, and use your own words. So I agree with some_dude: the purpose of taking courses is *learning* and *understanding*.
     
  11. Mar 18, 2010 #10

    berkeman

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    Staff: Mentor

    So yoiu're saying that instructors should be required to do the extra work to make up all the homework questions on their own, and not use any from the textbook?
     
  12. Mar 18, 2010 #11

    Pengwuino

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    Gold Member

    In my sexy opinion, what's the difference between a) doing the problem, checking out the solutions later, and it ending up on the test, and b) doing the problem, asking a professor to check your solution later, and it ending up on the test? The only ethical problems I ever see with having instructor's solutions manuals is if you flat out copy and don't even really try to do the homework.

    Even the most ridiculous scenario of the instructor telling students "problem 3, 9 , 12, 35 and 39 on page 98 are going to be on the test" isn't really an ethical issue if you look at the solutions because the professor, by doing that, is basically saying to go find the solution beforehand. Going to the solutions manual is just as ethical as getting tutoring, asking other people in the class, asking the professors themselves, anything.
     
  13. Mar 18, 2010 #12
    I agree with Pengwuino. I've have some professors who were great and I could ask them anything and it would be far better than looking at the solution. On the other hand, some professors are hit or miss with their explanations and I might never learn the material without seeing some of the solutions. I've also had professors open up the solutions manual and work through problems with us during class, which is a great experience because it shows you how the professor works through difficult problems.
     
  14. Mar 18, 2010 #13
    The thing with solution manuals, yes they are good to check your answers, but often times people run to them too quickly. If you struggle, I mean really struggle with a problem, you're going to remember it a lot longer & probably learn a lot more in the long run. Anyway, I really don't see them as an ethical problem. You're trying to learn how to do the problems, it's best to learn how to do them right.
     
  15. Mar 18, 2010 #14

    berkeman

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    Staff: Mentor

    The ethical issue is that many courses give graded homework problems out of those textbook questions, based on the presumption that none of the students have the instructor solution manual. A student with the solution manual can cheat, and get a higher grade than they deserve.

    Of course, they may score lower on the proctored exams, since they may not be learning the material as well as those students who have to actually do the work...


    EDIT -- I like the books that give the answers to half of the problems. It doesn't show you the solution, but is a good motivator and cross-check for when you do the problem.
     
  16. Mar 18, 2010 #15
    Student solution manuals usually don't have all the answers... I don't think it is unreasonable to expect instructors to avoid the problems for which full solutions are available in a resource that students are permitted or even encouraged to have.

    I don't think that instructors should be expected to make a completely original set of homework questions just to avoid the possibility of cheating though.

    EDIT -- I think that the presumption that none of the students have an instructor manual is a good one. Not because it is true... but because it is virtually impossible to prevent cheating on homework if a student is determined to cheat. You have to just trust that if they don't do their homework properly, they will do poorly on the tests.
     
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