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As a master student, our class is getting assigned homework weekly as part of a statistics related module. These assignments are graded and will contribute to the final mark with a weight of 70%. There are around 10 of these assignments and the average of them is used.

Now, I discovered that a partial solution to one of the assignments is available inside the class material. This is inside a file that is not really accessed by everyone since it is provided by the teacher for the students elaborating theirs answers with a certain software. I strongly believe that these parts were put online by mistake and the teacher or its assistant do not know about this.

  • Is it ethical to withhold this fact from my classmates and use the additional knowledge in my favour?

  • Do I have an ethical 'obligation' to report this to the teacher so he knows in advance to adjust the grading accordingly?

Basically, the information is there for everyone to access, still I believe that I should notice the teacher about the mistake so they can inform the class and remedy this in an academically worthy manner.

  • You say it is inside the “class material” and that it is a “partial answer”. Not sure how anyone else is not able to find it if they look or if you might just misunderstand the assignment here. Of course it never hurts to talk to the teacher. – Robus Dec 1 '18 at 18:07
  • @Robus Yes, it is inside the class material but within a file that is not really accessed by everyone since it is provided by the teacher for the students elaborating theirs answers with a certain software. I edited the question to include that. – Lorem Dec 1 '18 at 18:59
  • Part of education is learning to work with others and I guess help others. If what you have found is not a breach of honesty then In holding true to the academic environment and even using this as an opportunity to meet your other classmates you should share with them what you have found. You are not in competition with your fellow students are you? – Robus Dec 1 '18 at 19:07
  • I say breach of honesty in that you have cleared it with your teacher it was not a mistake. – Robus Dec 1 '18 at 19:08
  • @Robus I agree with you on the premise that I'm not in competition against my classmates. Still, for me there are some points to gain and in the end I might end up with a slightly better mark since the grade is adjusted. If I inform my classmates, everyone certainly get the points for the answer. If I inform the teacher, he will probably not include the answer in the grading. I must add that this environment is extremely competitive and in one of the top 10 universities. Therefore I can not count on another classmate informing me when they would have found this answer themselves. – Lorem Dec 1 '18 at 19:15
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If you give importance to your marks only, you'd better not inform it to anybody. Otherwise you must. But don't forget that you are a master student and you must master in that subject.

So, I would certainly choose the second option. If your teacher is good, he will certainly give you a grace mark for your honesty and the dedication to that subject. Since there happened a carelessness from the teacher's side, he should give equal marks to all the students (excluding your grace mark). But this should never exceed the minimum marks for that assignment. The teacher should also give the class a new assignment instead.

The reason:

Don't think that you are the only student who discovered it on the Internet. But nobody informed it to the teacher so far. Since your deed is a help to both the teacher and your classmates, the teacher must give marks to all (as I have mentioned above). But the power to grand the grace mark for you is completely vested in the teacher.

If you had thought so, this wouldn't be a dilemma. Do your duty well.

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Welcome to PSE, Lorem. You might try an ethical consistency test and ask yourself : If someone else were in my position, would I think it right for them to keep the knowledge to themselves and tell neither the teacher nor fellow students ? In other words, how would I like it if someone did to me what I am planning or thinking of doing to them ?

Others may also have discovered just what you have found out, but (a) you have no positive evidence that they have and (b) even if some have it's unlikely that all have or at least there is a relevant possibility that not all have: so you or the few others who have made the discovery (if they have) will have an unfair advantage.

Even if the whole class has made the discovery, the test is undermined as an assessment of work and knowledge if the answer can be lifted from a file to which access has, as you imply, been made available only accidentally and unknown to the teacher.

I can't see any moral case for not telling the teacher even if self-interest beckons the other way.

You might, of course, give self-interest priority over morality, a choice on which I make no comment, but then if this is your position you probably wouldn't ask the question,

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