Monday, October 13, 2008

Why I Made Students Sign a Silly Form

When my students sat down to take their first test today, I handed out a piece of paper for them to sign and use as scratch paper. It said:

I certify that this test represents my own work and thought processes, and that I did not refer to or use answers from another person.

... and it had a line for signature. Why did I make junior-level biochemistry students at a Christian liberal-arts college sign this? One reason is we're 50 students crammed into a classroom elbow-to-elbow. Another reason is I had a particular problem with this last year. But the prime reason is when I read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely this summer, he gave the results of an experiment that shows that just being reminded of a moral code, whether the Ten Commandments or a non-existent school honor code, brought cheating on a test way down.

So, to my students, I realize it's a silly reminder. I trust you. But I can't watch everyone at every moment, and if I can do something simple that makes my evaluation of you more accurate, it's better in the long run.

At least I'm counting on that fact. I wonder if the fact of handing out a "contract" like that makes my relationship with the students more economic/transactional and may have unintended consequences?

Yes, I do some experiments in the lab, but the experiments in the classroom (like this) are just as important and the outcomes just as unknown.


Eric said...

Just say, "It's not you, it's me... I was burned in a previous relationship [the last class] and have developed trust issues as a result. Please, help me to love[trust your judgment] again."

Deanna said...

That's Eric's psychology degree talking...