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Can signatures decrease cheating?

sue_frantz
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I’m fortunate to have small classes (max 38), and so my students and I get to know each other very well. With in-class exams it’s been years since I’ve caught anyone cheating. Of course it’s possible that some students are cheating, and I’m just not seeing it. Without doubt some have gotten away with it. But I prefer to believe that the mutual respect that I foster over the course of an 11-week quarter reduces cheating.

But I also have my students sign their names at the top of their exams.

A fascinating set of experiments (Shu, et.al., 2012) found that when participants were given an opportunity to cheat while reporting their own results on a task or, in a naturalistic setting, reporting their car’s mileage at a used car dealership, they were less likely to overstate their numbers if they signed their names at the beginning of the reporting event rather than at the end or not at all. The proposed mechanism behind this is self-awareness. Being aware of ourselves – as a signature does – reminds us of what moral beings we are. The more moral we’re feeling, the less likely we are to cheat – or so the thinking goes.

Does a signature at the top of an exam reduce cheating in a classroom setting? I don’t know. I didn’t have the foresight to look at average exam scores before and after I started asking for signatures, and now I don’t even remember when I started doing it. But I do know it’s a simple enough thing to implement.

If you decide to add a signature line to your exams, consider testing its effectiveness. I’d love to see your results!

Shu, L. L., Mazar, N., Gino, F., Ariely, D., & Bazerman, M. H. (2012). Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(38), 15197-15200. doi:10.1073/pnas.1209746109

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.