The unofficial psychology blog from Paul Hutchings

Where do you draw the line for student ‘indiscretions’?

signatureOne of my pet hates is students signing in other (absent) students at lectures or classes –  but probably not for the reason you might think.

Ignore the issue of whether there should be an attendance policy at lectures (we have one so just have to deal with it) –  and ignore whether these students are missing out on learning (I think they are and the stats from my lectures tend to back this up).  I should also point out that I’m not talking about my students on my course here –  I’m talking about any student on any course in any university who signs in another student to a class.

The reason it annoys me is because it means that these people are committing fraud –  lying.  A person is asking someone else to lie for them about being there and that person is, in turn, carrying out an action that completes the lie.

I’m sure some of you are now thinking  ‘Just relax! There are far more things to worry about than whether a student signs in another student to sitting in a room at 9am on a Monday morning. Students do all sorts of stupid things, it’s part of being a student’.  Maybe so –  but to me it also means something more, particularly for some courses –  courses where ‘trust’ is at the very heart of what they are studying.

Take my subject, psychology.  Trust is at the heart of psychology in so many ways:  if you are going to go on to be a researcher you need to be able to say ‘these are the data that I collected and I haven’t been fraudulent with it –  trust me’;  if you are going to go into clinical/mental health areas you need to be able to say ‘I will keep the things you tell me in confidence and do my best for you –  trust me’.  I could go on but hopefully you get the idea that I think trust is pretty important in our field – and I’m sure others from other disciplines would argue the same.  So how does that fit with ‘lying’ by asking someone to sign you in?

Thinking about this subject made me consider other areas and how they relate to life after graduation.  For example, the student who is constantly late or ‘forgets’ meetings with tutors –  is this a suitable candidate for a position that may involve time-sensitive needs, particularly working with vulnerable people?  Or are they just being ‘students’?

We don’t want to turn higher education into a job –  it isn’t.  At the same time those who enter HE are adults and have to take responsibility for their actions –  and realise that those actions have consequences;  not necessarily at the time or even in that week or that year, but at some point (possibly when the academic reference request is put in).  However, even if you get away with it –  if no-one notices that someone else signed you in to class –  what does that say about you as a person, at that time and later on down the line?  Are you more likely to just sign something off rather than take responsibility?

I don’t know all of the answers to these issues –  I’d love to hear from other educators and students on whether there is a line between acceptable and unacceptable student behaviour and whether this differs from acceptable/unacceptable behaviour in work.

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