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The students’ union VP Education, Ian Meeks, has scored a major win in his campaign for anonymous marking. It’s written up on the SU website at:
As subtext understands it, the university’s Academic Standards and Quality Committee has accepted his argument that all written assessments at Lancaster should, henceforth, be anonymous. subtext hears that there is also support for a proposal that all submissions should be made electronically.
Well done to the union for their persistence. But should we be celebrating? In the LUSU article, Mr Meeks notes that, ‘anonymous marking reduces the risk of unconscious bias by the marker, increasing the level of confidence students can have that they are getting the mark they deserve.’ If all that students gained from their work were the mark, his argument is hard to refute.
Assignments aren’t all about marks, though.
The reason we ask students to regularly submit their thoughts to us is not so we can just give it a ‘B+’ and say ‘well done’. Markers think long and hard about their feedback, pointing out errors and suggesting ideas for improvement, and this is greatly helped when the marker knows the identity of the person they’re feeding back to. They’ll have a rounded view of where they’ve gone wrong before, which overarching themes they frequently address, and so forth. From a logistical point of view, many assignments are handed back in person, with the marker keen to follow up their written comments with discussion and support. How would this work?
Well, you could keep the assignments anonymous until the marking’s over, maybe, and only then reveal to all concerned the identity of the people you’ve been assessing. This could work, although in practice most markers get to know their students’ styles of argument. This is especially true in the many departments where coursework is usually handwritten.
Blanket electronic submissions would also be difficult to implement. We sympathise with students who regularly have to leg it to campus to meet a submission deadline, when they could have just uploaded their thoughts to Moodle – but equally, it would be odd if a student ran onto campus and made it to their department on time, only to be told ‘sorry, you’ll need to scan that and upload it!’ Markers are certainly not going to be thrilled if – as seems possible – they’re told that, from now on, they’ll need to do all their marking on screen. Has occupational health been consulted?
What would work well in some departments may well cause massive problems in others, and we think this should be an issue which should be left to departments, in consultation with their students and staff.