Monday, 11 November 2013

Anonymous Marking

A few days ago I handed in my first essay to Keele University. It's quite a long process. I had to find the Humanities office, then wait in the queue of students (as obviously we'd all left the process to a few minutes before the deadline), fill in a long complicated form that asked difficult questions like "Fill in your Student Number", (Keele issues students with two 'student numbers', and it's always difficult to tell which one to use), "Fill in your tutor's name" (I didn't think 'No idea' was what they were looking for, but luckily one of my classmates in the queue helped me out with that one), and "Fill in the module number of your course" (luckily that one was written on my timetable).

Also included was the plagiarism declaration, which is what all of it is actually about. Once I'd filled out all the fields in this form (using up almost all my ink in the process, and trying not to mutter too loudly about how this was all pointless and redundant and we were required to submit electronically through turn-it-in as well), I gave the essay and form to the secretary, who carefully perused both to make sure all was in order. She tut-tutted at spotting my name on the title page, and neatly and carefully scratched it out, making very sure to do a thorough job, so that it would be quite impossible for anyone to read it. She told me proudly that Keele used anonymous marking, as if this was the most forward and admirable thing in the world.

As it was just a first year English essay, and I done all the reading and written the 1000 words in a couple of hours, and as I knew that the lecturer had not the faintest idea who I was, I couldn't have cared less. As long as I never had to read the damn thing again. But on Wednesday I will be submitting my 3000 word Philosophy essay on Hume (Of the Standard of Taste), and considering that I have put a good deal more work into this essay, that I will actually be reading the lecturer's feedback with interest, and that the lecturer knows who I am, the idea of anonymous marking has come to bother me far more than it did previously. While it may protect students from lecturer bias, this protection will create more harm than good: For one, the lecturers will not be able to give personalised, constructive feedback. They have no way of knowing (making the shaky supposition that nameless essays are truly anonymous) if students are benefiting from feedback, and are unable to adapt their feedback accordingly. Surely a lecturer will never be able to give useful feedback if they do not know who they are talking to? And secondly, bias may sometimes be necessary. If a student's first language is not English, but it is nonetheless obvious that sufficient effort has been put in to compensate for this, some bias is needed, as the penalization for language and grammar should be reduced. While this may not be as relevant at Keele as at Rhodes, with Keele having over one third of its student body made of international students, it is certainly a factor.

Luckily, as with nearly every other idea I've ever had, a quick Google proves that I am not alone in this (if you feel clever, witty, original, etc in this modern world then you don't spend enough time Googling stuff). Look, it's all already done for me:
Now I'm just wondering if I should sneakily include my name at the end of my essay, in which case it'll be read by the lecturer first, and she won't be able to unread it.

Maybe I just have an ego problem.


  1. Ego ego ego problem indeed! From experience, in time one can always guess-estimate who they are marking in which case they once risk providing that personalised feedback you seek ;-)

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  3. If the purpose of writing is to persuade the reader to see the subject the way that the writer sees it and the marker focuses their remarks on commenting on what they perceive you to have said about the subject, then that is the most honest evaluation of your writing. As Quintillian wrote, 'Care should be taken, not that the reader may understand if he will, but that he must understand, whether he will or not.' If your markers misunderstand your answer, then that indicates you failed to reach your audience.