Managing anonymous marking has cropped up a lot in our discussions about EMA. There are however a wide spectrum of institutional views on this issue. In response to our online questions almost a quarter of respondents (23%) said this area was ‘very problematic’ whilst a similar number (24%) said it was ‘not a problem’. So why is it a huge issue for some institutions and not for others? The answer seems to lie in differing institutional policies. Some institutions (often in response to student demand) have very strict requirements for anonymous marking to ensure fairness whilst others (generally again citing student pressure) believe anonymity has no place in the type of learning and teaching they deliver.
It is clear that a requirement for anonymity poses various difficulties in relation to the main commercial systems that support EMA e.g.
– being easily able to identify which students have not submitted where there is full anonymity
– students being required to use an ID yet still writing their names on papers
– identifying students with special needs or mitigating circumstances
– anonymity being lost once data is returned to the VLE
Various workarounds are being applied to address all of these issues but one of the big questions address at our Think Tank was – why bother at all? Does anonymity serve learning and teaching practice well?
Proponents of anonymity say that it is not a tool for policing academics but that it can be very useful in managing a small but real risk of unconscious bias. Students in favour of anonymity tend to be rather more forthright on the issue of trust and believe anonymity is essential to ensure that academics give them a mark based on what they have written and not how often they have been late for class etc. Many people, whether for against the practice, believe it is actually very difficult to achieve genuine anonymity on the basis that good teachers usually know their students.
Those making the case against anonymity claim there is no pedagogic basis for the practice and it may be merely a ‘comfort blanket’ that simply gives the illusion of being fairer. Many are prepared to say privately that their institution does not trust academics not to display bias, whether conscious or unconscious, in their marking and that they are using technology to address issues of potential prejudice. Students in favour of greater transparency feel more properly evaluated and supported when marking is done in a more contextual manner.
The Think Tank was presented with the interesting example of a professor who marked an essay anonymously and rated it as first-class. When he was told the student’s name the professor was convinced that the student hadn’t written their essay. Academic integrity checking showed no proof of plagiarism but the professor remained convinced that somebody else had written the essay for them. Was the professor’s academic judgement correct or was he simply biased?
Let us know your thoughts on the value of anonymous marking (click on this post to open it to see the comments box).