What is it?
Anonymous marking is often part of broader initiatives around the Electronic Management of Assessment (EMA) where several component processes of the assessment and feedback life cycle are managed electronically.
When student work is marked anonymously the identity of the student is not disclosed to the marker during the marking process. Anonymous marking is usually more appropriate for summative assessments e.g. written examinations and course work assignments. There are various ways of implementing anonymous marking. Some of the most common are marking by using number identifiers, bar codes, double marking, and external or visitor marking. Once feedback and a mark has been allocated the identity of the student is usually revealed which makes subsequent administrative processes easier.
Anonymous marking is typically introduced to protect staff and students from the perceptions of bias. The highly successful NUS campaigned, 'Mark my words not My Name', addresses this issue and has been running for several years. At the University of Bath examinations have been conducted anonymously for many years and in 2013 Senate agreed that this practice should be extended to all summative assessment “where practical”.
There is considerable debate among academics regarding whether or not anonymous marking is a 'good thing'. Those in favour claim that it prevents bias and is therefore fairer. Even when we don't think we are being biased, research into cognitive bias shows we are unconsciously influenced in our thinking by social and personal contexts. In addition proponents of anonymous marking believe that it is important to listen to the student voice in this respect. Those against suggest that if assessment practices (e.g. clear marking guidelines and processes) were improved, the likelihood of bias would be reduced, students would have more confidence in the marks they receive and calls for anonymous marking would subside. It has also been claimed that introducing anonymous marking can erode student trust in the academic marking community. Furthermore those who view feedback as a dialogic process see the introduction of anonymous marking practices as eroding this.
How might I use it?
For anonymous marking to work with course work assignments, students submit their assignment online via the Moodle Assignment activity which has been configured with 'blind marking' enabled in the activity settings. The student's identity is concealed by Moodle assigning a unique and random 'Participant ID number' to each student when they submit. In the case of multiple pieces of assessment, each is submitted to a separate assignment activity and students are assigned a different Participant ID number for each. When the marker collects scripts to mark they don't see the student name, only their Participant ID. Of course in order to preserve anonymity students should be briefed not to include their name on their script or coversheet.
What are the pros & cons?
- Removal of bias, or perception of bias, according to race, class, gender or personal feelings
- Removal of pre-judged expectations of student performance
- Removal of perceived bias or favouritism in the eyes of future employers
- Onus is on students to get feedback
- 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
- Students not using the correct file-naming protocol
- Not being able to easily identify students with special needs or mitigating circumstances
- Marking and moderation that needs to take place after the return of feedback to students (when anonymity has to be disabled in many systems)
- It has been demonstrated that students are more likely to engage with feedback that is personalised, and using an anonymous marking process removes the ability to give feedback in this way