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Anonymous marking at Bournemouth University

Friday 19-02-2016 - 17:18

This is a guest blog by Ellie Mayo-Ward, Vice President Education at Students' Union Bournemouth University.

SUBU has a great partnership with Bournemouth University, and this partnership has allowed us to make substantial changes to the university. One of my proudest achievements has been implementing anonymous marking, not only to bridge the attainment gap but also to show all students that the value of their work is not based on who they are.

I believe our staff genuinely care about students and want them to succeed and would never consciously alter their marking based on student profiles. However, the purpose of implementing anonymous marking at BU was not to get rid of bias, it was to get rid of the perception of bias. Students, more than ever, are conscious that a degree alone is not enough to get a job anymore, but at BU we are finding this isn’t pushing students to engage more in extra-curricular, it is pushing students to focus more intensely on their studies. The perception that a grade, which is more important than ever to students, can be influenced by the marker is unacceptable. This perception could be wrong, and I hope it is, but the perception of unfairness is what matters. ‘Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done’.

We used our GOAT (Go Out and Talk) Team to gather student opinion on anonymous marking. Of the 322 students asked, 81% said they thought it was either important or very important and the qualitative comments collected centred around the need for fairness. Using our GOAT response, student surveys and national and NUS research on bias, I put together a report that presented four principles of why anonymous marking is important.

The important part of the process was framing the argument to get staff on board. I faced a lot of staff defensiveness, particularly around the idea that we were suggesting the current marking system was unfair. There was also concern that certain pieces of work can’t be anonymously marked, such as presentations, and that implementing anonymous marking would detract from the student experience. These issues were reflected in the four principles I presented to the University. These were, firstly, to recognise that we are all human and unconscious bias exists and as a university we should help to minimise its impact where possible. Secondly, even if no bias exists the perception of it does and we need to manage this student perception. Thirdly, that we are not suggesting that the current marking system is ‘unfair’, but there could possibly be ways to enhance the system which also enhances trust in the system. And finally, that we also recognise the limitations of anonymous marking and it should only be implemented where it enhances the student experience.

The framing of the argument was really helpful in getting the University on side. We wanted to change the perception of unfair marking, not the reality of it. Once staff understood that we weren’t attacking their academic judgement it was much easier to make change happen. For anyone tackling anonymous marking I think that is something to bear in mind.

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