Having talked to academics at various levels of their careers about their perceptions of the job, I can say that most think marking is a necessary evil. I certainly caused a stir at a gathering recently when I admitted I rather enjoyed it! So, how can we make marking go more smoothly and more easily?
If you’re teaching classes at any level from primary to postgraduate, chances are your students will be doing assessments that have to be written up and marked. So, at its most basic level marking provides you the opportunity to see whether your students have absorbed the information and skills you have taught them. You can also offer advice on how to improve their performance. So far so good. So why does marking elicit so much hatred among lecturers?
Partly the problem seems to be quality. If you get a batch of essays or papers that show the students have put little or no effort in this can be dispiriting. Another problem is that lecturing staff are offered little guidance on how to mark. They are given marking criteria of course, but other than that it’s often left up to the individual how to structure feedback.
In the Humanities, there seems to be two schools of marking, the positive and the negative. Positive markers are constantly on the look out for the slightest hint that a student has done some extra work, or grasped a difficult concept. They are likely to give the benefit of the doubt and will offer encouraging feedback. Negative markers tend to have a more fixed idea about what a ‘perfect’ essay at a particular level looks like and any deviation from that is penalised. Certain ‘sins’ can immediately render a fail grade. Older negative markers seem dwell on their perceptions of a decline in standards. Negative markers coincidentally seem to enjoy marking less. This is a gross over-simplification, of course, but among my own colleagues and friends these observations ring true.
It will come as no surprise to those of you who follow this blog regularly that I try to be as positive as possible without inflating grades so they become meaningless. There are no hard and fast rules about marking, but it is a fact of academic life, so it’s up to us to make it as rewarding as possible, for us and our students. So, good luck to those of you who have a pile of marking over Easter: don’t let it get you down!