Gender bias, ethnic bias, halo effect – these are just some of the unconscious or implicit biases that university markers might have when assessing student work (Fleming, 1999).  

“And probably the biggest bias of all is our expectations of particular students”, says Dr. Jennifer Duke-Yonge, who spent a lot of time thinking about cognitive biases as they take a center stage in her Critical Thinking Course. Indeed, for better or worse, teachers do seem to expect different levels of achievement from particular students which can make marking less objective. That’s why Dr Duke-Yonge, along with an increasing number of colleagues across MQ, choose to mark without knowing the students’ identities. 

If we look at the literature, blind (or anonymous) marking is commonly suggested as ‘good practice’ in university teaching, especially for high-stakes summative assessments (Malouff & Thorsteinsson, 2016).  

But how do I ‘blind mark’ in iLearn?

Both iLearn and Turnitin have blind marking settings, called Anonymous Submission in iLearn assignments, and Anonymous Marking in Turnitin. Enabling them is as easy as ticking a box (see below). 

Anonymous Submission in iLearn assignments

Anonymous Marking in Turnitin

Professor Janaki Amin from the Department of Health Sciences has been blind marking since 2017. She feels it has been worth it as it has reduced the emotional labour of trying to separate the knowledge of the students and their personal circumstances from their work which allowed her to mark to a more objective standard. 

It can be taxing, or even impossible, feels Professor Amin, to remain completely objective when you know about academic or personal issues of different students. Blind marking reduces this emotional burden, making marking less tiring, and is an additional benefit of this strategy.  

Dr Duke-Yonge agrees that anonymous marking helps her not be influenced by her pre-existing expectations about a particular student, and mark more objectively.  

Another benefit of blind marking is saving time on student allocation in large co-cohorts. For example, Dr. Janet Van Eersel from the Department of Biomedical Sciences finds that using blind marking makes it easier to allocate markers and marking groups, so using blind marking makes it more efficient. 

Cons of blind marking  

At the same time, blind marking is not without its limitations. For starters, you cannot provide personalized feedback using the student’s name. 

A workaround:

You can give students’ an overall mark first, unmask students’ names and provide more detailed feedback later. For example, for scaffolded tasks Professor Amin starts with giving the overall mark blindly and subsequently unhides students’ names to provide personalized comments related to students’ incorporating feedback from previous tasks. See Anonymous Marking and Multiple Markers section on how one can unhide students’ names in Turnitin assessments, and iLearn assignments (see the subsection of Anonymous Marking using the Assignment activity). 

Another risk of blind marking is potentially missing the signs of contract cheating. Detecting contract cheating sometimes comes from ‘knowing your student,’ their writing style and previous work.  

What can help: 

TurnItIn might be able to detect some signs of contract cheating via its Flagged for Review feature (see Academic Integrity Insights Features in Turnitin section). It’s also recommended that students regularly present their work-in-progress in tutorials or other practical sessions to prevent contract cheating. Check out this article for more ideas on how to minimize contract cheating. 

When to use blind marking?  

Most people who blind mark seem to use it selectively. For example, they might blind mark larger stakes final assignments and use a regular ‘non-anonymized’ marking for smaller –stakes and formative assignments. For example, Dr Duke-Yonge prefers knowing the students’ identities when marking low-stakes weekly pieces as it helps her to get to know the students and provide them with more personalized feedback, and she opts to blind mark their large-stakes assignments to be more objective.  

Be it to reduce bias or make marking more efficient or less emotionally taxing, blind marking is worth considering or trying at least once!  

Contact your Faculty Learning and Teaching support team OR our central Learning and Teaching Staff Development Team if you’d like more help with getting started!  

A huge ‘thank-you’ to Professor Janaki Amin, Dr Duke-Yonge and Dr. Janet Van Eersel and Dr Shelley Forrest for sharing their insights with the TECHE audience!  

Fleming, N. D. (1999). Biases in marking students’ written work: quality. Assessment matters in higher education: choosing and using diverse approaches, 83-92.  

Malouff, J. M., & Thorsteinsson, E. B. (2016). Bias in grading: A meta-analysis of experimental research findings. Australian Journal of Education60(3), 245-256. 

Image credits: Lattice; Bodymantra

Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught on different courses, ranging from 1st year to PhD students. I now work in Learning and Teaching, which I love. I have 2 young kids and a dog, and I love meeting other Mq people, so give me a shout if you'd like to talk 'learning and teaching' or would like to brainstorm together.

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