Friday, 22 May 2009


In the old country, life was simple. I had a group of third-year students ("Part II" in Cantabrigian) whom I supervised; they wrote their papers ("essays"), I approved them; the paper was put on the web for everyone's perusal; the students presented their work in peer-reviewed public defence; I gave them a grade and reported it to the course administrator who typed them into the computer system. In the near future, we would type them in ourselves.

I remember hearing my Anglo-Saxon colleagues complaining about the massive amount of marking and wondering what the problem was.

Now I know.

Our Part II (year three) students submitted their essays (papers), neatly printed out and bound, in a single copy, to the course administrator. We are five markers from the course team. The course administrator sorted the essays randomly in five piles. I went to collect mine, and Morag asked me to collect hers while I was there. I had to sign out our piles, and the administrator was a bit suspicious. Three days later we are all supposed to pass on our marked essays to the next marker. In person. It is absolutely forbidden to use pigeonholes! On a cover sheet, with the student's code instead of name (who are we fooling?), we have to write some comments to justify the mark, which is both a rather enigmatic number and a per cent (that is, each number has a range of ten per cent). I have received my bundle for second marking and managed to resist the temptation of reading the first marker's comments before coming up with my own judgement. I must admit that having the first mark gives you more confidence.

After we are done we are to return the papers - sorry, I mean essays, to the course coordinator, in this case Morag. She will compare the marks and, I guess, calculate the average. If there is a huge disagreement, there will be a third marker.

Meanwhile, the students will also sit an exam which we will mark in the same procedure. Then Morag will calculate the final mark, of which the paper - I mean, essay - weights 30% and the exam the rest. I hope there is software for these intricate compputations. Papers and exams are returned to the course administator together with the report. Then the whole lot goes to the examination board.

The system is foolproof, just and time-consuming. I wonder whether the results would be radically differfent if we all marked our own supervisees' work.

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