Let’s be more challenging of the of conventions in education

Why is anonymity important when a lecturer marks a student’s work so as to ensure ‘objectivity’?  Where I work all students have a six-figure number and it is this that appears on their work rather than their name. Before I go on I know it is important to mark fairly and that marking involves a degree of objectivity. But I think this is worth a closer look. I work in a small University where we know the students well and their work well so perhaps this question is a bit more acute for me. Forget the marks for a moment the important work is in the feedback, carefully crafted comments aimed at helping the individual student to improve. Now to give good feedback it could be argued that it is important to know the person. After all you don’t coach someone to the anonymous grill of the confessional box – it is a frank conversation where knowing the individual is key to finding the important factors for development that they can take forward. Over the years the importance of anonymity seems to have gone unquestioned without considering its downside – an unchallenged social orthodoxy. Or as GH Mead (Mead, 1934), the pragmatist American philosopher of the early 20th century, would call it a ‘cult value’. This seems to be one of many orthodoxies that not only go unchallenged, but are rarely noticed. From my experience most of what we learn comes to mistakes, serendipity and conversation rather than design, objectivity and measurement; features of what passes as education in recent times.  Let’s be a bit more challenging, of the orthodoxies in education, including anonymity, and there are plenty more, for example the idea of ‘learning outcomes’, how assessment skews what should be learnt, how we overly value the intellect etc.  I’m not saying they have no worth, but we need to be more careful as to how they affect our practice as educators, for good and bad.

Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, Self, & Society. Chicago: Chicago University Press.


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