Electronic marking: a trial(?) and its tribulations

UCU has been approached by a number of member colleagues expressing concerns about the introduction of on-line or e-marking in their School or department.   Our current understanding is that this is being done by the University on a trial basis, but early indications from some of the staff involved suggest that it is imposing an increased burden upon them.   Further, there is clear evidence that members have not been made aware of the drivers for this change, and this is leading to some degree of frustration.

Your Local Association is particularly concerned that the introduction of this form of marking has not been discussed in advance with UCU, when clearly their members are directly and materially affected, and have communicated that to management on your behalf in a joint union-management meeting in November and again, in writing in early January. No response has so far been forthcoming (at the time of posting).

We would expect that the following issues have been addressed prior to running any pilot, and have asked management for clarification of these points:

  • What is the aim of the pilot?
  • Has a baseline been established against which to measure outcomes?
  • What are the indicators of success?
  • Will there be an opportunity for feedback from participants?
  • Who will collate outcomes and make the ultimate judgement?

Let us be clear: we are not against the use of this technology. However, the union does have a problem when the management demonstrates little regard for staff by imposing a method without justification and where the health and safety of members of staff has not been considered.  Appropriate consultation with unions and affected staff would have benefited the process by teasing out key obstacles as identified by those who are actually involved in marking, and would allow the development of a practical framework that those involved would be more comfortable with and which would deliver more reliably the outcomes that the University is presumably seeking.

Electronic Marking is a Health and Safety Issue

The implementation of a process (even a pilot) without conducting risk assessments might be considered, at best, foolhardy.   This omission puts the University in breach of not just its own policies, but Health and Safety legislation at a fundamental level. We have pointed out to management their responsibilities in this area and are waiting for a response. If you have concerns, please contact the Local Association (see below).

In similar vein we assume that the University would wish to follow its own procedures and conduct a suitable and sufficient equality impact assessment, since there are likely to be equality impacts on staff and possibly students in following this new practice.

How can you help?

The LA is keen to hear your stories about using e-marking.   How have you found it? What are the issues that concern you? How was it introduced e.g. did you know that you are involved in a pilot?   Do you feel under pressure to adopt e-marking?

Please contact the Local Association by emailing our one of our Health and Safety Reps. a.carter@bradford.ac.uk who will collate all feedback and respond to specific concerns.   Be assured that all comments will be treated in the strictest confidence.


8 thoughts on “Electronic marking: a trial(?) and its tribulations

  1. NUS now say

    “There are various ways of implementing anonymous marking. Some of the most common are marking by numbers, bar codes, double marking, and external or visitor marking.”

    I think many of us do double marking and we all have external examiners checking the results. We have systems in place and are ultimately regulated by statute law against discrimination.

    NUS also say:

    “Distribute a questionnaire to gather students’ views on the fairness of the current marking schemes.”

    I asked my students about this recently, a highly non representative sample perhaps of 20 students although from three continents. The consensus was that they didn’t have a problem with using names. It’s open and transparent, it makes it easier when they ring up to discuss assignments.

    To my mind, it also boils down to a workplace dignity issue:

    I expect almost all UCU members agree that discrimination is entirely wrong and must be met head on. The NUS argument being that academics may subconsiously discriminate against students from minorities. So all academics are to be branded as potentially e.g. racist. It might sound naiive but who’s now doing the discriminating?

    The main protagonists of this idea within NUS seem to have mostly moved on. On example now works for a political think tank instead.

    “NUS education officer Richard Darlington said:. “We would like all marking to be anonymous whether for exams or assessed work. This is not saying that academics are racist or sexist, it is simply acknowledging that subconscious bias is an inevitability unless safeguards are put in place.”

    Effectively, there are likely to be people making capital from tacitly accusing academics of e.g. racism and sexism.

    I’m sure we can all get together and come up with misguided things between us that don’t solve anything with massive overheads that someone else has to cope with if we felt like it.

    There are managerialists in universities who can look forward to more employment and promotions from implementing this. And in this university, we’ve been told ‘The NUS want it so we’ve got to have it’


  2. My experience of on line marking which has now been rolled out completely in the school of health, there is no option but to use it and training has been inadequate therefore all staff / department use it differently. The approach has been trial and error throughout.
    It had so far, taken me at least twice as long to mark individual scripts. It is easier if you have 2 screens, otherwise you scroll up and down constantly. Checking references is difficult unless you have two screens or print off a word copy to cross reference (still time consuming). I have had a increase in migraines since Christmas (? related) and part of the time increase relates to the need to take more breaks away from the desk.
    I do like the bank of comments but these can be problematic to precisely apply.
    There is no option for staff and student are instructed only to submit electronically.


  3. i’d like to know what goes on in other schools. we are being asked to do more and more by admin in terms of assessment -it seems academics now support admin not the otherway around?


  4. In our school, we are no longer running a pilot, it has been fully introduced. There was no consultation, no rationale, no impact assessment or Health and Saftey and no training given in advance.
    The student handbook was updated to inform the students that work would be submitted and marked on line, but we were not informed.
    Training was given to staff after the submission of the assignment, it was arranged at short notice when it was pointed out that we needed it. An academic led session was arranged for last Friday afternoon with one day’s notice.
    The training was given by IT staff who were not familiar with its use from an academics perspective. We were shown how to annotate scripts but not how to process them once marked.
    I have seen no evidence of the benefits of online marking, but have seen the negative impact in terms of frustration, stress, additional time.
    There have been differences with how each submission is administered adding to the confusion.
    Often there is “No service currently active” so when you want to mark on line you cannot.
    The online marking has been introduced at the same time as use of PebblePad was introduced again with little preparation.


  5. I agree with all the above , especially the eye strain, some colleagues have been reporting migranes and headaches. Personally my neck and back has been aching , even after adjustments to my laptop. Badly implemented, no consultation, not enough relevant training , extremely time consuming and stressful. If I had wanted to sit at a PC all day I would have gone into IT not teaching!


  6. I have found marking using Grademark in Turnitin, easy and user friendly, especially as I can create my own bank of comments. However the amount of marking and the time scale in which it has to be completed I find very stressful and at times I have found my eyes under a great deal of strain.


  7. the other significant concern is that the syetem has not been set up to mark anonymously. A real backward step in my opinion and I htink the students would be concerened too


  8. Hi My concern is that the whole process hasn’t been properly risk assessed. I and a few colleagues have eye problems which are compounded by e marking. its the time (4 weeks) they’ve given us that makes it worse especially after we’ve lost so many staff through redundancy


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