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Do you think lecturers are biased in marking essays? Watch

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    (Original post by macromicro)
    Student number.
    huh?
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    (Original post by Klix88)
    My current uni last year introduced "perceived bias" as grounds for an academic appeal by a student. Before this, they could only appeal a mark if they felt that the formal process (marking scheme etc) hadn't been observed.

    Whilst no silver bullet, this at least allows students to have their claims of bias examined by a team of academics from a different department. They are deemed less likely to be 'distracted' by *what* is being said and will concentrate purely on the academic aspects of *how* it is being presented e.g. quality of argument, referencing etc. They can compare their assessment with the original marker's comments to understand why they may have diverged and whether a full independent remark is justified.
    Interesting, that is an excellent development. I may raise that with my department.
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    (Original post by Klix88)
    "Often" they aren't though. I've known five and they were all on a sliding scale of polite agnosticism to raging atheist! They didn't see it as their job to promote or impose their world view, but to allow their students to develop their own.
    I can't find any survey, so I suppose we are both using anecdotal evidence. But I would guess that moreso than not they are religious - there is little motivation to be a Bible or Quran scholar and not follow the religion. Of course, this is irrelevant really as even if a minority of theologians and philosophers of religion were theists, my criticism is to that minority. It needn't be the case that the majority be religious.

    The fact that your scale doesn't include raging theist but does include its opposite also highlights your very tiny sample. I've certainly had run-ins with dogmatic theologians who refuse to engage in debate, and atheists are very much a minority in religious academia. A lot of my research is in contact with these departments so I would say my sample size is perhaps 100 or so.

    (Original post by Klix88)
    To be human is to be biased
    I see no reason to believe that. The golden rule of academia is to always question your own belief. However, I agree that most humans are biased (which you may have meant perhaps?)

    (Original post by Klix88)
    and a professional lecturer will be sufficiently self-aware that they can overcome their own bias when teaching. If they can't, then students should be complainng formally through their Student Union.
    Definitely. As evidenced with Rutgers University.
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    My mum related an incident told to her by a uni lecturer when she was back doing post-grad study. One particular cohort of students at a well know Scottish uni shocked the students by the best degree awards being hogged by male students. This was questioned and challenged since the pattern throughout the degree course had been that the girls had performed consistently better than the boys. The exam papers were re-examined with names blocked out and each just allocated a number. I can't remember now if she said the papers were sent out externally from the university for marking but the final results were considered far more accurate and reflective of how the girls had outperformed the boys throughout the course. This would suggest that 'blind' marking is the only method to prevent our prejudices, whether aware of them or not, to impact on how exam papers are marked and graded.
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    (Original post by macromicro)
    there is little motivation to be a Bible or Quran scholar and not follow the religion.
    Purely anecdotal again, but I know an atheist CofE vicar (not that his employer or congregation know, of course). You'd be surprised at how motivational money can be when you have kids to maintain and bills to pay, despite your collapsed vocation. As he says - "a job's a job".

    I loathed IT but spent 20+ years in the IT industry paying off my mortgage because that's how I could do it fastest.

    Whilst obviously not your direct experience, a deep personal commitment to a subject isn't necessary for teaching it.
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    (Original post by Klix88)
    When you start, every student gets their own unique student number. You submit your coursework electronically using that number instead of your name, and your mark is returned to you using that system. Lecturers only find out who has which student number, when final degree grades are issued.
    (Original post by macromicro)
    Student number.
    Ah I see, thanks
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    (Original post by Klix88)
    I loathed IT but spent 20+ years in the IT industry paying off my mortgage because that's how I could do it fastest.
    That isn't really comparable. You don't become a theologian or philosopher of religion to pay the bills. Academia is an extremely slow, difficult, competitive and stressful way to make poor money.

    (Original post by Klix88)
    Whilst obviously not your direct experience, a deep personal commitment to a subject isn't necessary for teaching it.
    It's not necessary - and I haven't implied it is - as there are exceptions to everything. You keep posting exceptions but that doesn't contradict anything. Do you honestly believe that the majority of theologians are not religious considering that many US theology schools require you to be part of that religious strand - indeed were founded in theology; and considering that early theology was simply a rite of passage to becoming a minister; and considering that New Atheism is just that - new?
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    (Original post by macromicro)
    That isn't really comparable. You don't become a theologian or philosopher of religion to pay the bills. Academia is an extremely slow, difficult, competitive and stressful way to make poor money.
    Absolutely, but if that's what you're qualified to do, you may not have a background to get into anything more lucrative should you reach the point that you no longer espouse that belief system. Working at a uni, I know a number of academics who are very keen to get out but are stuck because they aren't qualified or experienced enough to do any other kind of work.

    Do you honestly believe that the majority of theologians are not religious considering that many US theology schools require you to be part of that religious strand - indeed were founded in theology; and considering that early theology was simply a rite of passage to becoming a minister; and considering that New Atheism is just that - new?
    I work in the UK university system and am talking about theological teaching in our secular state universities. Fundamentalist religious affiliation (and thus inherent bias) of the type you describe, would be a definite disadvantage in a lecturer in that arena. I expect our UK religious colleges work very much in the way you describe, but they're outside my experience and are uncommon here. I suspect we're at crossed purposes and talking about two very different systems in two different countries/cultures.
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    (Original post by john2054)
    Did you have to do a masters, and what is the title of your Phd? pm me if you like?
    Yes, you generally need one unless you're in science/maths. It's on Wittgenstein.

    Are you thinking of doing one?
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    (Original post by Inexorably)
    I haven't been to uni yet so sorry if this is a stupid question, but if your essays are marked as anonymous how do they know who to give the grade back to?
    We have student numbers. Kind of like a code for each student.
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    Off to do a maths degree so shouldn't have to worry about this 😀😀
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    (Original post by macromicro)
    What do you think the solution is?

    Another concern is not simply the grading but the teaching beforehand. Lecturers may impose their own views on their students - almost a form of indirect indoctrination. If a lecturer shows intolerance for critique, then it's a breeding ground for imposed views. It has become such a problem in US colleges that the University of Chicago had to explicitly state in its welcome letter to new students that it did not support "trigger warnings" nor "safe spaces" - two concepts borne out of these subjects like gender, sexuality, religion and race where professors may be showing a bias and limiting freedom of speech.

    I'll be teaching my first undergrad module this year (Political Philosophy) and the first thing I will do is reiterate these concerns to the students, i.e. that my class will involve endless critique, defending of your position with evidence, and you may say anything you please so long as it is rational, evidenced, and not fundamentally hate speech. I wonder how many lecturers do this on the first class of their module? I've only been inspired to by Chicago and seeing how much bias can have an impact on how students learn and how they are graded.



    Although that goes out the window as soon as a student sends them a draft or hands in a formative version. And at masters level, at least for my subject, anonymous marking no longer occurred because we developed our own essay titles with the professor's supervision, plus it is obvious for them to know whose work an essay is due to the small groups.

    I don't think there is always an easy fix, but I think having a certain percentage of work (not selected by the lecturer) externally marked can certainly help to spot unfair bias trends.
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    Yes, I think they sometimes are. It's unfortunate.
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    (Original post by macromicro)
    Yes, you generally need one unless you're in science/maths. It's on Wittgenstein.

    Are you thinking of doing one?
    So what have you learnt about him, in a sentence of two?

    Yes I need to do a conversion to psychology degree, which i can start next year (Sept 17), then a mental health research masters, then a doctorate in Schizophrenia. This is what i am looking at.
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    (Original post by john2054)
    So what have you learnt about him, in a sentence of two?

    Yes I need to do a conversion to psychology degree, which i can start next year (Sept 17), then a mental health research masters, then a doctorate in Schizophrenia. This is what i am looking at.
    That philosophy is not the answer to our problems.

    Sounds very interesting. So what are your plans for this year - saving up funds, etc.?
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    (Original post by macromicro)
    That philosophy is not the answer to our problems.

    Sounds very interesting. So what are your plans for this year - saving up funds, etc.?
    i want to spend some more time with my family thanks.
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    (Original post by macromicro)
    Often lecturers in highly contentious areas like politics, philosophy and sociology, will teach modules they support rather than critique. For example, often theology lecturers are religious or gender lecturers are feminists or animal ethics lecturers are vegans, etc. Is it possible to be completely impartial in these very topical, highly debated and subjective areas? Wouldn't there be something in you, even sub-consciously, that would give a lower mark to someone who brilliantly critiqued your views than someone who brilliantly supported them?

    I suppose the flip-side is also worth asking: as a student, are you better off choosing modules with lecturers that support your opinion? If, say, an MA Politics student is counting on a distinction for hope of PhD funding, is it really in his best interest to choose a module on feminism taught by a feminist or philosophy of religion module taught by a Muslim if he disagrees with many of their fundamental positions?
    ] As a University teaching assistant, yes all markers are biased :eyeball: We're human. It's impossible not to be.
    But a good many of us work our butts off to be as unbiased and fair as we possibly can. In fact, the thing that makes me hate marking the most is precisely because of how difficult it is to put a number on something as complicated as an essay. A numerical scale assumes that students are comparable to each other. To some degree they are, but there are also a huge amount of complete curveballs that they can throw at you. As a marker you have to make some difficult judgements about which particular features you feel are the most important from your students, and exactly how you weight all of these different factors. Lets say one student has shown that they have read and understood the material, but they fall flat when it comes to tying ideas together into a logical sequence, and some of the claims they make are based on misunderstandings about the theory they are covering. Then another student has a logical argument, but their written language is absolutely appalling and they've really done the bare minimum of reading. How does one weight all of these different features together? At my institution we have a marking scale that all markers use. It has five sections which roughly consist of: written language, coherence of argument, referencing, depth of understanding and reading, and critical awareness. Unfortunately the scale does not suggest how each of these components should be weighted in relation to one another (and to be fair to it, how could it?) Furthermore, the mark scheme is applied across the faculty at all levels. So regardless of which Humanities degree you study and which year you are in, this scheme will be utilised.
    The bottom line is that each marker has to use their own discretion about what really matters for the essay/assignment that is being assessed, and to make judgements about what can reasonably be expected from students for their degree level, among other things. The mark scheme might suggest that we look for critical reflection and understanding, but it is the marker in question who knows what that means in the context of the particular assignment they are assessing.
    Personally, my reference point was the cohort. I would read several essays for students on the same module (often 30 or 40). The marks I gave usually reflected how these students performed in relation to one another. In addition to this, we work in teams as markers. Borderline essays are seen by more than one person, and we routinely swap samples of our marking to others to try and calibrate the standards we apply as a department. And if two markers disagree they discuss their views and arrive at a compromise. Really marking is a fairly impossible task because - as mentioned - student assignments are not reducible to metrics. They are too complicated. But given those pragmatic problems, staff really do their utmost to be fair. And you should give them the benefit of the doubt.

    In terms of my own political biases..... lol... those don't factor at all. If I have an incredibly obnoxious right-wing student who asserts conclusions that I find objectionable, that student may very well receive an excellent grade from me if they have written clearly and logically, explained the reasoning behind every point they make in full, and have provided evidence for their claims. Honestly, most markers would weep for joy at seeing a well-written essay, regardless of what it's actually trying to say. If you're worried about the marks that you are getting, my advice is focus on being as clear and explicit as possible about what point you are making, why you think it, and why you believe that other human beings should agree with you. Then make sure that you have done the required reading, have followed the required referencing, have read your module guide, and - for the love of God - that you actually have command of decent grammar and written language. I would recommend putting every essay through Grammarly before handing it in. Do each of these things, and I guarantee that you will secure the goodwill of your marker, regardless of what nonsense you wish to spout in said essay or dissertation!

    PS: I have had to mark MA dissertations too, and the above is still true.


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    (Original post by SophieSmall)
    I have heard of quite a few "horror stories" if you will of students being unfairly marked down or even failed on work for having differing beliefs/opinions to the marker as opposed to not actually producing good work.
    The operative word here is 'stories'.
    I am a strict marker, and I'm sure that some of my students might have gone away thinking 'that horrible marker gave me a bad grade because I don't share her views', but honestly the only time I've ever given somebody a bad mark for an opinion was when they actually claimed that people of one nationality were superior to people of another, and included homophobic comments. It was a really extreme case and an international student, from a society that happens to have a very different culture to that in the UK. I felt bad for the student, and I passed it on to my colleagues to discuss the best approach. Had that student included material from the course, and at least made an effort to justify the claims they made, I would have done my best to give marks for those achievements.

    Basically there are a great many ways that you can write a bad essay, and unless markers were to sit with students one to one and discuss their essays line by line to go over which bits were a problem and why, students often don't have full knowledge of why they got the mark that they did. That's why I always wrote really lengthy comments trying to explain to students what they needed to improve on. But that sucked up all my time, and we aren't paid well enough for that to be realistic. Me doing that, came out of my PhD time. If I were a full time lecturer with hundreds of students, it would not have humanly been possible to include the amount of detail that I did in feedback. The only place where that is possible is Oxbridge, through the supervision and tutorial systems.
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    I haven't had that experience.

    I've written essays in my last year which were strongly critical of Marxism and my lecturer was a Marxist (got 74%). I've written an essay which was severely critical of positivism in politics even though my lecturer was a positivist (got 68% 'cos I'm a moron not 'cos he was hostile).

    I think lecturers appreciate sharp criticism from their students far more than they welcome weak arguments in support of their views.

    When you reach PhD levels and you've to be hired, things may be different. E.g. I don't think feminist political theorists would want to hire a PhD whose dissertation and published work is fiercely critical of feminism (though it's not impossible to want someone to represent the "opposite" view, you'll still be outnumbered at your department). But at undergraduate and graduate level, I don't think that's a problem.

    I take issue with the view that it's all "subjective" btw.
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    (Original post by john2054)
    They are biased, but this can work both ways. If you lecturer doesn't think you are up to scratch, you can expect a d cap. Conversely if you make friends with them, the skies the limit! PS I know that essays are double marked, but generally speaking the second marker agrees with the first. This is what i have found anyway with my ba.
    Again, as with the case above, I highly highly doubt that the correlation you are drawing there is significant. You might have felt that you formed a social connection with your marker, and you might well have done. But if you then got a good grade in that topic, you can't assume that your cameradie was the functional cause of that. It could have been a great many different things. For instance, your ability to connect with the marker might have reflected that you understood the material well and were engaging with it at a good level of depth, thereby enabling you to have enjoyable interaction with the teacher. Similarly you may well just be a sociable person and good at your academic work.
    I have had several students over the year who I absolutely adored, only to be really shocked and appalled when their work came in at the end of the semester. Believe me, their enthusiasm and engagement in class did jack all for the performance of their work.

    It's really frustrating to me to watch the kind of assumptions that people leap to about their marks. Think for a second who might be reading what you wrote here, and what you might have encouraged them to believe about their studies You can't schmooze your way to a first! :pinch:
 
 
 
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