As PhD students or lecturers, one of the most common activities that we undertake is the marking of essays, other course work and exams. But often this is a skill for which there is little training. It is simply assumed that you will be able to mark successfully. This article explores some strategies for HE lecturers to better support staff marking on their courses and also offers advice to novice markers.
Training and support:
As early career teachers in HE you will often find that you are given training in curriculum design, how to lecture, lead small groups, take labs, even how to give student feedback. But how to actually mark itself is often neglected. It is important that any new tutors who have never marked before are offered training and support in how to do this essential task, rather than simply being given the mark scheme and left to get on with it.
It is vital that every marker is given a mentor or line manager to whom they can turn if they have issues with marking. This may be a particular query about a problem script, or a query about managing workload. Every university has a slightly different procedure for marking, and this can vary within departments across different year cohorts, so it is vital that each marker is clear about the procedure for their unit. As a minimum every marker needs to be provided with the mark scheme for his or her unit. But practice marking sessions, or other forms of training should be provided if required.
In order to ensure the best possible experience for students, it is vital that their essays and exams are marked promptly and fairly. Universities ensure that this happens with a system of moderation where the work of any marker (experienced or inexperienced) should be periodically checked by another staff member.
This system can also be used as a learning tool for inexperienced markers, as staff members who are doing the moderating can illustrate errors or biases in marking. Students are now used to appealing for work to be remarked at school, and increasingly this practice is becoming common at university level too. It is important that this remarking is handled sensitively because inexperienced markers can feel undermined by it.
Beyond the number:
Marking, especially in the social sciences and humanities, is about far more than giving a numerical score. It is a vital part of the process of showing students how to improve their work. Some markers spend a long time on each script, correcting every spelling and grammar mistake as well as commenting in detail on content. Others believe that going into so much depth does not help the student and that their job is to offer general pointers for improvement. Whichever approach you take (and this will probably depend on your workload) it is vital to see the process of marking as part of the pedagogical process, rather than as a burden separate from the real joy of teaching.
One of the reasons that many academics dislike marking is because of the number of scripts they have to mark and the short amount of time they have to do this. Even if they have the best intentions to do every script justice, the workload means that this task is often rushed and not done to the best of the marker’s capability. Mostly, students would rather wait an extra few days for their marks than know that the marking of their work was done too hastily. However, often another pile of marking follows the last, so lecturers are constantly battling to avoid getting behind. If you are a marker who feels that they are unable to cope with the workload, then it is important to discuss this with your mentor or line manager before you get too far behind or become overwhelmed.