Marking design assignments

It’s that time of the year when we lecturers are reminded that our key role is to give students numbers that they can add together to make degrees. Apparently the way we assign numbers is the same throughout disciplines and across sectors because we have quality processes, standards and benchmarks. This is plainly the sort of nonsense only those educationalists who have lost touch with human foibles could have invented. In fact we are swayed by a multiplicity of criteria eg – have we had our morning coffee, what is the weather like, how many similar or near identical papers have we just read, do we need the bathroom or another coffee or both. Then there is the question of interpretation. An open ended design assignment can be interpreted in many different ways, who is to say if one way is better than another. The solution is to spell it out in advance. Tell the student exactly what they have to do in order to do well. Break the marks down into tiny little atoms. Five marks for this and 3 marks for that. That way they can get a perfect score. Oh no – we can not  award 100% that would be absurd – anything above 70% and we are gasping for air. So we need to find some reason why nearly one third of the available  marks remain outside of the students reach by quibbling over quality or originality or professionalism or spelling. Thus the illusion is maintained that marking is somehow fair. It isn’t, it never has been and it never will be and the sooner we come clean with students and tell them to make there own minds up about what mark they should be awarded and give themselves a degree the better. Either that or we start marking subjectively but honestly. Tell them what you think but tell them that they should ask themselves and others what they think. Let them mark each other’s work. Don’t bullshit about some rung out, cynical external examiner taking a sample, bring in an outside professional or someone off the street and ask what they think of the design, would they buy it, use it, love it want it. This is so far removed from the notion of 5 marks for this and 3 marks for that that it reminds me, just for a moment that critiquing an emerging artists work can be a joyful useful experience. If my students tick all the boxes I shall be awarding some 100 percents just to stir up the stats.


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