Is anonymity good or bad? The answer is, as always, it’s complicated. Anonymous grading depends on many aspects such as size, personal preference of the professor or lecturer, subject of the course, and in a way, efficiency of the grading system. Students at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where I have been studying for a little over two months, submit written assignments anonymously, despite the fact that classes range in size from eight to fifty-five students.
Here are some of the benefits to this system: most importantly, replacing your name with an eight-digit number and erasing all personal information that may link to you provides no opportunity for grading bias. Bias can be an extremely subtle, yet effective method of showing preference, both on paper and in the classroom. We’ve all heard of “the teacher’s pet” in high school, right? Well, bias on papers and the act of grading a student’s work is extremely subjective, regardless of how many times professors and lecturers insist that they are reading the papers with “an open mind.” We all have our opinions and doubts, both students and professors, so when reading and editing a paper, these grades are reflective of the grader’s perspective. Factual and political correctness placed aside, I strongly believe that the system of grading, both in Scotland and in the United States, is completely reflective of how one person assesses another. That being said, it is correct to point out the advantages of erasing all personal information from assignments: any connection—good or bad—that a professor or lecturer may have with a student has no bearing on that student’s grade.
In addition to preventing bias, the exam or student ID number on the top of the essay allows the grader to solely focus on the subject and quality of the essay, rather than focusing or getting distracted with the author’s identity. By erasing the name of the student, the grader can focus on the extent to which the author successfully (or unsuccessfully) conveyed their ideas and analysis onto the page. In a way, the idea of “writing an essay for a stranger or someone who doesn’t know the subject” is highlighted through this anonymous submission. Although the grader is most likely an expert in the subject area, the student must convey his/her understanding of the topic completely because there is no way for the grader to connect with the author to ask for clarification. What has been submitted is final, and there is no exception.
Now here is the flip side: anonymity severs all personal connections between the student and professor and breaks up the idea of progress. In my fifty-five-person class, our main lecturer is extremely friendly, funny, and is clearly an expert in her field. I have often entertained the idea of going to her office hours to chat, but something stops me every time: she doesn’t know me as student, regardless of whether she would recognize my face if I walked into her office. Obviously I could change this situation by going to her office, but the fact that she doesn’t know my writing or thought processes is discouraging and our possibility for any student-professor relationship would be quite short-lived. Many of my wonderful connections with Bates professors stem from the work I have submitted and quickly transformed into casual conversations. If there is anything I miss about the wonderful community of Bates, it is the valuable and incredibly inspiring close relationships between students and professors.
As for the idea of progress, I believe that anonymity breaks up the way a professor can keep track of a student’s progress throughout the semester. Granted, at the University of Edinburgh, all grading is solely based on two types of assessments, exams and essays, so “progress” is limited. Participation, however, could be factored into students’ grades in the smaller classes. Although a grader could easily look up the student’s exam number to compare a previous essay, I assume that here at this university, the grader only focuses on the assignment at hand. I may be incorrect, but the point is that the lack of personal connection between the author and the grader leaves no room for remembering the previous assignment and thus assessing the progress.
So, although I take a stand on the side that does not favor anonymity, there are clearly many advantages to keeping the student anonymous. My lecturers are professors in Scotland are extremely well versed and knowledgeable in their areas of study and I am learning about many valuable perspectives and subjects, but I have to say: I would prefer Bates College any day.