Thursday, 7 May 2020


I'm in my final year! I'll soon be graduating from to the University of Life having spent almost the entirety of my adulthood in one or other institute of further education. It would probably be true to say that I learned more in my gap years:
  • 15 mo after school 1972 ; 
  • a year after the BA 1977; 
  • 6 mo after my PhD 1982 ; 
  • a year after six years teaching in U.Newcastle 1989: walked Portuguese Coast
  • 6 mo to do Santiago etc. in 2004; 
  • my cash-poor time-rich one-day-a-week year in 2012. 
Learned more about what matters: how to be kind (to yourself and others); that money buys ice-cream but not happiness; that writing is its own reward. 2020-1972 is 48 workable years; I've taken 5 of them Out; Out of academia, not necessarily out of the workforce. If you can do it, do it.

Anyway, in the last months weeks of actual work at The Institute I am reading and marking final year research projects: my seven aka The A team and, so far, five others as Second Reader. Naturally, I have to find Second Readers for The A Team. Why 'naturally'? Because "A" Team; because they become family; because we've spent 100+ hrs together at the frontier fighting orks and mining mithril. You can't give someone a high mark because you love 'em or they come from the same County. That won't make anyone happy in the long run. Second Reader is a fresh eye and is only reading the Project Report - what they call a thesis. 2Rs don't have the back-story; the existential crises; the attendance record. The Report in science, as elsewhere maybe, is The Deliverable. Without it, all the investigations, all the dead-ends, all the triumphs, all the clever ideas, all the discoveries, are just ephemeral dust.

Deadline for submission of projects was 22nd April and my peeps got their stuff in on time. All my other correcting and marking is done, so I was in no steaming hurry to read them; not least because I read an almost final version before Easter. Shortly after Easter, just when we didn't really need it, came the May Bank Holiday weekend when I could have made a start on the task. But I didn't. I had a weekend to myself. I repotted some baby swiss chard. I did the laundry because it was dry. I mowed some grass.  "On Tuesday morning . . ." I said

On Tuesday morning my decks were clear and, after tea and toast, I sat down to read the first thesis. I always do them alphabetically by first name so I neither do the interesting ones first nor save the best till last. By lunchtime, I'd done 2 out of 7, and I naively thought two more in the afternoon and I'll be finished by tomorrow night. Nope! All kinds of work stuff happened that afternoon, so it wasn't until nearly 8pm !jakers! that I finally put #3 to bed. One bit of stuff happens on Tuesday was an e-mail from the new and enthusiastic External Examiner to whom I sent "my" projects: Could I please send: the completed double-marked and signed grade-sheet, the module descriptor, the learning outcomes, the rubrics and the assessment breakdown . . . etc. The etc. was unintentionally funny: what else could they want? My naturalisation papers? Their timesheets? Photographs?

Wednesday morning I was thus already behind but there was a winking e-mail from a colleague asking could I re-mark my Second Reader report according to a new Marking Scheme out-of-300 points with (therefore, I guess) a more minute breakdown into categories than the old out-of-100% scheme. I could, and I did but I editted the new Excel marking scheme so it summed everything up for you. And, as that seemed a handy addition, I shared it with the other project supervisors. Well, that was the end of my productive and moderately enjoyable morning reading about the frontiers of science. A different, covid-sensitive [no formal presentation, no interview] marking scheme was proposed at 10:30 . . . written in crap Excel and I felt obliged to make that one work properly too. Then more requests to re-mark my earlier 2nd Reads according to the new scheme. etc. indeed!

These marking schemes are the quintessence of assessment theatre. There is an idea that reading a thesis and saying "I've supervised 60 final year projects over the last 10 years [true dat]; this one is a solid 2.ii, I'll give it 56%" or "this fellow is a charmin' wastrel, who was rarely in class, didn't do a tot of work all year and had to be helped over the line in a last month panic. A reluctant 43%" . . . may not seem scientific  . . . but it's actually quite reproducible. Does fragmenting the judgement:
Introduction 10
Materials & methods 10
Results 30
Analysis & discussion  30
Bibliography & references 10
Presentation 10
Total 100
make it more scientific, fair or reproducible? I suggest not. But Heck, if The Man demands it, I can, and I have, and I will, fill in such a form with equanimity. Hint: decide on Total then put in random/reasonable numbers so that they tally up to that Total. Helps if you have a properly constructed Excel spreadsheet - Excel was designed for such problems: I tried addressing such problems with a calculator BCE [Before Came Excel] in 1980. Nobody is going to the trouble of disputing your 7/10 for Introduction but a certain type of personality will be happier if the marks are backed up by "evidence" - no matter how specious that evidence might be. Harrumph, and like, etc.

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