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Double-blind grading

Topics/tags: Academia, short

Today I read with interest an article in Inside Higher Ed about how IU is dealing with a tenured faculty member who sends Tweets that are critical of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people. In her statement, the IU Provost indicates that although she does not support what the faculty member says, she supports his first amendment rights to express his opinions. To support students who would be reluctant to take his courses, she suggests that IU will not only offer alternate courses, but also require that the professor use double-blind grading.

I don’t have significant comments on the Provost’s statement, other than to note that it seems to do a good job of addressing the issues at play and that difficult conflicts they raise [1]. But the statement did get me wondering, What is double-blind grading?

I know what blind grading is. In blind grading, you grade student work without knowing who the student is. I’ve used blind grading for most of my exams for the past few years.

I know what a double-blind experiment is. In a double-blind experiment, neither the subjects nor the researchers know who is in each treatment (or non-treatment) group. Someone obviously knows since someone has assigned people to groups. But those making direct assessments of effects are supposed to be blind to the treatment, as are the people receiving the treatment.

I know what double-blind reviewing is. In double-blind reviewing, neither the authors nor the reviewers know each others’ identities. Ideally, the reviewers don’t know each others’ identities, either. When I’ve meta-reviewed for SIGCSE conferences, I’ve also been blind to my reviewers’ identities.

But double-blind grading? That’s not something I understand. If we assume that the professor under consideration is doing his [2] own grading, his identity is not blind to the students. The only model of double-blind grading I know about is that involving graders [3], in which the students’ identities are not revealed to the graders and the graders’ identities are not revealed to the students. That system clearly helps address bias as it ensures that graders will not express bias based on student identities and that students will not challenge grades based on grader identities. But I’m not sure why it is particularly appropriate for this situation. And I don’t think that’s what they mean, since the goal seems to be to ensure that the grades are not subject to [the Professor’s] prejudices.

Do you know what IU [4] means by blind grading? If so, I’d appreciate it if you’d share the explanation with me [5].

Postscript: As promised, here are the explanations I received.

The MOOC/LMS answer. Blackboard describes them this way: Blind parallel graders - Two graders grade the same submissions. They can’t see each other’s grades or discuss them. That’s something that’s done in MOOCs in peer grading.

The sarcastic answer. See this article on double-blind marking.

Grading is performed for each individual paper by taking a pencil in hand, closing both eyes (hence: double blind marking) and selecting a cell from the DBM Grading Table. The paper is then marked accordingly, and the procedure is repeated for the next paper until the last has been marked.

The potentially authoritative answer. The faculty member under discussion writes the following in their fisking on the Provost’s letter.

The Provost means blind grading. I slip into saying double-blind myself, but what it means is the professor doesn’t know which student’s exam he’s grading, and the student doesn’t know which professor is grading his exam. That’s what’s done in experiments. Here, it’s single-blind or just blind. Just terminology.

I had not heard the term fisking before. I started to add a definition and then realized that I had written enough for another musing. You can do a Web search for fisking or you can read the new musing.

[1] I guess I would have preferred that she added academic freedom to first amendment rights, but that’s probably not essential.

[2] From what I can tell, that professor identifies as male.

[3] Or teaching assistants who grade, if that’s the institutional model.

[4] Or the IU dean.

[5] At that point, I’ll add the explanation as a postscript.

Version 1.0 released 2019-11-22.

Version 1.1 of 2019-11-25.