Dr Mark Averidge mused before his reflection as he tested for residual stubble.
“What a chore, the procrastination, the prevarication, the scribbling in the margin, the fussy little comments boxes in MS Word.
Marking online, now that’s a different story: there are speech bubbles, boxes and rubrics to be filled in, sliders you can drag around, cool tools for crossing things out or highlighting them in different colours, even a built-in audio recorder to make you sound all caring and professional.
It’s more fun. OK, it may not save time but time flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it. And the fun you’re having comes across to the students as enthusiasm for their work – it’s contagious.
Oh and we work better as a team, we normalise, we have a common stock of ready-made phrases, less room for misunderstanding.
In any case, students expect it. It’s how their teachers did things at school. And all our competitors are doing it. Online marking is just better. No argument.”
Mark leant forward assertively and his reflection corresponded.
Ow! That hurt.
His nose had collided with the glass; he rubbed it vigorously. “Watch yourself,” admonished Mark.
He didn’t need to say that. He’s the one getting over excited. Beyond the glass he could see Mark mechanically brushing his teeth. His eyes followed Mark out of the bathroom, his movements a little stiff and reflexive. The image of the room gradually misted over before him.
Mark checked his hair in the rear-view mirror.
“That’s it, I’m going to insist the whole team does it. Mandatory online feedback. The students will love us for it.”
From behind the mirror, he watched Mark manoeuvre himself out of the car and march away with confident, even step. There he goes again, thinking technology is the silver bullet. The thought rose into the bright sky and hovered knowingly.
As Mark strode blithely into the Exam Committee meeting, his mind devoid of doubt, a tiny scintilla flashed across his eyes. With it went the faintest of murmurs “scio me nescire”.
This post is affectionately dedicated to all my colleagues currently immersed in marking. It was inspired by Jean Baudrillard and Charlie Chaplin (and of course Socrates).
In his philosophical treatise Simulacra and Simulation (1981), Baudrillard gave us a poetically limpid vision of the illusion that is contemporary reality. His theory of simulacra can well be applied to the current state of education, a world in which the connection between the symbolic and the real has dissolved into hyperreality, “produced from a radiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere.”
Half a century earlier, Charlie Chaplin portrayed with ineffable genius a similar notion in the Mirror Maze scene from The Circus (1928).