You wouldn’t believe what this student wrote!

It’s time to mark exams. The least favourite part of the job for most educators. Maybe it’s the monotony of it, maybe its the pressure to be consistent, and offer feedback (that no one will look at). Maybe it’s because we find out how little some students have learned (some aren’t even sure of my name!).

One thing that makes marking a little better for many of us, is to find humour in some of the responses. There are some gems, to be sure.

Why do we do this? Some say laughter is the best medicine. It certainly relieves the stress I feel. There is perhaps an element to wanting to “share the pain”. Students talk about us, and inevitably laugh at the slightest foible their professor makes; why shouldn’t we do the same?

The intent is never to embarass or shame. I recognize that many of these answers are not necessarily the result of stupidity; they are often a product of stress, lack of time or lack of sleep. But we laugh nonetheless.

A colleague takes issue with this, shutting down the conversation whenever he hears it. I have not discussed it with him, but I assume he finds it unethical.

Is it unethical? 

We are always careful to keep the conversation away from any students (talking behind their back, in effect), and never share the subject’s identity. Unsurprisingly, there is nothing specifically addressing this in my institution’s Code of Conduct. However, I am sure many students wouldn’t appreciate it if they overheard it, and I suppose some could consider it bullying or harassment (which is, of course, unethical). While I consider this normal “work talk”, I think it is important to keep limits in mind.

A quick search reveals numerous Reddit, Tumblr, and click-bait “news” sites filled with images sharing exam answers.  This, for me, is unethical, and is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised, as I am generally reticent about sharing on social media. Sharing on Facebook is more of an issue (less anonymous), as discussed in this article. I haven’t seen colleagues share this information on Facebook, and I would never do it myself, but I can see how it could be done without a second thought. Social media moves this from a “water cooler” conversation between colleagues to a public audience. Privacy (also considered in any college Code of Conduct) is now at stake: student handwriting, exam question, course, or instructor name are all things that could easily cause someone to think they know the author (correctly or not, it doesn’t really matter).


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