I have marking to do. God, I have marking to do. The staff were perky and festive in Exams & Assessment, when I went to pick it up.
Their holiday is approaching fast, a time of merry relaxation, and a two-week break from all things higher academic.
For me, however, the nights have just drawn in a little tighter; a large box sits in the hall. Thirty-five local history projects, 40 essays on the history of the West Midlands and six more on the Black Death. At least the latter will cheer me up.
I always make a point of marking one piece of work on Christmas Day. For the lucky recipient, if they notice the date on the feedback sheet, they’ll appreciate the self-sacrifice I make on their behalf.
While they’re gleefully knocking back the festive bubbly, I’ll be wrestling with bubonic plague or the history of West Bromwich.
Academia has modernised markedly (if you’ll excuse the pun) in recent times. The students can now submit work remotely, and there are electronic ways to detect plagiarism, giving a percentage read-out on how much has been swiped from the internet.
Marking, however, remains an unavoidably linear process. The marker has to read and correct and reflect. The day when I can feed the scripts into some scanner, and watch them emerge, annotated and evaluated, is eons away. Some colleagues mark online, or give their feedback digitally. Personally, I prefer real words on real paper. Ideally I’ll settle down at Cafe Bebo in town or in the cafe at Mac.
There are, however, hazards to this approach. A couple of years back I was marking some Greek history projects opposite two elderly ladies. I should have realised when I saw the title of one – Prostitution in Ancient Athens – that this was one for the privacy of my own office. But I ploughed on.
When I turned the page to some graphic depiction of a Greek get-together on a ancient vase, I thought their eyes would drop into their cappuccinos. I tried to look studious and academic, but that only made the whole thing look worse.
* Dr Chris Upton is buried under a pile of marking at Newman University in Birmingham