How Canvas can help you avoid grading bias

Despite our intention to be fair, unconscious mental processes affect our behavior, including how we assess student work. Banaji & Greenwald (2013) expand on the science of this phenomenon in Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. The best way to match intentions to behavior is to identify tools that help us circumvent these ingrained mental processes.

Here are some practical ways you can make sure you mitigate the effects of hidden bias when grading or providing formative feedback on writing assignments:

  • Set up a Canvas assignment where students upload a document or file rather than relying on an email attachment or paper based submission. This avoids the unconscious bias introduced by seeing the student’s name and the bias that is introduced by knowing the person behind the name. Avoiding email submissions also helps avoid getting affected by the tone of the email message.
  • Once the assignment is submitted you can review and annotate it in SpeedGrader in Canvas. Ask students to upload documents without name and then enable anonymous grading in SpeedGrader.  Here are the instructions to do so:
    1. Open the assignment in Speedgrader.
    2. Click Settings (Gear icon) in the top-left menu.  Anon_grading1
    3. in the pop-up window, select ‘Hide student names in the SpeedGrader
      Note: You will still be able to see student names in the Gradebook to review their overall performance.
  • Use rubrics to grade assignments. Rubrics help make our expectations about student work overt. You can add Rubric to an assignment in Canvas and use it in the Speedgrader to guide your grading. Read more about Canvas Rubrics.
  • Grade exams question by question. This helps avoid Halo bias where grades for later questions are affected by performance on the previous questions. When using Canvas quiz with open ended or essay type questions, you can use SpeedGrader to grade question by question rather than grading the entire quiz for one student.

If you have other ideas to avoid hidden bias in your teaching and grading, please share it in the comments section. Check the annotated bibliography below to read more about hidden bias and bias in grading. If you have other resources you would like us to add in the list below, please share it in comments.

Annotated Bibliography: