Academics at the University of Leeds have criticised a proposal to create anonymous discussion boards across the institution, so students can post feedback during their modules.
Allowing students to post anonymously could lead to them posting offensive comments, particularly towards groups who are often negatively targeted in feedback already, Leeds staff told Times Higher Education.
An email to staff said a discussion forum would be available for all students enrolled on a module “to provide anonymous feedback about the progress of the module, or to raise issues about the teaching and learning or the quality of the student experience”.
An article published on the staff intranet said allowing students to give in-course feedback would “bring a consistent and inclusive approach that could be particularly valuable when other mechanisms are not accessible or adopted by students”.
A pilot study, which involved 37 modules across four of the university’s faculties, found “no issues raised by students posting anonymously; a provision provided for the purpose of raising inclusivity”, the university said.
The discussion boards are expected to be implemented in all taught modules from September 2019 and module leaders will be expected to respond to student posts on the discussion board within five working days.
But Mark Taylor-Batty, a lecturer in theatre studies at Leeds, said the initiative risked creating a forum for “anonymous trolling of lecturers and of fellow students, however much reassurance the university gives about responding to inappropriate messages”.
“The fact that the forum is public means that once any such message is posted, it will cause damage that will remain to be handled within the cohort long after it has been removed,” he said.
“We know that women and colleagues with foreign accents tend to get more judgemental feedback than others, so to open an unmoderated space where that might be facilitated on a daily basis is grossly irresponsible. None of the potential benefits are worth the dreadful risks.”
Dr Taylor-Batty added that there had not been proper consultation throughout the university and the move showed an “ignorance of the structures we already have in place for student support and feedback”.
Another Leeds academic told Times Higher Education that they also felt that staff had not been properly consulted. They said that the move was an “erosion of academic freedom and free speech in the classroom”, because real-time criticism meant lecturers will have no space to reflect upon criticisms.
They added that the “workplace stress impacts are likely to be considerable”, especially to new teachers and those most likely to get negative feedback because of race, gender or disability.
A university spokeswoman said that the aim was “to provide a consistent and inclusive way for every student to offer additional feedback during term-time, rather than at the end of modules”.
“We ran a pilot across 30-plus modules, with input from our consultation group, which encompassed students and staff, including academics…this initiative is being taken through our governance process, and will not be implemented until this process is complete”, she said.
Leeds University Union, which represents students, said that it supports “the direction that the university is taking, and strongly believes that students have no intention of abusing the process”.
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