Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Brief Note on Robo-Grading

I wasn't inclined to take the recent articles in the NYT and Inside Higher Ed about a study that "proves" that computers can grade essays as well as people seriously. But then I read Historiann's post about getting a direct solicitation from Pearson offering her an honorarium if she included two short assignments in her course that would be "graded" by Pearson software. 

Read her response, and the comments. I don't have much to add, except to say that this seems to me to be of a piece with a recent trend I've noticed that sees many skills as fungible. While plenty of thoughtful academics have written about the oft-absurd system of doctoral education in this country that uses ABD students as low-paid labor, and requires these same students (especially in the humanities) to go through a rigorous and often poorly guided process to produce a work of scholarship over the course of a decade to receive a professional qualification, the fact remains that this is a professional qualification. Being a college professor (or a high school teacher or a primary school teacher) requires significant professional training. Learning how to be an effective teacher, how to set learning goals for students, how to communicate expectations for an assignment, and how to assess student work takes a lot of experience and thought (as I'm constantly realizing). I don't pretend that my PhD in History or my experience teaching college students makes me an expert on post-adolescent mental health (for example); likewise, I won't entertain the notion that a computer can accurately (or even thoughtfully) assess my students' work.


Perficious Eats said...

This reminds me of Roald Dahl's short story, "The Great Automatic Grammatizator," where a machine generates novels and makes the world's greatest authors obsolete (not because of creativity, but efficiency).

Historiann said...

Thanks for the link, Alchemist. I love your blog!

Let's remember where the robosigned documents got us in the home mortgage crisis: people unfairly kicked out of their own homes. Nobody cares about justice for the little gals and guys any more. Doing my own grading is my way of sticking it to the man.

Thanks to Perficious Eats too, for the Roald Dahl story. I'll have to look it up!

E. R. Truitt said...

Perficious, I dimly remember that story, but have to go back and re-read it. Historiann, your response to Pearson is inspiring. I have to say, too, that I have enough problems getting Word to accept variant spellings in English or certain words in Old French (for example, the word "i" gets almost always mistakenly auto-corrected to "I"), and I can't imagine that computer-generated grading would handle those kinds of issues any better.