Online grading systems reduce purpose of teachers, essay assignments

There is certainly a level of pride that comes from receiving written feedback on an essay you slaved over for weeks. Good or bad, it’s nice to know that someone took the time to read and respond to what you wrote. Moreover, this can prompt dialogue between teachers and students and can lead to connections that may not have come about otherwise.

None of this will be remotely possible for students taking online courses with the introduction of new software by EdX, a nonprofit organization founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The organization has just launched automated software that uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays as well as short-answer responses.

How can a machine possibly provide the type of feedback that a teacher can, and quite frankly, should give? The approach taken by EdX is to first have teachers grade 100 essays or questions, then have the system work to learn that person’s grading style. The software will subsequently assign a grade based on the teacher’s system. This process essentially takes the entire human aspect out of learning.

EdX and the proponents of this new software note two main benefits that will accompany this automated grading mechanism. Anant Agarwal, electrical engineer and president of EdX, stated that instant-grading software would be a great way for students to receive responses immediately and thus allow them to rewrite their essay answers until they attain a better score. The issue with this highly mechanized approach is that it essentially turns essay writing into a robotic, automated process. Writing is anything but robotic and automa-ted. Writing, even of the dullest topics, is not forced. It involves both creativity and thought — factors that are lost when the focus is placed on repetition.

The second benefit EdX claims is that their automated process frees professors for other tasks. If this form of instant grading is already implemented for true-false exams and some forms of multiple-choice exams, then the adoption of this process for essay exams leaves the majority of examination scoring to be done by machines. Making professors’ lives easier is one thing, but effectively taking them out of the equation is another. If the teacher does not engage in the grading process, then they cannot ensure that their students are benefitting and taking in the course material. At that point, the role of the teacher becomes increasingly and unnecessarily diminished.

As technology continues to advance, we need to think about what we’re willing to sacrifice to make our lives easier. Just because something is physically within our power doesn’t always mean it should be done, and this new software is a case in point.

Brittany Sherman is a staff columnist. Email her at [email protected]

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