2013-04-16

A Computer To Grade Essays, To Save Professors Time

… and let them assign more essays. EdX’s new software uses AI to read and grade all your work. College students rejoice!

Professors everywhere could get a break, thanks to the work of online-learning initiative EdX. The Harvard and M.I.T.-founded nonprofit will be giving away--for free--a software system that uses artificial intelligence to instantly read and grade essays. But the New York Times reports that the initiative has its critics.

…skeptics say the automated system is no match for live teachers. One longtime critic, Les Perelman, has drawn national attention several times for putting together nonsense essays that have fooled software grading programs into giving high marks. He has also been highly critical of studies that purport to show that the software compares well to human graders.

“My first and greatest objection to the research is that they did not have any valid statistical test comparing the software directly to human graders,” said Mr. Perelman, a retired director of writing and a current researcher at M.I.T.

As is so often the case when human tasks are automated, the strongest defense is that it won’t actually replace the humans; it will just increase their capabilities--in this case, their ability to assign more essays.

“One of our focuses is to help kids learn how to think critically,” said Victor Vuchic, a program officer at the Hewlett Foundation. “It’s probably impossible to do that with multiple-choice tests. The challenge is that this requires human graders, and so they cost a lot more and they take a lot more time.

Whether university professors and their students will embrace the trade-off of more writing for more computer grading remains to be seen. EdX has a consortium of 12 universities involved in its online-learning offerings, where it may be an easier sell.

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