Domestic, Education Quality, English / Writing, Faculty, Friend, Fraud, or Fishy, Required, Technology, Universities & Colleges - Written by on Monday, April 9, 2012 6:00 - 0 Comments

Heard: Robo-Readers Coming To An English Comp 101 Class Near You?

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Paulo Ito via Compfight

Stephanie Simon at Reuters writes an interesting piece on Robo-readers, which she calls the new teachers’ helper in the US. The idea is to create computer programs that can scan student essays and spit out a grade. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is sponsoring a contest offering $100,000 to programmers who create the best automated grading software. Simon writes:

Automated essay grading was first proposed in the 1960s, but computers back then were not up to the task. In the late 1990s, as technology improved, several textbook and testing companies jumped into the field.

Today, computers are used to grade essays on South Dakota’s student writing assessments and a handful of other high-stakes exams, including the TOEFL test of English fluency, taken by foreign students. But machines do not grade essays on either the SAT or the ACT, the two primary college entrance exams. And American teachers by and large have been reluctant to turn their students’ homework assignments over to robo-graders.

The Hewlett contest aims to change that by demonstrating that computers can grade as perceptively as English teachers - only much more quickly and without all that depressing red ink.

Some advocates argue that the computers can turn around an essay grade in about a minute, a quick response that today’s students value.

Take, for instance, the Intelligent Essay Assessor, a web-based tool marketed by Pearson Education, Inc. Within seconds, it can analyze an essay for spelling, grammar, organization and other traits and prompt students to make revisions. The program scans for key words and analyzes semantic patterns, and Pearson boasts it “can ‘understand’ the meaning of text much the same as a human reader.”

Some critics, however, argue that computer algorithms can’t analyze good writing the way a human being can, looking at structure, thesis, metaphor and insightful analogies. Computers, say some critics, cannot discover these things in a quick scan. And, true, computers are terrible at reading or grading poetry. They favor, as Simon writes, “conformity over creativity.”

But advocates say robo graders aren’t meant to read for artistic merit but, rather, for how well a writer communicates basic ideas. Educators say up to 75% of students in America fell short on a recent national writing assessment. Some even suggest that the computers are more consistent in their grading, while human graders sometimes are inconsistent.

Via The Baltimore Sun


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