Mixed blessing? Machine grading

from the NY Times:

EdX, the nonprofit enterprise founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer courses on the Internet, has just introduced such a system and will make its automated software available free on the Web to any institution that wants to use it. The software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks.

To be sure, the artificial intelligence doing the grading is far better than the old computational style. But one might well want to see much more before one lets it grade.

The comments are very interesting because they illustrate a certain dislike of change, I think. The news doesn’t have to lead to doom and gloom.

3 thoughts on “Mixed blessing? Machine grading

  1. I’m curious as to why you’re more optimistic about computer-graded essays. Also, what is “the old computational style”?

  2. I have difficulty seeing any upside – what doesn’t reek of doom and gloom here? AI grading is supposed to solve the problem of overcrowded classrooms and the hefty amount of work that that entails. But this problem is itself a product, in part, of excessive budget cuts and a reallocation of funds away from classroom instruction and towards the salaries of silly and unnecessary administrative positions. My worry is that this seems like the wrong problem to solve, and that acceptance of this “solution” might facilitate higher ed’s descent into neoliberal logic.

    My gravest concern, however, is that a good essay assignment should encourage critical thought and creative engagement with the material. An AI grading system seems to discourage precisely that – it creates a standard and then grades in accordance with how well an essay conforms to it. One commenter notes that his daughter’s 7th grade teacher uses computer essay grading. He writes,

    “My daughter loves to write but got frustrated because the computer insited on correcting the grammatical errors of portions of the essay in which she used poetic language. In order to get a higher score, she begrudgingly changed her essay.”

    The problem isn’t that the AI grading is imperfect; rather, it’s that the very concept is counterproductive to the very purpose of a good education – to foster critical and innovative thought.

  3. I looked in vain for signs that this NYT article had first been posted on April 1…

    We should expect the plausibility of these grades to depend on “sincere” submissions by decent but not-especially-creative students. Alas, it may also depend upon having relatively well-circumscribed essay topics — unlike the “Choose any critical problem within our texts and press the dialogue further” approach that I tend to take with my students.

    An enterprising MOOC student (perhaps inspired by Sokal) will soon figure out the parameters of an “A” essay, and then how to make a monstrously similar but perversely stupid essay that “passes” with flying colors.

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