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Automated Essay Grading Software Stirs Debate

Some educators say the benefits of EdX's writing-grading software have been over-hyped. But I see a role for automation in the classroom.

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Technology automates. It does other things, too, but its main value, and the thing we fear about it, is its ability to automate.

Every time we automate something new, it sparks ecstasy and terror. That's true even for something as mundane as automated essay grading, which has been around for a while, but was added to the EdX platform earlier this year and then heralded in a New York Times article.

The National Council of Teachers of English responded with a statement, "Machine Scoring Fails the Test," listing nine reasons computers can't teach writing. The English teachers' manifesto was vivid, emotive and foolish. They miss the point entirely. Automated essay grading needs to happen, and English teachers should be screaming for it, especially in K-12.

Others hammered EdX for perpetrating hype. The "breathless story weaves a tale of robo-professors taking over the grading process, leaving professors free to kick back their feet and take a nap, and subsequently inviting universities, ever-focused on the bottom-line, to fire all the professors," wrote Elijah Mayfield on the e-Literate blog.

As if.

First, the New York Times story doesn't mention napping. Second, when the new school year starts, nobody who teaches writing will be taking any naps thanks to automated essay graders. Instead, teachers will be losing sleep trying to give feedback to scores of students who desperately need more of it. Or, more likely, the students just won't get the feedback they need to improve as writers.

[ So, what about math? Read For Algebra, Spreadsheets Beat Newer Teaching Tools. ]

The EdX tool itself is in alpha; it's been used in two EdX courses, neither of which were writing courses (one is a chemistry class, the other a course on public health). It does use artificial intelligence to give feedback on (and, yes, grade) writing assignments, but it does not have to -- the tool has three possible ways to give feedback: the artificial intelligence-driven tool, peer-grading and assessment, and self-assessment. Teachers can use any or all of them, in any order they like.

The interface is not simple enough, confesses Vik Paruchuri, the EdX machine-learning engineer leading its automated essay-grading tool.

Talking with Paruchuri makes it clear that he's not some evil engineer trying to seize the day from the local high school's beloved Mr. Keating. I have not seen the EdX tool in action, but it is clear that it is not ready for grading papers, and -- at least for now -- is not intended to be that sort of tool.

What it does is help kids learn basics. Paruchuri says comments on the tool from EdX students who've used it are clear: They like that it gives them feedback. Most students do not get enough feedback on their writing, even when they're at good schools. I've taught high school students coming from private schools and been stunned by the obvious lack of feedback they've received on the basics.

An automated essay grading tool like EdX's can give feedback quickly and repeatedly, with consistent comments on what the student could do to improve, and what's working well. It's like giving students one-on-one access to a grammar instructor who will always remain patient, even to the nth time the kid splits an infinitive.

They cannot get such feedback now.

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User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 9:45:31 AM
Interesting, my opinion is
I personally like the idea of an automated grading tool, because I think the benefits are two fold, in that they remove prejudice from grading, which is still a major issue and they always make things more clear and cut, there's no grey area, people will know exactly what they've gotten wrong and why. All these applications are the future anyway, as time progresses, we may even transistion to internet schooling.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/12/2014 | 10:57:41 AM
Very Nice
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User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2014 | 1:36:03 AM
Re: Thanks
My friend wrote a story about his cat that was grammatically correct,and used big words, but made little to no sense. The auto-grader program told him he was approaching PHD level English. So he took his paper into school and showed it to the English teachers who reviled at it. He was like,"Show's what you know, the computer told me I'm university level."How To Get Dissertation Writing Service
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User Rank: Apprentice
3/22/2014 | 1:53:02 AM
Ya i have check your provided link Education is like other sectors in that technology can -- and should -- be used to leverage what people do best. When technology like this is done well, it can be a boon to teachers and students,

User Rank: Author
12/24/2013 | 9:44:32 AM
re: Automated Essay Grading Software Stirs Debate
Automated scoring for writing has been around for a few years now. I wrote about the debate on the issue in 2012 in Automated Systems 'Grade' Written Work
User Rank: Apprentice
12/16/2013 | 9:16:52 AM
re: Automated Essay Grading Software Stirs Debate
Essay grading is informative article and good post.Essay Boutique
User Rank: Apprentice
12/14/2013 | 12:40:57 PM
re: Automated Essay Grading Software Stirs Debate
One thing I just want to say is that your blog is so perfect.Commercial approaches to essay grading.coursework writing service uk "order coursework now "need coursework
Michael Fitzgerald
Michael Fitzgerald,
User Rank: Moderator
8/9/2013 | 1:54:48 PM
re: Automated Essay Grading Software Stirs Debate
here's a link to an interesting blog post by Vik Paruchuri, quoted in the story above, about the commercial and non-commercial approaches to essay grading.
Thx, juliep840
User Rank: Apprentice
8/8/2013 | 4:14:55 PM
re: Automated Essay Grading Software Stirs Debate
See also this same debate playing out in the medical field:
User Rank: Apprentice
8/6/2013 | 7:00:38 PM
re: Automated Essay Grading Software Stirs Debate
I know Pearson's WriteToLearn is still actively being sold and is in use in schools. ETS, as I recall, licensed its Criterion service, based on its E-Rater engine, to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for use in its digital products in K-12 and still offers it directly for other education segments. Vantage Learning's My Access product, based on its IntelliMetric engine, appears to still be available for school and home. (I found active pages for each via Google.)

Side note: Oddly, the harder task is not so much providing good feedback on essays, it's being able to do the same with short answers. That's sort of the Holy Grail of automated text scoring, and I don't know of any organization that has been able to comprehensively nail that.
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