Should Teachers Use Automated “Robo-Readers” To Grade Students’ Essays?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 29 2012 4:23 PM

Should Teachers Use Automated “Robo-Readers” To Grade Students’ Essays?

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Could this teacher use a little help from a "robo-reader"?

Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Grading essays, as any school teacher can tell you, is among the most time-consuming parts of the job. But is it a task that could be outsourced to a robot?

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

Reuters’ Stephanie Simon reports on the uptick in interest in “robo-readers” that can automatically grade student essays—particularly those associated with mandatory testing. South Dakota already uses an automated program to evaluate student “writing assessments,” for instance. In January, the Hewlett Foundation announced “a $100,000 prize to the designers of software that can reliably automate the grading of essays for state tests."

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But there also appears to be discussion about whether the software could be used on a regular basis in the classroom. Simon writes:

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.
Automated essay scoring is "nonjudgmental," Shermis said. "And it can be done 24/7. If students finish an essay at 10 p.m., they get feedback at 10:01."

One problem for those attempting to create better automatic evaluation software: Human teachers are remarkably inconsistent graders, so making programs that match the professionals is particularly tricky.

Computers might never be capable of grading poetry, for instance. But proponents of this technology believe that automated grading would allow teachers to assign more writing, which would only improve students' skills.

Read more from Reuters.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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