Automated essay grading software

Are we trying to replace academics with robots?  Is the underlying mission of e-learning to do away with expensive humans and use much cheaper electronic alternatives?  This has been a fear within universities and the arrival of automated assessment technology by a US non-profit company called EdX will compound this anxiety.  This software is able to instantly grade essays and short written answers giving students the immediate feedback they require.  This would work on a very large scale and is part of the development of MOOCs.

According to this New York Times article:

“The EdX assessment tool requires human teachers, or graders, to first grade 100 essays or essay questions. The system then uses a variety of machine-learning techniques to train itself to be able to grade any number of essays or answers automatically and almost instantaneously.”

Students would also be able to submit numerous versions of their essays to gain instant feedback before submitting a final version.  At the moment this software is only used in the US and it has the potential to transform marking, feedback and the time it takes for academics to engage with it.  However, what are the implications for the quality of the marking?  And also the variety and usefulness of the assessment method?

A group called Professionals Against Machine Scoring of Student Essays in HIgh-Stakes Assessment has launched a petition against this practice claiming:

“Let’s face the realities of automatic essay scoring. Computers cannot “read.” They cannot measure the essentials of effective written communication: accuracy, reasoning, adequacy of evidence, good sense, ethical stance, convincing argument, meaningful organization, clarity, and veracity, among others.”

Is automated assessment technology something we should be opposing or embracing?



Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break, John Markoff, New York Times, 4th April 2013

(This article has some particularly insightful and interesting comments on it)

Professors Angry Over Essays Marked By Computer, Richard Garner, Independent, 5th April 2013


Professionals Against Machine Scoring of Student Essays in High-Stakes Assessment


Professors angry over essays marked by computer

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