Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Software to Grade Essays?

Photo by Gretchen Ertl

Here's an exciting, maybe alarming, development reported by John Markoff: "Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break" (New York Times, April 4, 2013)
Imagine taking a college exam, and, instead of handing in a blue book and getting a grade from a professor a few weeks later, clicking the "send" button when you are done and receiving a grade back instantly, your essay scored by a software program.

And then, instead of being done with that exam, imagine that the system would immediately let you rewrite the test to try to improve your grade.
Maybe we won't have to imagine much longer, because . . .
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.
That sounds too good to be true, but I'll leave the article for interested readers to follow up on. Even if the EdX system can deliver, I doubt the software will be able to handle essays by Korean students for a good while. Of course, I've been known to be wrong.

If only there were a software program to check for that sort of wrongness . . .

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At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yer might try doing a 'lil "test-run" widat softwear on 1 o'my comments there Perfesser Jeff.


At 7:07 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Sounds like quite a program, but I have my doubts, as I'm sure you do, too. These proofing/editing algorithms use statistical methods to evaluate the quality of a student's writing; their programming generally assumes that X level of grammatical consistency and Y level of sentence complexity will equate to a grade of Z points out of 6 (per the SAT scoring scale). They can often be beaten, however, by students who write grammatically correct essays filled with complex sentences... that are completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. So a student who views an essay prompt and doesn't like it might be tempted to write a well-written essay on a completely different topic—one more to his liking.

Until a computer is able to judge how topical an essay is, I think this system will be problematic. And there are, of course, other qualitative factors that, at least for now, require a human brain to evaluate. The quality of an argument's supporting examples comes to mind as one such "fuzzy" factor.

At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yer prolem Kev, is Yoo spells two good. Now'asm I "thinkun" stuff ain't page for page sum cleer.

but that'd bee the one way tor'tother and who caan 'splain that ways?

James of The Godfather or James of the Caan?


At 12:12 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...


Ah lives outtin tha' sticks of Appa-LAYCHEE-uh, so's ah knowza thanger tew uhbout Miss Spellin'.


At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm admirin' o dat.



At 12:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JK, for the humor, and Kevin, for the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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