Harvard/MIT Nonprofit Creates Software for Grading Essays
April 5, 2013 3:19 PM
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The software learns how to do so from human professors
Short answer and essay questions on exams could one day be graded by computer software, but many educators aren't happy about it.
EdX, a nonprofit enterprise started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has created
a software system
that is capable of learning how to grade the way a human teacher would and then grades both short answer and essay questions based on this method.
The major benefit is that students will receive a grade instantly rather than waiting days or weeks. Not only that, but students could use this software to keep rewriting essays until they reach a desired grade (since the grading process is instant), helping them to learn rather than just accept a grade and move on.
“There is a huge value in learning with instant feedback,” said Dr. Anant Agarwal, an electrical engineer who is president of EdX. “Students are telling us they learn much better with instant feedback.
"This is machine learning and there is a long way to go, but it’s good enough and the upside is huge. "We found that the quality of the grading is similar to the variation you find from instructor to instructor.”
The EdX software allows a human teacher to grade about 100 essays first while it observes the grading technique. From there, the tool learns how to grade and does so on its own.
While this software could help students learn faster and free up some of the professor's time to tend to other things, it has been criticized in the education sector. Les Perelman, a retired director of writing and a current researcher at MIT, said that software can never compare to a human professor. Perelman has written fake essays with bogus "facts" in it and tricked computer software into giving him a decent grade.
“My first and greatest objection to the research is that they did not have any valid statistical test comparing the software directly to human graders,” said Perelman.
While software for grading basic tests like multiple choice are widely adopted, it is yet to be seen whether the same will happen for essays and more detailed tests, which require the knowledge of a professor to score accurately.
The New York Times
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This will not help students learn!
4/6/2013 10:45:00 AM
The grade isn't the feedback that helps students learn. Instead, it's the notes that the teacher provides explaining what's wrong or praising what's done correctly that helps a student learn. I imagine if students had instant feedback about what grade they would receive for an essay, they would simply start typing random crap until the grade becomes good enough for their own satisfaction. What they would learn is how to more efficiently feed the software what it's looking for rather than what they're
supposed to be learning.
Let me give an analogy. I'm a somewhat young guy, but I understand that many decades ago, getting your software tested was quite an ordeal, involving scheduling time on a mainframe, dealing with punch cards, etc. When it came your turn to test something, you probably learned early on that your life would be much easier if you spent some time to debug the code before it actually ran anywhere. Contrast that with today's development environments, where in many instances, you write 10, 20, 100 lines of code and just let it fly because building takes mere seconds, maybe minutes, so there's no significant penalty for mistakes. IMO that at the very least
for "learning" by trying stuff until it works rather than learning how it works and then trying it.
Am I way off?
RE: This will not help students learn!
4/6/2013 12:28:09 PM
Exactly. And so much for innovative thought or creativity -- two things machines can't handle, since they deviate from standardized parameters.
"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher
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