Harvard/MIT Nonprofit Creates Software for Grading Essays
April 5, 2013 3:19 PM
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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