In the New York Times, a report on machine-scoring college writing:
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. . . .It is worth asking: is this scheme meant to “free” professors for other tasks, or for unemployment? Machine-scoring seems to point toward a future in which the human presence is ever more superfluous for the work of teaching and learning.
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.
Especially galling is the claim, from University of Akron professor Mark D. Shermis, that critics of machine-scoring tend to come from the nation’s elite schools, where human beings do a much better job than machines. “There seems to be,” he says, “a lack of appreciation of what is actually going on in the real world.” Indeed. The great variety of institutional affiliations represented by the signers of the Human Readers petition against machine-scoring suggests that opposition to the practice extends well beyond elite schools. Thoughtful and helpful evaluations of student writing by what the Times article calls “human graders” can be found at all levels as well.
My mantra re: technology, which I will now repeat (because that’s what makes it a mantra): technology makes it possible to do things, not necessary to do them. And its converse: technology makes it possible not to do things, not necessary not to do them.