Let’s put a stop to robo-grading
Published: Sunday, August 14, 2011
Updated: Sunday, August 14, 2011 17:08
In order to ensure fair grading, some professors are being taken out of the grading process altogether and instead being replaced by independent assessors, and computers in some cases, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Chronicle notes one example of this by describing the approach taken by Western Governors University, which operates solely online. Under the system of this institution, students are provided with mentors rather than actual professors. The job of these mentors is to prepare the students for "high-stakes homework assignments," according to the Chronicle. These assignments are prepared by a team of professional test-makers to prove competence in different subject areas. The assessors step in once the homework has been filed, logging on to a website called TaskStream and pull the first assignment they see.
The idea, essentially, is that these assessors will be able to evaluate the work of the student objectively and not do things like give students extra points for effort. According to the Chronicle, Western Governors University also argues that this will save professors from worrying about being punished for bad grades by poor reviews from students.
Professors need to retain control of the grading process. They need to be trusted to act fairly and objectively and exhibit the same academic integrity expected of students. The professor is the best person to properly assess a student's performance, given that this professor will have gotten to know the student and his or her habits and tendencies throughout the course of a semester. To attempt to split the educational role the way Western Governors University does deprives students of the ability to tap into the wealth of experience that a college professor would have, considering that many of them tend to have significant field experience in the subject they teach.
At UCF, some steps are also being taken to outsource grading. According to the Chronicle, UCF outsources the scoring of some essay tests to a computer. Pam Thomas, a biology professor at UCF, decided to try this method of grading due to her large class sizes, according to the Chronicle. Thomas established what constituted a correct response, which allowed the machine to know what to look for. Students expressed concerns to Thomas regarding this form of grading, according to the Chronicle.
"The students said, I'm being graded by a robot?" Thomas said. "I said, Anybody who doesn't get a 100, I will look at a machine, and I will see if the machine made a mistake."
Thomas conducted her own analysis of the machine's performance, having some teaching assistants help her grade the tests by hand and comparing it to the machine's grade. She found the machine to be more effective.
Steps such as these signal a dangerous trend toward having professors ultimately removed from the grading process, altogether. This could have potentially disastrous effects for the student because such a move could have the potential of creating conflicting standards. It is entirely possible, for example, for independent assessors to use stricter or more lenient standards in their grading, depending on what content is being evaluated. The student could express something based upon how a professor taught a course throughout a semester, and an assessor would not be able to factor this into his or her grading process.
Having professors retain full control over grading is not simply a matter of tradition. It is a matter of ensuring fairness in grading and trusting our professors to act appropriately when evaluating the performance of students. To remove them from the grading process would fundamentally alter the educational experience of students.