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No More Grading? Machine Learning and Evaluation

Disclaimer of the future: A computer will grade your essay. You understand and accept that as you take this test. In other words, deal with it.

According to this release from Akron University “A direct comparison between human graders and software designed to score student essays achieved virtually identical levels of accuracy, with the software in some cases proving to be more reliable, a groundbreaking study has found.”

I know. I know. The coming tech wave will sap the best of teaching from the profession. Then again, a few years ago one of my best friends told me that machine learning was getting to the point where a computer could evaluate, not multiple choice, but essay writing to within 90 percent of a human grader. Well kids, we line in artificial intelligence land and as Ferris Bueller says “Life moves pretty fast.” Of course slowing down may mean you miss change more often.

If true, the breakthrough is one of great promise. We are moving to a world of the autodidact (self-teacher), sort of. As the release notes, repetition is a huge part of learning but with writing there is only so much time that a teacher can take to grade and provide feedback. If I had such a tool, I am not sure that I would grade for more than a did you do the work grade. When I was in grade school, we self-graded and then had to see where we went wrong. It did not work if the material was simply lost on us. But in many cases one caught sloppiness etc. Here a technology solution may allow a student to receive feedback and tips about the fundamentals they miss.

To the credit of those in the field, they admit some homogenization may occur. But I would argue that for grade school, high school, and even college much of the basics are in fact about whether one masters the homogenous type. Having many people able to write a persuasive piece using either pathos or logos as assigned would be a great problem. And that foundation is needed before one can move to manipulating forms to startle and be more creative (read books by writers on writing and most tell you to get the basics down first). For law, memo writing, brief writing, etc. follow a form. After one learns that skill, the creative use of argument is possible.

I also like that the approach by the Hewlett Foundation and others involved in this space is to run competitions and offer prizes so that many can take whatever approach they like and the goal of great tools to allow teachers to do more emerge.