Yankton Press and Dakotan Story on Machine Grading

Saturday, April 30, 2005 Story last updated at 12:32 AM on Apr. 30, 2005 Teachers Look To Computers To Critique Student Writing By: By MATT SEDENSKY Associated Press Writer Is at http://www.yankton.net/stories/043005/news_20050430022.shtml Reports on Ed Brent's SAGrader. Brent is in the Sociology Department at University of Missouri-Columbia. Here's a relevant excerpt:
Final papers are still handled by Brent and his two teaching assistants, but students are encouraged to use the professor's SAGrader program to give them a better shot of earning an A. "I don't think we want to replace humans," Brent said. "But we want to do the fun stuff, the challenging stuff. And the computer can do the tedious but necessary stuff." Brent's software -- developed with National Science Foundation funding -- is part of a global movement to digitize a facet of academia long reserved for a teacher and a red pen. SAGrader is just the latest offering entering a market responding to burgeoning classroom use, from routine assignments in high school English classes to an essay on the GMAT, the standardized test for business school admission. SAGrader is not yet being used outside Brent's classroom, but he hopes to change that. If it finds a commercial base, it would join a field of others. Educational Testing Service offers Criterion, a program that includes "e-Rater," the essay-scoring software used for the GMAT. Vantage Learning has IntelliMetric, which uses artificial intelligence to score open-ended questions. Maplesoft sells Maple T.A., while numerous other programmers, educators and researchers have created programs used on a smaller scale.
Here's a representative administrative view from the article:
Stan Jones, Indiana's commissioner of higher education, said the technology pales in comparison to a teacher, but cuts turnaround time, trims costs and allows overworked teachers to give written assignments without fearing the workload. "This requires them to require more essays, more writing, and have it graded very painlessly," Jones said.
The article does include recognition of such software's limits, including quotes and reports from people who have tricked it. The article comes down to the view that the software isn't perfect, but it will make it possible for more teachers to assign writing and will free them up to do more interesting work with students on their writing as the machine takes on some of the drudge-related elements of teaching writing (article's point of view, not mine).