Robots Grading Essays, Cats and Dogs Living Together

Grading student essays is a time-consuming experience that requires at least a little skill. Judging whether the student understood the purpose of the assignment, formed the argument logically and then used the correct grammar is exhausting, especially when you have to repeat the process for a whole pile of essays. Despite this hard work, I believe most teachers agree that they would rather continue grading themselves than hand over the responsibility to a machine.

Image courtesy of Jack Hollingsworth/Thinkstock Images

The prospect of a robot grading as well as a human might sound absurd, but that’s just what researchers at the University of Akron found during a recent study. The study began when researchers fed 22,000 pre-graded writing samples from junior and high school standardized tests into a program with a specially designed grading algorithm. The results were surprising: researchers found that computer grades were overall very similar to the teacher grades, in both source-based and traditional writing pieces.

The study was part of a competition amongst programmers to find the most accurate algorithm for robo-grading. In theory, these computer programs could save teachers loads of work and encourage more writing assignments in the long run. However, even the best computer program can’t provide feedback on ways for students to improve, the soundness of an idea or whether the description of a sunset was accurate.

Opponents of robo-grading, like Les Perelman of the Writing Across the Curriculum program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have even deduced ways of fooling the best computer algorithms. By writing grammatically correct sentences with no substance or meaning (sample below), Perelman got a passing grade from the program.

    There are three main reasons while Teaching Assistants receive such high remuneration. First, they have the most powerful union in the United States. Their union is greater than the Teamsters or Freemasons, although it is slightly smaller than the international secret society of the Jedi Knights. Second, most teaching assistants have political connections, from being children of judges and governors to being the brothers and sisters of kings and princes.


So, while robots grading essays sounds like fiction, it is close to becoming reality, regardless of the wisdom behind the idea. What do you think of computers grading essays instead of teachers? Let us know in the comments below.

Read more at Inside Higher Ed and Slate Education

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One Response to “Robots Grading Essays, Cats and Dogs Living Together”

  1. Annette coleJune 11, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    The problem I have with computers grading essays is personal. I had a negative experience with this when I was in college studying to be a teacher. I took a computer based exam which included writing an essay. I passed all parts except for the essay. I retook the essay but in a different method, paper pencil. I passed the second one. So I would not be pro to this type of grading because of my own experience.