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Education Robotics Hardware Technology

Bringing Auto-Graders To Student Essays 227

Posted by Soulskill
from the because-cs-students-love-them-so-much dept.
fishmike writes with this excerpt from a Reuters report: "American high school students are terrible writers, and one education reform group thinks it has an answer: robots. Or, more accurately, robo-readers — computers programmed to scan student essays and spit out a grade. The theory is that teachers would assign more writing if they didn't have to read it. And the more writing students do, the better at it they'll become — even if the primary audience for their prose is a string of algorithms. ... Take, for instance, the Intelligent Essay Assessor, a web-based tool marketed by Pearson Education, Inc. Within seconds, it can analyze an essay for spelling, grammar, organization and other traits and prompt students to make revisions. The program scans for key words and analyzes semantic patterns, and Pearson boasts it 'can "understand" the meaning of text much the same as a human reader.' Jehn, the Harvard writing instructor, isn't so sure. He argues that the best way to teach good writing is to help students wrestle with ideas; misspellings and syntax errors in early drafts should be ignored in favor of talking through the thesis."
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Bringing Auto-Graders To Student Essays

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  • by WillAdams (45638) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:15PM (#39528469) Homepage

    The best English professor I had in college would arrange to have every student come in to her office after papers had been turned in, reading each paper in the presence of the student who had written it and discussing it in depth while grading it.

    • by garcia (6573) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:19PM (#39528551)

      The best English teacher I had was my English instructor my first year of undergrad. Instead of concentrating on whether we were writing our papers to the curriculum and/or her own beliefs about the content, she was instead interested in developing our English skills.

      I went from a C student in English to an A student. I never considered myself to have any ability to write, thankfully because someone took the time to actually think critically about my work instead of comparing it to their own preconceived notions I excelled and went on to complete a research and writing focused program. This degree later fed into my graduate degree which was also research and writing focused.

      If this automated grading setup can provide students with clear expectations and explanations of the mechanics of their work while avoiding personal content expectations, I really do think it'll match the claims and help to foster a positive writing environment for many.

      • by Baloroth (2370816)

        Exactly. The way an idea is written is, for the purposes of a writing course, far more important than the idea itself, or even for that matter if the argument itself is well-made (although, obviously, that isn't completely incidental). I've seen many college-level students who simply cannot write well. Sure they may be able to spell decently, but their sentences tended to be organized poorly, and their paragraphs were even worse. An automated system could detect a lot of that. Besides basic spelling and gra

      • by Hatta (162192) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:54PM (#39529061) Journal

        Lucky you. For me English class, fro 7th grade through undergrad was a constant string of "infer the hidden meaning behind this text" with nobody ever trying to teach us the process for inferring that hidden meaning. This lead to me being a C student in English for my entire academic career.

        Despite all my efforts, in 8 years of English classes, I was never even able to get a single teacher or professor to explain to me how he knew there were hidden meanings behind the text that was assigned. Nor could I get anyone to tell me why they would put hidden meanings into text, when they could put the meaning the want in the literal text.

        The funny thing is, my English is fine. IIRC I got a 760 on the English portion of the SAT. I always got As on papers in classes other than English, and complements on my writing were common. It seems to me that the way English classes are normally taught, they have nothing to do with English at all.

        • by bmo (77928) on Friday March 30, 2012 @05:59PM (#39529873)

          It seems to me that the way English classes are normally taught, they have nothing to do with English at all.

          You have found the hidden meaning behind English classes.

          --
          BMO

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by pr0fessor (1940368)

          Writers have placed hidden meaning into their work to express opinions that are not socially accepted or possibly illegal for a very long time. In order to actually understand what any of it means you must first have foreknowledge of the writer, their culture, common issues of the time, and imagery. Even then unless the writer has later explained these things then you will probably never know if those hidden messages were really ever there. Grading someone on it means your teachers/professors were not very

        • by hldn (1085833)

          A Modest Proposal must have scared the shit out of you.

        • by Bucky24 (1943328)

          Nor could I get anyone to tell me why they would put hidden meanings into text, when they could put the meaning the want in the literal text.

          It depends on what you're writing. A scientific paper should probably be as literal as possible. On the other hand, being able to say two different things with the same line of text works very well for say, a mystery novel.

        • Despite all my efforts, in 8 years of English classes, I was never even able to get a single teacher or professor to explain to me how he knew there were hidden meanings behind the text that was assigned. Nor could I get anyone to tell me why they would put hidden meanings into text, when they could put the meaning the want in the literal text.

          They lied if they said they knew there were hidden meanings. Unless they're the author, or have read the author saying so, they're creating the hidden meanings. Sometimes there are also great hidden meanings the author didn't intend.

          As to why they put hidden meanings--or at least different meanings--into the text, they just to it to provide another way to think about life, about people, about "the human condition." The Scouring of the Shire, for example, was a chapter that I read as having a great messag

          • Unless they're the author, or have read the author saying so, they're creating the hidden meaning

            That's a topic of some debate. Tolkien swore that the LotR books weren't the least bit allegorical, for instance, yet how can you read them without seeing Mordor as 1930s-era Germany?

            It's pretty common for writers to insist that they weren't trying to plant the subtexts in their work that everyone else can see.

      • by digitig (1056110) on Friday March 30, 2012 @05:10PM (#39529293)
        One of the differences between good essays and poor essays that research has identified is although they both tend to have about the same amount of hedging ("it can be argued that...", "possibly...") the poor essays hedge the wrong things. The poor essays hedge well supported facts and fail to hedge personal opinions or unsupported facts. If the software can spot that, I'll be impressed.
      • As someone who has taught writing, organization of ideas is the problem, not spelling, grammar and mechanics. That problem, in turn, comes from students who don't read enough. No automated grader is going to solve that problem.

    • by wjcofkc (964165)
      You must have had the luxury of very small classes. There were about 30 - 40 people in my english 101 class and then another 30 - 40 for the two or three 101 classes that followed during that same day.
    • Wow. That's great. How many sections was this professor teaching? How many students per section? How many writing courses? Currently I have 88 students per semester, with 5 five-page papers each. At my previous job, I had 135 per semester with 3 five-page papers each. I'm afraid to do the math to see what my life would be like if I gave each student a half-hour meeting for every paper (on top of class prep, my committee work, research work, stupid paperwork work, and basic bodily needs). Kudos to this teach
  • Make the robots write the essays, then students can work on other subjects.

    • Well, that's obviously what will happen if teachers actually use this software. As soon as "grammar-parsing" software is used for grading, students will buy copies of it to make sure nothing is flagged as incorrect. The next step will be versions that can write the essays also.

      • by Githaron (2462596)

        As soon as "grammar-parsing" software is used for grading, students will buy copies of it to make sure nothing is flagged as incorrect.

        Wouldn't be a good thing for software to be able to give instant feedback to students on grammar and sentence structure. The students could then use this feedback to improve their writing. That said, I highly doubt auto-graders are currently sophisticated enough actually grade papers on all criteria necessary for good writing. They should only be used as a feedback tools for students and a grading helper tool for professors. Professors would still need to read and grade the papers manually; however, they wo

        • by bmo (77928)

          Wouldn't be a good thing for software to be able to give instant feedback to students on grammar and sentence structure.

          I had this in WordPerfect back in the early 90s.

          It was called Grammatik, which WordPerfect corp (or was it Novell or Corel at the time?) bought and integrated. It killed my horrible habit of using passive voice for everything. In the right hands, good automatic grammar checking can be a big help. However, comparing Word's grammar checking to what I used back then, I have to say that Wor

      • by narcc (412956)

        The next step will be versions that can write the essays also.

        Available for download the first weekend after the grading software becomes available.

        You can read about it on Slashdot a year or so after it's in wide-spread use.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:16PM (#39528513)

    This is one area where automatic grading will cause massive skill decrease, as no auto-grader can actually assess contents.

    • by jcaldwel (935913) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:30PM (#39528711)

      This is one area where automatic grading will cause massive skill decrease, as no auto-grader can actually assess contents.

      My thoughts exactly.
      Auto graders could check spelling and grammar, and to some extent plagiarism, but without a human reviewing the content, students will learn be gaming the algorithms from day 1.

      • by clodney (778910)

        Auto graders could check spelling and grammar, and to some extent plagiarism, but without a human reviewing the content, students will learn be gaming the algorithms from day 1.

        But if you learn to game the algorithms, and if the algorithms have some correlation to good writing, gaming the algorithm is actually improving your writing.

    • Based on what the article says, the same can be said of many human readers.
    • by snowgirl (978879) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:42PM (#39528885) Journal

      This is one area where automatic grading will cause massive skill decrease, as no auto-grader can actually assess contents.

      There was a guy who was doing Latent Semantic Analysis on papers in order to grade them. The program would parse out the collection of words and assign a form of "meaning" to the words, and see if those "meanings" matched up with the reference "meanings" from another paper. This would show that the writer actually understood the terms correct, and used the appropriately in relation to the other words.

      They did attempt to cheat the system and actually found that if one were extremely well versed on the topic of the essay, one could write gibberish that the grader would give good grades to. However, the level of knowledge of the subject necessary to cheat turned out to be greater than the knowledge of the subject necessary to write a good essay... so they suggested that the easiest way to cheat the system was to "know the subject, and write a good essay".

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        However, the level of knowledge of the subject necessary to cheat turned out to be greater than the knowledge of the subject necessary to write a good essay... so they suggested that the easiest way to cheat the system was to "know the subject, and write a good essay".

        Or... download an application implementing the cheat engine (or pay a trifle to use it in the cloud), feed some reference papers and get the high-grade gibberish in a matter of seconds.

        The everyday/official use of grading machines creates a market for the cheat engines and we can see the carousel of malware-antivirus replicated in education... or we can actually retain the teachers (as opposed to fire them) and ask them to do their job (properly... if possible).

        BTW, thanks for the "Latent Semantic Analysis

        • by snowgirl (978879) on Friday March 30, 2012 @05:52PM (#39529805) Journal

          BTW, thanks for the "Latent Semantic Analysis" reference, I'll store it carefully... just in case the humanity decides it needs to become more stupid in an automated way.

          Latent semantic analysis [wikipedia.org] has uses far beyond just grading papers. It really is one of the most interesting techniques that we have to assign "meaning" to words. And just like a human being, after being trained sufficiently, it starts getting more information about words by where they are NOT used, than by where they are used.

          Apple used (uses?) it in the spam filter for Mail.app. Meaning it was able to identify spam that used words similarly, and similar words to previously identified spam... it also makes searching for prior art in patent applications much easier, as well as an enormous number of other interesting uses that would not qualify as "making humanity stupider".

          • by c0lo (1497653)

            as well as an enormous number of other interesting uses that would not qualify as "making humanity stupider".

            Without any intention to be offensive, but... did you just used LSA only to parse my post?
            Because it is not the use of LSA that I'm calling stupid, it is the use of the automatic grading engine (and also thanked you for pointing that LSA can be used to game the grading engine as an example of why grading engine is a stupid idea).

            • by snowgirl (978879)

              as well as an enormous number of other interesting uses that would not qualify as "making humanity stupider".

              Without any intention to be offensive, but... did you just used LSA only to parse my post?

              Because it is not the use of LSA that I'm calling stupid, it is the use of the automatic grading engine (and also thanked you for pointing that LSA can be used to game the grading engine as an example of why grading engine is a stupid idea).

              Without any intention to be offensive, but... do you speak English as a native language?

              Because I'm having difficulty understanding you due to a few odd grammatical errors (real grammatical errors, not style errors) that make it difficult to be certain of what you're trying to say.

              So, to be clear. LSA is a useful tool, and you agree. But then why are essay grading engines a bad idea?

              Are grammar checkers and a spell checkers making humanity stupider? LSA is just another level on top of grammar checkers and s

              • by c0lo (1497653)

                as well as an enormous number of other interesting uses that would not qualify as "making humanity stupider".

                Without any intention to be offensive, but... did you just used LSA only to parse my post?

                Because it is not the use of LSA that I'm calling stupid, it is the use of the automatic grading engine (and also thanked you for pointing that LSA can be used to game the grading engine as an example of why grading engine is a stupid idea).

                Without any intention to be offensive, but... do you speak English as a native language?

                No, I don't.

                Because I'm having difficulty understanding you due to a few odd grammatical errors (real grammatical errors, not style errors) that make it difficult to be certain of what you're trying to say.

                My apologies, it can't be helped given the circumstances.

                So, to be clear. LSA is a useful tool, and you agree. But then why are essay grading engines a bad idea?

                Oh, girl, don't get me started. Please, I have too much to do in this brand new day.
                Anyway, since you asked, here are some hints:
                1. for the same reasons I consider relying on grid test one of the stupidest mistake and selling the illusion that this is "the Education" the most horrible crime against children
                2. for the same reason I consider the behaviorism [wikipedia.org] anachronistic, and its current use a way to "tame" rather than "educate"

                Some rati

                • by snowgirl (978879)

                  Perhaps the fact that I was not educated in US also helps.

                  I suspect that this is the major difference. Coming from the American education system, I would see an automated essay grading engine as a boon to education, because we're so multiple-choice oriented right now.

                  Basically, you're looking from up high down at automated essay graders going "wtf? why would we go downhill?" while I'm sitting near the bottom looking up saying "hey, we could get kids to write actual essays, rather than fill in a bubble sheet!"

                  Yeah, no shit! I bet you can demonstrate it with numbers.

                  I don't need numbers. Essays are a more synthetic exerci

  • Excellent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nxcho (754392) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:18PM (#39528539)
    It's only a matter of time before someone writes a tool that generates top grade essays.
  • by BlueRaja (1397333) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:19PM (#39528547)

    ...thus producing an entire country whose writing-skills were conditioned to game the auto-grader.

    • by Mitreya (579078)

      producing an entire country whose writing-skills were conditioned to game the auto-grader.

      Perhaps the same company will start marketing auto essay writing tools soon. Or, if not, at least release study books and offer study courses (a-la SAT/GRE/etc.)

      • by hazem (472289)

        Perhaps the same company will start marketing auto essay writing tools soon.

        The only way to win an arms race is to be the vendor that sells to both sides.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The best way to get students to write is give them something they enjoy writing about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:21PM (#39528573)

    Allow me to introduce myself. I'm the founder of the Anti-My School Society. In this letter, I will tell you what made me form such an organization and how I plan to use it to strengthen our roots so we can weather the storms that threaten our foundation. Let me cut to the chase: Relative to just a few years ago, the worst sorts of flippant ogres I've ever seen are nearly ten times as likely to believe that the key to living a long and happy life is to provide contumacious conspiracies with the necessary asylum to take root and spread. This is neither a coincidence nor simply a sign of the times. Rather, it reflects a sophisticated, psychological warfare program designed by My School to work hand-in-glove with what I call intrusive vocabularians.

    Even as I write those words I can feel My School cringe. That's okay. Cringe. I don't care because it appears to have found a new tool to use to help it make us the helpless puppets of our demographic labels. That tool is obstructionism, and if you watch it wield it you'll honestly see why it's good at one thing, and that's keeping its ulterior motives secret. Only a few initiates in the inner sanctum of My School's cabal know that it's planning to advocate fatalistic acceptance of a perfidious new world order. Even fewer of these initiates know that I don't need to tell you that we have fallen into My School's trap. That should be self-evident. What is less evident is that My School has two imperatives. The first is to judge people based solely on hearsay. The second imperative is to call for a return to that which wasn't particularly good in the first place.

    If you were to tell My School that right is right and wrong is wrong, it'd just pull its security blanket a little tighter around itself and refuse to come out and deal with the real world. My School likes to talk about how cell-phone towers are in fact covert mind-control devices that use scalar waves to beam images into people's brains while they sleep. The words sound pretty until you read between the lines and see that My School is secretly saying that it intends to calumniate helpless rapscallions. I want to advance a clear, credible, and effective vision for dealing with our present dilemma and its most misinformed manifestations, but I can't do that alone. So do me a favor and point out that the emperor has no clothes on. That'll show My School that it's possible that it doesn't realize this because it has been ingrained with so much of Chekism's propaganda. If that's the case, I recommend that we enable adversaries to meet each other and establish direct personal bonds that contradict the stereotypes they rely upon to power their conceited ramblings. Not to put too fine a point on it, but My School's winged monkeys don't want us to disseminate as widely as possible all of the information we have regarding My School's cruel theatrics. That'd be too much of a threat to imperialism, simplism, and all of the other carnaptious things they worship. Clearly, they prefer seizing control of the power structure.

    Efforts to create a factitious demand for My School's spleeny, uncouth analects are not vestiges of a former era. They are the beginnings of a phenomenon which, if permitted to expand unchecked, will push all of us to the brink of insanity. My School exists for one reason and for one reason only: to intensify or perpetuate hoodlumism. My goal is to challenge the present and enrich the future. I will not stint in my labor in this direction. When I have succeeded, the whole world will know that My School somehow manages to get away with spreading lies (big emotions come from big words), distortions (honor counts for nothing), and misplaced idealism (it has a "special" perspective on mandarinism that carries with it a "special" right to worsen an already unstable situation). However, when I try to respond in kind, I get censored faster than you can say "archaeopterygiformes".

    While there's no dispute that My School is whiney and probably a little counterproductive, it's also cunning, implacabl

  • by joocemann (1273720) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:23PM (#39528615)

    ... one issue I take with my public education experience was the lack of mention by teachers that they would review or aide in writing for most papers. I recall only the final big paper for the class (whichever class that is) would have something akin to a draft-review event, and then a final draft.

    I realize TFA suggests teachers would assign more work, and read less --- and maybe the robots would be useful in providing easy rapid review --- but I can't refrain from mentioning that, in my experience, teachers did not clearly express a willingness to aide in the writing process throughout the semester. (let me beat the critics by saying I was liked and respected by all of my teachers)

    Some students are good/great writers and maybe they can be commissioned for honors credit or something in exchange for aiding peers. I know I was in my early 20's before I understood the power of the semicolon; and it is awesome!

    • by WCguru42 (1268530)

      This.

      I had the luck of not getting into AP English during my eleventh year of public education. Instead, I ended up in the lower honors English course. The students in the AP English course read all the books that were going to be on the final AP test and learned how to do well on the test by taking multiple practice AP exams throughout the year. The class I was in was required to read a short essay or story, one to five pages, and then write a 1,000 to 1,500 word essay on the reading. This was a weekly ass

    • by jfengel (409917)

      they would review or aide in writing for most papers

      That would be "aid". "Aide" is a noun. You want the verb "aid".

      I know I was in my early 20's before I understood the power of the semicolon; and it is awesome!

      You don't use a conjunction with a semicolon. A conjunction is used with a comma to make a compound sentence. A semicolon takes two independent clauses, and with the conjunction, it makes the second clause a fragment.

      Minor errors, of course. I wouldn't mention them in any other context.

  • No thank you. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:25PM (#39528641)

    My wife worked for Pearson as a "second tier" grader (or whatever they call them).

    In her case, the tests went through the algorithm and were assigned a grade, then the grade and test were passed along to a human to read and check. Invariably, she would come home complaining about tests where the students had obviously studied specifically to answer the way the algorithm wanted: the algorithm would score the paper high, while the actual content of the test answer would leave a LOT to be desired. The answers would score high, but were more or less gibberish as read by a human.

    This was about two years ago, so obviously the algorithms could have improved since then, but I have severe reservations about them becoming the sole arbiter of grading.

    • If they had any sense, they would allow the human reader to flag an essay as 'gaming'.

      Then again, if what they ask for is a formula theses paper, they shouldn't complain if what they get is a formula.

    • by Dr. Spork (142693)
      It sounds to me like the system is working: The students who are trying to game the computer with crap are given failing grades by a human grader. It might not be long before the easiest way to game the computer will be to learn the material and write a good essay. But as we're on our way there, we'll keep the human element in the equation and leave the computers in the role of the useful assistant.
  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:29PM (#39528693) Journal
    Yeah, I know teaching is a drag and a lot of work, but that's what they're paying you for. I was up until 1:30 last night fixing/grading code and writing a final project assignment. It's not fun, and I could have easily just ran the programs and told them it didn't work so they got a zero. There's more value for the students when they get feedback from me telling them what specific errors they got, or a way they could have written code more efficiently, etc.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      There's no excuse for being up at 1 am grading papers. Any system that allows this is broken. If a teacher can't complete their days work in 8 hours, we need more teachers. Period.

      • Great. I take it that you will be voting for the next tax increase? Or will you be writing your local school district a $30-60,000 check to cover the salary of a new teacher? And I assume that you will be able to convince all of your friends to do the same? Or maybe you are planning on donating your time?

        It is all well and good to say that we need to hire more teachers. Hell, I agree! We need more teachers. The problem is that teachers are not paid particularly well, and our society seems to feel tha

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Hatta (162192)

          Gladly. Let's expire the Bush tax cuts and put all of it towards teacher salaries. This can't be the only thing we do, but it would help.

          • As much as I would like to see the Bush tax cuts sunset, it wouldn't do much for schools. Most school funding comes from local property and sales taxes. What money does come from the feds is now largely tied to NCLB, which is just bad news for everyone.
      • Amen to that. But of course truth is that teachers only do work from 8am-3pm, and they make $70,000 a year, the lazy bastards. College professors are even worse. I am one, so I know. I'm currently sitting in a desk chair made from aborted baby skin, smoking a fat splif rolled in Cuban tobacco while I assign Fs to student papers because these silly turkeys haven't already read their Marx. Mmmm, cognac. In a few minutes I'll drive my turbo Volvo convertible to the local Green Party meeting where we'll plan to
  • by Anonymous Coward

    If someone told me to write a paper, then told me it would be graded by some algorithm, I'd tell them to go fuck themselves. Who comes up with this crap?

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:32PM (#39528749) Journal

    The problem is not that the students don't get enough practice. The problem is that the students don't get feedback until they get their grade.

    Having an auto-grader grade your work is a terrible idea because auto-graders can't handle complex English. I thought it might be a good idea to run a grammar checker across my novels before publishing them just to have an extra set of eyes, so to speak. So as an experiment, I fed some fragments of one novel (that I knew contained no grammatical errors) into about a dozen of these so-called grammar checkers, along with a list of deliberately broken sentences to see if they actually caught problems.

    I just about died laughing at the ludicrous suggestions that the grammar checkers made, mostly stemming from them incorrectly guessing the parts of speech for words that could have more than one meaning. The best of these algorithms correctly reported about 80% of the correct sentences as correct, though many of those algorithms also failed to flag a lot of the incorrect sentences. The worst algorithms flagged more like 80% of the correct sentences as incorrect (and still failed to flag the actual errors in many of the incorrect sentences).

    Based on that, I'd say that having someone's grade depend upon such poor algorithms is a really, really bad idea, I'm guessing it will be at least another 1-2 decades before I would trust a computer-based grader to actually perform grading that counts.

    However, making those auto-graders available to students for online pre-screening of their writing before they hand in the final version would be a good thing, provided they can make them a lot better. Such software is great at catching simple errors, and anyone with poor writing skills can probably benefit from such software pointing those mistakes out, allowing them to correct their own mistakes before handing the assignments in. This allows the students to learn from the mistakes. A well-designed checker could even keep track of what mistakes a student makes regularly and point out the pattern so that the student can learn to watch for that type of mistake in the future. Unlike robo-grading, such software can actually teach students to improve their skills usefully.

    • The research indicates that students need feedback, not a score or grade, in order to improve. Therefore, an auto-grader is a poor idea because it doesn't provide useful feedback.

      Good feedback takes more time than grading or scoring. It is also formative, rather than summative, so a teacher would be unconcerned about the actual score or grade (supposedly the problem these programs are trying to solve). It doesn't do much good to tell students that their essay is good, average, or poor. You need to tell

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Therefore, an auto-grader is a poor idea because it doesn't provide useful feedback.

        For some definitions of useful and feedback, it does. I'm assuming an auto-grader would not just assign a numeric score, but would be similar to all the other grammar checkers out there in that it would provide a list of sentences with possible problems and point out suggested solutions to them.

        The student would still have to figure out which of those suggestions are right and which ones are gibberish caused by a misunder

  • What's to keep a computer from generating the essay?
  • by denis-The-menace (471988) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:35PM (#39528781)

    If I knew that a machine gets to grade my work I would feel like my time and efforts are worth so little that humans can't be bothered to read it. It defeats the purpose of even writing the thing.

    When you write something you are trying to convey an idea. Knowing that the machine doesn't give a fsck proves my efforts are useless.

  • A grade school teacher who deals with the same 25-30 kids all day teaching a variety of subjects can find time to read 30 papers of the length likely to be written by such students. But in the older grades, the English Comp teacher reading 30 papers from 5 or 6 different class periods simply can not spend that much time on that many papers. Before you get to the post secondary level where teaching assistants are available the job becomes just about impossible.

    The structure of our school system imposes a b

    • by Hatta (162192)

      But in the older grades, the English Comp teacher reading 30 papers from 5 or 6 different class periods simply can not spend that much time on that many papers.

      That just means there are too few teachers. We need more.

    • My questions: Would James Joyce be hauled to the loony bin and never let out? Would the auto grader crash and burn on 'Finnigan's Wake'?

  • If you can't get teachers to read writing assignments, maybe you should think about the following:

    - do you have enough teachers to devote the required time?
    - are the teachers paid enough to devote the time?
    - are the teachers sufficiently qualified?

    If you think that what a teacher does can be done by a robot, you are either living in a science fiction world of positronic brains, or the number one reason the US education system sucks balls.

    • by icebike (68054) *

      If you can't get teachers to read writing assignments, maybe you should think about the following:

      - do you have enough teachers to devote the required time?
      - are the teachers paid enough to devote the time?
      - are the teachers sufficiently qualified?

      If you think that what a teacher does can be done by a robot, you are either living in a science fiction world of positronic brains, or the number one reason the US education system sucks balls.

      To that you have to add the question of:
      - Does the average person need composition skills beyond what is taught in Junior High?
      - Will the pilot or the farmer or HVAC installer actually need English Comp?
      - Would those that do need these skills later in life, be better off learning them later rather than earlier?

      Why foist these tools into the school room? Why not sell them on the open market aimed at those who have a need and desire to write? Why not let them become self improvement tools.

      The idea that the

      • You learn better when you are younger. I don't think this is in dispute.

        I'm all for tracking kids, German school style. But waiting is stupid. Math too?

        • by icebike (68054) *

          You learn SOME things better when young. Facts for rote memorization.

          There is precious little science that suggests Composition is one of those things.
          You don't learn to turn a phrase at 6 or 16, or even appreciate a well phrased concept until you've read good writing fairly extensively, and read it because you wanted to, rather than because you had to.

          So, no, for some subject matter, waiting is not stupid. There is plenty of learning that can be accomplished while you wait.

      • by Githaron (2462596)

        Why foist these tools into the school room? Why not sell them on the open market aimed at those who have a need and desire to write? Why not let them become self improvement tools.

        If you are talking about pre-college, most people that age don't care enough to do any more school than they are given. Once they are an adult, if they still do not want to improve their skills, they only have themselves to blame if they have trouble getting a job that requires skill.

      • - Does the average person need composition skills beyond what is taught in Junior High?
        - Will the pilot or the farmer or HVAC installer actually need English Comp?
        - Would those that do need these skills later in life, be better off learning them later rather than earlier?

        Yes. Yes. No, because I don't believe that there is a class of people that doesn't need such rhetorical skills.

        Why foist these tools into the school room? Why not sell them on the open market aimed at those who have a need and desire t

  • An auto-grader seems like it has the potential to be a good tool. You let the kids write, and give them immediate feedback about grammatical structure, spelling, and maybe even whether the writing flows well.

    However, it seems important to me to recognize that this might be one useful tool, but I very much doubt it will be a good solution for teaching people to write. There is more to writing than "following the rules", and I don't believe that computers can yet evaluate creativity or content. Sometimes

  • by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Friday March 30, 2012 @04:40PM (#39528865)
    Computers just aren't up to understanding complex English well enough to decently grade it. The smartest students will very quickly grow apathetic and start gaming it, whilst forgetting the skills they do have. The less intelligent students will just learn to run it through MS Word's grammar and spelling check and add words that don't fit but are long.
  • In general when I was in school, the problem with Essays was, the minimum length requirement. I'd write my essay and it would be great, but fall short of the length requirement by the teacher and I'd end up padding it out by restarting what I said different ways, adding useless sentences etc.

    I complained about the miniumum length at one point and the teacher told me to turn in my original essay and she would grade it and if it was better than my other one then she would no longer require a minimum length. S

  • My students are pretty talented, but I can tell you: Even they would benefit from having a proofreader for the things they turn in to me. It looks like Pearson (I don't like that company, btw.) is trying to market this as an evaluation tool, which is not the best idea. It shouldn't be a tool of the professor, but a tool of the student, something like an improved spell checker, but more of an idea checker.

    Machine semantic analysis has actually come quite a long way, and together with subject experts, maybe

  • The theory is that teachers would assign more writing if they didn't have to read it.

    Hey, here's an idea - instead of implementing someone's pet theory-of-the-month, how about we attempt to prove the theory first?

    The field of Education is rife with theories - the biggest and worst that comes to mind is the "new math" a few years back. It seems every year or so someone notices that education is failing, comes up with the reason, and a new method of teaching kids "more better" is born.

    Why do we let education

  • different from scantron, which has been automatically grading student papers for two decades?
  • But it won't make good writers, merely functional ones.

    A computer will not recognize a particularly nice turn of phrase, nor will it understand when a rule is intentionally broken in order to draw attention to a certain passage, nor will it understand certain rhetorical devices often used in the most compelling writing when those devices play with the rules.

    Granted, a writer should have a very firm grasp of the rules before they break them, but it seems to me that this kind of tool would wind up breaking do

  • Using a program to grade papers is fine, as long as the teachers are looking over the highlighted errors to make sure they are actually errors, before finalizing the grade/handing the essays back.
  • When I was writing academic papers, occasionally on writings I could not possibly give two shits about, the one thing that kept me interested with the whole process was knowing that I would be sharing concepts, spring from my very own brain, with another human which is the core of it; sharing information is whole point of writing shit down in the first place.

    If I had been told my essays wouldn't bee seen by an actual teacher and wouldn't have any chance of informing somebody else, ever, I would have

  • I think, if one is interested in what they are writing about, they'll strive to express themselves in ways that are more in-tune with "correct" grammar, spelling, etc.

    One way suggested for getting kids into writing more -regularly- is to get them to focus on the sky - each day - with an eye to notibing subtle differences. Of course, perception changes as much as some skies, so each day's observations & feelings about them can lead to a very different word stream from each child.

    The article reminds me of

  • God no. Getting good marks from a computer is all about understanding the algorithm and what it is looking for. This will get to the point where certain combinations of absolute gibberish or x-babble will get the best marks. Students will learn how to write this and not how to write language. Terrible idea.
  • by PJ6 (1151747) on Friday March 30, 2012 @06:09PM (#39529997)
    said just about every English teacher I had in high school.

    Also, anything beyond spell check is patently ridiculous. Even the best grammar checkers are still rubbish.
  • They grade C++ like that. If you did not write the code exactly as the grading system was looking for it was game over. I would have been fine with it if this was the standard in the 150 class. An automated system for grading essays will not detect the passion of the writer as it only can grade the mechanics acurately.
  • I believe they're called graduate students.
  • by NoKaOi (1415755) on Friday March 30, 2012 @10:49PM (#39531893)

    My middle school aged daughter recently wrote a paper that was autograded. I think it was an experiment by her teacher to see how well the autograder worked, since half the grade was to come from the autograder and the other half from the teacher actually reading it. At least she was allowed to run it through the autograder as much as she wanted to before handing it in.

    Her first round before I read the paper, the autograder gave her a 92%. I read the paper, and it was hideous (sorry). The grammatical structure may have been technically correct, but the organization was awful, it was horribly confusing, and just didn't make much sense. I ran it through my own grader (a red pen), she fixed it, and it was clear, made sense, well organized, and still had correct grammar and spelling. The autograder gave it a 73%. Why? Because she didn't use advanced enough words. The words she used were perfectly appropriate for a middler-schooler or even a high schooler. So what does she naturally do? Pulls up a thesaurus, inserts a bunch of big words, and gets a 95%. I took a look and the words she used were not at all in the right context. I had to explain to her that, as she well knows, thesauruses don't provide *exact* synonyms, and the autograder is retarded.

    So...I'm all for letting students run their paper through a set algorithms to give them hints about what *might* need changing, but relaying (that word passes spell checker and an autograder would have been happy with it) on an autograder to grade a papyrus is puerile (see, an autograder would have given me a 99% because I used those words from the thesaurus even though they're not in the right context). Also, as I think other commentors have pointed out, if you know a human is going to read your paper, even if you don't like your teacher and your teacher doesn't care, you're more likely to put more effort into getting your points across.

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