Grading- Essay Software makes Professors a Slack Job

Description: Imagine taking a college exam, and, instead of handing in a blue book and getting a grade from a professor a few weeks later, clicking the “send” button when you are done and receiving a grade back instantly, your essay scored by a software program.


Date: April 4, 2013


The new service will bring the educational consortium into a growing conflict over the role of automation in education. Although automated grading systems for multiple-choice and true-false tests are now widespread, the use of artificial intelligence technology to grade essay answers has not yet received widespread endorsement by educators and has many critics.

Anant Agarwal, an electrical engineer who is president of EdX, predicted that the instant-grading software would be a useful pedagogical tool, enabling students to take tests and write essays over and over and improve the quality of their answers. He said the technology would offer distinct advantages over the traditional classroom system, where students often wait days or weeks for grades.  READ REST OF STORY

 Questions for discussion:

1. Comment on the following statement “The technology is available therefore we should be using it?”

2. What do you see as the two biggest benefits of this technology and what do you see as the two biggest detriments to using this technology?


17 thoughts on “Grading- Essay Software makes Professors a Slack Job

  1. Lilly Rangsikriangkrai

    The technology is available therefore we should be using it?” This statement makes me imagine the changes of technology that it will be appearing in next 10 years. Many of the technologies that we will talk about these days, maybe even the ones that you’re looking at right now, will also become obsolete in the next few decades. Of course, we always search on the technologies that provide most benefits to us. Nowadays, whatever we practice is all related to “change” in the better way. From the article above “Grading- Essay Software makes Professors a Slack Job”, this also arises from the improvement of technologies, as it can be seen very different from the past; the teachers won’t waste their time to check the student’s exam by one to one anymore, but what they do is just put the exam in the form of multiple choices in the machine. The result will appear directly. Moreover, it will be also benefit for the students those learning how to write an essay. For example, we can check whether those essay are plagiarism by some programs. The two largest benefits of this technology. First, the results of the essay will come out directly. Second, teachers won’t waste time checking the student’s essay. Two detriments to using this technology are this software can make teacher jobless because of development of technologies. Second, grading by teachers might be more accurate than graded by software.

  2. Tom

    I agree to a certain extend that technology is there so we should use it but just because is there does not mean is perfect. An example would be handless driving, there is an technology in cars that can drive hands free by using google maps and sensor camera. However, just because is there does that mean we use it? I believe that technology needs a few years of testing before releasing it to the public is a very good idea because new technology does not mean is good technology.

    The two biggest benefit i see in this technology like it said in this article is the instant feedback. I think as a student we always need quick feedback because we have to use this feedback to write any essay. I believe the other benefit would be saving professors time and not have to spend it marking essay. I believe this would save the professor a lot of time and they can focus this time onto helping students by giving extra tutorials.

    Two down fall is that because is using algorithm people who know computers can figure out how to write the “perfect essay” so that they can get the best grades possible. The other down fall is that there are a lot of writing skills that you can have a computer mark simply because they lack that emotion that humans has. For example, creativity and passion, furthermore, all computers has a limit that they can’t pass and therefore this limits their skills in performing their jobs.

  3. Dan Wilde

    This technology would be incredibly beneficial to students in enhancing their skills in writing and developing their essays. I believe that this technology would be beneficial strictly in the practicing and developing of writing skills for students and not for grading. It is still important for arguments that are presented in an essay to be seen in context from a teacher who may have presented something unique to their class that would add an extra effect to the argument that was presented in the essay. The greatest benefits would be in helping students to develop their skills. I also think that it would be advantageous if the paper was graded both by a teacher and by the software to see the differences and to se if the teachers are being fair/unfair in their assessment.

  4. Sheldon

    While I find this software to be potentially beneficial in some ways, the application for which it is currently being marketed puts a bad taste in my mouth. Dr. Agarwal states, “Students are telling us they learn much better with instant feedback”, which is obvious, as the article makes not of the process becoming a game of continuous resubmission. While initially this may seem beneficial, lets be honest, the students are just determining what internal rubric the computer adheres to and satisfy it. Additionally, the idea of resubmitting numerous instances is not present in the “real world”. Furthermore, the subtle referencing that this technology could assist in providing cheaper education makes me irate. If history is any indication, it is simply a tool to boost school margins and not a method of reducing student price.

    The statement that “The technology is available therefore we should be using it”, does hold merit, but only to a degree. Online learning could benefit rom this technology greatly, as well as potential use in developing countries. However, due to the unresolvable fault currently present with the technology, I personally find it outrageous that a reputable post secondary institution would implement it. Such an act, I’m sure, would cause an immediate decline and malaise in the realm of literary composition.

  5. Austin Smith

    “The technology is available therefore we should be using it?” This statement provides a sense of globalization due to how technology is ever changing. When I read the (edx) article I was surprised to see that technology is being produced so that written portion of exams can be graded and handed back within a time period shorter that a day and also provide feedback to the student so that they can repeat the test to input more accurate answers. I hope this technology makes breakthroughs while I’m still in University because the two biggest benefits of this in my opinion is the speed it’s graded at, and the feedback provided. Other proponents of this could include such things as less stress on professors to mark, opportunity cost, and so on. The two biggest detriments to this technology would be firstly initiating a system of technology that can read, comprehend, ethical stance, reasoning, clarity, organization and so on that a professor brings to the table. The second would be that it may put more professors out of work due to more online courses with this technology equipped. Overall I hope that this technology succeeds because I love efficient and effective feedback and also being able to see my test mark as soon as I’m done.

  6. Michelle

    “The technology is available therefore we should be using it?” This statement portrays fast, convenient and simple in a high tech world we live in today, not to mention busy and hectic. With the advancements of many technologies today I am not surprised to read about the (edx) essay grading software. The two greatest benefits for this technology would be not having to wait for the grade of your short answer or essay. Having the results instantly provides the students with immediate answers as to how well they did or didn’t do but also the opportunity to learn from their mistakes a lot sooner. The bonus is having the chance to correct yourself right after is awesome. The second reason is helping the student read and write critical which is very beneficial for students in university. Having the ability to learn this technique a lot sooner is beneficial for the student in the long run because they will have the ability to learn what they need to know and what they are being tested on a lot sooner instead of later, and may even save the student money by preventing them from having to redo any particular courses. The two biggest detriments could be losing the passion in writing and possibly losing out on the whole learning experience that makes great writers.

  7. Samantha

    I don’t agree with the statement “the technology is available therefore we should use it”. We have the technology to track and spy on every person on the planet, but it doesn’t mean we should. Is the technology ethical?? In the case of using grading software for short answers and essays I don’t think it is completely ethical to let a computer do the job of a professor, who would do it better and have their students in mind.

    Two huge benefits of the system however is that it does free up a tonne of time for professors who are often spread very thin without their grading. It also provides automatic results. students appreciate having grades back as soon as possible and often wait weeks for term papers to be returned.

    The drawbacks the system has are also very critical. A computer does not look at a paper the same way a person does, programming has yet to be perfect in determining an A paper from a B paper and it is the duty of the institution to provide accurate results to their students. Te technology is also very new and faces serious ethical questions. I will be surprised to see any automated grading besides t/f and mc in the near future due to student/faculty opposition.

  8. Denaye Corbeil

    I do not agree with the statement that “technology is available therefore we should be using it.” Just because something is readily available to us, doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be used. Although, technology can be very useful and more efficient in completing certain tasks, a human component is still required. For example, the automated grading system is useful because it makes marking a lot easier and is less stressful for teachers and provides students with immediate feedback. However, there are pitfalls with this system such as poorly written essays being grade very highly and marks being missed for correct answers. Also, computers cannot give thoughtful feedback or pick up on the emotional or sensitive aspects of the paper, so the depth of a student’s paper might be missed. I think a human component is still required to mark students work, especially when it comes to essays because there are many different components that go into an essay that a computer may not pick up on. I think the automated graded system is unfortunately a first step in what the future of education may look like. As technology advances, computers are gaining a more significant role in the education system, especially with marking and teaching material. Unfortunately, there may be a time where computers completely replace teachers’ jobs.

  9. Meghan

    The statement “the technology is available therefore we should be using it” can be applied to almost anything if a person wants it to be. However, I think that technology does not need to be used for everything as it undermines the human process. It takes every situation and removes the human aspect, reducing the hard work and effort of individuals to the codes, algorithms, and standards of a computer. I do not feel this is adequate for grading students’ essays at the university of college level. Students attend these universities to learn from professors in their distinctive field, not by a machine. Therefore, technology yes, should be integrated into classrooms to help the professor by grading true or false answers, multiple choice, or for presentations but should not remove the teacher aspect of grading essays and human thought.

    The two biggest benefits of this technology are that the feedback is fast and it would reduce the costs for institutions, as they would not have to hire as many teachers. However, personally, I feel the negative aspects of this technology outweigh the positives. If the software is going to let a student continually re-write the software, the student will simply learn the pros and cons of how the technology marks and tailor their writing to simply get a better grade, not necessarily learn anything, simply adapt. Secondly, the technology reduces the amount of teachers needed only making the work force even harder for students to enter once they have finished their education as technology is taking over.

  10. Ashley E.

    I don’t agree with the statement “if the technology is there we should use it” there are a lot of things “there” and “available” doesn’t necessarily mean we need to use them. It’s kind of a silly comment, taken literally – viruses are there, should we use them? Worms are there…does that mean we use them? I think using the automated grading systems for multiple choice, right/wrong questions is great. I love getting my mark back right away.

    Having a system like this for the types of questions which are black and white is great and efficient for everyone involved. The professor frees up time by not spending hours marking the exams and the students are happy because they get to see there marks right away. A weakness that I see is having a computer grade your essay, it’s disturbing to think of my work getting reviewed and critiqued by a computer. How is that even possible? Another issue that could potentially happen is having a glitch in the system. How do we know that a fair assessment is happening? It wouldn’t be efficient to have a professor review the work of the program, in that case why even use it.

  11. Jingyue Wang

    I don’t agree with the statement “The technology is available therefore we should be using it”. First, we can’t use a thing just because it’s available. There are many things available, drugs, guns, computer virus, but those are the things we better not to use. Second, is that technology trustworthy? What if the new technology has some hidden hazard like Photorefractive Keratectomy (aka myopia operation, a surgery for curing myopia)? When the therapeutic equipment first invented, many people went to have the operation. After a period of time, many complications appeared to patients such as corneal opacification, glare, refractive regression, or even blindness.

    The two biggest benefits of this grading- essay software are: first, students can know their grade instantly, without waiting for couple of days. Second, professors who use this software can save a lot of time to do other things. Two biggest detriments to using this technology are: this software could make professors become lazy. They could use the saved time to hang out instead of focusing on their teaching career. Second, students could possibly find bugs in this software and use bugs to get a high grade.

  12. Daljot

    1. Comment on the following statement “The technology is available therefore we should be using it?”
    I do not agree with this statement because its about the same as saying cocaine is there so we should all be using it. Just because something is there doesn’t mean you have to use it, it also doesn’t mean that its good to use for everything.
    I am actually very against this technology, I feel that teachers have a job and they should be the ones doing it. What if students start to get someone else to do there work and submit it in. If we have to do our work then teachers should be doing there work. When it comes to grading exam questions that only have one answer I feel using technology to speed up the process is okay. However when it comes to a students actual words than technology should not be used. Plus if a student gets numerous chances to write a paper are they actually learning the material? I think it would be better to make this a software to aid students in improving their essay writing before they submit one final written paper, rather than submitting numerous papers until maybe you hit the score you want. its unfair to the students that can do good in one try compared to students that get the same mark in 10 tries.

  13. Danae

    Just because the technology is available, does not mean that we have to use it. I question the reliability of the technology. Yes, it can grade essays which means that professors have more time, but how do we know that it is actually measuring the quality. I question a computer’s ability to actually understand the meaning in essays.

    For some of my accounting courses, we are required to complete online assignments. Eventually you get feedback, which is just what the right answer is. It doesn’t tell me how it got that answer. This is why I appreciate the examples professors do in class. They are the ones that show me how to actually do the process. Yes, the computer marked my assignment and yes, it gave me feedback. But it won’t tell me where I went wrong in my thought process. I still have to go to my professor in order to improve my understanding of the concept.

    Another concern is how fair a computer will grade work. With multiple choice style tests, there is a clear-cut answer. With essays, it depends on your writing style, the depth of thought, grammar etc. I question whether a computer can actually grade essays based on a qualitative analysis. I also question whether the feedback given would be as helpful and valuable compared to the feedback a professor would give you.

  14. Ashley S

    The statement “The technology is available, therefore we should be using it.” Is one that should be taken with a grain of salt. Regarding education, using automation for grading things like multiple choice tests is extremely beneficial, as there is only one right answer. A critique of the automated essay grading system is that nonsensical essays can be put together and still receive high grades. Only a human can grasp how one student’s writing style can vastly differ from another’s, but can still achieve the exact same point. One student may have an essay full of grammatical errors that delivers an excellent argument, but will receive a lower grade than a student with a grammatically correct paper that delivers no real facts or argument. Artificial intelligence can measure spelling errors, grammar, etc., but cannot measure a level of common sense in a paper, or how convincing an argument is. This system should only ever be implemented if it can actually achieve the capacity of human logic.

    While instant feedback is important, receiving feedback that takes longer but is more accurate would be much more beneficial than feedback which may not have grasped how subjective a task like an essay really is. I would much rather wait a week for a paper to be graded by a human that understands common sense and logical arguments than automatically receive inaccurate feedback.

  15. Blake Willert

    “The technology is available therefore we should use it”, I feel is not a good statement. I think that technology has mad some aspects of life better but should be left out of other parts of life. Just because the technology is there to use for marking essays I do not feel it should be relied upon. I still think that a computer cannot do the same kind of marking that a human can. Marking an essay is a lot about the feel you get from reading it and what the writer is trying to get across. It would not surprise me if this technology is adopted and will be used. Its not all bad but hopefully some teachers will still mark papers and give students meaningful feedback. As far as other technology is going I think that is eroding our personal communication skills. An example of this is a family dinner. A lot of families either do not have family dinners, or they do but everyone is on some sort of technology device and no one is talking to each other. I think that a major part of childhood development is family dinners and talking about the day. By doing this you accomplishing so many things. First off it shows your children that you can go an hour without technology, it also allows everyone to talk about there day and settle any issues that someone experienced. It also allows for laughter and can children’s self esteem a boost. By talking with you family and making each other feel good it will in turn make the child feel good about themselves because people actually care about what they have to say.

    As far as the technology of software marking the two biggest advantages are: instant feedback and freeing up professors time. The instant feedback for students is a bonus because they will be able to see where they went wrong right away, instead of 2 weeks later when they have forgot what they wrote anyway. The second advantage is that it will free up professors to spend more time with students. They will have more time to prepare meaningful lessons and have more time to meet with students who have problems and help them correct it.

    The two disadvantages to this technology are: the loss of a human marker, and the chance of ‘tricking’ the computer. The loss of a human marker I think cannot be replaced by a computer. As I said earlier you get a feel for what the person is writing by reading an essay and that can be marked accordingly, a computer cannot do this. The second disadvantage of this technology is tricking the computer. As it said in the article a professor wrote a bogus essay and got a good mark because the computer marked for content even though it had nothing to do with the topic. This could be a major problem because a student could think they have a good essay and then get a bad mark if an actual professor marked it because it was not what they wanted for an essay.

  16. Stephanie

    I feel the statement “technology is available therefore we should be using it” is a complicated one. Regarding this specific technology of grading papers I feel it can be a useful tool in education systems and should be used as a learning element. I would prefer that my final mark be based on an actual person reading my paper and giving their opinion however the opportunity to submit my paper online multiple times to improve upon it is very appealing.

    It would give students the opportunity to improve their work before going to the teacher and asking for help. It could even easily be used to grade basic writing papers where the main goal of the assignment it to ensure proper punctuation and paragraph structure. It would also free up more of the teachers time to answer questions and provide further instruction. This does take out some of the human interaction that comes with learning. People learn many different ways and a computer is not able to identify the best possible way to teach. Someone may submit their report twenty times and still not improve because there will be some limitation as to the feedback a computer can give. This technology would be very useful in helping some students perfect their essays however; it is my opinion that the final grading should still be done by a human being.

  17. Jeff Fero

    “Technology is there and therefore we should use it” is about as valid of a statement as it is to say “The gas pedal is there, so step on it”. Yes, it may accelerate some things, but that doesn’t always mean that it is the better option. Technology has done some great things for society in the past few decades; however, this could be an example comparable to that of smart phones. People are becoming overly attached to their electronics and technology. They are doing so by agreeing with that opening statement. I can play games on my phone, so play them. It is a grey and undefined area this early in the technological revolution, but it is becoming quite apparent that not all technology is good technology.

    The state of University right now, or at least Management at Uleth is one of pay and pass for the majority of students. If university was to remain as prestigious as it once was, a lot more students would have to fail. True evaluation is hard to come by in a lot of undergrad programs, and people like myself can handle the pressure of testing scenarios very well, and take down multiple choice tests with ease. But getting 100% on multiple choice test is a far cry from knowing 100% of the material. Should such a program allow for the accurate grading of a paper, its benefit would be exponential. And allowing students to instantly learn from mistakes is a great tool as well. However, that should be more aimed for assignments, as one chance testing represents more of a true life pressure situation. You cant keep fixing your errors in real life, you just need to be right sometimes.

    However, until some serious advancement in technology occurs, one that is not in the foreseeable future, this essay grading software should not be implemented. The simple fact that a professor was capable of writing a nonsense essay that receives a good score is fact enough. They claim that this software helps students think critically, however, it does just the opposite. Students will hold back on any creative or innovative ideas, because they will know how the grading system works; and even if they do offer a creative or innovative response, the system would mark it wrong and tell them to change it. The idea is a good one, and it actually highlights the fact that testing and evaluation in University currently is not what it could be. But trying to have a computer do the work teachers wont or cant do is not the answer. At least in 2014 it is not.


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