In an age of increasing technology and educational resources, it is not uncommon to see major universities participating in the activities of websites such as edX or Coursera. These websites are known for offering free courses from schools such as Harvard, MIT, Princeton and dozens of others. On the edX homepage the site advertises itself as “the future of online education for anyone, anywhere, anytime.” With a wide range of courses from statistics to food science the possibilities seem endless.
Now edX is looking to make even more progress and has recently released a new service that could reinvent the standard essay grading system. What if submitting an essay meant instant feedback with the click of a button? What would it be like to cut out the agony between the time you submit an essay and the day you finally get it back days (or even weeks later)? EdX’s instant grading software not only grades essays and short answers instantly but in some cases it even offers the student an opportunity to rewrite the essay for a better grade.
The edX software is able to pick up on the grading system of each unique live grader by first requiring the instructor to grade 100 essays or short answers. The software then proceeds to train itself to grade based on the teacher’s techniques and scoring system. Although there is some proof that the grading system is reliable, there have also been several studies to negate this claim.
Many critics of the instant grader fear that computer software cannot compare with the knowledge of live teachers. Human graders not only offer a more personal approach to writing, but they can often catch organization, clarity, and ethical issues in an argument that a computer would likely miss. Many students also fear that variations in writing style could cause problems in such programs. Skeptics agree that now may not be the time to begin implementing this type of software, though they admit it will probably improve enough in the future to even beat out live graders.
EdX expects many schools to begin using their software, but should BC put their grading system into effect? Is an instant grade more valuable to students than the opinions of a personal, live grader? Yes, instant grading does have the possibility to offer a significant amount to education, since it gives students the opportunity to edit their work while it is still fresh in their minds. But the question remains whether or not a computer system truly compares to the writer's effort to tailor an essay to a professor's specifications, his or her's reworking of drafts, or consulting with the teacher on writing styles?