There are many times when I wish that I was still in the classroom. It seems like there are so many great opportunities to engage students in new ways of thinking and learning. I imagine an exciting classroom space where kids could write and create and collaborate, where my Nancy Atwell style reading and writing workshops could move beyond the walls of the classroom, encouraging students to pursue and share their ideas and passions with the world.
OK, take a deep breath…I was just beginning to get a good rant going about this post from Richard Byrne about the new Student AR app for Google Glass. I went back to click on the press release and discovered that the whole post was an April Fool’s Day joke. Phew!
So, now what am I going to write about? How about the fact that I believed it in the first place? Throw in names like Bill Gates and Salmon Khan and is it so hard to believe that they are busy creating an app that takes the teacher out of the game of assessment? It isn’t so far fetched. The Hewlett Foundation sponsored the Automated Student Assessment Prize, designed to encourage development in the area of automated assessment, and EdX has created discern, automated scoring software. At least one researcher is busy showing that the computer can grade as well as a person and much more quickly.
The article from University of Akron about the work of Dr. Mark Shermis is interesting and a little ironic. Perhaps the writers should have used the software to avoid the grammatical error in this paragraph:
The study grows from a contest call the Automated Student Assessment Prize, or ASAP, which the Hewlett Foundation is sponsoring to evaluate the current state of automated testing and to encourage further developments in the field.
Did you find the mistake? “Call” should be “called.” I would also suggest that the communications and marketing department should refrain from calling their website the “news” room since this is obviously a press release. It makes passing reference to critics of the research study but doesn’t dig too deeply into the controversial nature of automated scoring. Lucky for us, The New York Times takes news a bit more seriously and describes the real criticism of the grading software: it can be fooled. Les Perelman, the retired professor from MIT who launched a petition against adopting such software, takes great pleasure in both critiquing the research AND gaming the system.
Those who criticize Perelman point out that the purpose of the software is to provide instant feedback to students so they can learn to be better writers. The final product will be read by a real person. So, what of that instant feedback? Karin Klein’s daughter found that the software was more confusing than helpful. And, Barbara Chow, from the Hewlett Foundation and quoted by the University of Akron, seems to undermine that very argument. Automated scoring will mean more writing on tests and less human grading:
“Better tests support better learning,” says Barbara Chow, education program director at the Hewlett Foundation. “This demonstration of rapid and accurate automated essay scoring will encourage states to include more writing in their state assessments. And, the more we can use essays to assess what students have learned, the greater the likelihood they’ll master important academic content, critical thinking, and effective communication.”
It turns out that fact checking is exactly what the software doesn’t do well. It is checking for basic structure and grammar rather than knowledge or critical thinking. As an adjunct for several universities, I laughed out loud at Perelman’s argument for why higher education is so expensive:
“The average teaching assistant makes six times as much money as college presidents,” he wrote. “In addition, they often receive a plethora of extra benefits such as private jets, vacations in the south seas, starring roles in motion pictures.”
Dr. Perelman received a top score for this well designed argument. Oh, if the computer scoring software could only make it so.
I hope you have a great April Fool’s Day…try not to be taken in as I was by jokes that border on truth.