Brent designed software called a SAGrader to grade student papers in a matter of seconds. The program works by analyzing sentences and paragraphs for keywords and relationships between terms. Brent believes the program can be used as a tool to save time for teachers by zeroing in on the main points of an essay and allowing teachers to rate papers for the use of language and style.
“I don’t think we want to replace humans,” Brent says in an article in Wired. “But we want to do the fun stuff, the challenging stuff. And the computer can do the tedious but necessary stuff.”
Using the software still requires work on the teacher’s part, though. To prepare the program to grade papers, a teacher must enter all of the components they expect a paper to include. Teachers also have to consider the hundreds of ways a student might address the pieces of an essay.
Interestingly, one person in the testing business argues that the biggest issue is not how well the software does at grading but whether people believe the program can do a good job:
But it’s tough to tout a product that tinkers with something many educators believe only a human can do.
“That’s the biggest obstacle for this technology,” said Frank Catalano, a senior vice president for Pearson Assessments and Testing, whose Intelligent Essay Assessor is used in middle schools and the military alike. “It’s not its accuracy. It’s not its suitability. It’s the believability that it can do the things it already can do.”
If this were used widely and becomes normal practice, it could redefine what it means to be a professor or teacher. This is not a small issue in an era where many argue that learning online or from a book could be as effective (or at least as cost-effective) compared to sending students to pricey colleges.
I wonder what percentage of sociologists would support using such grading programs in their own classrooms and throughout academic institutions.