The latest news from edX is that the massive open online course platform, founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, is introducing automated software that will grade essays and short answers from students on exams.
The assessment tool is free on the web to any institution that wants to use it. The process begins with human teachers grading 100 essays or essay questions, with the software using artificial intelligence to train itself to grade essays automatically.
The software assigns a grade depending on the scoring system started by the teacher. It can also provide feedback and allows the student to revise the work immediately for a better grade.
“There is a huge value in learning with instant feedback,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX, in an article in The New York Times. “Students are telling us they learn much better with instant feedback.”
Coursera and Udacity are also trying to develop automated assessment because of the value of instant feedback, while the Hewlett Foundation sponsored two $100,000 awards for improving software that grades essays. More than 150 teams competed for each prize, with one of the winners landing a job with edX to design its assessment software.
Of course, not everyone is so sure an automated grading system is a good thing. Les Perelman, a researcher at MIT, is among a group of educators who have drawn up a petition against the software. The group, called Professionals Against Machine Scoring of Student Essays in High-Stakes Assessment, has already collected nearly 2,000 signatures in opposition.
Part of the group’s statement says, “Let’s face the realities of automatic essay scoring. Computers cannot ‘read.’ They cannot measure the essentials of effective written communications: accuracy, reasoning, adequacy or evidence, good sense, ethical stances, convincing argument, meaningful organization, clarity, and veracity, among others.”