I Robot, You Student

A university-backed project in America is working on software that will mark exam papers, thus relieving professors from the need to know if their students are learning anything. Students sit in class, or log on via the Internet, follow a lesson and then take an online exam. Those essays are then marked by computer and the results instantly returned to the students.

I assume professors will get to see what the scores are, indeed one day I expect their salaries will depend on them. But they will not be able to see how well they did their jobs qualitatively because the feedback loop has been broken. They won’t learn anything about their students other than how well they can game the scoring algorithm.

This would help turn teaching into a one-way process. Indeed, you may not even need the professor other than to record videos that students can watch at their leisure. Or the smarter students can write a program that will watch videos and take exams for them.

When that happy day dawns, if it does, there will be a market for a radical form of education where a teacher actually meets with some students. They are able to interact face-to-face, with the teacher asking questions and students responding to demonstrate they have learned something, or to let the teacher realise what points haven’t been properly understood. The teacher will still be paid, but will now also receive job satisfaction while the students will feel they have a mentor, someone they can ask further questions of and expand their knowledge. It would be just like the Greeks did thousands of years ago when they invented university education.

The article in the New York Times that reports this is well worth a read, but the last but one paragraph is laugh-out loud funny. It reports on the views of a supporter of the new technology: “Plus, he noted, critics of the technology have tended to come from the nation’s best universities, where the level of pedagogy is much better than at most schools.”

In other words, the critics tend to be those who best understand the subject.

Or, let’s not listen to those who know what they’re talking about, listen to the idiots!

New York Times article: Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break

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