Enroll

Why Computers Shouldn’t Grade Writing Assignments

MS Word’s grammar checker isn’t always right, so why trust a computer program to grade writing assignments? For understaffed and cash-strapped schools or schools that want to use the newest technology, computerized grading may seem like an idea worth considering. However, closer examination of such software shows that it undermines the purpose of writing and gives feedback inferior to that of teachers and professors.

About Computerized Grading

I learned about computerized grading by reading “Writing to a Machine is Not Writing At All” by Anne Herrington and Charles Moran. Programs such as ETS’s Criterion, EdX, and Vantage Learning’s My Access! allow students to submit their writing online to gain quick feedback with a score and comments on individual sentences based on writing standards of students’ grade level (2). The software assesses not only correctness of grammar and punctuation but also presence of structural elements, such as introductions and quality of evidence (6). On the surface, computerized grading may sound promising, but in reality this innovation is undesirable.

Undermining the Purpose of Writing

We write for an audience, even if that audience is just ourselves or an instructor. Learning to write to an audience is important. In the workplace, employees must write appropriately to coworkers, bosses, and customers. A machine is not an audience. A machine cannot react to, learn from, or take to heart ideas conveyed in writing. So, writing to a machine makes writing pointless.

Giving Inferior Feedback

In addition to being pointless, writing to a machine may also yield misleading feedback.  When Herrington and Moran analyzed the feedback Criterion gave a sample essay, they found inaccuracies. For example, the program flagged e.g. as a misspelling (7). Because the essay’s introduction was inductive (going from specific to general), the program couldn’t detect the presence of any introduction. In all, 95 percent of the mistakes the program flagged in development/organization, grammar, spelling, style, and mechanics weren’t mistakes (8). This inferior feedback is likely to harm rather than help writers.

Even if the accuracy of the feedback from computers has improved since 2010, when Herrington and Moran wrote their article, another problem remains. It seems that grading programs discourage deviations from formulaic kinds of writing, such as five-paragraph essays. Formulas are easier for computers to identify. Although formulaic writing may be effective when responding to standardized writing test prompts and when in middle school, good writers write in more sophisticated ways, especially in high school and college. Encouraging formulaic writing could be detrimental to writers in the end.

A third problem is that, as far as I know, computers don’t praise specific aspects of writing. This is problematic because positive feedback shows what students do well, helping them continue to use their strengths and encouraging efforts to become stronger writers.

 

I’m not against using technology in writing, just in grading it. Let’s not make writing assignments pointless and allow inaccurate and negative feedback to hinder writers’ growth. Computers can’t replace human readers in school effectively.  

Work Cited: Herrington, Anne and Charles Moran. “Writing to a Machine is Not Writing At All.” Digital Is. September 24, 2010. PDF file.

Photo: Valley Library (Oregon State University), Flickr Creative Commons

 

Darla Word

About Darla Word

I'm a writing tutor and editor from Michigan. My favorite subject to write about is writing because making better writers is my calling. I also enjoy reading, singing, swimming, and cardmaking.

Darla Word

Top Posts | Education Technology

Teachers Advised Adoption of Technology

We now live in a digital age. Our world is basically run by technology on a variety levels in multiple settings and disciplines. Wherever we look, whatever we do, the impact of technology is apparent and undeniable.As we move forward, our use and reliance on technology will only increase and if we ...

Embracing Discovery Education Technology

Anyone who has spent some time browsing through different channels on cable TV looking for something good to watch on a lazy day has most likely stumbled on the Discovery Channel, one of the better known education channels that feature a huge variety of topics that cover the sciences, nature, healt ...

9 Hot Jobs of 2015 in the US

There is an ebb and flow to popularity and trends in every aspect of life. Especially with the internet, what’s in and what’s not travels to all corners of the globe at lightening quick speeds. Whether it’s the newest thing in music, the latest fashion trend, or the most popular t ... ...

Is Educational Software a Good Thing?

Education is rapidly catching up with the technological revolution, and educational software now forms a key element of regular lesson plans.  Homework and revision even takes place over the internet using interactive software packages, rather than traditional books and written test papers.&nb ... ...

Apple Watch to Aid Special Education

The way technology has progressed in the past few years is nothing short of miraculous. There was a time when the computer was the hot new machine that everyone was raving about. Then came smartphones, which boasted almost all the features of a computer in a palm friendly body. And while the world ...

Results are the Only Thing that Matters in Ed-Tech

The use of technology for an improved learning experience, or ed-tech, has become a hot topic in today’s world of education. Ed-tech makes use of several tools, such as multimedia and networking, to enhance the quality and delivery of education. At the end of the day, the only thing that real ... ...

Special Students Are Being Ignored in Edu Tech

Physically challenged people are “special” in a sense because they lack the functionality of one or more sense(s) that “normal” people often take for granted. People with disabilities are in such a physical condition, not because they chose to be that way but because they we ... ...

6 Examples of Assistive Technology in the Classroom

The idea of including special needs children in the regular classroom has become the backbone of many school systems. Researchers believe that inclusion helps to create well-balanced individuals and an excellent learning environment. However, this can be challenging for teachers as they have to seg ...