Check out an e-mail I just received today from a Pearson representative. I can get paid $250.00 and have two essay assignments graded for me, if I turn over my students’ papers for the benefit of Pearson’s computer grading scheme! I just learned about these scamtastic software packages last night via a comment that Indyanna left on my previous post. Professor Pushbutton, here we come!
I am emailing you regarding a class project that may be of interest to you. For this project, Pearson is looking for instructors of the U.S. History course who are interested in integrating writing assignments into their course.
. . . . .
Pearson is developing a computer-assisted grading program that will accurately auto-grade brief writing assignments. The program uses specific rubrics and writing prompts to achieve computer grading accuracy. For the program to work correctly, thousands of student essays are scored by hand and loaded into the system. By doing this, the system “learns” how to grade essay questions. This system has been successfully introduced into a number of course areas, and Pearson is now bringing this technology to the history market.
I am writing to see if you would be interested in helping us to build the bank of student essays needed to develop the product. Pearson will provide you with a choice of writing prompts and rubrics, two of which you would assign in your course during the spring 2012. The students will enter their essays through an online portal. These will be graded by a subject matter expert and the grades will be sent to you. These essays will also be used to create the auto-grading functionality mentioned above.
In exchange for your help and time, you will receive a $250 honorarium. In addition, you will have had 2 essay assignments graded for you.
If you are interested in working on this project, please let me know by return email. I will then send you the list of writing assignments for you to select the two assignments you wish to use in your course. This is a very simple way to include additional short essays into your Summer/Spring course.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Dear Pearson Person:
I’d rethink that sign-off if I were you. I don’t think you’re going to be happy when you’re through hearing from me! But don’t worry: no one reads my stupid blog anyway.
I do my best teaching at a dramatically underfunded public R-1, so you’d think that I’d leap at the chance to outsource my work and get paid $250.00. (After all, that’s $250.00 more than all of the raises I’ve not had for the past four years put together!) But seriously, friend: do you really think I’m as soulless and as cheap as an educrat? Even if you had, say, a decent sum of money, like $750,000 to offer me, I wouldn’t sell a single byte of my students’ intellectual property to you, because it’s their work, not mine. I also have serious qualms about shuffling off what I see as my responsibility to my students and colleagues to come up with my own essay topics and mark them myself. What can I say? I’m the only person who has to look at this mug in the mirror every morning.
Secondly, although I’m sure you know that I’m dramatically underpaid for the work that I do, my work has real value, and even if I’m the only person who believes this, at least I can sleep at night knowing that a human with a heart and a brain and 16 years of experience has evaluated my students’ writing. My students may not care if their grader has a Ph.D., a book, and several other publications to her name, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve thought longer and harder about evaluating student writing than any of your software designers. Call me a luddite, or a
locolocascholastic–like a locolocavore, we think it’s more responsible and better for us to teach and grade locally.
I’ve got a question for you: who is your target audience for this software? Amherst College? Stanford? Yale? No??? How come?
Finally, from what I understand, these essay grading software packages are piss-poor, and are guaranteed in my view only to further degrade the quality of education by teaching students not how to write effective essays, but rather writerly-like tricks to fool your computers. I just don’t see where it’s in either my short-term or my long-term best interests to encourage you in the path that you’re on. The fact is that I can’t be replaced by “Professor Pushbutton,” and I see no reason to assist you in selling the lie than I can be.
Now git along now and don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you–