‘Robot’ computer to mark English essays

The owner of one of England’s three major exam boards is to introduce artificial intelligence-based automated marking of English exam essays in the UK from next month.
Pearson, the American-based parent company of Edexcel (known as London Exams in Malta), is to use computers to “read” and assess essays for international English tests in a move that has fuelled speculation.
All three exam boards are now investing heavily in e-assessment but none has yet perfected a form of marking essays using computers – or “robots” – that it is willing to use in mainstream exams. Academics and leaders in the teaching profession said that using machines to mark papers would create a “disaster waiting to happen”.
Computers have been programmed to scan the papers, recognise the possible right responses and tot up the marks. Pearson claims this will be more accurate than human marking.
Although we live in a ‘technological’ society, I believe that technology can never replace human jobs in certain areas. In my opinion, this is one of them and I am very skeptic about the whole idea that computers can mark essays, where a number of multiple answers can be given in response to the same question. Keeping all this in mind, one has to ask the question, “How can a computer interpret profound human thought and judge if it is right or wrong?”

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8 thoughts on “‘Robot’ computer to mark English essays

  1. >I feel that this is taking technology a step too far! A robot or computer can give you back what you have programmed it to do. It can check spelling, grammar and syntax. It can correct multiple choice questions. It may probably be a reliable assessor of mathematical tasks. But correcting essays? Sounds a tad far fetched to me! A robot or computer is devoid of human emotions and thoughts. Essay questions can be tackled in various ways and viewed from multiple view points. Human emotions can be expressed on paper or word processor. How can that be assessed by a computer? ‘A disaster waiting to happen’ may be an understatement. I think that the students’ failing rates will be much higher if this system is introduced.

  2. >This was very interesting to read. I am very skeptical of this procedure and cannot at all make out how it is possible to have a machine correcting essays. It is true that essay-questions are oftentimes the hardest to correct and definitely time-consuming…but where would our job after all end up if we were to hand such correction to machine? Moreover, how could a robot appreciate the idiosyncracies of a person's writing, the framework created by the writer, the linking of one idea to another, the coherence? Due to the fact that I do not know much about the way the robot has been programmed to correct, I cannot give a definite judgement about it after all. I can only say that it is hard to believe that such a thing could work. Even though correction is one of the many tasks of a teacher, and it is not always a very enjoyable one either, I can only say that correcting a piece of writing in itself involves a degree of art appreciation after all. Where is this going to take us…shall we have robots going to art museums eventually to put forward their critique about a piece of art? I wonder!

  3. >This is a very intersting subject, but keeping in mind Mcast students, I think that employing such a technology would mean a much larger number of failures. I am thinking in context of Mcast students. Further to what Priscilla said, I think AI research has gone very far, but not that far to top the deficiency level of some students. Although it may facilitate the teacher's job, I think at the end it will introduce a number of new problems.

  4. >I was interested in this particular blog because I could see a correlation between marking essays and marking art work. Essay writing can be seen as a creative activity, same as producing a sketchbook (in some ways a visual essay). In both cases the writer or the artist expresses his or her creativity through that production, a production that reflects his self expression. How could a robot ever be programmed to assess creativity or expression of that creativity? A human being who is trying to assess a work of art cannot just look for specific elements in it and ignore the individuality of the artist. It takes sensitivity and experience. The same goes I feel for someone who is marking an English essay. I agree with what Suzanne above said. He cannot just look at the grammar, spelling and syntax. The writer’s expression of his viewpoints, thoughts, feelings, emotions, hopes etc. have to be evaluated by a human mind. As Priscilla said, a level of art appreciation is required – I find it difficult to believe that a robot could ever be programmed to appreciate creativity and expression.

  5. >Quite an interesting reaad, questioning whether robots can replace humans at correcting essays… it reminds me of a current drive to have a full team of robots challenge a world-class football team in 2050. What we cannot deny is that progress in AI is continually on the rise, even though machines are still a far cry from imitating a human's range of emotion and imagination. While it may seem unlikely at present, I think there's no telling how things may change in like 20 or 30 years from now.

  6. >@ Mark. I agree with most of what you say, that we can never be sure of what might be next as technology advances have shown that we should always expect the unexpected. We should always be prepared to accept changes and accept also the fact that they may actually be an improvement over what we have at present.But in this case I still have some doubts, especially if I look at it from a student’s point of view. If I were the student taking the exam, knowing that my work is going to be assessed by a robot, how would that affect me? Would it perhaps kill my initiative or my motivation to produce a super essay, to express my personality and individuality? Or would I just play things safely and make sure I meet the robot’s expectations and not stray beyond the required level, as long as I get a pass mark? Anything else I might feel was a bit of a wasted effort. And if I was going to play things safely, how would that affect my performance through the school year and my preparation for the exam? Many artisan skills have been lost through automation. It’s alright for footballers to take up the challenge and tackle the robots – all’s fair in sports and commercialism. But somehow I feel that an English essay (or a work of art) is rather a different kettle of fish (or robotics!).

  7. >This blog has been very interesting and seems to highlight clearly the drastic change that the teacher’s role is going through. One can see that we are moving away from the classroom and the human contact to e-learning which is more impersonal and somewhat distant. Technology seems to be taking over our lives and sometimes one wonders if it is such a positive factor. Is it possible that now not even corrections will be done by the teacher? I am not convinced that such a move would benefit the student.On the other hand I must also agree with Pricilla when she said that as we do not know the exact mechanics of it all, one can only wonder at how it will work out. I am sure that when machines started doing work done by manual employees there was a lot of scepticism on the employees’ part. Who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see.

  8. >Subjectivity is the whole point of the subject of English. Eliminating it is to eliminate creativity in thinking and to create rigidity. A computer can not give an opinion on whether Thackeray's Vanity Fair is a better book than Charles Dickens's David Copperfield. It can not judge a review stating one or other viewpoint.It can be used for Maths, where there is a single correct answer and anything other than that answer is wrong, but not English!

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