Evaluating student work can be tedious and time consuming. You may be able to quickly
correct true/false and multiple-choice
tests, but grading essays takes more
time. Checking the grammar, spelling,
and formatting is straightforward, but
evaluating a writer’s organization and
the use of logic, compelling statements, style, and tone are more subjective. Documenting feedback for the
student is another step for teachers.
Can machines take over any or
all of these tasks? Word processors
can quickly check for spelling and
grammatical errors, but that’s typically where the functionality ends.
The tools listed here focus on helping teachers grade essays. They also
provide a way for students to improve
their work during the writing process.
Tools of the Trade
Essay Tagger is a cloud-based application that inserts reusable comments
for organization, style, and mechanics. Teachers can customize pop-up
rubrics and easily analyze data about
T. A. Toolbar is a downloadable application that floats a small toolbar
over a Word document. When the
teacher notes an error, the app inserts
a URL with an explanation of the
error. A customizable comment generator addresses the five default competency areas of thesis, organization,
development, style, and mechanics.
Writing Roadmap 2.0 uses comments
and URLs to address narrative, informative, descriptive, and argumentative
essay styles. It also includes specific
strategies for working with English language learners and struggling writers.
Criterion includes an extensive
library of essay assignments and planning templates to enhance an existing
Educational Testing Service
T. A. Toolbar
Turnitin is best known for its ability
to scan millions of documents to help
teachers identify plagiarism, but it is also
a powerful tool for adding voice comments and inserting customized edits.
Teachers can evaluate a paper as a
whole, absorb its impact, and make
suggestions for improvement. They
can assess the effectiveness of an argument and the emotional, suspenseful,
or thought-provoking effect. Can a software program do this? Most of us would
say no, but surprising new technologies
are coming closer to doing just that.
IntelliMetric uses artificial intelligence
and “natural language processing” to
detect sentences that are off topic or lack
proper development. It models a human
rating process and employs multiple
automated scoring systems based on
previously scored essays. Its cognitive
model of information processing is also
known as “brain-based” processing.
EdX, founded by the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and Harvard
University, offers tuition-free courses
online and uses artificial intelligence
to develop an even more sophisticated
“auto-grader” with instantaneous results and lofty claims. Critics abound,
but results are promising.
The combination of teacher and
machine is a powerful alliance. Essay
grading software is getting better at
scoring the mechanics of writing and
providing teachers with time-saving
comment generators, built-in rubrics,
and URL references to help students
learn from their mistakes.
So far, though, even the most effective tools can’t appreciate an insightful
and creative departure from an accepted writing convention the way a
human teacher can.
—Maureen Yoder, EdD, is on the faculty of Lesley
University’s Educational Technology Program.