Wednesday, April 25, 2012

News that isn't

Yikes.  I know it's not a particularly professional response to what I'm reading this morning, but it's honest.  I guess I could go with 'wow' or 'how frustratingly short-sighted,' but I think I'll stick with the mono-syllabic expression of shock and alarm that preserves the element of humor.  A bit of humor and a strong dose of get-a-grip seems helpful when reading that tools can do some things better than people (gasp!) and how that's all well and good right up until the trite we-can't-let-machines-replace-us fear is invoked.  

It may be the slightest bit hypocritical and/or short-sighted to be thankful for a hammer (which works far better than the heel of my shoe...) or a screwdriver (try using's not pretty) and bemoan tools that specifically--and selectively--affect my own profession.  What has me a bit ruffled this morning is the NPR article which opens with this paragraph:
Computers have been grading multiple-choice test in schools for years.  To the relief of English teachers everywhere, essays have been tougher to gauge.  But look out, teachers:  A new study finds that software designed to automatically read and grade essays can do as good a job as humans--maybe even better.
It doesn't get a lot better from there, as the NPR article continues to sound the alarm about the tool, how students might game the tool, and the danger(s) of using the tool to replace both good teaching and good teachers.  Credibility is lent to the NPR article through judicious quotes from (with requisite links to) a New York Times article about a study conducted at the University of Akron.

The scary part is this:  The NPR story was largely based on an interview with the author of the New York Times article.  But only the reader (not the listener..) who takes the time to read the NPR article, follow the links to the New York Times article, and then follow those links to the original source will find this:
Shermis, the lead author of the Akron study, says thrift-minded administrators and politician should not take his results as ammunition in a crusade to replace composition instructors with...robots.  Ideally, educators at all levels would use the software 'as a supplement for overworked [instructors of] entry-level writing courses, where students are really learning fundamental writing skills and can use all the feedback they can get.' "
At this point, I have so many browser windows open (love this tool!) that I'm having a bit of trouble keeping them in the order that makes sense to me.  But by now I also have access (because of this amazing tool...) to the original study conducted at the University of Akron.

I can read the study for myself and draw my own conclusions, conclusions which are likely to be far more similar to those of the lead author than those of the NPR writer who does not quote or reference the original work--at all.  Yikes.

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