Friday, April 08, 2005

Well, it seems that some enterprising professor [via slashdot] at the University of Missouri has created a computer program to grade his papers for him. The comments on Slashdot are running the course of "if he doesn't read it, I shouldn't write it". I am sympathetic to people who grade papers. They often must read 200+ pages of crap from students. Do not think that since I am sympathetic that I will let them off the hook. They get paid to do this. It is part of the job description. Now having a program to find plagiarism is one thing (use google's remote API + Perl and you are just about good to go. If you do get any hits back, then you can check them out by hand to see if there is any infringing material) but using a program to grade is another. If you dislike it that much, pay a post-grad student to do it for you.

This causes another reaction. If he uses a program to grade, I will use a program to write. If he thinks so poorly of his students that he is unwilling to read their papers, his students should have no ethical problem with saving themselves some time and writing a program to his program. It is all about respect. If he respected his job and the amount those students were paying him, he would do it (or, as I suggested above, get a post-grad to do it). If he does not respect the time and effort put into those papers, his students should not respect his position. A way out of this would be to use it as an instant feed-back loop for the students. He would still read the final product and it would save him some time from looking at draft papers (however, is this not what a writing center on campus is for?).

The more pressing problem is teaching our young writing skills before they reach college. I am going to put this through my own lens from surviving the American Public School System. By the time I had reached college (admittedly early because I passed the college entrance exam), I had no clue how to write a good research paper. Most of the time we used encyclopedias to do that work for us. These were accepted by our teachers and we moved on. This is especially bad for an English class where they should spend less time reading something in class and more time writing papers on the assigned reading. When I was in school, we did not have the internet so doing more sophisticated research was out of the question with our poorly stocked library. However, we can do better by foregoing the encyclopedias and demanding real work with real scholarship out of our high schoolers. What our teachers did was tell us that we needed two or three sources beyond the encyclopedia. What they need to do is tell them that everything needs to be something other than an encyclopedia and give them a bibliography to begin their research (they never did this as far as I can remember) and tell them that they need to have no books from the bibliography in their paper. Most students live in urban areas which have access to university research libraries, which are open to the public. They cannot check anything out but they can have a good time researching and then going to their public library with inter-library loans to get what they need with the added bonus of, for guys, cute college chicks and, for girl, cute college guys.

Is this being to hard on them? Probably but I would rather teachers did their jobs rather than passing them off on the encyclopedia and today on the Internet. I would have hated it back then, of course but now I have the wisdom of experience (read "I screwed up pretty badly") to tell me otherwise. Many of these kids want to go to college so we are bound to at least try to give them the skills they are going to need before they get there.

posted by Chris  #5:31 PM | 0 comments |