This past week, we discovered in depth the world of online learning and realized how many countless sources exist for this particular type of learning. Most of the new technology out there makes life easier, more efficient, and more effective. However, there do seem to be some boundaries as to what is just too far for technology. I mean, what’s next? – Robots replacing teachers? Well, believe it or not (sorry for stealing your thunder, Ripley), there are advocates in our world for replacing teachers with robots to help grade papers and essays. While some may think, “heck yea, that sounds pretty cool,” I think it’s safe to say most (at least students) find this idea a little ludicrous, if you will.
I perused my way through my reader and stumbled upon an article title that caught my eye, “Providing Students with Feedback: Instructor or Machine?”
And sure enough, it’s as simple as that- artificial intelligence has been created to grade essays. Now, I feel no desire to bash this idea, for this is a pretty incredible concept and hey, the sky is the limit. Also, we aren’t dealing with any dummies here- the creators of this intelligence are from Harvard and M.I.T. (so I have no room for smack-talk). But, as an undergraduate student myself and someone who takes pride in and has fun with my writing (yea, yea, I know my writing’s not that good), I simply can’t bring myself to believe having a computer grade my writing, as opposed to a real human being, is beneficial. After-all, if I’m putting in long, hard hours of coffee-infused thoughts into my writing for significant portions of my cherished grades, I want another person with thoughts, feelings, and emotions to reflect upon my paper (I hope there aren’t any robots reading my post right now!).
I couldn’t agree more with Debbie (the author of the listed article above) when she stated her main argument: “My argument is that undergraduate students need constructive and specific feedback to develop their writing and critical thinking skills, and a massive course such as a MOOC cannot provide it.” Right on, Debbie! I truly value the specific and detailed responses I’ve received over the years on my essays and writing skills, originating back in high school. I believe real critiques from real individuals has strengthened not only my writing, but my understanding of others’ views and thought processes. For example, I remember writing what I thought was a superb essay for a political science course my freshman year (one for which I put in a lot of effort). To my surprise, my T.A. gave me a B+ (c’mon, I deserved at least an A-). Anyhow, I learned something very valuable in that experience- not everyone has the same views and beliefs, making each grader a unique provider of expertise and wisdom. So, I’m actually happy I only received a B+ (kind of refreshing, actually) because it gave me a new perspective on writing and grading, and if a computer or robot would have graded that paper, I wouldn’t have appreciated the feedback nearly as much.
Long story short: I don’t believe computers, robots, or artificial intelligence (I say robots) can provide the deep, inspiring, intellectual, and compassionate reflections and responses that teachers and professors can (but hey, I’m only human). The human mind possesses magnificent abilities to think abstractly and eminently and computers aren’t designed for thinking outside-the-box- they’re meant for black and white, yes or no answers. And writing has no black and white areas- it’s a form of art. What one person thinks is junk is another man’s treasure and I don’t believe we should subject students’ writing skills to be judged by blinking lights and beeping buttons. As I said before, technology has its time and place, and I am not skeptical enough to claim that this robotic paper grading can never be mastered and find its place- the world just isn’t ready for it today.