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Posted at 8:38 AM ET, 04/ 8/2010

And now, outsourcing the grading of papers

By Valerie Strauss

Since we outsource just about everything else these days, it was only a matter of time that teachers would start outsourcing the grading of student papers, right?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has this story about how teachers at some colleges and universities -- including the University of Houston -- are doing just that.

Working through a company called EduMetry, which based in Herndon, Va., a suburb of Washington D.C., the teachers send out student papers to graders who are mostly in India, Singapore, and Malaysia.

The idea is that these graders, who are advertised as having advanced degrees, can give more detailed feedback and get the grading done faster than the teachers because the graders are hired to do just this.

Besides, professors often hand off grading chores to graduate students, so, it is said, this is just another step in the getting-someone-else-to-do-it chain. And, it is also said, this practice gives professors more time teaching and developing course materials.

Outsourcing grading isn’t a new concept. Inside Higher Ed had a story five years ago about a pilot program with outsourcing grading by the distance education arm of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, through a different company.

There's a little technicality that bothers me. How exactly are teachers supposed to properly evaluate student performance if they don’t actually spend time reading and grading their work?

Just asking. Tell me what I’m missing.

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 8, 2010; 8:38 AM ET
Categories:  Grades, Higher Education  | Tags:  chronicle and grades, grades, outsourcing education, outsourcing grading, teachers  
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You're not missing anything. This is one more wall put up between the teacher and student. First, they gave us all the time consuming, expensive measuring instruments that tell us what a good teacher can figure out by working directly with a student. Now they want someone who will never have contact with a student to take on a vital part of instruction, that is, the feedback to the student's work.

The big question to ask is--who is making money off this?

Posted by: aed3 | April 8, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately,Valerie, I don't think you're missing much - if anything, on this disturbing trend.

It's one thing to outsource grading on grammatical errors, fill-in-the-blank, basic information or work that is supposed to be assessed by an independent reviewer that doesn't know the student (college essays, for example), but you're right, you're right, you're can't really know the issues with the student in terms of his/her writing ability or content knowledge without monitoring the actual work.

When I was teaching a language class in special education (students with reading and writing disabilities), part of the grading process involved careful diagnostic reading; why was this particular student making certain mistakes?
Often, a pattern would show up, and I could use the mistakes to show the student
where the disability was tripping him up.
I'm sure the same analogy holds for the teacher grading essays: if the teacher
does not know the student or, more importantly, have a relationship with that student,then CARE-FULL teaching cannot take place.

Your article also infers other questions our politicians and accountants and some professors would probably rather not answer:

1. If we have to outsource grading, why are we outsourcing to other countries? We have many, many people in this country with advanced degrees who can do this work and need the work.

2. If we want the teachers to do all
their own grading, AND really know their students, why aren't we getting serious about smaller classes? And I mean very small, no more than 12 or 14, which is what the good private schools have. Seminars might be held with as few as 6 students.

I'm sure the answers to the two above questions involve a lot of money; but many teachers would probably work for smaller wages if they had smaller classes. I did.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | April 8, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

"There's a little technicality that bothers me. How exactly are teachers supposed to properly evaluate student performance if they don’t actually spend time reading and grading their work?"

Well, Valerie, let me take you one step further: if the job of a teacher is simply to convey facts so plain that they can be absorbed and regurgitated in a manner that allows someone 5,000 miles away to accurately assess comprehension and performance, why do we have teachers at all? A textbook or an interactive computer program would serve just as well.

There are very few courses worth taking that can be boiled down to a multiple-choice test. Basic arithmetic, maybe. Possibly some freshmen survey courses at Big State U, where the sheer numbers force them to limit tests and assessments to multiple-guess and fill-in-the-blank. Otherwise, resorting to these kinds of extremely limited assessments is just a cop-out, a complete failure of imagination.

Posted by: laura33 | April 8, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Maybe what you are missing is a "read" of the story. The course that is the focus of the article is a business school course, not English composition 101, and the goal of the course appears to be the instruction of business law and ethics (a challenge in itself since these could easily be two separate courses).

Often in business schools, courses are tagged as "writing in the discipline", indicating that the students get more opportunities to write and get feedback on their writing (usually because the English composition 101 courses don't do an effective job, and prospective employers ask business schools to find ways to improve the writing of business school grads).

Since the course is "business law and ethics" and is taught by a lawyer, the decision to outsource the feedback for the "writing in the discipline" component of the course seems, not only novel, but quite effective in meeting the varied goals of the course.

But let's pay no attention to the facts, let's just bemoan the "outsourcing of grading" and the demise of higher education in the U.S. - as it is easier than using your brain.

Posted by: rickedelson | April 8, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

"Since the course is "business law and ethics" and is taught by a lawyer, the decision to outsource the feedback for the "writing in the discipline" component of the course seems, not only novel, but quite effective in meeting the varied goals of the course."

Or perhaps the problem lies in asking a single teacher to handle 1,000 students a year in a single "business law and ethics" course -- with a "writing in the discipline" component.

Seriously: 500 students per semester? In a course that deals with issues as critical as compliance with the law and ethical responsibilities? Suddenly, the last few years of Wall Street chaos is beginning to make a lot more sense.

Posted by: laura33 | April 8, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I've never quite understood why it is plagiarism for a student to turn in a paper written by someone else (or using words written by someone else) and it is good teaching for the professor listed as teaching a course to turn it over to a graduate assistant and have graduate assistants do the research for his or her book. And now it is apparently considered quite ethical for the professor to turn the grading over to someone else. Just what are the professors doing to earn their salary?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 9, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I have to agree with rickedelson. One teacher can't grade 1,000 student's papers, but 1,000 students all need to take this class in order to achieve a certain basic level of understanding. If the professor can hire a group to grade his papers and get handed the 50 papers out of 1,000 that need special attention, then good for them. This is NOT about destroying the education system but about making the process of transferring knowledge to many people more efficient and allowing teaching to follow a model that has been successful the rest of the world over in business, the best rise to the top and delegate the more menial tasks to free them up for what is more important, which in this case is reaching more students.

I feel sorry for those who can't see this vision of how things will become in the future because they will hold our children back from a missed opportunity to learn from great people that would otherwise have no reach to them. What's worse? Having your paper graded by a teacher's underling, or not getting to be taught at all?

Posted by: hobbes80 | April 9, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

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