Robo-readers: the new teachers' helper in the U.S.

Thu Mar 29, 2012 5:21pm EDT
 
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By Stephanie Simon

(Reuters) - American high school students are terrible writers, and one education reform group thinks it has an answer: robots.

Or, more accurately, robo-readers - computers programmed to scan student essays and spit out a grade.

The theory is that teachers would assign more writing if they didn't have to read it. And the more writing students do, the better at it they'll become - even if the primary audience for their prose is a string of algorithms.

That sounds logical to Mark Shermis, dean of the College of Education at the University of Akron. He's helping to supervise a contest, set up by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, that promises $100,000 in prize money to programmers who write the best automated grading software.

"If you're a high school teacher and you give a writing assignment, you're walking home with 150 essays," Shermis said. "You're going to need some help."

But help from a robo-reader?

"Wow," said Thomas Jehn, director of the Harvard College Writing Program. He paused a moment.

"It's horrifying," he said at last.   Continued...

 
An artist's impression shows a fictional robo-teacher. American high school students are terrible writers, and one education reform group thinks it has an answer: robots. Or, more accurately, robo-readers - computers programmed to scan student essays and spit out a grade. REUTERS/Brice Hall