Who needs TAs anyway?

At the AAA this year I heard a lot of stories about the economic downturn, including hiring freezes and schools which have fired all their adjunct faculty. Many schools are also cutting back on TAs. What this means is larger sections with less personal attention from faculty. One way to handle this might be to create some innovative teaching methods, like those which got Mike Wesch the 2008 Best US Professor of the Year award, but why change if you don’t have to? A much better approach is to automate what you already do, as University of Missouri-Columbia sociology professor Ed Brent did.

Browsing Facebook this morning I saw an advertisement for Brent’s SAGrader service which is touted as the “the only completely instructor-directed automated essay grader that assesses the actual content of student writing and then compares it to instructor-specified criteria.”

SAGrader works by scanning data for keywords, phrases and various terms selected by the instructor. The program examines each essay, making sure content and terms expected by the instructor were included and appropriately used in the assignment. Students submit their essays online using a Web browser, immediately receiving scores and comments about their work.

Now if only I can get a version that reads Chinese…

UPDATE: More here:

In Brent’s class, sophomore Brady Didion submitted drafts of his papers numerous times to ensure his final version included everything the computer wanted.

“What you’re learning, really, is how to cheat the program,” he said.