Saturday, April 10, 2010

Outsourced grading

In a world where just about everything seems to have been outsourced it was no surprise to read in the Chronicle of Higher Education that a university in the US is sending student papers to India to be graded (Some papers are uploaded to Bangalore to be graded). Courses with hundreds of students make it impossible for the teachers to do all the grading and so there's now a company that will take strain by sending papers to Indian graduates to grade. The argument in favour of this is that it provides neutral assessment and allows the teachers more time for teaching and discussion with students. Another argument against teachers grading their own students is the risk of subjectivity and favoritism.

In reply to the Chronicle article is a blog post by Dean Dad on Inside Higher Ed, Outsourcing grading, claiming that this type of outsourcing is far from new. Larger universities have always used graduate students to grade undergraduate papers and whether these graduates are on campus or in Bangalore shouldn't really matter much. Neither should we claim that such outsourcing will lead to poorer quality in grading:

"I don't buy the 'quality' argument against it, either. If radiologists in India can read images, and programmers in India can work on developing and fixing incredibly sophisticated software, then surely some smart folks in India can handle some freshman comp papers. Seriously. Other information-based industries have endured outsourcing without the quality of the work suffering. Given the inarguable indifference with which our large universities have handled undergraduate teaching for so long, to suddenly get huffy and puffy about standards is disingenuous at best."

When education resembles industrial mass production as in classes of hundreds it is probably inevitable that industrial methods are used. The academic ideal is a low teacher student ratio but there is seldom the money to finance it. Curiously the smaller (and often less prestigious) institutions are the ones who can often offer closer student teacher contacts.

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