At a recent conference, I ate lunch opposite an entrepreneur who invented a company that helps colleges grade student essays via the Internet. For example, as the classroom instructor, I could give feedback to students’ first drafts. They could do a peer review on the next revision, and then send that version to the online tool to be graded by live, qualified individuals who respond in fewer than 24 hours. Then I would grade their final draft. Besides lightening my grading load, this process also gives students up to three reading audiences for one essay. After some lively debate, I left the table with one point this entrepreneur made resonating in my head: “Teachers need to identify what they do better than technology. Then they need to cultivate that and let technology do the rest.”
He argued that historically across industries, technology has increased productivity and reduced costs. He pointed out that education mostly uses technology as an alternate delivery method. Again, he told us, “Teachers need to identify what they do better than technology. Then they need to cultivate that and let technology do the rest.”
My colleague and I discussed it on the car ride home. I talked to my husband…Bored my friends with it…Dreamt about it…A world in which a portion of the grading process could be subcontracted out...A world in which I am the Master Teacher, and my time is a valued commodity not to be spent grading fill-in-the-blank vocabulary tests. On some levels, it’s intoxicating. On other levels, I’m intimidated.
I already believe in mastery quizzing; if the answers on an assessment should be the same for every student, I already have it on my class web enhancement. It takes an investment of time up front to load a multiple choice quiz into software, but watching students practice repeatedly with the instant feedback has convinced me my time is well spent on the effort. What do I do better than technology in this instance? Well, sometimes, I like to write the content myself. Not all the time…some grammar practice is universal, and I use other sources liberally. Sometimes, however, I want to customize content to my students or our particular needs at that time, and I use my expertise to do so.
I’m more uncomfortable with the idea of using standardized technology tools to help with grading student essays. I argued that I “pay witness” to students’ incremental growth by responding to each stage of their drafts myself. Is that true or merely narcissistic? Do I believe it matters that I read everything myself just because that’s what I’ve told myself to get through pile after pile? Would it be so terrible to let students have a mix of authorities read their essays through the writing process even if some of those authorities are people neither I nor my students ever meet?
If technology truly grows into assessment over the next few years, what do I do “better than technology?” The question has buzzed around my head because I identify much of my teaching with my assessment of the writing process. To see a movement (not that anyone’s offering to buy my department this tool) on the horizon that takes over parts of the assessment process intimidates me a little. If someone else lightened the assessment load, what would I put in its place as a writing instructor? I can be heard clucking my tongue, saying things like, “There’s so much I never get to,” but am I ready to get to it? Would it be an opportunity or the end of personalized feedback and an intimate learning process?co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher