Are Computers Replacing Teachers?

Imagine a time when not only the multiple choice section of your test is graded by a computer but also the free response section. That time is now.


EdX, a nonprofit founded by Harvard and MIT, has joined a small group of companies that are now making this cutting edge technology available. EdX is one of many other software companies that provides online courses from major universities often called MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses). As time goes on the traditional classroom is moving further away from a physical place and joining the digital world. The beauty of an online course is that you may participate from any location with an Internet connection and thus education is more readily available.


Learning from an online course, however, is much different than submitting your final essay for a class to a software program for grading. One reason to use this software is to free teachers from grading responsibilities and to allow them to focus more heavily on teaching. Professors also may be able to teach more students if the grading is completed by a software program rather than by hand. A second argument for the adoption of this software is that it allows for an immediate critique of the written work, thus allowing the writer to have a better chance to improve the piece. A student can submit an essay, get immediate feedback, and then proceed to redraft the piece and submit it again to see if his or her grade improved.

One may wonder how the software grader compares to a teacher. The process begins when human teachers evaluate one hundred essays. The software then takes this data and uses it to grade future essays. Those involved with the software development believe that it is approaching the abilities of a human grader. The president of EdX said, “This is machine learning and there is a long way to go, but it’s good enough and the upside is huge. We found that the quality of the grading is similar to the variation you find from instructor to instructor.” In Indiana, for example, the software is being used to double check the accuracy of human graders.

Many academic professionals are opposed to the idea of a software program grading students’ written pieces. These individuals have strong and credible reasons to prefer a teacher rather than a software program. We must remember, however, that many of the critics come from prestigious academic programs where the graders are superior to any software program and that not all academic programs are fortunate to have superior teachers. In some schools it may be extremely beneficial to implement this software grading system to increase efficiency, allow immediate feedback for students, and have a consistent grading system.


7 thoughts on “Are Computers Replacing Teachers?

  1. This grading system seems pretty outrageous to me. The teachers need to grade because only they know what they covered in class, talked about, and stressed to the students. Also there are so many different writing styles that a computer couldn’t possibly evaluate free response answers fairly. From my experience people tend to sound completely different over text which is how I imagine a computer would read a response. If the free response is meant to tug at the heart strings how can a computer evaluate it when it has no feelings? I disagree with the “superior” professor concept. How can you measure if a professor is “superior” or not. It seems to me that all universities have both good and bad teachers regardless of the school’s rank and status. It’s just very subjective. My mom is a professor and she is an amazing teacher but she teaches at Rockland Community College. Who’s to say she isn’t better at grading than a computer just because the college isn’t prestigious. I found your work compelling and it’s a very interesting topic. I also liked the poll. I would’ve liked to see a bit more analysis.

  2. This blog does a very nice job of giving both sides of the coin for this controversial issue. Personally, I dislike the idea of computers grading essays because I would find it very hard to trust a computer’s ability to appreciate style and strength of ideas. However, the point you raised about consistency does seem like a valuable reason to implement such technology. With course registration just around the corner, we all hear the talk of students look for the teachers who are easy grades and have a low difficulty rating on peps. If all classes were graded by a computer, everyone could be fairly judged in the same way, making classes grades and GPA’s more universal.

    The idea of using human teacher graded essays sounds, in some ways, a lot like the the Cinematch technology that Netflix uses to recommend movies. Once real people have evaluated enough essays (or movies) the computer can do it for us. This parallel, along with the double-edged sword of implementing such technology, gives your post a lot of relevance to class discussions.

    Lastly, I can’t help but think of how this will apply to standardized testing. We probably all remember when the SAT added the writing portion with an essay graded by a person. How long until the SAT is once again graded completely by a computer? Overall, this is a very nice blog post!

  3. Like the other commenters, I also dislike the idea of computers grading essays. However, I also agree with you that in some instances it might be useful. If BC were to tell me that my essays were going to be graded by a computer I would be outraged. I don’t want to use the cliche BC saying of “I pay $60k a year to go here” but you have to think about it. Listening to lectures is one thing, but the best times to get feedback from our professors is usually their critique on our writing. However, like John mentioned above, it might be beneficial in the case of standardize testing. This could eliminate some of the discrepancies between the thousands of graders of say the SATs or ACTs. I am not surprised that this technology has become available, it is definitely useful. Great post!

  4. I found this topic actually very interesting and kind of alarming at the same time! I think you did an awesome job setting up your blog and making an analysis of the article. I have to agree with Courtney in that this technology may only be really suited for standardized testing. A big part of writing sometimes can be the emotional appeals in it, and I feel like it would be much more difficult for a machine to pick up on any sort of emotional appeal that the writer might make. With that said, I think that this technology can be very helpful. I think that rather than universities or institutions using this technology to grade papers, it should be used to critique papers the way described above. Students should be able to submit drafts and get feedback from the machine, but the end product should ultimately be graded by a real person, preferably the person teaching the class. Great job, Taylor!!

  5. I also agree with previous comments that state that grading should be left to the teachers. Throughout my time as a student I have learned that there is not one set way to write an essay. So much depends on what you are learning and the teacher themselves. Every subject has a different way to write as an english essay would not be graded the same as an history essay as each stress different things as more important than others. Also each teacher has different things they are looking for which is usually based on what and how they are teaching. This program right now probably cannot be individualized to each teacher rather it would take a general idea of what an essay should look like which I believe will harm more students grades than help. I also like the fact of having my teacher who taught me the information grading my essay and seeing if I learned the topic rather than some computer program just spitting out the critiqued essay.

  6. Going along with the other comments, I do not think that computers should be put in charge of grading papers. Actually, I do not think it is a good idea at all. There are some things that a computer can do better than humans. I do not think that this is one of them. The benefits of having a teacher grade a paper is that they know what was taught in class, they are able to recognize a good idea in a paper that they were not expecting to see, and they can make important comment, critiques, and recommendations. I do not think that a computer can do this, or at least do it as well as a human teacher.

  7. A lot of these comments are focused on not allowing computers to grade papers. And to an extent, I agree. But to your point in your blog, I think that it really depends on the kind of institution and the location. The beauty of this technology is that it can provide an education to people around the world, despite geographical boundaries or limits of a country’s education resources. Additionally, even if the school is still in the United States, it could be in a more impoverished region where the funding for education is low. Therefore a software like this could again improve the educational experience. Nonetheless, I do agree that a software will ever replace the grading of a teacher. If it did, why would we be paying the money we are to attend BC? We wouldn’t. There is obviously irreplaceable value to a classroom experience, but I do think we have to keep in mind that not everyone is as fortunate. Nice post!

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