Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Proffie 1, Robo-Reader 0

In the ongoing saga of proffie vs. machine, score one for the proffies.  According to a New York Times article by Michael Winerip, Les Perelman of MIT managed to fool ETS's e-Rater with an essay that hilariously mashes-up an argument claiming that high college costs are the fault of overpaid TAs and one in favor of the 5-paragaph essay.  The essay includes the following paragraph:
Teaching assistants are paid an excessive amount of money. The average teaching assistant makes six times as much money as college presidents. In addition, they often receive a plethora of extra benefits such as private jets, vacations in the south seas, a staring roles in motion pictures. Moreover, in the Dickens novel Great Expectation, Pip makes his fortune by being a teaching assistant. It doesn't matter what the subject is, since there are three parts to everything you can think of. If you can't think of more than two, you just have to think harder or come up with something that might fit. An example will often work, like the three causes of the Civil War or abortion or reasons why the ridiculous twenty-one-year-old limit for drinking alcohol should be abolished. A worse problem is when you wind up with more than three subtopics, since sometimes you want to talk about all of them.
The NYT article also includes useful links to recent coverage of a study claiming that machine scoring is about as reliable as human scoring.  Personally, I like Marc Bousquet's explanation in the Chronicle: the problem is that the humans are teaching overly-mechanical genres in the first place, partly in response to standardized tests, and partly because they're easier for overwhelmed instructors to grade.    


  1. I remember trying to come up with a third thing to write about in high school five-paragraph essays. Let me see, I've got rain as a symbol. And I can say something about mornings. So I'll center my paper on meteorology in the novel. But what does night mean? What other weather is mentioned? Damn. I need a third point. I'll search the text for something about temperatures, humidity or night time. I'm sure I'll find something...

    1. Dew point

      Yeah, that's the ticket. There's a guy in the novel named Dewey. He represents something or other, I'm sure, and his name is a symbol of morning and moisture, perhaps like tears, the sadness that awaits the protagonist. Or tears of hope for the new day. I'll start writing. I need an introductory sentence, three content sentences and a paragraph conclusion. I think I've got enough for a B. Thanks.

  2. Awesome! Though I laughed harder at the paragraph before that used 'staying on one topic' as a non-sequitur. Brilliant.

  3. Damn, I wish the stuff about TAs getting high salaries and luxurious perks were true. Then I might not resent grading so many god-awful student essays.

  4. To quote Bing Crosby*, "Holy Jesus Christ!"

    The person/s who invent a robo-reader that actually works will be rich. The rest of us will be fucked. Anyone teach online courses where the content's already there, and all you have to do is be available to answer questions during "office hours" and do the grading? Once they can robo-grade, that's it for us, except as "content creators." And how many of those do you think they're going to need once Douchebag David Brooks' NCLB College Achievement Test is what students have to pass to get their BA/BS?

    To echo ^Bubba, FUCK.

    [*There's an outtake of an AFRS version of "Jingle Bells" where they fuck up and you can hear Bing laughing as he says this in time with the music.]

  5. I'd give that essay an A simply for amusing me.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.