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Seeds: To the machine

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 9th, 2013




At least the news made major headlines last week, even if no one wanted to read it.

A new machine has the ability to grade papers, and it will give teachers the opportunity to do other things, according to reports. EdX, a Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded nonprofit enterprise, has introduced software that uses “artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks.” The EdX assessment tool requires “human teachers” to grade 100 essays or essay questions, and then the system uses “machine-learning techniques” to teach itself to grade “essays or answers automatically and almost instantaneously.” A grade is assigned following the teacher’s scoring system, and the system provides additional feedback, like whether an answer was on topic.

Or maybe how helpful it would be to have a teacher, one of those human kinds.

A machine, a computer program claiming to replicate a human’s ability to judge an essay, a term paper or a Tuesday column in concept is flawed, and will only carry such inappropriate intentions into practical application. It is a solution for an imaginary problem and a luxury that will create an end of times or a new beginning. The machine could never care about words because it is silly to offer humanity to something without a heartbeat, but, then again, a teacher full of passion, courage and correctness once struck with a red pen because that was duty and it was never cast aside.

Professionals Against Machine Scoring of Student Essays in High-Stakes Assessment, a group fighting to protect writing traditions, released a statement against the technology that the even the likes of Noam Chomsky allegedly supports.

“Let’s face the realities of automatic essay scoring,” the group stated. “Computers cannot ‘read.’ They cannot measure the essentials of effective written communication: accuracy, reasoning, adequacy of evidence, good sense, ethical stance, convincing argument, meaningful organization, clarity, and veracity, among others.”

The current state of education is under rapid change, and, like the new machine, much of the concept is flawed and the problems imagined. With every passing grade, now of both teacher and student, these adapted and pending techniques, reactions and effects are making both student and teacher machines with fluttering pulses. If reading essays and term papers are no longer a teacher’s priority, why should the student do anything more then satisfy the machine? Why should the student present in 1,000 or less of his or her own words what the teacher collaborated, evaluated and re-taught for the student to understand?

In another time, chronic exposure to one teacher’s passion for writing made more sense after reading those headlines about writing machines. With a leaky southern drawl, he hissed out words often inaudible before striking his hand on the wooden podium and hollering, “Powerful, powerful, powerful!” It didn’t matter if it was Fitzgerald or Stuart Motley the Third, a rather antagonizing fellow who sat in the front of the class, if he was “moved,” and he often allowed himself to be so. He would prattle on until the air ran out of his tires about words, and how they define man for they are only his and his alone to employ.

That teacher and all the writing, reading, discussion and red marks made a difference in at least one life, but that was before the machine could read papers and the teacher needed to free up time to do something else besides grade papers. Those essays and poems covered in red are slowly fading away and might rightly be the last of their kind, never hearing a word about taking the most profound ability man has and turning it over to the machine.












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