Robo-Readers to the Rescue: Providing Instant Feedback

Yesterday, I posted about an article published in Inside Higher Ed titled “A Win for Robo-Readers.” The article covered the findings of a study from the University of Akron, which showed that automated grading software can be used to evaluate writing for grammar and syntax.

I was a bit concerned about some of the comments in the article, but I’m actually very excited about the potential of Robo-Readers for the writing classroom.  But I wouldn’t rely on them necessarily as a grading tool. I want my students to use them as a learning tool. My hope is that eventually, Robo-Readers might be able to evaluate students’ writing for them as they work.

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Robo-Readers to the Rescue

There’s been a lot of buzz lately on my RSS feed about automated essay-grading software, or “Robo-Readers.” Several weeks ago, Inside Higher Ed published an article announcing “A Win for the Robo-Readers.” The article very briefly presented and commented on the results of a study conducted by the University of Akron, which found that Robo-Readers can effectively evaluate student writing on a quantitative level. In other words, they can determine whether sentences follow proper grammar and mechanical rules.

The author of the Akron study and dean of the Akron college of Ed., Mark D. Shermis, admits that comp classes shouldn’t completely rely upon the software for grading. They should be used as a supplement to grading, to ease workloads.

I agreed with the article and with Sermis’ statements about the Robo-Reader tools until the very end of the piece. And then I saw something that I found rather troubling:

The Akron education dean acknowledges that AES software has not yet been able to replicate human intuition when it comes to identifying creativity. But while fostering original, nuanced expression is a good goal for a creative writing instructor, many instructors might settle for an easier way to make sure their students know how to write direct, effective sentences and paragraphs.

“If you go to a business school or an engineering school, they’re not looking for creative writers,” Shermis says. “They’re looking for people who can communicate ideas. And that’s what the technology is best at” evaluating.

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Book Apps: Why are we still calling them books?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “e-book” I automatically think of something that can be read on a Kindle or Nook (or on one of their associated iPad apps). Basically, text that was written for a print medium and slapped into a digital format. Yeh, they’re convenient (I can download one in minutes), they’re cheaper (though only marginally), and they’re more easily accessible (who wants to carry around 50 lbs of books?)… but they aren’t exactly innovative.

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iPad for Planning Writing – Setton University

I’m becoming pretty dependent upon my iPad for taking notes, reading (lots and lots of reading), and managing my calendar/to-do list. But I’d like to start integrating it into my writing work-flow.

I came across Setton Hill University’s ipad initiative page this morning, and found this interesting video about how one professor is using the iPad to help her students plan their writing projects and discuss plot development.

As a part of their Griffin Technology Advantage program, Setton Hill gives iPads to all full-time students and faculty. And what’s really cool is they are encouraging students and faculty to submit videos of how they are using their iPads to change the way they “learn, teach, or live.”

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Death to Word?

Not the written word, of course… just the application. At least that’s what Tom Socca is calling for in an article he posted last week on Slate called “Death to Word: It’s Time to Give up on Microsoft’s Word Processor.” While this might be a bit extreme, I have to agree with Socca on a few points.

Word’s menu bar looks like the dashboard of a commercial airliner…not a tool for processing words. And although I think I’ve finally figured out how to maneuver my way around most of its forced defaults (like the auto-formatted outlines, bulleted lists, and incorrect grammar alerts), I could certainly do without many of Word’s “helpful” options.

Throughout its many releases in the past decade, I’m afraid Word has fallen victim to “feature creep.”  Its functionality has overtaken its usability; its many features actually slow people down and keep them from performing what should be a very simple task: creating a document.  Sure, I guess it’s nice that Word gives me seventeen different options for cover pages. But do you know how many times I’ve used them? Not once.

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Summer Plans: Learning Ruby on Rails

As May rolls around, most people get psyched about plans for the beach. I get psyched about planning my summer schedule. I know, it’s strange. But summer always seems to be an enlightening time for me.

  • Summer 2005 I moved to Atlanta and enrolled in an IT program at a small state university, fully intending on transferring into Ga Tech’s Computer Science program after I had gotten my core classes out of the way.
  • Summer 2006 I declared a double major in IT and English.
  • Summer 2009 I came to Georgia State and realized in an Electronic Writing and Editing May-mester course that “digital rhetoric” was that thing I was trying to patch together for myself during undergrad. I didn’t realize it actually had a name.
  • Summer 2010 I took classes in the Nutrition Dept rather than classes in the English Dept. And I flirted with the idea of getting a certificate in Nutrition. (We all take detours on the road to discovery, I suppose.)
  • Summer 2011, while I was still recovering from thesis trauma, I took a Writing Program Administration class and realized I was much better suited for the Tech/Comm side of the English Dept. I also became keenly aware of the how interdisciplinary the successful rhetoric/english programs were becoming.

This timeline is a little odd, I know. The reaction I get from most people when I tell them this is pretty standard: “Wait… What? You moved from IT to English? Well…. that’s um… interesting.” I get it. It’s strange. But I’ve never really done things the “traditional” way.

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Publishers Trying to Close Open-Education Textbooks?

I pulled up my feed-reader for the first time in weeks, and this gem from The Chronicle waiting for me a few days ago: 3 Major Publishers Sue Open-Education Textbook Start-Up.  I knew it was coming… and I’m sure many, many more will follow.

A lot of professors have been pulling together their own materials to teach their classes, rather than requiring students to buy expensive texts.  There’s a growing niche market for small start up companies who make it simple for professors (or students) to create their own texts by using open-source content found online. Boundless Learning is one such start up company.  Their About Me page explains that they are “. . .making the world’s open educational content more useful for students by connecting them with the wealth of high quality, openly licensed, and free educational content that has been created by leading educators and institutions over the last 20 years.”

Boundless is being sued by 3 major textbook companies for “stealing” their author’s ideas. Mind you, Boundless isn’t actually taking content from these textbooks. They are pulling the same concepts that are used in the textbooks from other sources. But I found this little quote somewhere buried in the middle of the Chronicle article:

To illustrate this claim of intellectual theft, the publishers’ complaint points to the Boundless versions of several textbooks, including Biology, a textbook authored by Neil Campbell and Jane Reece. The Boundless alternative, the complaint alleges, is guilty of copying the printed material’s layout and engaging in what the complaint calls “photographic paraphrasing.” In one chapter of the printed book, for instance, the editors chose to illustrate the first and second laws of thermodynamics using pictures of a bear running and a bear catching a fish in its mouth. Boundless’s substitute text uses similar pictures to illustrate the same concepts—albeit Creative Commons-licensed images hosted on Wikipedia that include links to the source material, in accordance with the terms of the open license. (My emphasis)

I have never in my life heard of “photographic paraphrasing.” But I have a feeling that with Apple’s release of iAuthor and several other developments that make course packages much easier to create and maintain, we’ll be hearing that term a lot more over the next couple of years.