Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Computer Marking

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org


For many graduate students, working as a teaching assistant (TA) is not just a way to supplement one’s income, it is an important learning opportunity that can prepare us for a career in academia. These opportunities, however, are diminishing, and some attribute this to the role of technology in making computer marking the preferred choice on many campuses. As class sizes increase, it becomes more difficult for professors and TAs to mark by hand. Multiple-choice exams have been graded electronically for many years, but now the technology has been turned toward grading more complicated online tests and exams that include written responses and short essays. The Intelligent Essay Assessor can be used to assess a student’s writing skills and subject comprehension, providing an overall essay score and real-time feedback about grammar, style, and organization with a critique tool.

Not only do these computer marking tools replace teaching assistants and markers, saving money on salaries, automatic grading also has the advantage of providing instant feedback. This type of interactive marking can be used in laboratory situations where detailed feedback can allow students to resubmit work until they get the answers right. Allowing students to identify right and wrong answers immediately when writing an exam, rather than waiting days and weeks for a marker’s results, is considered by many to be a far more effective system of learning.

Certainly many questions still remain about the overall efficacy of this method. Rating a student’s written work still requires a significant human element, and the impersonal approach to marking cannot be used for more advanced work. As more universities embrace online course management, however, electronic marking will become more common.

Computer marking becomes weapon of choice for college profs: Larger class sizes are making traditional role of teaching assistants obsolete. Edmonton Journal, July 26, 2004. Sarah Schmidt: CanWest News Service, Ottawa.