Xerox Ignite (software which enables a photocopier to grade student papers, including essays) does not exactly set me burning with enthusiasm, as I said a few weeks ago (Baby, you can’t light my fire). However, I was delighted to find that Pearson is looking for student essays for the Pearson Essay Scorer. I would have the chance to test an online essay grader for myself.
The notion is that submitted essays “will help us calibrate the evaluation engine that examines student work.” In return, Pearson offers free feedback on those essays to students and their teachers. I just had to try it out! Here’s my review.
First off, I chose to write a grade 12 essay. It scored just 3/6. The main problem was, according to the feedback, although the grammar and spelling were good, the essay was too short. I had a second go and made it longer. This time I scored 6/6, with the comment “Good essay. Try to do even better on your next assignment.”
Well, I don’t know how to do better on my next assignment, unless it’s a suggestion that I get 6/6 first time round. That would be fair enough. Mind you, I did get a rap on the knuckles for one grammar mistake.
I had copy-pasted a couple of sentences from an article on the web: I had used quotation marks, I had included a citation. But the Essay Scorer found what it thinks is a grammar mistake in the words I had copy-pasted. Clearly Pearson expects students to correct any spelling and grammar mistakes they find in a verbatim quotation – or anywhere else in the text – whether it’s wrong or it’s not. Hmmm.
There’s another problem. For the first submission, I really tried to work to the essay title. Although I met the instructions (write between 150 and 650 words), after some 300 words I ran out of ideas. So for my second submission of that first essay I added another 300 words, any 300 words, all a touch nonsensical. That’s British understatement. The added paragraphs were complete nonsense. The added section was grammatically correct, mostly, the spelling was impeccable – almost. But it was … nonsense.
Nonsense, but the corrected essay scored 6/6. Hurrah!
I have to admit that I tried even less hard in writing to the subject for the next three submissions. I submitted an essay at grade 10 level, and then chose two more essay questions at grade 12 level. The submissions were, I must confess, total nonsense.
It wasn’t just nonsense – it was the same essay each time. Never mind the question,. just feel how good my spelling is, swoon over my grammar. I didn’t get full marks, but nearly.
Once again I fell foul of the spell-check, and not just in the Shakespeare sonnet that I included. Clock manufacturer Westclox must learn how to spell their product name correctly: “Testicles” was one of the alternatives that the Spell Check helpfully suggested. “Cock-a-doodle-doo” should be spelt “cock-a-doodle-do,” or maybe “Cock-a-doodle-zoo.” It seems that YouTube does not exist. It’s all very educational, I learned such a lot from the suggestions and comments.
It’s not just spelling and grammar. The Essay Scorer does offer help with content too, it provided suggestions as to how to improve my essay. Well, not just my essay; the comments aim to help improve any essay – the comments were standard and general and identical. I got the same set of advice for my first grade 12 essay as for the other two grade 12 essays. Which suggestions I needed to choose and use to improve my essay, that was left to me.
If the aim is to reduce teachers’ need to look after the mechanics and concentrate instead on content and expression, or help students improve their work even without teacher intervention and guidance, I don’t think so…
And then there are the terms and conditions…. Anything I post on the site is called Postings:
To the extent that certain areas of this Site provide Authorized Users an opportunity to post messages, content or other material (collectively, “Postings”) …
and guess whose property they are, once I Post my Postings?
You hereby forever authorize Pearson to use and/or authorize others to use and modify all or part of your Postings in any manner, format, or medium that Pearson or such other parties see fit. You shall have no claim or other recourse against Pearson or any authorized third parties for infringement of any proprietary right in Postings.
FOREVER!!! Goodbye, essays, it was fun writing you.
But if they help Pearson produce a better calibrated product, so be it. Right now, Essay Scorer just leaves me cold.