Online writing assessment tools might not be evil

Another one of those things to think about for my teaching: “Students, teachers give high scores to online writing assessments,” which comes from some sort of southern Connecticut newspaper group– the Hartford Advocate? The Hartford Courant? I’m not sure…

Anyway, here’s a passage from the opening:

In Connecticut, schools in Bristol, Glastonbury, Windsor, New Fairfield, Killingly and Stonington received state grants last year to try the technology. East Haven also has a pilot program.

The online assessment tools, which are accessed by subscription, analyze a student’s writing sample to point out potential problems in organization, grammar, sentence complexity and other issues.

The technology doesn’t replace teachers, however, because computers cannot provide subjective feedback on skills such as analysis, creativity and interpretation.

However, many educators say the programs are a helpful tool that offer the kind of individual attention often not available in crowded classrooms.

Now, every time some sort of electronic grading tool is brought up among a bunch of composition teachers, especially in places like the WPA-L electronic mailing list, people go freakin’ nuts. And certainly I understand that it isn’t really possible to separate “content” and “mechanics” easily, that these tools can be easily misused, and they generally don’t work as well as the makers of the software often claim.

But if these tools are being used like this, if they are being used to help students deal with “mechanics,” and if they can help ease the workload of grading papers (and let’s face it, the worst part of teaching is grading), well, why not?

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