The professor is a computer program

This week, two articles in the newspaper caught my eye. The first one looked at new programs that would allow computers to instantly grade written essays at a collegiate level. The second one dealt with cutting edge software that would be able to track exactly how much reading students were actually doing for their classes.

It seems to me like education is heading in a terrible direction. Computers to grade tests? Computers to make sure we’re doing our reading? Let’s look at where we’re currently at in terms of higher education. Everybody is expected to go to college. Colleges cost ridiculous amounts of money. High school graduates are pressured at eighteen years old to decide where they’d like to spend the next four years, how they’d like to secure the ridiculous amounts of money necessary to finance such an education, and then the next ten or twenty years after that figuring out what they’re supposed to do to pay it all off.

It’s not worth it now, and it’s going to be worth even less if computers are doing the majority of a professor’s work. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big believer in a liberal arts education. Everything I learned in college, while it didn’t necessarily lead me to a successful career, it was instrumental in what I know, my views on the world. I learned how to write. I learned critical thinking, new ideas, differing opinions. That kind of stuff is essential.

But come on, my college bill was something like forty grand a year. What are you really spending your money on? Education. How do you get that? Classes. What are the classes like? For me, classes began as this huge rush at the end of a semester to register for classes for the next semester. Everything booked up very quickly. You were lucky if you secured half of the courses that you actually wanted to take.

And then you got in a class and it was like forty students for every professor. And that wasn’t even counting the first two years, when we were expected to take all of the core curriculum, taught not by real professors, but by grad students. To me, the whole process seems like a huge joke. The amount of time spent in class is a fraction of time spent in class during high school. I always say this, but am I the only one who thought that high school was significantly harder than college? I put in half the time and work that I did four years prior and I wound up doing great.

Which brings me back to my original point. Everybody is paying this ridiculously steep price for a college diploma, and what are we really getting? A few hours a week of class. Office hours with the professor. It’s all absurd. And now they want to make computers in charge of grading written work, of charting progress with the class texts?

By the way, none of the class textbooks are included in the cost of tuition. Oh yeah and maybe half of your classes have lab fees. Who do you think is going to be paying for the grading software? Is it going to be included in bill or will it be a little addition tacked on to the invoice?

In making the case for computerized grading, proponents claim that it will, “free up professors for other tasks.” What other tasks? You’re supposed to be grading. You’re supposed to be looking at what students write and figuring out if they’re really getting it. But teaching classes is really only a minor role for most professors. They have to do their own work, their own research and writing. Which is fine, but maybe the universities can use some of that forty thousand dollars per student to hire more professors, give them less work, smaller classes, more time to spend balancing their writing and their teaching.

I just feel like the whole system is so disorganized, so kind of cobbled together in any way to maximize the number of students able to fit on a campus. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the cost of tuition. These software advances seem to me a blatant attempt to churn out curriculums, to make grading part of an assembly line, with us graduates the finished products. Here’s your grade. Here’s your diploma. Here’s your debt. Next!

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