Tag Archives: higher education

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!


I’ve been taking these writing classes for the past year. They’re usually like eight weeks long, once a week type of deals. They’re great. They keep me writing. They force me to go beyond my habits, the way that I go about writing almost unconsciously. I’m starting my third series of classes tomorrow morning, and, although I had told myself that this time would be different, it’s not different at all. It’s ten thirty at night as I’m writing this, and as of right now, I still haven’t even started the homework that’s due tomorrow morning.

I always do this. I’ve always done this my whole life. It doesn’t matter if I have a day or a whole semester to complete an assignment; every single time I’ll put it off to the last second humanly possible, and then I’ll sit around for another ten minutes or so before I really get to work. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s not a good feeling, that growing ball of anxiety in my stomach, the knowledge that I’d be saving myself a lot of grief if I just got something started, anything really, so that when it’s all said and done I could look back and think, well, at least I tried.

In high school I would stay up the whole night before a test and not start studying until like five in the morning. That’s crazy. I knew it was crazy. But I could never get myself to actually crack open a book unless I felt that sudden panic, the kind of a physical response that you only get when you look at your watch, look at all of the work that you have to get done, and you say to yourself, “Holy shit, there is no way I’m going to be able to write a ten page paper in half an hour,” and then all of the sudden I’d be working like crazy.

Why couldn’t I do that same level of work, but earlier? Why couldn’t I spread it out? Give myself a chance to do maybe a second draft, a reread at least. So when I got to college I thought, you know what, I’ll just go to the library. I’ll just sit in the library, free from distraction, away from my friends watching movies and having fun. I won’t leave until I’m done with my work. But the library had a vending machine. The library had Internet. Sometimes I would just go wandering the stacks and looking through random books that had absolutely nothing to do with the task at hand. So all I would wind up doing was wasting time, but in the library instead of in my dorm room.

It’s like there is some part of me that would rather do anything, literally any other thing than what I’m supposed to be doing. I must be a glutton for pain. Because, and I already said this, but knowing that something is due in like an hour is the worst feeling in the world. Sometimes I wish that I would have just not handed anything in, got an F, and then called it a day. But I’m always somehow able buy myself more time, prolong the agony. I’d go to a professor’s office hours and ask for more time. They always said yes. So I’d be stuck an extra day in the library, again wandering the halls, wasting time trying to get into normally locked doors, seeing if they had anything cool hidden away.

I took this to such an extreme that, after four pretty successful years of somehow managing to stuff a whole bachelor’s in liberal arts worth of work into maybe ten cumulative hours of last minute fury, I decided that, for my very last paper due at college, some ten page final grade essay for some elective philosophy class that had nothing to do with my major, I’d just not do it at all and see how far I could push back the deadline. It was pretty far. I got the dean and professor to allow me to hand it in like mid July, about a month and a half after graduation. I actually had to go to the dean’s office and exchange him this paper for my diploma.

That’s totally, beyond crazy, really. I was like, well, this is my last paper, after this I’ll be free of this night-before-an-assignment-is-due anxiety. And so it didn’t seem important. It didn’t seem real. My brain thought, well, if you actually put your graduation in jeopardy, I mean, that would take the pressure and the anxiety to a whole new level. So I spent my last month at college picking up extra hours at my part-time job, playing intramural softball, making stupid t-shirts for campus clubs … anything and everything except doing this paper that I wound up typing up like half an hour before the dean’s final, I mean it this time, you have to hand it to me in half an hour deadline.

I know that a big part of the problem is with me, there’s just something inside that can’t stick to the task at hand. But I know that another big part of it is the Internet. When I was in the Peace Corps I had no Internet for a solid two years. It was awesome. I started writing, like not just once in a while writing, but writing everyday. It’s the only reason why I’m doing this stuff now, because I know that I can. And I figured out that I could only because I had absolutely nothing else to do with my spare time.

But I’ve been back in America for like a year and a half now and the same old problems are back. I’m sticking to this goal of getting a blog post up every single day, just to give myself a deadline, just to really make it count. Because otherwise I wouldn’t do it at all. But everyday, to get something done, sometimes it takes forever. I’ll just waste so much time not writing when I could easily be writing.

And it’s all even crazier because the only reason I’m writing a blog post right now, at close to eleven at night, is because I have actual homework, writing homework, that I should be doing for tomorrow morning’s class. I haven’t even started it yet. What is wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just have at least started thinking about what I would write for class like a week ago? I signed up for it two weeks ago, and the registration page posted the assignment that was due for tomorrow. I didn’t even look at it. This is ridiculous. Instead of writing my assignment, I spent the same amount of time and energy writing something else, this. This is just insane.