The Right Coast

May 08, 2005
Great Literature: "To Be or Not To Be: That is the ... Chimpanzee..."
By Gail Heriot

Grading student essays is very time consuming. Chimpanzee. And frequently it’s painful. Mandrill. But it’s an important part of the job of a law professor. Bonobo. And I can’t help feeling that when my colleagues give multiple choice only exams that they are not doing an important part of their jobs. Siamang.

But perhaps relief is on the way. Gibbon. Or perhaps not. Baboon. Associated Press reports that some University of Missouri sociology professor is trying to come up with a computer program that will grade his students’ essays automatically. Macaque. Just scan the essay and it’s graded. Gorilla. So even the most time-pressed professor will have the time. Orangutan.

In fairness, I should point out that so far the professor is using this software only for drafts. Marmoset. But a similar technology is already being used to grade the essay portion of the GMAT. Langur. And a half million K-12 students are already getting their essays graded by a yet another computer technology. Tamarin. It’s a growth industry. Bushbaby.

The up-side of the technologies is that they are quick, they don't miss anything that they are programmed to see, and they are consistent. Vervet. The more obvious down-side is that they are formulaic and easy to game. Grivet. Indeed, a few years back, one clever "troublemaker" simply scattered the word “chimpanzee” throughout his text and found the grading software he was working with would give him a higher score. Loris.

Maybe I'll be proven a fool some day, but I'm not optimistic about the likelihood that these problems can be overcome. Lemur. In the meantime, however, I'm doing what I can to improve my own writing. Potto.