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Subject:

Re: Pilot by Kentucky Comm and Tech Coll System: Outsourcing academic functions

From:

Sonya Hildreth <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 22 Sep 2005 10:52:31 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (206 lines)

Will instructor written assignment prompts be reviewed by Smarthinking to
see if they are well written and clear?

Will students be given the 8 area, 32 item criteria so they know upon what
they are being assessed?

Will faculty read through the graded essays to become familiar with student
patterns of change and progress?

Concerns about grading the graders in the comment area are appropriate.
Since Smarthinking is a for profit business, will they attend to excellence
in their product or might they sacrifice this in order to meet the 24 hour
turnaround expected by their "clients"?  Who will assess the quality of the
product being produced by Smarthinking?

As with any tool, this could be used well or misused.  I'll be interested in
how this develops.

Sonya Hildreth ([log in to unmask])
California State University, Fresno

-----Original Message-----
From: Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Dan Kern
Sent: Thursday, September 22, 2005 5:31 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Pilot by Kentucky Comm and Tech Coll System: Outsourcing academic
functions

Sept. 22
Outsourced Grading
Many colleges these days outsource their bookstores or cafeterias or
dormitories, based on the idea that private businesses may be able to
provide better service at lower prices. Not everyone agrees with that idea,
to be sure, but outsourcing of non-academic functions has become common.

But what about academic functions?

In a move that may take outsourcing past traditional levels, Kentucky's
community colleges this fall have started a pilot project in which an
outside company is reading and providing evaluations of student essays in
freshman composition courses. The program is small to date - only 48
students are having their papers assessed in this way - but Kentucky
officials are enthusiastic about the potential for expanding the effort. And
the company - Smarthinking - sees this as a service it would like to offer
other colleges.

"The idea is that we can take the grading burden off of professors, and free
up their time to do other things, such as working with students who need
extra help," said Burck Smith, CEO of the company, which has previously
focused on providing outsourced tutoring centers for colleges in which
students receive assistance online.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the prospect of outsourced grading. "I'm
appalled," said Douglas Hesse, board chair of the Conference on College
Composition and Communication. "This is abdicating something that is crucial
to instruction," said Hesse, a professor of English and director of the
honors program at Illinois State University.

The pilot program is being developed by the distance education arm of the
Kentucky Community and Technical College System, which currently enrolls
about 40,000 students. Sandra L. Cook, who runs the distance education
program, said, "We're in a situation now where the demand [for courses] is
higher than the supply, so we're trying to create situations with faculty
where we can develop efficiencies."

The system has been working to be sure that the most popular general
education courses are available online and are strengthened, and the grading
plan is part of that effort, she said.

Faculty members have long complained about the "laborious grading process,"
yet at the same time the system needs to find ways to educate more students
without getting much more money, Cook said. Currently, class size tends not
to exceed 25-30, she said, but the system would like to double or possibly
quadruple that figure. "Our faculty have said that to scale up, they need
more support," she added.

"We want faculty to concentrate on the management of the course," she said.
"We want to see how we can take our master faculty members and spread them
around among more students."

Enter Smarthinking. The company has a good reputation on many campuses where
its online tutoring services, which employ many adjunct or retired faculty
members, have been able to offer students extended hours (24/7 in some
cases) that most colleges could never afford if they were staffing a
tutoring center. Those same tutors are now being trained to grade essays for
the Kentucky system or other clients that may come along.

The grading is on a 32-point scale. Students receive up to 4 points (along
with written comments as needed) in each of eight categories (worked out
with Kentucky faculty members): main idea, introduction, content
development, organization, transitions, conclusion, word choice and grammar.
Each of those categories have subcategories that also receive 1-4 points,
with the average of the subcategory scores being used to determine a
category score. In content development, for instance, subcategories focus on
such elements as topic sentences, the unity of paragraphs, and the use of
analysis.

Smith stressed that faculty members could use the scores in any way they
want. Aligning a score to a letter grade is a professor's choice as is
totally rejecting the score. Smarthinking has pledged to provide scores
within 24 hours of receiving essays.

"Everything about this makes sense to the student and the institution. The
student gets quicker turnaround and more consistent grading. The institution
can get faculty members to focus more intensively on students," Smith said.

He acknowledged that some people might object to outsourcing an academic
function, but he said that this service will be in "the best interests of
the students." Cook also said that she would expect some faculty members to
worry about this approach, and that's why Kentucky is starting with a pilot
project.

Hesse, of the college composition group, strongly disagreed. He acknowledged
that this approach might lead to more consistency in grading, and that
plenty of colleges use teaching assistants to grade papers, rather than a
professor. But Hesse said that grading was not a function that should in any
way be removed from the faculty members. The process of reading a paper and
evaluating it, Hesse said, is crucial not only for assigning a grade, but
for thinking about how to work with a given student, for evaluating whether
certain assignments are achieving their goals, for revising lecture plans,
and more.

"Grading is a central role," he said.

While faculty members will be able to review and change evaluations, Hesse
said that either they will do enough work of their own to do that well (in
which case time isn't saved) or they won't (in which case students lose
out).

"Let's say somebody has spared me the time of grading - and I hate using
'spared' in that way - there will be some teachers who will be very
diligent, and will take this as one point of view and they will reproduce
the same work. But I would fear the teachers who would be very cursory, and
who might agree and say, 'that's an OK score,' but they don't know as much
as they should about that student's writing."

- Scott Jaschik

Comments
I just don't see it. While this sounds better than computer-graded essays,
it still concerns me that the instructors aren't going to know their
students' work. One of the opportunities I have-and relish-is the ability to
watch my students develop as thinkers and writers. I need to be able to
indicate my appreciation of a student's progress in one area when that
progress is noteworthy. I need to be able to sit down with a student and
discuss how, exactly, an essay might have been improved, ideally in light of
that student's other work.

While I applaud the effort to provide greater access to students, I am leery
of this appproach. Having said all that, however, I will recognize that the
experiment is underway and I will reserve final judgement for a year from
now.

Andrew Purvis, at 6:28 am EDT on September 22, 2005

Who is grading the graders?
I would feel more confident about the grading service being sold to Kentucky
if the company's CEO had employed the standard English phrase "taking the
burden off professors" rather than the more colloquial "off of." I realize
that speech is less formal than is writing, but as chief spokesman for a
product evaluating written English among college students, his choosing to
adopt a non-standard phrase hardly helps sell his product. Shall we hope
that the reporter mis-heard him?

Diane Vanner Steinberg, Asst. Prof. at The College of New Jersey, at 7:24 am
EDT on September 22, 2005


Got something to say?







Dan Kern
Reading Skills Improvement
East Central College AD21
1964 Prairie Dell Road
Union, MO  63084
Phone:  636-583-5195
Extension:  2426
Fax:  636-584-0513
Email:  [log in to unmask]
"What you teach is second
to whom you teach.  If it isn't,
please find a 'job' very far
away from students"
(Andy Maedit)

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