Professors said the cloud-based system was 98 percent accurate in grading papers.

The cloud is outperforming teaching assistants in some campus lecture halls.

A cloud-based writing assignment evaluator used by a psychology instructor at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md., has largely eliminated the arduous task of grading hundreds of essays—a job that is usually left to teaching assistants in cavernous lecture halls.

Joe Swope, who has been using the program, SAGrader, for three years, said the tool evaluates students’ writing submissions by comparing the paper’s content to a predetermined answer outline designed by the instructor or professor.

The program doesn’t only search for words or phrases necessary to explain a concept, Swope said. SAGrader makes sure students are detailing how concepts are connected and demonstrate understanding of the assignment.

Swope said SAGrader wasn’t designed with English and journalism classes in mind, but rather science and social science courses. When students enter their assignment into the cloud-based system, SAGrader instantly generates a list of shortcomings they must correct before teaching assistants collect the online assignments.

“Students know exactly what they got right, what they got wrong, and what they need to do to improve,” Swope said, adding that the program’s best value is likely found in the planning time educators and their classroom assistants will have once essay grading is left to the cloud. “With all the extra time on their hands, they can make themselves available to focus on the things in class that really matter.”

More than just an educational time saver, Swope said SAGrader has helped him better engage students with common questions made clear in their written answers.

“I was getting discouraged because I could not give my students the attention their writing needed,” he said.

Leaving the grading to SAGrader allowed Lloyd Chia, a sociology professor at Spring Arbor University, to add more assignments to his syllabus. Those assignments, he said, forced students to conceptualize daily or weekly lessons in a way they had only done monthly before Chia used SAGrader.

“Students benefit from having to understand and apply concepts instead of just hearing about them in lecture,” he said. “I believe students are more motivated to grasp concepts and theories because instead of just being passive consumers of knowledge, they know that … they have to engage these concepts as producers of knowledge.”

Edward Brent, a professor at the University of Missouri and president of Idea Works, which distributes the product, created SAGrader in 2006 to help his students learn more by giving them quick, high-quality feedback on their writing assignments.

Pam Thomas, a biology instructor at the University of Central Florida (UCF), first used the program in fall 2009, when she taught classes of more than 100 students. She said SAGrader was 98 percent accurate in the way it assessed student assignments.

Thomas inserted tidbits of feedback into her students’ SAGrader assignments, a luxury she never considered before using the program, when she and her teaching assistants graded more than 1,200 papers by hand.

Chia said the system is popular among students who stay ahead of class assignments and coming essays.

“It motivates students because they know their grade is essentially in their hands,” he said. “They can work on assignments as early as they’d like so that they have time to resubmit and improve their grades.”


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