Outsourcing in the Academy

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, an article about a law professor who outsources her grading work to India. She feels that detailed feedback is key to improving writing skills, but at some 5,000,000 words each year,

Her seven teaching assistants, some of whom did not have much experience, couldn’t deliver. Their workload was staggering: About 1,000 juniors and seniors enroll in the course each year. “Our graders were great,” she says, “but they were not experts in providing feedback.”

That shortcoming led Ms. Whisenant, director of business law and ethics studies at Houston, to a novel solution last fall. She outsourced assignment grading to a company whose employees are mostly in Asia.

The company doing the marking, Virtual TA, does not supply much detail on its employees education and training, except to say they all have graduate degrees, and

“Training goes on all the time,” says Mr. Bangari, whose employees work mostly on assignments from business schools. “We are in constant communication with U.S. faculty.”

Such communication, part of a multi-step process, begins early on. Before the work comes rolling in, the assessors receive the rubrics that professors provide, along with syllabi and textbooks. In some instances, the graders will assess a few initial assignments and return them for the professor’s approval.

Others raise concerns that a professor who does do the grading will be less aware of the needs of his or her students.

Is this quantity an adequate replacement for the presumed quality of professor-directed feedback? According to the article, it makes a big difference in retaining students in online, distance education courses.

To me, it seems technology is a root driver of this workload problem. We have classrooms with mics., big projectors that work really well, online course websites, and distance ed. software. All this allows the professor to address numbers of students way beyond the 10-20 that many seem to feel is the optimum. For some, the number is even smaller, as Stephen Leacock once reported:

From this and other evidence I gather that what an Oxford tutor does is to get a little group of students together and smoke at them. Men who have been systematically smoked at for four years turn into ripe scholars. If anybody doubts this, let him go to Oxford and he can see the thing actually in operation. A well-smoked man speaks, and writes English with a grace that can be acquired in no other way.

What problems technology breeds, technology should solve?

via Metafilter

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