And then a Miracle Occurs: The use of Computers to Score Student Writing

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The machine scoring of student writing stands as one of the hot topics in writing assessment. Companies promote these products as time- and money-saving. However, the salient question remains: Is this technology appropriate for use in the English as a Second Language writing (SLW) classroom? Administrators and second language writing professionals often seem be at odds when it comes to the use of such programs. Proponents typically express that electronic grading is of great benefit, mainly because it facilitates scoring large numbers of student essays in a short time. Scoring efficiency appeals mainly to administrators searching for cost effective ways to provide classroom writing instruction. Equally appealing to administrators is the notion that class size can be increased as the burden of grading is removed from the teacher. However, many second language writing professionals are dismayed by the notion of a computer scoring or responding to student writing. Although it is important that practitioners not rely solely on their initial response, it is natural that they express concern. However, as researchers, we recognize the need to thoroughly examine the topic, weighing both positive and negative outcomes of the use of such platforms.This issue needs to be studied from multiple perspectives so that teachers are informed about using computers to assess student writing. In this paper, the views of educators, administrators, and developers of artificial intelligence are examined with respect to the use of machines to score student writing. These programs are then situated in the context of writing assessment theory and their use critiqued in terms of pedagogical value. The paper concludes with an exploration of both the consequences and potential benefits of using these systems in second language writing classrooms as well as suggestions to help second language writing professionals work with administrators pushing for this type of assessment for instructional purposes.

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