Grade Charade

The outsourcing of assignment grading at some colleges should not continue

Of all of the changes to American society due to outsourcing, one in particular has recently raised eyebrows: the delegation of paper grading at some colleges to companies that work in India and Malaysia. This particularly worrisome trend received media attention when the practice was adopted in a University of Houston class, and brings up concerns about the quality of contact that students are receiving in large classes.

In this particular case, a company called EduMentry that hires workers in India, Malaysia and Singapore provided a service called Virtual TA, which grades papers for large classes that lack enough teaching assistants. Outsourcing in this manner takes away from the education that students are receiving, as there is considerable value in having teaching assistants who experience the class and then evaluate students accordingly. This allows the graders to take into account dynamics in the course that otherwise would be missed by an international firm. Furthermore, outsourced grading strictly limits the range and scope of the papers being considered. Companies that grade papers remotely likely rely on an outline from the professor, listing points that should be covered in the assignment. Papers should be graded with a more holistic view, to encourage a diversity of ideas that simply cannot be expressed when attempting to follow a fixed outline.

Additionally, it is worthwhile for students to have an opportunity to communicate directly with the people who are evaluating their work. Although office hours with a teaching assistant would be ideal, given the understandable constraints of tight budgets, even having the option to email evaluators with questions is worthwhile and preferable to a complete lack of contact. Although large classes are often the norm at some universities, schools should never overextend enrollment of classes to the point where they do not have the adequate resources—both physical and human—to accommodate all of the students.

In addition to the general concerns about this trend in outsourcing, we have further doubts about the specific firm used by the University of Houston professor in question. While the company, based in Virginia, asserts that all of its “assessors,” or graders, hold master’s degrees and must pass written exams before they are employed, it refused to give specific information on the graders’ educational backgrounds. The firm insists that “the proof is in the pudding” when it comes to the success of their assessors. Yet, this lack of transparency is troubling, especially considering the already anonymous and impersonal nature of such outsourcing. If firms like this are interested in working with American universities on tasks as crucial as grading student work, they should be more forthcoming about the qualifications of their employees.



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