Alison Garwood Jones

Can AI Mark School Assignments?

May 15, 2023

The short answer is yes. I tried. First, it’s tempting to outsource marking given that most sessional instructors don’t get paid to grade assignments. Depending on class sizes, you can be marking for an entire week free of charge.

Will your students notice if they’re getting a gold star or a knitted brow from a robot? It depends on your teaching style. If you present as beige and technical in class, the AI’s feedback on their assignments will align with your general vibe. But suppose you like to regale students in class with personal anecdotes from the field and fresh news items and case studies that illustrate the learning objectives? In that case, you’ll have to figure out a way to punch up the AI’s assignment feedback so your students see you in the exchange — assuming that you care about being H:H (human to human). That niggly process of fixing paragraphs can be time-consuming.

Drawing of Swirls by Alison Garwood-JonesProcreate Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

Next, to ensure the AI understands how to mark each assignment so it offers the most useful feedback, you need to craft a prompt that clearly denotes what is being evaluated. That may take several rewrites. Then you need to drop in the text from each student’s submission behind your prompt without missing any paragraphs during that grab and paste from the school’s learning management system.

Highlighting and grabbing text from uploaded PDFs, especially ones that include images, can be hit and miss. You may find yourself scrolling and scrolling to make sure all of the student’s assignment has been captured as you toggle between two browser windows (the assignment submission window and ChatGPT screen). That too is time-consuming.

Alternatively, you could download each assignment to see if that makes the cut-and-paste more seamless (tip: make sure you have enough disk space on your computer). But that’s adding friction, not subtracting.  Either way, be prepared for eye strain and dizzy spells if you work on a laptop.

Oh … sometimes ChatGPT goes on sabbatical without notice and you have to wait for it to come back adding to the time you spend marking.

Conclusion: Reading student assignments and crafting the feedback myself turns out to be faster and easier and it feels more caring. Plus, I’m the kind of instructor who likes to give students my observations about their progress throughout the term. Just thinking about what it would take to feed the AI all of their course assignments so it could do the same high-level dot connecting sounds like a logistical headache and quite the opposite of AI’s promise of saving time through improved efficiency.

For now, using AI to grade assignments is not a slam dunk, but I’ll continue to monitor its potential and report back any changes.


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