• April 17, 2014

Some Papers Are Uploaded to Bangalore to Be Graded

Outsourced Grading, With Supporters and Critics, Comes to College 1

John Everett for The Chronicle

Lori Whisenant, who teaches business law and ethics at the U. of Houston, has outsourced the grading of students' papers to a private company.

Lori Whisenant knows that one way to improve the writing skills of undergraduates is to make them write more. But as each student in her course in business law and ethics at the University of Houston began to crank out—often awkwardly—nearly 5,000 words a semester, it became clear to her that what would really help them was consistent, detailed feedback.

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.

Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc., took over. The goal of the service is to relieve professors and teaching assistants of a traditional and sometimes tiresome task—and even, the company says, to do it better than TA's can.

The graders working for EduMetry, based in a Virginia suburb of Washington, are concentrated in India, Singapore, and Malaysia, along with some in the United States and elsewhere. They do their work online and communicate with professors via e-mail. The company advertises that its graders hold advanced degrees and can quickly turn around assignments with sophisticated commentary, because they are not juggling their own course work, too.

The company argues that professors freed from grading papers can spend more time teaching and doing research.

"We tend to drop the ball when it comes to giving rich feedback, and in the end this hurts the student," says Chandru Rajam, who has been a business professor at several universities. "I just thought, "'There's got to be a better way.'" He helped found the privately held EduMetry five years ago and remains on its management staff.

Whether Virtual-TA is that better way remains to be seen. Company officials would not say how many colleges use the service, but Mr. Rajam acknowledges that the concept of anonymous and offshore grading is often difficult for colleges to swallow.

Those that have signed up are a mix of for-profit and nonprofit institutions, many of them business schools, both in the United States and overseas. Professors and administrators say they have been won over by on-the-job performance. "This is what they do for a living," says Ms. Whisenant. "We're working with professionals." 

Anonymous Expertise

Virtual-TA's tag line is "Your expert teaching assistants." These graders, also called assessors, have at least master's degrees, the company says, and must pass a writing test, since conveying their thoughts on assignments is an integral part of the job. The company declined to provide The Chronicle with names or degrees of assessors. Mr. Rajam says that the company's focus is on "the process, not the individual," and that professors and institutions have ample opportunity to test the assessors' performance during a trial period, "because the proof is in the pudding."

Assessors are trained in the use of rubrics, or systematic guidelines for evaluating student work, and before they are hired are given sample student assignments to see "how they perform on those," says Ravindra Singh Bangari, EduMetry's vice president of assessment services.

Mr. Bangari, who is based in Bangalore, India, oversees a group of assessors who work from their homes. He says his job is to see that the graders, many of them women with children who are eager to do part-time work, provide results that meet each client's standards and help students improve.

"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.

Sometimes professors want changes in the nature of the comments. Ms. Whisenant found those on her students' papers initially "way too formal," she says. "We wanted our feedback to be conversational and more direct. So we sent them examples of how we wanted it done, and they did it."

Professors give final grades to assignments, but the assessors score the papers based on the elements in the rubric and "help students understand where their strengths and weaknesses are," says Tara Sherman, vice president of client services at EduMetry. "Then the professors can give the students the help they need based on the feedback."

Mr. Bangari says that colleges use Virtual-TA's feedback differently, but that he has seen students' work improve the most when professors have returned assignments to students and asked them to redo the work to incorporate the feedback.

The assessors use technology that allows them to embed comments in each document; professors can review the results (and edit them if they choose) before passing assignments back to students. In addition, professors receive a summary of comments from each assignment, designed to show common "trouble spots" among students' answers, among other things. The assessors have no contact with students, and the assignments they grade are stripped of identifying information. Ms. Sherman says most papers are returned in three or four days, which can be key when it comes to how students learn. "You can reinforce certain ideas based on timely feedback," Mr. Rajam says. "Two or three weeks after an assignment is too long."

No Classroom Insight

Critics of outsourced grading, however, say the lack of a personal relationship is a problem.

"An outside grader has no insight into how classroom discussion may have played into what a student wrote in their paper," says Marilyn Valentino, chair of the board of the Conference on College Composition and Communication and a veteran professor of English at Lorain County Community College. "Are they able to say, 'Oh, I understand where that came from' or 'I understand why they thought that, because Mary said that in class'?"

Ms. Valentino also questions whether the money spent on outsourced graders could be better used to help pay for more classroom instructors.

Professors and on-site teaching assistants, she says, are better positioned to learn enough about individual students to adjust their tone to help each one get his or her ideas across on paper. "Sometimes kidding them works, sometimes being strict and straightforward works," Ms. Valentino says. "You have to figure out how to get in that student's mind and motivate them."

Some professors "could be tempted to not even read" the reports about how students responded to various parts of an assignment, she says, because when "someone else is taking care of the grading," that kind of information can become easier to ignore.

Terri Friel, dean of the business school at Roosevelt University, says such worries are common but overstated. In her former post as associate dean of administration at Butler University's business school, she hired EduMetry to help the business school gather assessment data it needed for accreditation — another service the company offers. But Ms. Friel believed that Virtual-TA would not appeal to professors there.

"Faculty have this opinion that grading is their job, ... but then they'll turn right around and give papers to graduate teaching assistants," Ms. Friel says. "What's the difference in grading work online and grading it online from India? India has become known as a very good place to get a good business education, and why not make use of that capability?"

Acceptance has been a little easier at West Hills Community College, in Coalinga, Calif., which turned to Virtual-TA to help some students in its online classes get more feedback than instructors for such classes have typically offered. The service is used for one section each of three online courses—criminal justice, sociology, and basic math. Instructors can use it for three to five assignments of their choice per student. Using Virtual-TA for every assignment would be too costly, says Susan Whitener, associate vice chancellor for educational planning. (The price varies by length and complexity, but Virtual-TA suggests to potential clients that each graded assignment will cost $12 per student. That means outsourcing the grading of six assignments for 20 students in a course would cost $1,440.)

But West Hills' investment, which it wouldn't disclose, has paid off in an unexpected way. The feedback from Virtual-TA seems to make the difference between a student's remaining in an online course and dropping out.

"We definitely have a cost-benefit ratio that's completely in our favor for us to do this," Ms. Whitener says.

Holly Suarez, an online instructor of sociology at West Hills, says retention in her class has improved since she first used Virtual-TA, two years ago, on weekly writing assignments. Before then, "I would probably lose half of my students," says Ms. Suarez, who typically teaches 50 students per class.

Because Virtual-TA provides detailed comments about grammar, organization, and other writing errors in the papers, students have a framework for improvement that some instructors may not be able to provide, she says.

And although Ms. Suarez initially was wary of Virtual-TA—"I thought I was being replaced"—she can now see its advantages, she says. "Students are getting expert advice on how to write better, and I get the chance to really focus on instruction."

At Houston, business majors are now exposed to Virtual-TA both as freshmen and as upperclassmen.

Steven P. Liparulo, associate director at the university's Writing Center, helped give Virtual-TA its entree when the center decided to stop grading writing samples from the nearly 2,000 students each year planning to major in business. The writing evaluation is used to determine if students need extra help. He saw Virtual-TA as a way for the center's tutors to concentrate on working one-on-one with students. "That's just a much better use of their time," he says.

EduMetry's Mr. Rajam hopes that more colleges will see these benefits.

"People need to get past thinking that grading must be done by the people who are teaching," says Mr. Rajam, who is director of assurance of learning at George Washington University's School of Business. "Sometimes people get so caught up in the mousetrap that they forget about the mouse."

Shailaja Neelakantan contributed to this article.



1. rch1952 - April 05, 2010 at 10:45 am

This is a scam with short-term benefits and long-term damage. When I grade papers and essays, as grueling as it can be, I learn what students are or are not getting. I see how they view a topic, and it is always changing. I have never been in favor of the "turn it over to the TA" method of running a course...and this is an unfortunate extension of that. Here's a better idea - rather than pretend that the professor is actually interacting with the students, let's just have the professor videotape lectures.

2. dooglebug - April 05, 2010 at 01:04 pm

I agree with rch1952. The benefits of grading one's one papers outweigh any 'convenience' of having someone else (even a student worker) do them. Moreover, if we value our jobs, it seems we'd want to showcase the benefit of individualized professor attention to student work...

3. gene9317 - April 05, 2010 at 04:43 pm

One of the challenges of the current system is that faculty and TAs don't have enough time to engage students. Assuming this approach can add some meaningful efficiency to the process and free up faculty and TAs to work more directly with students, this could make a lot of sense and might catch on, especially at cash strapped community colleges.

By the way, it is not very credible to call a service like this a "scam" when you have never used it. This kind of "knee-jerk", subjective reaction adds very little to the discussion.

4. v8573254 - April 05, 2010 at 04:53 pm

1000 student writers, 8 readers (including the professor) means about 125 papers per reader. Just about the number the Comp 101 or secondary teacher would have. I'm guessing these are all not full-blown essays.
A question: why are the TA's not competent to evaluate the beginners' writing in their field? Why not train the TA's? or why are they TA's in the first place?

5. lslerner - April 05, 2010 at 05:17 pm

I never enjoyed the grading part of my professorial duties, but it is the best way to keep track of students' performance. Without it -- especially in an essay-heavy course -- the students become faceless numbers.
Of course, I never had a class with 1000 students, either!

6. higherandhigher - April 05, 2010 at 05:42 pm

How will the TAs learn and grow as educators if they aren't given a chance to actually fulfill the job of TAs?

7. mathmaven - April 05, 2010 at 08:01 pm

Are students and their parents told ahead of time that the grading of their work will be outsourced to India? I bet there are legions of qualified people right here in America who have been affected by the recession and would be more than happy to grade papers for $12 per piece. Perhaps students and their families would like to be able to choose whether to "buy American" with their tuition dollars and employ their fellow Americans who are trying to feed their kids and hold on to their homes.

In addition, will these students be warned that, despite all appearances to the contrary, their professor will have no direct knowledge of their abilities and will therefore be all but worthless when it comes to writing letters of recommendation? Or will that task also be outsourced to India?

@#6, it doesn't matter if TAs don't have a chance to learn and grow as educators. There will be no jobs waiting for them when they graduate. Those jobs will likely also have all been shipped to India.

8. roro1618 - April 05, 2010 at 08:45 pm

mathmaven-you clearly do not understand the global economy; yet the very pc/laptop on which you wrote your post is most likely not made in the U.S. As one who is U.S. citizen working abroad, the exchanges of goods and services across borders actually provides more jobs worldwide than if nations only employ "their own." Based on your "logic", I guess U.S. universities should not accept foreign students, either...

9. raymond_j_ritchie - April 05, 2010 at 09:19 pm

No roro1618. You are wrong. This is race-to-the-bottom economic rationalism.
If students had any spine at all they would object to this. It is false advertising. They are paying big tuition fees for an education in a Western country and they get marked by a call-in-centre in India! That is the fact. The image of an educated middle class Indian woman working from home is just a distracter to stop those addicted to political correctness from being too curious.
This idea is so cheap and nasty that I am astonished some Australian university has not thought of it as a way to make as much money as possible out of international students. Come to think of it I would not be surprised if some are quietly doing it already: it is a question no-one has thought to ask. It would be quite easy to pull it off but would need to be done through a call-centre. Worksheets and payments are all now electronic.
Better still it would be absurdly easy to do this privately. Maybe some enterprising adjuncts are already sub-contracting out their work in India. Email 300 term papers to India with the marking-scheme, look over them quickly when they come back, keep 80% of your payment and send the rest to India. How would anyone know? It is all too easy.
Too many universities in western countries think that international students are cash-cows that will save them from their own incompetence. But how many international students will eagerly hand over their family's life savings to get a degree from an American or Australian university when they find out their papers and exams are marked by a faceless and nameless person working from a call-in in India? Some will object. They are not getting what they paid for.
This is a disaster waiting to happen.

10. jffoster - April 05, 2010 at 09:49 pm

The Ordnance Corps will love this. An entirely new type of Bangalore torpedo!

11. johnburningham - April 05, 2010 at 11:14 pm

I have to wonder if some of the students are outsourcing their assignments to the same people who are grading them!

12. higherandhigher - April 05, 2010 at 11:55 pm

@11 LOL!

13. laurencejgillis - April 06, 2010 at 07:31 am

If this is the wave of the future, shoot me.

Grading is dreadful work, for sure, but it is where I get high-quality direct feedback on how effective I actually am (rather than how well I may THINK that I am doing).

Students may grumble about lack of personalized commentary from the Prof (or from the TA), but they would abandon the enterprise in droves if they thought that the comments they were getting had no actual connection with the course they were taking.

FYI, I've never had a TA. Are they any good?

14. 22228715 - April 06, 2010 at 07:39 am

#11... good point! So, at that point we have the entire process happening off campus. No one is thinking at all... we've outsourced all the activities so that other people learn for us. Way to go!

This idea is another example of being confused about what the product of our enterprise is. As higher education has become increasingly regarded as a commodity, there seems to be more of a tendency to recast tangible things as our products. Outputs are papers and grades and credits. Labor is grading and, at some institutions, research articles.

But those things are not our 'products.' They are just letters and numbers, proxies for things more substantive. It is possible to have many credits (or papers) and not much of an education. We all know researchers with dozens of publications who really don't have a lot to say (even about their so-called areas of expertise.)

The important part of teaching is the relationship and the expertise. I tell students that they are not paying for the information - they can get that at the library (or better yet, online). What they are paying for is a faculty member's expertise - the ability to assess student learning styles and tailor learning activities to match them; such a thorough knowledge of the field as to select the most relevant and powerful concepts for the scope of the course; being close enough to the action of thought in the community of scholars to be able to describe the front edge of research and get a student to critically evaluate it and anticipate the next edge; and, yes, building a relationship through communication (lecture, discussion, and reading/grading) to make absolutely sure that the education experience is two-or-more-way communication.

With these criteria, it is much easier to understand why some colleges are better than others. If faculty work is just about the ability to speak in front of a group, deliver info, and outsource grading... why, then the minimum skill set for faculty is pretty low, and the range from OK to great is pretty slim. Faculty work would be a fairly low skill level line of work, and it should all be pretty cheap to buy.

That said... I don't think it's cheating to outsource grammar, basic sentence structure, or spelling review to the writing center or MSWord. I don't object at all to students getting tutors for skills that they should have learned before they come to my course. But again, few papers improve because the writer went to the writing center or got a tutor - they improved because a good teacher somehow made a lightbulb go on and a hardworking student got a brain fired up and focused and connecting, and worked the magic.

Another thought: So, I think that if an instructor uses an outsourced grader, he or she should pay for that service out of his/her compensation. (Or, if the outsourced grader replaces a TA, the funding line for TAs should be transferred to cover the grader.) This is only fair, since grading is a normal function of an instructor. Administrators?

15. 22280998 - April 06, 2010 at 07:43 am

How about paying the TAs (or professor) the $12 per assignment.

16. osugradsch - April 06, 2010 at 07:51 am

I'm sure there are droves of unemployed or underemployed English ABDs who have taught their own courses in business writing who could be grading these courses. Heck, maybe they could even afford health insurance if they got paid $12/assignment....

17. 7738373863 - April 06, 2010 at 08:47 am

I'm sorry, but grading is a part of teaching, and if the problem is being caused by administrators who approve 1,000-student courses because they are understaffed or to realize economies of scale, then Professor Whisenant should be confronting those administrators and demanding relief. By the way, the same administrators, who are most probably paying for the offshore grading, are doing so because it is cheaper than doing the pedagogically correct thing: hiring additional faculty and TAs to reduce the course workload to manageable proportions.

18. eumaios - April 06, 2010 at 09:04 am

After looking at the University of Houston's Web site and doing a little math, the lowest figure I can come up with for the revenue produced by a 3-credit business course is $664.98 per student per semester. That number is based on the per-credit figure on the univeristy's site ($221.66/credit for courses in the busines school). It doesn't include fees. If 1,000 students a year enroll in the course in business law and ethics, that one course takes in at least $664,980 a year in tuition alone.

I'd say that the university can afford to employ some on-campus graders.

One thousand students a year means 500 a semester. The professor already has seven teaching assistants. At the community college where I work, we have precisely zero teaching assistants to help with the grading for at least four and usually five writing-intensive courses. Houston: Seven people (not counting the professor) to read and grade the work of 500 juniors and seniors, or about 71.4 students per person. My place: One person to read and grade the work of 100-120 freshmen whose writing is about as bad as bad can be. Plus at least three and sometimes four different preps. The state defines all the work involved in teaching five classes as about half of our job duties.

My hat's off to Virtual-TA for exploiting one of the opportunities in the scam that is higher education. I wish I'd thought of it.

Incidentally, the University of Houston might want to outsource some of the pages on its site to those graders in India. In the five minutes I spent on the site, I spotted some writing errors that need fixing--comma splices, missing possessives, and such--and that I do not tolerate in the work of my cc students. Or if the university would like to hire a copy-editor, I'm always available.

19. grifflee - April 06, 2010 at 09:18 am

My main fear about outsourcing grading is that it will eventually have the effect of dumbing down the writing process. At the highest levels of intellectual work, writing and thinking are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them. The choice of words, phrases, sentence constructions, modifiers, conjunctions, and transitions all work to express complex ideas and relationships among ideas. If students are given challenging, thought-provoking assignments rather than simple summaries or reports, the assessor would need to have some expertise in the subject area, not just in writing, to give meaningful feedback. Comments focused strictly on features of writing, such as "stronger transition needed here" or "claim not supported" fail to address the student's faulty understanding of the subject or weaknesses in making a case about a particular academic topic.

Trained graders can address spelling, grammar, and organization issues in writing, but probably can't comment on the most difficult and challenges issues,in which thought and language intersect. Imagine that outsourced graders are used routinely in college. Eventually students will stop trying to use language to understand and manipulate complex ideas and simply pour out "correct prose" on easy, unchallenging topics.

20. bevfreeman - April 06, 2010 at 09:19 am

Doesn't this choice reduce opportunities for professors to know their students, their strengths and weaknesses and offer guidance when possible, even if sections are large? Grading provides an incentive students to seek help. With regard to the outsourced graders, their grading may meet or suggest different standards than what was communicated in the classroom. Will or can students take their criticism seriously? Seems like a detrmental "trend" altogether. I would feel better about sharing TAs (for a fee to each TA perhaps) with other universities who have similar courses but perhaps not the TA crunch that Univ. of Texas-Houston has.

21. novain - April 06, 2010 at 09:31 am

$12 per assignment, sure we can find people in United States to do a credible job. But hidden in the muddle is the fact that $12 per assignment is what the company charges. It is likely that the actual employee at the end of the spectrum in India is getting paid $1 or less per assignment with no benefits.

22. trendisnotdestiny - April 06, 2010 at 09:42 am

Anyone want to outsource their tenure review or their dissertation proposal.

C'mon freeing up time for TA's? In the history of outsourcing, someone has to explain how the customer has benefitted from this?

We know it is a cost cutting measure of neoliberal economics, but someone is going to have to make the non-theoretical case that it provides better outcomes... of using complex data that most undergraduates will not be able to decipher or utilize in anyway...

This article and its ideology is a farce; de-skill the teaching profession by gutting state funding; create a competition with reseach oriented colleagues as means to divide fields and departments and systematically de-skill the essential parts of teaching by reducing them into little neoliberal functions

From the people who brought you Enron, S&L Crisis, Creationism Curriculum Overrides ..... this is just another boom and bust process with less midnight oil

23. roro1618 - April 06, 2010 at 09:54 am

@raymond. I wasn't necessarily in support of nor disagreement with outsourcing grading. I was simply making the point to mathmaven that about the value of the global economy, which has also benefited mathmaven, though he/she may or may not realize it.

24. intered - April 06, 2010 at 10:28 am

How about the Turing test?

Good or bad compared to what?

Some instructors are conscientious in evaluating students' papers and providing constructive feedback. It is difficult work and even more difficult to evaluate the work validly in the aggregate. The use of a rubric is essential and most complex written assignments require two passes to avoid a variety of common but unavoidable human biases.

Sadly, conscientious evaluation of students written documents is less common than one would think. One of the most common complaints students have about their teachers is that they do not give adequate constructive feedback on their products. They spend weeks on an issue, write the paper, and it is returned (weeks late) marked "'B' Good job. Next time use more sources." Recently we viewed 25 virtual classrooms and found that more than half of the instructors were cutting and pasting exactly the same comment on every student's paper. These people should be fired. Making valid distinctions about the nature and level of a student's performance and providing the student with the benefit of thank knowledge is an essential component of teaching.

Compared to the "no feedback graders" and the "cut and pasters" this virtual grading program is an improvement. Compared to real professors who leave gallons of ink on their students' papers, virtual grading is a nostrum. Meaning, especially anything subtle, is created by context and the teaching and evaluation contexts are separated by a continent. Given the state of grading, virtual grading may be more useful than not for the more elementary subjects wherein the rubric can rest on simple rules or algorithms. Beyond that, as a measurement scientist, I would have serious questions.

My proposal is that the process is subjected to a modified Turing test. Let's see how well the system works when a competent expert tries to fool it. Can silly things be said in a way to earn high marks? Can profound things be conveyed in such a way that they will be marked as incorrect? These are empirical questions and there is only one way to answer them. Have some fun with it.

Robert W Tucker
InterEd, Inc.

25. rebeca123 - April 06, 2010 at 10:53 am

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26. andrewpegoda - April 06, 2010 at 11:01 am

This sounds like a HUGE FERPA issue!

27. dwalcerz - April 06, 2010 at 11:16 am

If you use a textbook in your course then you have outsourced your instructional design. If you use a test bank you have outsourced evaluation. If you use online homework systems you have outsourced assignments. There is nothing sacred about 'doing it yourself' and we long ago gave up the idea that it is even possible to do everything. Every task we do ourself has an opportunity cost because we can't do other tasks. It is our job as professors to be effective teachers (and researchers and members of our academic communities). If you look at what is happening in real classrooms (not the ideal classrooms in our imaginations) it is that there is no meaningful 'feedback loop' for student work and learning opportunities are lost. Outsourcing grading can make it possible to have a meaningful feedback loop, and, in my opinion, the cost/benefit is positive.

28. jaysanderson - April 06, 2010 at 12:24 pm

This is a great proposal! I've already outsourced brushing my teeth in the morning and flushing the toilet thrice daily, so this makes perfect sense.

29. bmljenny - April 06, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Agree completely with higherandhigher in comment #6. How are we ever going to get university educators in this country who ARE good at giving feedback if their work is offshored? I guess it's good for this prof that she found a solution that fixes her short-term needs, but what impact would this have on our whole higher education system if this were to scale up dramatically? In my (completely unqualified) opinion, this is the kind of short-term, I-got-mine-Jack thinking that's behind some of our country's economic problems. Interesting that it's a business law and ethics class.

30. joeschuster - April 06, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I see several problems with this.

First of all--yes, grading can be onerous, particularly if you give student work close attention. I have seen far too many student papers on which the instructor has written, in red, "A; good" at the top of bottom of it. That's not grading; that's an exercise in penmanship. But as others have pointed out, grading student work lets the instructor know something about his or her own effectiveness. It's also an opportunity to continue the teaching, to give each student specific direction that can help him or her improve in some way. Outsourcing grading removes this opportunity.

Second, a course with 500 students in it each semester is appalling. If, as eumaios in #18 estimates, the school brings in just shy of $700,000 a year for this one course, not only could it hire more TAs and on-campus graders, it can hire more full-time faculty and reduce the size of the course.

Third, this is troubling for yet another reason: faculty who use this service are taking one more step toward making clear that full-time faculty aren't necessary. With more college and university boards embracing a business model for academia, how long will it be before they decide that FT faculty are not necessary at all. For example, take one online class that a faculty person creates, complete with all of the content; add outsourcing for grading and reading and responding to student online discussion posts and there is no reason at all to employ FT faculty for that course.

I am not saying the model I suggest is a good one; clearly it's not. I am just saying that as faculty shed more and more disagreeable aspects of teaching (don't like handling 100-level intro courses so you leave those to TAs and adjuncts? Don't like teaching core courses at all but prefer upper division special topics courses?) more and more boards are going to stop approving new FT faculty lines, more and more boards and administrations are going to stop approving replacement positions and even (it can happen) get rid of FT faculty altogether.

31. intered - April 06, 2010 at 12:58 pm

To #27: Depressing. I cling to the illusion that some professors still take the role of teaching seriously. I understand that few understand instructional design, much less the last 50 years of learning sciences, and therefore teach the same way we taught in the 1900's. If done well, however, this produces decent, if slow, results with transferability constraints. Nonetheless, in this context, we can give the hard working real teachers a pass, even if not forgiveness, for being so conservative.

I suppose some of those complaining about the outsourcing are those who provide a videotaped lecture to six sections of students for whom the material teaching is effected by an ESL TA. "Oh well" to this one as well.

But do those who use publishers' test banks understand that roughly half of these test items fail even elementary standards of validity? Someone wishing to press reform would lead a class action lawsuit against those who assign grades and end up affecting careers based on scientifically invalid instruments. If one can't teach well, or if one refuses to employ modern sciences in teaching practices, at least take the time to learn how to assign grades validly to the students who will learn on their own. It is ethically reprehensible to do otherwise.

32. pseudotriton - April 06, 2010 at 01:09 pm

Agree with roro1618 (#23) that globalization is beneficial in the long run. And dwalcerz (#27) makes the excellent point that we have been routinely outsourcing jobs in modern society, because it's impossible for an individual or small group to accomplish most modern day tasks. It's just that now we are starting to do it on an international scale.

What never seizes to amaze me is how prevalent the xenophobic sentiments are, even among the supposedly enlightened, intellectual crowd. Before you whine too much about Americans losing their jobs to foreigners, remember that outsourcing goes both ways. All the international students attending US universities are outsourcing their education from their home coutry to the US. And many Asian universities now pride themselves in hiring international faculty, particularly native English speakers.

33. 11274135 - April 06, 2010 at 01:31 pm

Anyone see a problem with a statement like, "Good idea. I'll outsource the grading so I can spend more time on my teaching"?

34. richardcmiller - April 06, 2010 at 02:47 pm

Why am I not surprised that this is being done by someone who claims to teach "business ethics?"

35. eumaios - April 06, 2010 at 03:02 pm

#34, richardcmiller:

You win. Best post of the day.

Your prize is a free course that uses anonymous off-site graders.

Whoever wins second prize gets two free courses that use anonymous off-site graders.

36. timewaster123 - April 06, 2010 at 03:20 pm

I'm not morally opposed to the outsourcing of grading here, but I do wonder whether it creates a moral hazard for those graders to take the assignments to sell to plagiarism websites? At least the TAs have reputational consequences to face for this kind of thing...

37. ksledge - April 06, 2010 at 04:15 pm

I've been a TA with grading responsibility before, and then I taught a large lecture with no TAs, but with a grader.

When I was a TA it was ok, because I was heading up sections and I had office hours, so I was the go-to person. It made sense that I was grading student work.

When I had an extremely competent grader for my lecture who was an expert on the topic and familiar with the course itself, I appreciated the convenience (in fact it would have been impossible NOT to have him), but I thought it was a crappy situation for the students. I didn't see exactly how they were doing. I'd go over some of the assignments each time, but with 100 students I could not look at them all. Their grader didn't hold office hours. I think that the people who teach the students should be the ones grading them. If you teach a small class, you should grade the work. If you teach a large class, you should have TAs who also have instructional capabilities (help with designing the assignments, holding office hours.) I had the best possible grader situation when I had one, and I still felt like it wasn't ideal.

38. intered - April 06, 2010 at 05:00 pm

I recommend going to the Virtual-TA website and examining the three, presumably best case, examples of what is done. At best, the responses are formulaic. They seem to have more the rhetorical tone than the reality of being substantive. In part, this observation may rest on cultural differences. I can easily see gobbledygook evaluations of the work of highly competent students whose perspectives define the edge of the conceptual envelope.

Suggestion: send in some samples, per the invitation on the website, and share what you see here. In principle, this can work. I'm not so certain about this particular system.

Whether or not evaluation and performance feedback ought to be part of the bond between teacher and learner is a more complex question and one that will vary with the subject matter. English 101 where the emphasis is no grammar and composition, perhaps. Business ethics, I'm not sure we are ready for that.

One thing is certain. It is ethically incumbent upon Professor Whisenant to conduct blind validity and reliability studies on the process. To do less is professionally irresponsible and would appear to be negligent. In modern measurement science (i.e., since Cronbach, Scriven, and others in the 1950's-60's), validity has been shown to be a property of test and context. Whatever Virtual-TA may say with respect to validity as a general property is largely irrelevant unless it was determined on a course like hers attended by a student body like hers, evaluated like she evaluates.

39. haggard - April 06, 2010 at 05:02 pm

education is not a business. but when it is treated like one, it becomes one, with all the foibles. we are not making widgets here. if you insist that education is a business then it needs to be treated like advertising. half the money spent is wasted, but we don't know which half. so spend the money. and make the class small enough that the professor can handle it.

40. unabashedmale - April 06, 2010 at 06:43 pm

Dear Haggard

If you think education is not a business, then you probably think
healthcare is not a business.

If you still beleive this society is run by altruistic men of character, then ask your administrator what numbers he tracks.

I don't like it either, but it is what we've become.

41. trendisnotdestiny - April 06, 2010 at 07:58 pm

#39 & #40 thank you for replaying the constant battle of WITT vs. YOYO (Were In This Together vs You're on Your Own).....

The promise of higher education did not start out as a function of quarterly report statement profits...... It often attracted people who self-selected out of the business milieu.... the fact that university funding is now largely dependent on corporations (70-80% funding source) says more about how the univerisity system, congress and our regulatory system has been captured over the last 40 years by the communities of power located in CEO boardrooms, neoliberal thinktanks, and supporters of the myth of the american dream....

Unabashed... for you to miss Haggard's sentiment (only to replace it with your cynical certainty) indicates the division between operating in what is and what should be...... During a time of devasting economic problems for families; our job should be to move in the direction of possibilities...... channeling this energy in this way will be better than directing it back people in the "this is the way it is" rhetoric (that's how riots, violence, and roots of the third reich started)

42. abelragen - April 06, 2010 at 08:25 pm

I suspect that the Indian readers perform a service that American TA's can't.They come from an English-speaking culture where practical grammar is still taught; Americans, even B.A.'s in English do not.

43. tkaboo - April 07, 2010 at 05:49 am

The response to this article is fairly surprising to me. First, it is surprising how many in the US feel that "outsourcing" is a bad thing.

When industrialized countries bring their lower cost, high volume products to developing countries and squeeze local businesses, people in America consider it to be "progress". When American companies and for-profit organizations like universities do the same, American's feel that they are being cheated. Wake up kiddies, smell the roses!

It is amusing to hear of all the people who lament the loss of the $12 per hour or $12 per assignment jobs to "someone in Bangalore" who, ostensibly is a lesser mortal than the fat American who couldn't be concerned with getting the basic education required to perform that job. How many people are actually available in these United States to do this job, let alone do it well?

If American job-seekers want to remain relevant in the workplace, they need to continue to improve their skills and provide services that are significantly better than those provided by those who can commoditize and provide comparable services at a fraction of the price. Cleaning crews all over the country, working in the fields, slaughter houses and driving taxi's are all examples of jobs that have been largely taken over by immigrants. With the advent of technology that allows for the work to go where the labor is, we see the same in outsourcing.

Developed countries don't get to stipulate one set of rules for themselves (globalization is good, you must open your markets to our companies, you can't fix your currency etc etc.,) and then turn around and place restrictions on the outflow of work to the lowest bidder in the countries whose economies just got globalized.

Get real folks, this is the future. If you don't like it, improve your skill sets or be marginalized.

44. medieval_spectacle - April 07, 2010 at 10:42 am

@tkaboo: With your rather nasty statement about "the fat American who couldn't be concerned with getting the basic education required to perform that job," you're just making excessively clear your ignorance of the current situation of humanities grad students in the US. There is a glut of qualified MAs and ABDs in particularly English lit., but also in other humanities, who are capable and would be willing to take over these sorts of jobs. Most of them are currently eking out a bare bones living as adjuncts who shuttle between different institutions in an effort to keep paying their rent and eating. As someone flippantly noted above, a bit of extra, per-assignment work of this kind might, for some, allow them to actually get health care. Many of them probably live within 20 miles of these outsourcing institutions and could actually occasionally attend the class and speak face-to-face with the professor. The fact remains, however, that outsourcing is cheaper, and outsourced workers can be paid a fraction of what in-country workers would. Like another poster, I seriously doubt that the workers in India are getting much of that $12 per assignment.

45. egieskes - April 07, 2010 at 11:07 am

Since when is grading not teaching?

46. jesor - April 07, 2010 at 01:36 pm

Those of you talking about the cost are missing the rest of the economic model for large research institutions:

Lets say that course brings in 700K (for round numbers)
You subtract:
faculty salary + Benefits 75K
4 TAs (tuition + Stipend) 200K
Facility 25K
Admin support 10K
Non-grant funded research 100K
Charge for support of low enrollment grad programs:
Support of low-enrollment Undergrad Major Classes:

Now the class is break-even for the college, and you haven't even paid for the stadium or the University Administration yet.

You do eventually have to ask yourself though, if Faculty do not teach, evaluate students, or develop curriculum, are they really faculty, or are they now administrators with PhDs and tenure?

47. alleyoxenfree - April 07, 2010 at 01:50 pm

Outsourcing in academia is an excellent idea! Anyone who has ever dealt with the call center for an airline or computer "customer support" knows this is obvious.

But we have started at the wrong end of the elephant if cost-cutting is the idea.

Why not set up a bank of Virtual Deans, Provosts, and Presidents who could make objective decisions - untrammeled by personal ambition, petty politics, and revenge needs - for a fraction of the cost of our current ones? I'm sure there are now highly educated individuals in other countries where the cost of living is a fraction of ours whose transferable skills would allow them to take on these jobs.

That would free up a boatload of funds to hire a few American TAs who - because they are on-site - could provide students with both timely feedback and comments in context.

Although this may mean a few provosts herd sheep or drive cabs, it's all for the greater glory of globalism. If you oppose this, surely you are simply old. Or you hate your country and its "progress." Give us business or give us death!

48. jaysanderson - April 07, 2010 at 02:07 pm

YES! alleyoxenfree has the solution--outsource administration. It's so simple, it's brilliant. Grading papers doesn't cost the university much at all, but paying for administrators and their "legacy to my greatness" projects are the real budget-busters. I've been waiting for something like this my whole life.

49. msims - April 07, 2010 at 02:37 pm

#27 must be a business instructor or administrator.

#30 hit the nail on the head:
" With more college and university boards embracing a business model for academia, how long will it be before they decide that FT faculty are not necessary at all. For example, take one online class that a faculty person creates, complete with all of the content; add outsourcing for grading and reading and responding to student online discussion posts and there is no reason at all to employ FT faculty for that course."

Yes. The "business model" - nay - the "corporate model" is now in full control of academia. Before long all humanities requirement, languages, philosophy and other touchy-feely offerings will be gone and universities will become glorified trade schools turning out competent but not fully rounded engineers, CEOs, and scientists. They will have really great football and basketball programs, too! At some point, the whole thing will crumble under its own stupidity and we will rebuild an education model with some sanity.

50. mssmiley - April 07, 2010 at 04:10 pm

As a student I valued my teacher's opinion and looked forwardd to feedback as an opportunity for constructive engageent. I think this whole concept of outscourcing grades is absurd. So what happens when the student wants to challenge the feedback or even disucss his or her paper? I never thought I see the day when teaching would be reduced to this level. Also, #11 makes a valid observation. We have to maintain the integrity of the learning process and get back to substantive engagement between teachers and students.

51. trendisnotdestiny - April 07, 2010 at 04:28 pm

#47 your last name isn't Colbert is it?

52. davi2665 - April 07, 2010 at 05:09 pm

This outsourcing could be the start of a new trend at universities. Since grading is now outsourced, perhaps all presentations can be outsourced and achieved on line. That way, no faculty member would ever need to show up in class or have any interactions with those annoying interferences, the students, who take valuable time away from their nobel-directed research. This could also be applied to research. The faculty could think up their brilliant hypotheses and the general outline of what they would like to do. Then, they could outsource the literature searches, grant preparation and writing, and preliminary data to someone in India or elsewhere. If the project is funded, they could outsource the actual conduct of the research to an overseas laboratory (a CRO for faculty), outsource the data analysis and statistical evaluations to similar organizations, have someone elsewhere write their manuscript for publication, and add it to their CV. That way, they never have to spend time in the lab, deal with those annoying graduate students, postdocs, undergraduates, and technicians, or spend sleepless nights at the bench. Their promotion and tenure evaluations could be outsourced for evaluation by the outsourced administrators, proposed above, and everyone could live happily ever after. What a wonderful way to conserve resources and move our educational institutions to the "next level."

53. nilspeterson - April 07, 2010 at 06:11 pm

This discussion might be advanced by seperating the idea of "grading" from "feedback" and by expanding the thought of getting feedback from one teacher to feedback from a community. Then one might talk of students seeking peer feedback, oncampus instructor feedback, and feedback from Virtual-TA.

I guess what I'm suggesting is some shifting of the agency, from instructor to student, for more along these lines see http://dmlcentral.net/blog/cathy-davidson/crowdsourcing-authority-in-classroom

54. srpinpgh - April 07, 2010 at 07:02 pm

Back when I was in school, getting someone else to do your work was called "cheating." Interesting choice, made by someone purportedly teaching ethics. If she's incapable of handling the workload for the salary she's receiving, perhaps she should find a field with a workload she can accomplish. I understand the government's hiring.

55. srpinpgh - April 07, 2010 at 07:06 pm

"Sometimes professors want changes in the nature of the comments. Ms. Whisenant found those on her students' papers initially 'way too formal,' she says. 'We wanted our feedback to be conversational and more direct. So we sent them examples of how we wanted it done, and they did it.'

In other words, they wanted the feedback to sound more colloquial, more "American."

How can professors, with a straight face, denigrate the use of "term paper mills" and use these types of services?

56. willworkfortenure - April 07, 2010 at 07:20 pm

Seriously? There is so much to protest this newfangled idea, it's not even funny. As a teacher, no, I don't much always care for grading, especially when there's beautiful spring weather outside my window that I'd love to enjoy. But as so many wise souls here have noted, it's part of the job. I get to know my students better by reading their papers, and part of that relationship would go right out the window if I were to outsource the grading. How can I tell a student that I know how they're doing in my class if I haven't even read their work? Talk about a loss of credibility. Nor could I fathom informing students that I'm not even grading their work - some stranger thousands of miles away is going it for me. In this day and age, I am hardly going to want to estrange my students by doing this.

But sure, okay, if you want to outsource these things, at least keep it within the country. I'm all about keeping prices low, but um, the economy sucks. As an M.A. student, I can tell you that I'd have welcomed $12/hour to read papers. $12 is $12, and yeah, for those slow times, a little extra doesn't hurt. I believe in a global economy, but I think we've gone a little too far in letting the rest of the world do our work for us, and now we're paying the price.

Oh, and #32, any wonder why so many international students come here to study in the U.S.? Our schools are good, and moreover, they come to learn English from native speakers. As a former international student myself who has studied abroad, even the best universities often pale against the quality of our lesser schools here. I'm all about having international students and faculty here, as well as I love the idea of Americans being international students in other countries and native speakers teaching in foreign schools. Yes, schools in Asia hire native English speakers because English is where it is at! I teach ESL, and as it is, I'm looking for jobs here in America, and sure, it'd be grand to stay here and teach to the ESL populations in America, but overseas, they pay more. Honey, it's about the money, and well, when you've bills to pay and you gotta eat, you gotta go where the money is. I wish that were here in the U.S.

57. neitheornor - April 07, 2010 at 09:21 pm

I'm appalled by this article and the comments above, particularly #43, tkaboo. You must be joking, right? There are scads of qualified humanities graduates in the US who would give their right arm to grade papers @ $12 a pop (or an hour) instead of collecting unemployment and beating down the door at Starbucks. The reason they can't do it isn't because they're too fat and lazy to take it -- no, it's because the job has been scrapped and shipped off to India. They can't work because THERE ARE NO JOBS HERE.

I'm so glad you're amused while we lament the loss of our livelihood. You do realize the publishing industry is in a downward spiral precisely because these types of decent-paying editing jobs (as well as grading and art layout and god knows what else they're not telling us about) have been outsourced to India? You do realize formerly white-collar editing jobs that used to be the bread and butter of recent college humanities and journalism graduates are utterly absent because they've been outsourced? The publishing industry as a whole has been outsourced, and no one seems to be paying any attention. Not a good sign. I consider the layoffs of thousands of editors, reporters, and other journalists to be a harbinger of the death of the American white-collar economy. The blue-collar economy already died; white-collar workers are just now figuring it out. And it sucks, and it hurts, and there is nowhere for us to go. But in a way, this a good thing for us, because we're finally realizing what the rest of working-class America already knows: We're all on our way down.

And I don't care if it is xenophobic to say this: Native-born Americans who speak English, are immersed in American culture, and have English or journalism degrees will ALWAYS be better at editing and grading English than nonnative English speakers. For goodness' sake, isn't that obvious? Doesn't anybody see anything fishy about nonnative speakers editing and grading native English speakers? Am I out in left field here?

58. goodeyes - April 07, 2010 at 10:40 pm

1,000 students spending at least $500 a course giving the university $500,000 and the faculty member $100,000 (I'll be generous). Profit = $400,000.

59. ndy987 - April 08, 2010 at 12:22 am

As an MBA with a Liberal Arts undergraduate degree, I can tell you that business schools badly need a low cost way to grade papers. In the numerically focused classes (e.g. Accounting, Finance, Statistics), the professor announces their goal as differentiating the students. They succeeded in differentiating me in from the Engineers. In the word focused classes (e.g. Organizational Behavior and Marketing) the Professors announced that in professional life we would have to work with others, and consequentially we would be graded on a group project. The reality was that there was no way a Professor could grade 3 ten page papers for every student.

I welcome this service if it leads to changes in the MBA curriculum so that verbal skills are more accurately assessed, improved, and evaluated as part of the standard MBA program. The Internet and email mean that written communications are more important than ever, despite the unpleasant fact that written work requires more grading work than a typical business professor can be reasonably expected to engage.

60. eye_no_better_than_u - April 08, 2010 at 02:37 am

There is a certain ironic symmetry here. Many students are already buying their papers from term-paper factories located in India and other third world countries. Now we are sending those papers back there to be graded. I wonder how many people are both writing and grading student work, and whether, serendipitously, any of those people ever get the chance to grade their own writing. Certainly, over time, there could be a drift toward papers that reflect language trends overseas since those trends will be normal to the readers who live overseas. Additionally, by sending the papers back for grading, complete with rubrics, we are creating ever better term paper mill staffers. Sigh.

61. asking - April 08, 2010 at 03:07 am

what monies are professors using to pay for these services? someone in administration would have to authorize funds for these purposes, its not likely that grant funds can be used this way. and would this be illegal if there was a TA union at the university or college?

62. inglouriousbantered - April 08, 2010 at 04:25 am

Ah, the 'business' of higher education.

Rather than focus on cost-cutting on the front-lines, which is really the crux of the matter, how about making the yop of the pyramid leaner? Removing dead weight/high salaried administrators, provosts, and deans sounds like a good place to start to me.

63. nofool - April 08, 2010 at 04:46 am

This is disgusting. Follow the money. Why pay for higher education when what one gets is outsourcing of grading for essays, reports, and other pieces of writing? This is just more management by greedy airheads. This country is being "had" by corporate giants aided by our own government. The USA is falling apart chunk by chunk, while the politicians are busily patting themselves on the back while they and the corporate giants rape us. Ethics? What ethics. This country has lost its way. We have the largest percent of child poverty among the developed countries and it is getting worse. So, how about outsourcing poverty? Oh, I forgot, the USA rapes the rest of the world in the name of "just doing business." Now the USA is raping its own citizens who have to pay to get raped. Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting. To think that the cost of higher education is outrageous, and now this!!! How shameful.

64. mbelvadi - April 08, 2010 at 06:52 am

If you outsource grading, whose job is it to detect plagiarism? I could well imagine offering such a service a bonus of $50 each time their grader detects and documents a severe (eg large sections, not just one sentence) case of plagiarism. The defense of the institution's academic integrity would be worth the cost, and with a financial incentive like that, the human graders would probably be more thorough than automated systems like turnitin (they might even use turnitin as part of their check).

65. cybird9 - April 08, 2010 at 07:06 am

Universities and colleges need to beware of this scam, for it is indeed a scam. I have not seen a single post here that addressed the fact that, if you were to use this service, you would be in violation of your accreditation agencies' standards and codes. In coursework, regardless of the subject matter, departments have to produce their evaluation methods and outcomes, and you would have no proof at how your professors arrived at these outcomes--grades are part of your statistical evidence that the professor, who should have at least 18 graduate hours in the subject they teach, are the ones who have had the final say; professors have direct contact with TAs who work with them (or at least, they are supposed to). The executives of this company can claim that their workers are qualified, but as you see, when they were asked to provide proof of their qualifications, refused to do so. That should ring some alarm bells. If you are an instructor at a large institution, it's probably no wonder you didn't think of this problem, but if you are a chair, you must think of it, because your department can be cited for violations of standards.

Higer education is a business. However, it is a business that is more closely regulated than other types of business, so if you try to apply one method of success to it, you are comparing apples to oranges. Budgets are already too tight to use such services; we can't even afford normal things like office supplies anymore, which is why many professors are reduced to buying their own supplies out of their own paychecks. In any case, outsourcing is a form of third world slavery that has reduced our economy to the mess it is--if businesses were using American labor instead of cheap foreign labor, people here would have jobs, we would be back in the business of manufacturing, and the economy would be alright. To outsource is to destroy the economy of the university, budgetwise and in the economy of qualification. Grades have already been inflated for the sake of student/parent ego gratification; now you think that if you cut out the middle man (the professor) and deal with a paper mill economy, you will somehow improve education? This is a rationalization that appeals to certain regents' bottom line, but it destroys the university at the level of the quality of education itself. I would compare it to the hundreds of spams I receive that promise if I give my bank account #, I will receive 4 million dollars from an international lotto for my graciousness. Don't be a rube. This is not a new method or the future of education. Sometimes, if somebody is giving you a diamond ring for ten cents, you've got a diamond ring that isn't worth a dime.

66. elderlady - April 08, 2010 at 08:23 am

Teachers are being laid off in school districts all across the United States.

They would probably love to have these jobs, and the $12 per... paper.

Is "Walmartizing" American education the answer? I don't think so.

67. nacrandell - April 08, 2010 at 09:32 am

Grading in Bangalore - Why not teaching also?

If the university can save money by off-shoring the grading, how much could be saved by off-shoring the teaching?

It sounds like Lori Whisenant has an upper management view - she is essential but the TAs are not - why exactly is that so? Why can't standard universities adopt online universities business plans and save money? Some of the responses suggest that the quality of assignment review is not degraded and the costs are reduced for the TA jobs, so why not Whisenant's job? Does she teach something remarkable? Can't Hindus/Muslims teach ethics just as well?

68. goxewu - April 08, 2010 at 10:14 am

1. Does Prof. Whisenant herself, or on-campus TAs, check the comments from the outsourced feedbackers put on her students' papers? If so, how thoroughly? And if fairly thoroughly, why not just keep the whole thing in-house?

2. The ethical problem of outsourcing student papers to an off-site private company to be done online would be exactly the same if the off-site private company were right there in Houston and staffed entirely by a bunch of native-born blue-eyed blonde Protestants and the fee were $25 per assignment. The globalism/India/xenophobia issue is a red herring regarding it.

3. Given Prof. Whisenant's and EduMetry's reasoning, mutual outsourcing is reasonable. If the drudge work of grading/feedback isn't that much a part of teaching (lecturing, leading discussions, assigning reading), then the drudge work of writing papers isn't that much a part of learning (listening to lectures, participating in discussions, reading the assigned reading). In outsourcing the writing of the paper, a student is just playing the game by the new rules Prof. Whisenant has set up. To her "Here, I'll provide you with some feedback on your writing from someone unconnected to the course," an entirely legit response is, "Here, I'll provide you with some feedback fodder from someone unconnected to the course." Sauce for the goose, etc.

4. You've got to love the Orwellian name of the private company: "EduMetry." Among the commenters, "InterEd" ain't too shabby, either. But at least it's not some boiler room operation; EduCrats can go to refreshing retreats in Idaho, talk some EduSmack spiced up with One-Minute-Manager lingo and maybe get 100:1 ROI! (Check out the website.) Domain names still not taken: EduScam, EduFraud, EduSploitation, EduTemps, EduEthics, EduProfit, and EduEvasion. Get thee to GoDaddy!

69. lschwartz1 - April 08, 2010 at 10:14 am

Appears Lori thinks she is too important to do her fraking job.

70. texasguy - April 08, 2010 at 11:48 am

In addition, some commenters made a very good point mentioning the difference between grading and giving good feedback. People teaching in a business school should know how to grade the assignments they give to their student. At the same time, they might not be the most qualified people for helping these students to improve their writing skills. Farming out that task is thus the best possible solution.

71. allye - April 08, 2010 at 02:16 pm

I have had classes where I slaved over giving detailed critical feedback but the students did not improve. It turned out that the problem was my expectation of what they already knew and their lack of effort in internalizing my feedback. Feedback alone is not enough, and at a time of slashed budgets I question whether this is the best use of money.

72. ponderthis - April 08, 2010 at 02:18 pm

Some of you should try to READ the article first.

The course that is the focus of the article is a business school course, not English composition 101, and the goal of the course appears to be the instruction of business law and ethics (a challenge in itself since these two subjects could easily be two separate courses).

Often in business schools, courses are tagged as "writing in the discipline", indicating that the students get more opportunities to write and get feedback on their writing (usually because the English composition 101 courses don't do an effective job, and prospective employers ask business schools to find ways to improve the writing of business school grads).

Since the course is "business law and ethics" and is taught by a lawyer (see her website), the decision to outsource the feedback for the "writing in the discipline" component of the course seems, not only prudent, but also quite effective in meeting the varied goals of the course.

So let me see, the professor is teaching business law, is teaching ethics, is managing an intense writing in the discipline effort, and is teaching the course to hundreds of students. Maybe "#69" thinks the professor is not doing, what did you say, " her fraking job"? I disagree!

But let's pay no attention to the facts, let's just bemoan the "outsourcing of grading" and the demise of higher education in the U.S. - much easier than using your brain.

73. jennyfer131620 - April 08, 2010 at 04:05 pm

I would like to comment from both sides of this issue. I'm an Online Grad student in Bus Admin. My mother is an online professor in Education. I helped grade papers for some courses that were out of the Business schoolto relieve some of the work load because with hundreds of students that have weekly writing assignments the turn around time was taking away from the discussion in the classroom. Not only that but there was so much focus on mechanics in writing it was virtually impossible to even critique the conten. I would like to see harsher critiquing done at the undergrad level in order to prepare for grad level writing. Therefore, I feel outsourcing undergrad papers for better feedback is a pretty good idea. I agree that globalization is important and don't think any jobs are being taken away from Americans.

I completely agree with ponderthis!

74. goxewu - April 08, 2010 at 04:17 pm

Ponder this, ponderthis:

We did indeed read the article. Carefully. That's why the comments are, in general, so excoriating.

Here's the howler: "'Our graders were great," [Prof. Whisenhant] says, 'but they were not experts in providing feedback.'" So, grading in the course is just a once-over and a letter-grade scrawled across the top, with no marginalia (a k a "feedback"). I suppose this is a slight improvement over the time honored method of throwing a pile of student papers down the stairs and giving them grades according to the step on which they land.

If the writing in the class papers in a class concerning business law and business ethics is divorced enough from the professional content of the course that somebody in a faraway boiler room, unconnected to the course or the university offering it, can give meaningful "feedback," then the paper topics are badly assigned and fairly irrelevant to the course.

Prof. Whisenhant has 500 students per semester; she also has seven TAs. If the university would give her a couple more TAs, there'd be ten people grading 50 papers each. I know several full professors who grade the papers in classes of 35 - 40 students all by themselves; fifty isn't that much of a jump, especially when grading papers is a main part of a TA's job (the TAs don't prepare lectures, write the exams, etc.) The manpower issue is another red herring. Prof. Whisenhant uses EduMetry because it's easier and the university does it because they think it's saving them money.

And what on earth does Prof. Whisenhant's being a lawyer have to do with the "prudence" of outsourcing papers? Her practice doesn't leave her time to grade (or supervise TAs' grading) of student work? Well, she or the university should choose: law practice or teaching. Or if Prof. Whisenhant is de facto part-time, the university should pony up to staff the course sufficiently. If Prof. Whisenhant, on the other hand, just happens to be an attorney who's not practicing while she teaches, the fact that she's a lawyer is irrelevant.

I do agree, however, that "business law" and "business ethics" can be two separate subjects. Much to the pain of the public, they most often are.

75. joechill - April 08, 2010 at 05:31 pm

Be sure to check out Whisenant's Rate My Professor page. It sounds like she's an expert in engaged pedagogy. http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=226729&page=6

76. raymond_j_ritchie - April 08, 2010 at 08:00 pm

This is a very bad idea dressed up by an excellent spin doctor to look like a good idea. I pointed out in #9 that a Western university using an Indian call-in to mark courses was guilty of false advertising and it was asking for trouble. Big expensive trouble.

#65 cybird9 hits another nail on the head. What sort of accreditation agency would allow it! There is an elementary accountability issue.

This proposal is so silly that some of my colleagues misread the date and thought it was an April Fools Day joke.

77. stosh2 - April 08, 2010 at 11:45 pm

If teaching is so terribly dreadful, perhaps our careerist 'teacher' should gather up student papers, climb a flight of stairs and let them fly. A's for the ones that go the furthest, B's for the next distance and so on. It's a traditional method of grading, but there's no messy interaction with yucky students or their poopy papers AND she saves money not having to hire outside people who can actually read. The TA's can get back to their beer and dreams of research and book deals... Problem solved. Now she can get back to the improtant stuff: HER research and book deals....

78. eacowan - April 08, 2010 at 11:57 pm

52. davi2665 hits the nail right on the head. At a "university" near me, one where one of the greatest professors a foreign language, and a veteran of forty years, was railroaded off the faculty because a couple of students disrupted a class and complained to the administration that they feared flunking the class. (Imagine!) The administration of that university has recently announced the introduction of a doctoral-level program focusing on ... "sustainability and globalism". Does that one bring to mind, say, the "relevance" of the '60s? How vapid can one get?

79. grupenhoff - April 09, 2010 at 08:30 am

A myriad of entries here, yet not one of them, as far as I can tell, address the real problem that would provide the solution to the whole question: GET RID OF GRADING!

80. goxewu - April 09, 2010 at 11:29 am

Re #79:

grupenhoff misses the point. It's not assigning grades that's the problem in Prof. Whisenhant's class, it's "feedback" on student papers.

gurpenhoff's comment should have read: "Not one of the comments, as far as I can tell, addresses the real problem that would provide the solution to the whole question: GET RID OF FEEDBACK!"


81. kevinn - April 09, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Business schools need to seriously investigate using these graders as there are huge time savings (and cost savings) to be found using this method. When the person writing the paper is also the person grading it, they will have effectively cut out the middle man; making the entire assignment process much more streamlined. And as we all know, that is what the free market is all about.

82. englishforasians - April 09, 2010 at 02:43 pm

I'm from Malaysia and I think it's such a shame that America has to resort to this. English is your Native Language - if Native Speakers cannot read and write to proficiency in their own Native Language they simply are not qualified, supposedly, to undertake a meaningful, rigorous academic experience. I speak 3 languages and 2 dialects but I have to choose which is going to be the language I'm most proficient in to do my higher learning and in my case, it has been English. So if some of us can achieve native speaker proficiency in English while studying 2-3 languages in a third world country there is no excuse for an American undergraduate to not be able to read and write in their Native Tongue at a level required to do academic work. It would be completely out of the question for a Chinese or Japanese university to admit a native student who writes worse Japanese / Chinese than an Indian / Malaysian / Singaporean.

The standard of English in Malaysia and Singapore is cause for alarm for our governments and our nations spend a lot of resources trying to improve our command of English. How can these universities stay accredited if their papers are being graded by people who may or may not have graduated from universities accredited/ comparable to accredited American ones?

I will only speak on behalf of Malaysians but what's to stop me, if I'm one of those graders, to sell off scripts to Malaysian undergrads struggling to even write 100 words in English? It is not as if Malaysian professors have not been caught plagiarizing all the way from undergrad to PhD-s - a proficiency in English IS a major problem for Malaysians and an ability to think critically and intelligently IS a major problem for Malaysian graduates. Why do you think we spend so much sending our children overseas? Do you actually want your papers to be marked by us when we don't even trust our own universities to get the job done?

The average wage earner in Malaysia makes $2,000 to $4,000 a month and the cost of an American or Australian undergraduate study is approximately $100,000 a year, a significant amount for a middle-class Asian family. I assure you, as an ESL teacher preparing students for academic studies overseas, Asian families will no longer pay such amounts knowing the papers are being sent back here to be graded by our own stay-at-home moms.

At the least those graders need to have complete transparency about their qualifications and abilities; i.e. published and verified certifications, CVs, work experience, a regularly updated blog to showcase samples of their knowledge and experience in those subjects as well as their writing skills....They should also be involved in some kind of teaching situation comparable to that of an American TA.

Very few Malaysians, if any, pay an arm and a leg without expecting an ROI. They pay for an American educational experience - but obviously that has been outsourced back home again. Soon employers here will know the value of what our students bring home from an American college education - cheating, sex and partying.

83. scottamorris - April 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

This sort of negligence - treating students as income sources and essentially defrauding them of most of the value of their course fees is becoming endemic; the resulting litigation should prove most interesting.

Academic publishers are taking the same route - I recently had a research publication sent to India for proofreading where the company involved added an enormous number of grammatical and punctuation errors.

84. rustywriter - April 11, 2010 at 03:16 pm

How can an instructor refine his exam-writing skills if he doesn't have an intimate assocition with how students respond to the tests? The interaction between those who are taught and those who teach builds both better students and better instructors.
All that said, maybe there's a way for the student to streamline the process and increase consistency of feedback by enrolling in online degree programs based in India. That way, we cut out the middle man. Could it be cheaper, too? Given the rising cost of a university degree, that may be something to consider.
There was a time when I thought that service jobs wouldn't be outsourced. I see now that I was wrong.

85. 44cobane - April 12, 2010 at 08:41 am

Cassandra malgre moi-meme
Truth is stranger than wise cracks.
For the past several years, when colleagues complain about their grading burdens, I've JOKED that I've solved the problem by "OUTSOURCING TO BANGALORE" (that's right Bangalore< not Hyderbad or Mumbai).
Crude sarcasm as prophesy. A gift from the gods I should learn to cherish.
My consulting/forecasting fees are very reasonable, BTW, and my services are UNOUTSOURCABLE.

86. patyson - April 12, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Student: "Dr. Outsourcer, Could you please explain to me what some of these comments mean, I am unsure."

Professor: "Just read them again."

Student: "I am still not quite clear of the expectations and some of the comments."

Professor: "Here is a phone number to call, you will need to buy a long distance card. Good luck."

87. marka - April 12, 2010 at 03:55 pm

I'm with jennyfer131620, nilspeterson, texasguy, & ponderthis -- each seems to have actually read the entire article with an open mind, and thought about it objectively, instead of posting prejudiced knee-jerk reactions (typified in many of these blogs by that flamer goxewu, by the way). These 4 are actually dealing with the -facts- reported, not some pie-in-the-sky theory or idiosyncratic anecdotes that pervades too much of academics.

If the feedback is helpful -- and the report here is that it generally is -- then what is the problem? I've been thru many years of education, and there are good teachers & bad, good graders & bad, very few good TAs. And in the case of large lecture classes, I've had more than a few where I doubt the professor/teacher even knew my name, let alone what kind of feedback would be most helpful. Thankfully, I've been a decent student, and didn't need much feedback; but having been a teacher, it has been apparent that I don't always give the best feedback to each student.

If 'outsourcing' gets good feedback -- shown by improved student performance; and is cost-effective, where's the beef? Sounds like a lot of academics need to grow up, realize that this is the 21st Century, and that educational models that may have worked better in the last century, or the one before, may no longer be as functional (this is how once functional organizations can become dysfunctional). We now have online courses, which many students prefer, that give more immediate feedback, and in many cases improved outcomes -- students actually learn more, and are better prepared for the next step, whatever that may be.

If that is the case -- and in some cases that appears to be true -- I'm all for it. Results are what count for me, and most students, parents, taxpayers, and others out here; not cherished education notions, traditions & practices that have resulted in decidedly mixed results in the past. If teachers have & want to spend the time giving good feedback, great -- but many professors are poor instructors, and even worse at giving feedback: better to 'outsource' feedback in those cases. And, of course, there are advantages to having a relatively objective source for feedback -- they aren't influenced by the 'personal relationship' dynamics between teacher & student, which can easily be misused & abused -- the 'double-blind' feedback might be just what the doctor ordered ... .

88. supernatural - April 13, 2010 at 01:37 am

I'm a T.A. who grades papers for a partime income for a large, online, for-profit University. I grade on average 180 papers of varying lengths over a 5-week class section, and get between $850-$1000 for doing so. I say this because that is less than is charged for the same quantity of papers sent to India, apparently.

I do an excellent job, engaging the student with personal comments that average 3-4 per paragraph. These are in addition to the simple "Check Spelling, "Check Sources," etc. They are things like, "Well, Stephanie, if you really wanted to make this sentence zing off the page I would include....". Things like that. I take my work very seriously and constantly burn the midnight oil.

I pay tax on the amount that I am paid, withheld by the University.

Some points:

1) As a native speaker, I think I can do a better job at this that someone who is not a native speaker of English. Oh, you can talk about how very well educated people from India are, and I have no doubt that you make a good point. I can still do a better job because this is my language, my people, my colloquialisms, my struggle. It is not theirs.

2) I pay taxes. Foreigners don't pay taxes to the U.S. that go to run our Universities. Keep that in mind when you are whining about 'cuts.'

3) I do this job cheaper. No, really. I do. I don't want to but that's what our country has come to in 2010. Keep that in mind when outsourcing, you college professors out there, as the next outsourcing might be your job. You can be replaced, too, you know.

Does anyone know if emmigrating to India is difficult for an American with an M.A. in Education? I'd like to do this job and earn more for it, so perhaps I'll leave. Maybe they have health care.


89. goxewu - April 13, 2010 at 02:44 pm

Re #

goxewu is no more a "flamer" than is marka--sarcasm, yes, when it's called for, but no name-calling, no irrelevancies (I don't drag Obama or Tea Partiers into every comment). I've made my points as fairly as has marka and--not that this thread is a plebiscite--seem to be in tune with the vast majority of commenters here.

I'd venture that marka thinks that the four commenters he/she mentions seem "to have actually read the entire article with an open mind, and thought about it objectively, instead of posting prejudiced knee-jerk reactions" simply because they agree with marka. Having the opinion that farming out "feedback" on papers in a business ethics/law course to a faraway boiler room is both unethical and long-term counterproductive is no more "knee-jerk" than approving of the practice because it's supposedly cost-effective. And thinking that some traditional practices in higher education ought to be preserved is no more pie-in-the-sky than exhortations to welcome any expediency because it's the 21st century.

90. optimysticynic - April 13, 2010 at 04:30 pm

Actually, since it's 1000 students PER YEAR, not per semester, that is only 125/2 = 67.5 papers graded per grader per semester, assuming the class is offered twice. This is very far from a "heavy load!" I grade 4 essays/student/semester in a class of 140--NO TA ASSISTANCE--for a total of 560 essays per grader (me). I suppose this simply means I'm an idiot.

91. dadical - April 16, 2010 at 05:47 pm

She's teaching 1,000 students. At that point she should be a guest lecturer. The students are paying for *her* guidance and notes on their papers, not the robotic responses of some outsourced ESL clearing house drones who never attended her course.

She needs to either do her job or reduce her student load. I see her as an opportunistic cheater who is wasting education funds.

92. aesculus - April 21, 2010 at 04:06 pm

Most of the home-grown TA's I've worked with had English language skills that didn't measure up to their Indian colleagues. In many large courses, the only difference between the arrangement described here and a standard TA grading situation is the TA's green card.

93. sharkies10k - April 22, 2010 at 02:07 pm

I have an undergraduate degree from a Canadian University and a Ph.D. from the USA. I have twenty years experience in my field. One month ago I was forced to leave my job as a research assistant when I caught my supervisor, a professor with a 2-year Ph.D. from Argentina, fabricating data. I am not eligible for unemployment insurance because supposedly this was my fault for refusing to allow my boss to slip fabricated data into my paper. Apparently I should have just bowed and said "Yes, Baas". I am glad I saw this article because EduMetry is getting my CV RIGHT NOW. I hope they are not adverse to outsourcing within North America. I'd rather make $5 an hour than nothing.

94. dana_in_ky - April 23, 2010 at 01:45 pm

One viewpoint I have not seen in these comments is that of consumer of services offered. As such, I have CHOICES as to which provider of equivalent services I will use, and I have a RESPONSIBILITY to determine how each potential provider produces or conducts those services. That means, in a practical sense, that I will be asking potential universities whether they use this type of services, and will be eliminating those that do.

The reason is quite simple - in spite of whether 99% of educators, administrators, TA's, or service providers agree that this is a good and effective method of grading papers and providing feedback -- I do not. And it is MY hard-earned money that will be sending my daughter first to university and later to medical school (her choices, but MY money - I know the score there).

I also know the score on how parents think. We are preparing to spend an amount of money equal to BUYING A HOUSE (or two, depending on how many college-bound kids we have). Did you really think that the fact that this is COST-EFFECTIVE for the UNIVERSITY cuts any ice with US? (And our mortgage ... and our second mortgage ... and our student loans?) WE DO NOT CARE IF THE UNIVERSITY IS SAVING MONEY THIS WAY! And if the professor is so over-taxed or incompetent that they have to send those duties overseas, or even here in the US to "graders" who have no part of the class or the body of knowledge being tested, then I will vote with my pocketbook and go somewhere with a better student/teacher ratio where this is not a practice.

And it will not take an extremely large percentage of aware consumers who feel like this to make a difference in the financial income of those universities who feel that being "fiscally efficient" trumps professors doing their jobs and teaching/engaging/interacting with the students who are their only reason for being there in the first place!

95. obtuse - May 04, 2010 at 02:31 am

I am from India and I have sympathy for many of the views expressed here. But we all believe in free-market economies. How come somebody in the USA has not seen this opportunity and atarted a company providing similar services to US colleges and universities, using graders based in the country?

I also feel that for introductory courses requiring more "mechanical" answers, outsourcing grading subtracts nothing from faculty-student interaction. For subjects like statistics or mathematics, outsourcing grading can be done easily. (I find it interesting that everybody here is talking about humanities coures requiring essay-type answers, where the problems are obvious. What about more quantitative subjects?)

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