The teacher’s job is not to grade and provide feedback….or is it?

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

Still thinking about an American or Australian degree to complete your child’s education? Is education about serving the needs of the young people they teach or is education about paying for a piece of paper that’s pretty much useless these days?What would Malaysian parents think if they knew that they are sending their children for a Western education where the papers are being sent back here to, among other Asian countries, Malaysia, to be graded?

This article talks about how even the grading and feedback of writing papers are being outsourced nowadays – education, after all, is no longer about knowledge, learning or skills but paper mills churning out young people whose self-esteem takes a beating when they discover that the education they were asked to work so hard for since school makes them neither a better person nor more qualified for the job market.

To its credit, overseas education will always be an attractive reason on its own : many Asian parents do not mind spending a few hundred thousand dollars so their child can have a foreign experience. A few hundred thousand Ringgit (app. $150,000 USD) over the course of 2-3 years is not a lot of money for thousands of Malaysian parents, what more hundreds of thousands all over Asia as long as it’s what their child wants. But for others, an American or Australian education is seen as a path towards a brighter future because of an imagined leading-edge culture in those faculties which will give our students, supposedly, knowledge and skills that will provide advantages that will put them leaps and bounds ahead of the local competition in the job market.

This article highlights a problem that only affects those parents who believe that the ultimate goal of education is an overseas degree and the finishing point is a race for middle-income jobs. The opinion these middle-class Malaysian parents hold is erroneous on two grounds : (1) Those middle-income jobs they’re gunning for are vanishing and aren’t likely to return ever again. (2) Those educated in America / Australia are not going to get some imaginary advantage in skills or knowledge over someone in Malaysia who drops out of school. But they will be exposed to a more varied Western cultural experience, both the good and the bad.

As long as parents understand that what they’re paying for is a cultural experience for their child, that is OK.  Most Asian children, raised to be childish and immature will find the Western experience liberating and not want to return.  That is, realistically, what Malaysian parents should expect; to give their children a taste of the liberal life so their children have that choice to never be content about the limited choices in life back home.  Parents should accept that this is the true value of a Western education, the change within that a young person experiences instead of overwhelming their children with feelings of guilt for choosing to not return only to be treated like a child again.

The only victims here are those parents who still believe, naively, that Western universities truly offer an intellectual and academic edge over local competition. Many things were true 50 years ago that just ain’t so today. A Western degree is one of those things.

Here are some highlights from the post, OUTSOURCED GRADING, Some papers are outsourced to Bangalore for grading.

What it is

The graders working for EduMetry, based in a Virginia suburb of Washington, are concentrated in India, Singapore, and Malaysia

What are their expertise?

The company, Virtual TA,  declined to provide The Chronicle with names or degrees of assessors.

Why are universities doing this?

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

My comment : We might as well do away completely with the middle man -fees paying institutions and obtain feedback from peer reviews, ratings, rankings and participation in online collaborations – or e-learning systems.

Why do they have to do this?

Her seven teaching assistants, some of whom did not have much experience, couldn’t deliver. Besides, native speakers of English have a poorer command of the language than non-native speakers. Virtual-TA provides detailed comments about grammar, organization, and other writing errors in the papers, students have a framework for improvement that some (American) instructors may not be able to provide, she says.

The business of education

“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.

My comment : I think people need to get past thinking that we even need to be graded.

Click here for the full article.

As an ESL tutor who frequently gets requests to organize classes to prepare students specifically for academic reading/writing / listening , my takeaway from the article is this :

Basically, when we pay hundreds and thousands of dollars for an American or Australian degree (perhaps even UK) we’re not paying for feedback, standards nor quality : we’re paying to help their economies by ensuring that our children can sit with, party and mingle with other international students in  huge lecture halls and co-housing, with no one to supervise nor help shape our young people into the fruitful individuals we (hopefully) want them to be by attending highly over-priced paper mills.

Here are some comments from other readers I would like to highlight :

#4 : 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?

My comment : What does it say about the quality of American (or all for-profit Western universities) that the Teaching Assistants, products of their own education system, qualified to undertake graduate studies, are not good enough? Just what have those TA’s gained in 3-4 years of undergrad experience, just what have they modeled after? Just how competent have their professors been if their professors do not know enough to train their TA’s?

#7 Are students and their parents told ahead of time that the grading of their work will be outsourced to India?

#9 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!…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. Better still it would be absurdly easy to do this privately.

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.

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

#14 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.  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.

#27 : 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. 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.

#46 : 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?

#65 : 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. 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.


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