In April 2013, an online education enterprise called edX — a joint project of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — announced that it had created software capable of automatically grading student essays. The news, coupled with the expectation that the software will soon become widely used, generated a heated debate. Speaking to the New York Times, edX president Anant Agarwal argued that the software is superior to traditional grading methods because it provides “instant feedback,” making it possible for students to rewrite and improve their essays until they get a passing score from the machine. Critics responded that the software relies on seemingly irrelevant or arbitrary criteria — like the presence of particular keywords in the essay — that don’t necessarily indicate coherent thought, and may allow the software to be easily duped.
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