By Da Lin

BRENTWOOD (KPIX 5) — More Bay Area teachers are using so-called “robo-readers” to grade assignments, such as essays. While it saves time, some educators worry the technology could hurt learning.

Jill Shodeen, a seventh grade teacher at Bristow Middle School in Brentwood has six classes with a total of 180 students. That means 180 essays to grade.

“If I had to hand-grade them, it would take me up to six hours,” Shodeen told KPIX 5.

That’s why a computer is helping out with grading this school year. She turned to what is called a “robo-reader.” Students type their essays online, and with one click, a grade.

“I’d say it gets an A because it’s kind of strict grading, it’s like immediate feedback,” said Katherine Breves, a seventh grader at Bristow Middle.

And time saved for Shodeen. “Gives me so much more time to be able to plan for other activities,” Shodeen said.

Dr. Ida Oberman of the Community School for Creative Education said, “This cannot be seen as the magic bullet.”

Educators said learning boils down to relationship and trust. Critics of the robo-reader worry more automation means less interaction.

“Where do they put a smiley face?  Where do they put a comment? So if that dialog isn’t occurring on pages of the notebook, where is it happening so that the child can also experience the attention and love?” Oberman said.

Shodeen agrees that heavy reliance on the readers can hurt learning. That’s partly why she uses the automated essay scoring software only about five times a year.

While she said it’s a great tool, much of the teaching and grading are still done in the conventional way.

“Nothing can replace a human being. They do need to see our touch to their writing, whether it’s verbal feedback or written feedback,” Shodeen said.

Aside from schools in Brentwood, some teachers in Antioch and other parts of Contra Costa County have also been using robo-reader to grade essays.

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