Students want – or think they want – more and faster feedback. So tutors write more and more, faster and faster, producing paragraph on paragraph that students, in moments of sheepish honesty, sometimes admit they don’t read. However infuriating, it’s understandable. This material is far from our best work. Much of it is vague, rushed or cribbed. In order to bridge the gap between staff capacity and student ‘demand’, some universities are outsourcing basic feedback to private providers. One company, Studiosity, lists thirty institutions among its ‘partners’, including Birkbeck and SOAS.
Managers often seem to assume that marking is a quasi-mechanical process whereby students are told what is good and bad about their work, and what they need to do to improve. But students don’t improve by being told how to improve, any more than a person learns to ride a bicycle by being told what to do – keep steady, don’t fall off. There’s a role for verbal feedback, but the main way that learning happens is through practice: long, supported, unhurried practice, opportunities for which are limited in the contemporary university.
Of course universities are going to outsource commentary on essays to AI — just as students will outsource the writing of essays to AI. And maybe that’s a good thing! Let the AI do the bullshit work and we students and teachers can get about the business of learning. It’ll be like that moment in The Wrong Trousers when Wallace ties Gromit’s leash to the Technotrousers, to automate Gromit’s daily walk. Gromit merely removes his collar and leash, attaches them to a toy dog on a wheeled cart, and plays in the playground while the Technotrousers march about.
Let the automated system of papers and grading march mindlessly; meanwhile, my students and I are are gonna play on the slide.
If an AI can write it, and an AI can read it and respond to it, then does it need to be done at all?