outsourcing grading

The New York Times links to a story from the Chronicle of Higher Ed about a professor of business law and ethics at the University of Houston who felt that her TAs were overburdened with essays to grade, and therefore decided to outsource grading to a firm called EduMetry.

EduMetry assessors in India, Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries grade and give feedback on exams and including writing assignments.  According to the Chronicle article, “The company argues that professors freed from grading papers can spend more time teaching and doing research.”

Who can argue with more time for doing research … but isn’t grading integral to figuring out what students need in planning lectures and seminars?   I wonder if the undergraduates feel they’re getting value for their tuition with outsourced grading?  I can’t help but envision a slippery slope … outsourced faculty?

If anyone works or teaches at a school that outsources grades, I’m curious about the administrative process for approving outsourcing.  Was there a debate and what was it like?

“or corrupted”

“Overruling two important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.”

New York Times, January 21, 2010

My research on technological change is guided by the actor-network theory approach, which holds that objects matter as political actors.  Think of the ways that birth control pills, transportation infrastructures, and communication technologies all have had political consequences.  Latour even refers to a figurative “parliament of things” that interrupts and intervenes in political life.  Of course, actor-network theory has been criticized for, among other things, flattening out the distinctions between different types of actors.  Yesterday the US Supreme Court did some flattening of its own.  They extended to corporations (and unions and nonprofits) the First Amendment right to free political speech.  Will we now be governed by a literal “parliament of things” as corporations speak freely by spending freely in support of candidates and causes aligned with their financial interests?  Part of what I found in my dissertation is that corporations’ interests shift regularly and profit is not corporations’ only goal.  But if I may make a normative statement, my own findings not withstanding, this decision stinks.  Unless, unless … the court could also extent to corporations all the rights and burdens of individual people – to vote, to be arrested, to be convicted of crimes, to go to jail?  Could corporations eventually be executed in states that have capital punishment?

I can’t resist pointing out that this morning, when I went to the Supreme Court website and clicked on the decision, “Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n” I got the following error message:  “format error:  not a PDF or corrupted.”  Apparently technologies can now act as political commentators too.

too busy teaching for america

The New York Times featured a good long article about a study by Doug McAdam and Cynthia Brandt, scheduled for publication in the next issue of Social Forces, which assesses the long-term effects of serving in Teach for America.  McAdam and Brandt find that people who served in Teach for America score higher on measures of their attitudes towards civic engagement.  But unlike Freedom Summer participants, McAdam and Brandt find that on measures of actual civic or political activity, people who served in Teach for America lag behind those who dropped out of or declined acceptance to the program.  Former Teach for America participants even vote at lower rates than those who dropped out or declined acceptance.

I can’t wait to dig into McAdam and Brandt’s analysis but Social Forces hasn’t published the article online yet (or anyway I can’t get it through NYU yet). Meanwhile, two things strike me as significant here.  First, are these findings counterintuitive?  Freedom Summer participant were volunteers.  But Teach for America participants earn salaries, benefits, and postponement of federal student loans payments during their two years in the program.  In other words, Teach for America participants aren’t volunteering, they’re starting careers. According to the Times, Teach for America is the top recruiter at more than 20 colleges and universities. In 2008, 13 percent of the graduating class at Harvard and 25 percent at Spelman applied.  As Rob Reich, an associate professor of political science at Stanford and former Teach for America participant told the Times “Unlike doing Freedom Summer, joining Teach for America is part of climbing up the elite ladder.”

Second, the Times reports that McAdam and Brandt’s study “was done at the suggestion of Wendy Kopp, Teach for America’s founder and president, who disagrees with the findings.”  Kopp had read McAdam’s Freedom Summer and ostensibly expected him to find similarly high degrees of civic or political activity among former Teach for America participants. Setting the findings aside, I think what’s encouraging about the study is that Teach for America was interested in outcomes – not just for the students they teach, but also for the workers who serve.