Is it a good idea for a US university to outsource the grading of students’ assignment papers to India?
At least one Professor at the University of Houston has taken the lead on this. The Chronicle for Higher Education has an article on Ms. Lori Whisenant, director of business law and ethics studies at the University of Houston. She teaches about 1000 students and has 7 Teaching Assistants (TAs) and outsources assignment grading to India (and other countries) through an outsourcer called EduMetry which is run, not surprisingly, by a PIO – Chandru Rajam.
The graders working for EduMetry, based in a Virginia suburb of Washington, are concentrated in India, Singapore, and Malaysia, along with some in the United States and elsewhere. They do their work online and communicate with professors via e-mail. The company advertises that its graders hold advanced degrees and can quickly turn around assignments with sophisticated commentary, because they are not juggling their own course work, too.
The idea behind this is that it frees Professors and TAs to do more research and teaching. From a student’s perspective, though, this means very little feedback on his/ her assignment and the grade received.
Here’s an (imagined) conversation which is possibly happening right now at Houston :
“Why did you give me a C+ ?” asked the student to the TA. “I thought, I did, like, quite well, you know. ”
“I don’t know,” shrugs the TA. “I didn’t give you a C+”.
” ‘Course you did”, says the student. “Says here – see? C+.”
“Yes, but I didn’t grade you”, says the TA. “And none of the other TAs did, either. Someone in India gave you the C+. And no, you can’t ask him why, because I don’t know who that was.”
“What does someone in India know about my paper? ”
“A lot, according to him. He says you use too many apostrophes in the wrong places. He said your paper was “backwas”. What’s backwas, do you know?”
Jokes apart, you’d think that the seven TAs should be adequate. But as someone I know who has been a RA/ TA says:
If it were to take 5 mins to grade each student (and this is definitely on the low side, I would think), each
TA woud spend about 13 hours a week grading 150 students. Plus, say 3 class hours, so 16 hours right there. Plus hold office hours for 150 students: 20 mins each for the 10% of the students who actually come asking questions, and that’s another 5 hours. And undergrads can be insanely dense: I’ve spent an entire hour just repeating stuff for a couple of students …
The remaining 20 hours go towards taking classes (10 hours a week), doing homework (another 10 hours), so when does the thesis get done!
The key issue here of course is that a single Professor is teaching 1000 students. That seems an unusually high class size.
But I wonder if, going forward, really large class sizes are going to become the norm.
Almost every US university has a funding shortfall. They can only cut so many costs; they need to increase revenue too. What do you think they will do? Would it surprise you if they decided to admit more students (and even better, full-fee paying international students?)
But at the same time, they wouldn’t want to hire too many more permanent, tenured faculty, so perhaps they would resort to more adjunct faculty. But you cannot have Adjunct Faculty teaching Econ 1o1, so what do you do?
Increase class size.
I suspect this will probably happen a lot more at second and third rung universities. There used to be a time when any US university was a good university, and any US degree was better than an Indian degree – in people’s minds, that is. But from an international student’s perspective in these financial-aid starved times, one wonders if it still makes sense to apply to any but the top US universities.
Think about it, not only are you less likely to get a job after graduating from Tier 2 and Tier 3 US universities, you are now going to face the ultimate insult – the people grading your assignments graduated from the same Indian universities you rejected.