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Should schools consider outsourcing homework abroad? Or using computer technology to mark work? Your thoughts

(95 Posts)
JaneMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 29-Apr-15 14:56:10


We're a little flummoxed by a request we've had to comment about an education expert's suggestion that schools should consider sending pupils' work abroad to be marked, to help free up teachers' time.

Rebecca Allen, director of Education Datalab and reader in economics at UCL's Institute of Education made the suggestion at a conference.

She said that outsourcing marking can be "incredibly reliable" and also
went on to say that in the United States, there are people who are looking at using computers to mark texts, using the same types of technology used for online language translation apps and programmes.

What do you think? As usual, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks, MNHQ

base9 Wed 29-Apr-15 15:04:07

If I do not mark my students' work I will not have an accurate idea of how they are doing, what they understood from the lesson and what they did not. I need that information to plan the next lesson. I would be sceptical of this as a way to cut my workload.

Greenrememberedhills Wed 29-Apr-15 15:31:53

Clearly quantitative questions type homework can be marked by technology. Qualitative can't.

I think for some homework and some areas it should be possible and should free teachers up, which is a good thing, surely?

I think it will happen anyway. Technological solutions are coming for things we can't even imagine. I think teachers are better embracing them early and using them to create more one to one etc for students, rather than waiting till it comes in anyway and enables negative change.

OinkBalloon Wed 29-Apr-15 16:07:47

Some things can be reliably marked by computers, such as multiple choice questions and maths. But that only recognises absolute right/wrong answers. No point outsourcing such marking, when we already have software for the purpose. (I know MyMaths is flawed, but it has a place, and will, hopefully, be improved and become more sophisticated.)

As for any other aspect of marking, I think outsourcing or computer-marking would be a terrible thing. Firstly, and most importantly, it would put a barrier between the teacher and the pupil. The teacher needs to see the nuances of the pupil's development, where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Secondly, using a computer to mark written work would reduce language skills to a series of algorithms, and destroy the development of creativity.

I've got a counter-suggestion: let's leave teachers to do their work teaching, including marking their students' work, and reduce their burden by getting rid of some of their admin, requiring less micro-managed lesson-planning from them, give them extra PPA time, and reduce the numbers of pupils that they are expected to teach at any one time.

ICantFindAFreeNickName Wed 29-Apr-15 16:14:33

I agree with base9 - the teachers needs to understand what the pupils know.
I'm not even sure how much quantitative type homework could be marked by technology. Even in Maths it's using the correct method that's as important as getting the answer right.
Having said that I do think there is room for technology in the classroom. My daughter's school uses ipad's a lot. The teachers can design little tests for the start and end of a lesson / unit of work to help them understand what the pupils already know / how much they have learnt.
A more radical idea might be to reduce the amount of homework children get and let them enjoy their childhood.

LooksLikeImStuckHere Wed 29-Apr-15 16:29:02

Outsource marking to technology?! We've only just got the internet and a network in my classroom!

Terrible idea, unless it's multiple choice.

Coyoacan Wed 29-Apr-15 16:49:29

I too agree with base9, otherwise what is the point of written homework. Maybe the children could also outsource their homework?

Blinkinwinkin Wed 29-Apr-15 16:55:17

I had a very interesting (professional) conversation recently with a US educator using an online homework and marking system. He loved it and found it very customisable and even empowering. We're talking high school not primary. Teachers already use My Maths and can see the childrens' scores etc from teh tests they take there for homework, it's not a lot different.

ReallyTired Wed 29-Apr-15 17:00:03

We could outsource teachers and their pesky planing with robot teachers. There already robot doctors

All schools would need is minimum wage prison guards/ tas to baby sit the children.

In all seriousness I could see that robo teachers might have application for gifted and talented children or children in hospital. I am not serious for mainstream unless a child wants practice a foreign language.

Bonsoir Wed 29-Apr-15 17:29:31

I'm quite enthusiastic about computer marking. I sometimes use computer-based self-teaching exercises in order to reinforce English grammar for ESL learners and feel very positive about them. I think the key thing is to develop the right programmes and to ensure they reinforce, not replace, human teaching.

A lot of learning is quite repetitive and greatly helped by practice. Technology can help here.

YDdraigGoch Wed 29-Apr-15 17:37:31

It's not about the mark, is it. It's about the feedback, identifying strengths and weaknesses in knowledge etc.

Daft idea IMO.

Bonsoir Wed 29-Apr-15 17:40:00

I think that computer testing can provide extremely detailed and accurate feedback, and in a timely manner.

tribpot Wed 29-Apr-15 17:54:10

Maybe the children could also outsource their homework?

Indeed. I am doing a number of MOOCs at the moment and these make use of auto-grading (as they call it) because I don't think it's very practical to try and mark the coursework of 10,000 students each week smile

However, most of these courses carry little academic credit and are mainly reliant on the university's honour code to stop people from getting someone else to submit the answer for them. Arguably this isn't much different to parents giving children the answers but at least they currently have to write them out!

The act of writing itself is important, not sure how outsourcing is going to help with that.

So then I wonder what axe Education Datalab has to grind. It was launched 25 days ago so looking to make headlines I suspect. (Everyone knows 'free up teachers to do marking by dispensing with admin bollocks' never got anyone a plum job as a government digital champion, right?). It's owned by FFT which creates the school league tables under contract to the government. They also do data mining on the information provided by schools. And no doubt real-time data about individual marks would be even more lucrative useful?

BoffinMum Thu 30-Apr-15 10:02:47

Homework only has an effect size of d=0.29 according to John Hattie, so it's not even worth losing sleep over, really.

In lay speak, Hattie did a massive review of all the studies in the world that he could find that examined the impact of different things on learning, and made a list which you can see here:

All the things of less than 0.4 are not usually worth doing. Therefore high quality formative feedback is one of the best things you can offer, outsourced marking of homework looks more dodgy.

Bonsoir Thu 30-Apr-15 12:17:01

Boffinmum - according to the Hattie ranking and applying the 0.4 rule a bilingual programme is not worth doing?

I beg to differ! My 10 year old DD has two mother tongues and can write to a high standard in both. Without a bilingual programme that would be nigh-on impossible to achieve.

pickledsiblings Thu 30-Apr-15 12:22:47

A bilingual programme alone is unlikely to have a greater effect size than 0.4 Bonsoir but I'm sure you'll agree that your DD has had above and beyond a bilingual programme as offered by the school.

Bonsoir Thu 30-Apr-15 12:38:14

My DD has been very well supported at school and at home. She is not alone! The bilingual programme at school has made a massive contribution to the learning of many, many DC. Without it, their skillset would be far poorer.

base9 Thu 30-Apr-15 13:59:45

I am not clear what outcome Hattie is measuring. Having a bilingual programme would clearly transform your MFL abilities compared to 40 minutes a week of 'Spanish' taught by a teacher who only speaks English. But maybe he is looking at the results of formal testing in secondary and asking what contributes most to success at that stage? Haven't read the book.

chickenfuckingpox Thu 30-Apr-15 16:46:04

am i the only person who thinks fuck off sending i abroad! mark it in Great Britain? why should we send our jobs OVERSEAS! we NEED WORK IN THE UK NOW!

CalamitouslyWrong Thu 30-Apr-15 17:06:01

I was thinking that too. Why send it abroad if you're going to pay someone else to mark it (other than cost cutting?).

Working in a university where I have to oversee marking done by markers abroad (through franchised programmes), I'd be very wary indeed. All my colleagues agree that it seriously increase our workloads. In fact, we very often have to remark the whole bloody lot ourselves.

Computerised marking may work very well for certain things, but it cannot replace someone knowledgeable looking at work and providing feedback. Believe me, if a computer could mark the 150 or so essays sitting in my desk for me, I'd happily let it get on with it.

educatingarti Thu 30-Apr-15 18:15:11

"If I do not mark my students' work I will not have an accurate idea of how they are doing, what they understood from the lesson and what they did not. I need that information to plan the next lesson." This

Even with quantative subjects like maths, you need to see how the student has been working in order to know where they went wrong and therefore where their misunderstandings lie. I'm not overly keen on things like MyMaths for this reason!


" I would be sceptical of this as a way to cut my workload.I've got a counter-suggestion: let's leave teachers to do their work teaching, including marking their students' work, and reduce their burden by getting rid of some of their admin, requiring less micro-managed lesson-planning from them, give them extra PPA time, and reduce the numbers of pupils that they are expected to teach at any one time." This

Husbanddoestheironing Thu 30-Apr-15 18:55:34

Similar experience here calamitous extremely variable quality and no consistency. In my view this mirrors the 'only use multiple choice exams' argument. There are times when it is effective, but these are limited to certain situations.
Here's an idea, why not use the money it would cost to send marking away to employ a small number of extra teaching staff to free up some more time for teachers to do their own marking, with the benefits that brings?

BoffinMum Thu 30-Apr-15 20:33:27

Hattie is not just coming up with this stuff on the back on an envelope. It is a meta-analysis. Put rather crudely this means he takes all the research studies around the world he can find on classroom effects, and then analyses them to find the overall picture, ranking them accordingly.

This is an absolutely huge undertaking. The numbers of children involved probably run into the hundreds of thousands if you were to add them all up. Therefore within that sample of children, there will be children like yours, Bonsoir, for whom a bilingual programme works well. Mine are on bilingual programmes and it suits them very well too.

However what Hattie is measuring here is whether it gives a quantifiable uplift to children's academic attainment in general, over the whole massive sample. And the data say that there is not enough of an uplift in general terms to justify spending a lot of money on an intervention like that, compared to, say, ensuring children have skilled, high quality teaching and formative assessment, where you get a more impressive outcome. He is indicating where to focus attention, not saying you should ditch bilingual education.

larkspurr Thu 30-Apr-15 21:40:58

As others have posted, marking is crucial for good planning, and also for a teacher's relationship with a class. I've just finished marking a batch of exercise books. My marking is tailored to each pupil as an individual, because I know how much progress they have made across the year as well as any problems they may have encountered. Two pupils may produce work of a similar standard, but one could have made an enormous effort to achieve that standard, and the other could be working well below his/her potential. A class teacher will know this, and can mark appropriately - encouragement and support for these two pupils would take two very different forms. All pupils are individuals, with social and personal issues which might affect their work and behaviour at different points; indeed, the first sign of such issues can often be a deterioriation in classwork. If I notice problems developing with a child's work, I can investigate any underlying reasons and help to get support for the child (from pastoral staff, home-school liaison etc). Furthermore, many pupils have learning difficulties which affect them in different ways, and they will all have specific targets to help them learn; a 'remote' marker could not have access to this information.

Outsourcing marking for exams and external tests is one thing. I work myself as an examiner. The task here is simply to rank pupils against a grade scale. Outsourcing the marking of weekly classwork is another thing entirely, and if this happened, it would contribute further to a general deskilling of teachers. There are many other ways to address teacher workload; tackling the excessive admin linked to Ofsted would perhaps be the best one. If this could be done, perhaps the recruitment and retention of good teachers would not be such an issue, relieving workload pressures further and freeing us up to do what we want to do - teach good lessons and enjoy our time in the classroom with pupils.

MoustacheofRonSwanson Thu 30-Apr-15 22:23:07

Yup, because google translate is infallibly accurate...

Why not have a new type of classroom assistant based in this country, in fact in the same classroom, who is present in class at least some of the time but whose main responsibility is marking work, liaising with the teacher about it and assisting pupils.

Or how about just cutting class sizes, so each teacher has a reasonable workload?

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