By Jay Parini, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is the author of "The Art of Teaching." His novel "The Last Station" was made into an Academy Award-nominated film.
(CNN) - I've been teaching English in college for 40 years, and I've never met a single professor who likes grading. "Hate" is too strong a word for what they feel. But nobody likes it. The fun stuff is talking to students, holding classroom discussions, thinking about your subject in complex ways and trying to convey your enthusiasm for the subject. Education is about leading students in useful directions, helping them to discover their own critical intelligence, their own voices.
Now a company has come up with software that can grade our papers for us. EdX is a nonprofit company started by Harvard and MIT. It also creates online courses called MOOCs (for massive open online course). With this new software, students submitting their papers online can get immediate feedback: no more waiting until the lazy professor gets around to grading their work, probably leaving coffee rings and inky fingerprints on the pages.
Having a program grade papers would apparently free teachers to do other things, but I think it would be a mistake. Why? As a teacher, I may begin to understand students by their conversation or how they respond in class, but when they actually have to put their thoughts on paper, I can learn a huge amount in a relatively brief time. I can see how they think and feel in relation to the material before them, and if (and how) they have problems in making connections, marshaling arguments, drawing conclusions. Needless to say, I can also get a sense of where they are with the material at hand. Have they learned enough to progress to the next stage?