The Echo Chamber and Personal Accountability

@kyenne, a recent ONU grad, tweeted about this blog post, which was scraped from this article published by TheStar on April 30, 2010, about EduMetry's Virtual TA service. That tweet generated a torrent of reaction and calls for an email to ONU's President.Why the raised fur?  The article lists ONU as an EduMetry client.

Let's take a look at the article published by TheStar.com. Basically, it's a nice PR piece for EduMetry's newest product Virtual TA. The article includes a paragraph in which several EduMetry clients are listed.  ONU is included in that list:
A western Canadian college or university is among EduMetry’s dozen clients, but Rajam declined to identify it. The University of Houston director of business law and ethics, Lori Whisenant, is a client, as are professors at the University of Northern Iowa College of Business Administration, West Hills Community College in Coalinga, Calif., Ohio Northern University and George Washington.

That poorly written paragraph could be interpreted to imply that these schools, including ONU, are clients for EduMetry's Virtual TA service. Or, the paragraph could be taken at face value (i.e, taking "among EduMetry's dozen clients" as a clue) and infer that these are schools that have been EduMetry Clients, but not necessarily clients for EduMetry's Virtual TA service.

ONU contracted with EduMetry's D-Cube service to facilitate development of rubrics to operationalize ONU's new general education learning outcomes. I worked closely with EduMetry in 2008-2009 in my role as co-chair of ONU's General Education Implementation committee.  Thanks to the power of EduMetry's web-based D-Cube collaboration system, faculty teams efficiently developed the general education rubrics that have been adopted for application starting Fall 2011, when the ONU's new General Education program is deployed. (Details about ONU's General Education program, and the rubrics themselves, are available here.)

Given the alternate interpretations of the paragraph in TheStar, I spoke with Chandru Rajam, EduMetry's Co-Founder and CEO, on May 4, 2010. In that phone conversation, Chandru expressed his frustration with the article. While thankful for the PR it provided for EduMetry's newest venture, he was concerned about how the paragraph quoted above portrays EduMetry's clients.  Specifically, he expressed his regret that Lesley Ciarula Taylor, the article's author, conflated EduMetry's Virtual TA clients with clients for other EduMetry services. Chandru expressed his concern over any misunderstandings the article might create. Our conversation then shifted to discussing the cultural forces buffeting EduMetry's Virtual TA service.

Those who have recently discovered TheStar article now have the facts: ONU is not an EduMetry Virtual TA client.  It is your responsibility, not the University's responsibility, to spread the facts. You have an ethical obligation to use your personal networks to set the record straight.


  1. "Or, the paragraph could be taken at face value (i.e, taking "among EduMetry's dozen clients" as a clue) and infer that these are schools that have been EduMetry Clients, but not necessarily clients for EduMetry's Virtual TA service"

    ^ That's how I read the blog post.
    But another student then found this article on globalpost. That's what really concerned us.

    Terri Friel, dean of the Walter E. Heller College of Business at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, agrees that the Virtual TA service can enhance the conversation between faculty members and students. Faculty, if honest, will admit that they can spare no more than an hour at most going through students’ work. “Students usually get a red slash on their work with a NO! or a GOOD! floating in the margin without any idea of what either means,” she said. “What other teaching assistant develops a report on common errors, the implications of that and how to fix it?” she asked.

    Ohio Northern University, George Washington University and Butler University are among those who use the service, as do a number of online colleges. The law and ethics class at the University of Houston averages 500 students per term, each producing five assignments.

    “Obviously the traditional system of assessment where one professor and a couple of teaching assistants take care of all the grading cannot work,” said Bangari. Assessor Natalia Shukla who grades English papers says that the errors in some student assignments are overwhelming.

  2. Professor Kleine,

    First I have to say, thanks for being willing to talk about this and taking the steps necessary to share the truth. You didn't have to, and I appreciate it.

    My concern is with two things: That, had no student ever seen the article, this would never have been addressed with us as a student body and also that, were we would be expected to rest our concerns at ease without official word from the school.

    I have no doubt that EduMetry provides a useful service, or they wouldn't still be in business. What I'm saying is, why wasn't this post written in May? Why is there no press release or statement, written in May when this was timely, on the website to direct us to? Not that you aren't credible, but you are not an administrator.

    Now I am not meaning to be disrespectful in any way, but I feel like we have a responsibility to use our personal networks to set the record straight when we've been regarded as responsibly. I would have no problem saying "Oops, my bad. Glad that's cleared up," if I had something a bit more tangible to point to for clarification.

    I care a lot about our school, and it's reputation. Thanks for posting and for answering our questions on Twitter.


  3. Lauren - Thanks for sharing that link from the GlobalPost. It appears to be a repackaging of the original article that seeds confusion.

  4. Evan - Thanks for your comments. You raise an excellent point: perhaps a statement should have been made in May, immediately after I spoke with Dr. Rajam. Honestly, it didn't cross my mind. I reported what I learned to C. Flax, and promptly forgot about the issue.

    Personally, I'm a bit puzzled by how people respond to the concept of third-party grading. ScanTron is a third-party grading system used in many classes without controvercy. WebCt has the ability to automatically grade multiple choice and open-ended response questions. I'm aware of no controversy about that technology.

    I'm hoping someone can help me understand why a third-party grading system (such as Virtual TA) is perceived to be different from those (mechanical) grading systems.

  5. My issue with third-party grading is that if someone in India is grading my paper 1) I want to know it's happening and 2) I want to know who this person is, what their credentials are, and be able to contact them to ask them questions regarding my paper and their comments.

    Another problem: I would imagine that as a professor, you learn a great deal about your students by reading their work. For example, my chemistry professor was able to help me pinpoint the exact part of my thought process that was wrong in solving equations. I also had an English professor who understood each student's writing style, and could therefore help us perfect our papers. Unless the professor has read our work and are familiar with it, how is he/she supposed to be able to help us as individuals?

    Basically whenever I had a problem, I think I would be inclined to skip talking to my professor altogether, and want to talk to the third-party grader, the person who sees my work and can help me understand my mistakes.

    On the other hand, I think there is one major benefit: It would do a great deal to eliminate subjectivity in grading, since this third-party would not have any personal relationships with the students.

  6. Lauren - Thanks for sharing your thoughts re. third party grading. Yes, I can understand concerns if it is approached as an either/or proposition: either the grader handles the work OR the professor handles the work. If the professor never sees the work, I see considerable room for concern.

    To me, a best case scenario is the combination of the objectivity of a third party grader combined with the opportunity to read student work with my energy focused on understanding the student's (ill)logic and then helping him/her overcome identified challenges, just as you described.