Teaching assistants outsourced to Asia
Colleges are outsourcing the grading of papers to India, and students may not know that they're writing for "virtual TAs."
This story was originally covered by PRI's Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.
Some 15 colleges and universities, mostly business schools, have begun using "virtual TAs" -- teaching assistants in other countries who grade papers and help assist classes. Supporters say it helps free up professors, critics say it takes away from the students' experience.
The virtual TAs are similar to traditional teaching assistants, according to Chandru Rajam, co-founder of Edumetry Inc., a business that offers virtual teaching assistant services. He told PRI's Here and Now, "virtual TAs try to do everything that a real TA on campus might do." That includes grading papers, providing feedback, and making sure the assessment standards are consistent.
The big benefit of virtual TAs may be timeliness, according to Rajam. Though the TAs may be anywhere in the world, they promise to provide feedback within 3 to 5 business days. Real TAs are often graduate students taking other classes or pursuing another degree. Rajam says, "those preoccupations often get the better of their schedules."
"A lot of preparatory work goes into this kind of service," according to Rajam. Virtual TAs are all masters or higher degree holders. They work with the professors before the class begins, to familiarize themselves with the class before the start of the semester. New virtual TAs are also vetted and shadowed by experts to make sure their work passes muster. The company also doesn't offer classes in subjects like the history of Western civilization, which may have a large cultural bias.
It costs some 12 dollars for a virtual TA to grade a paper, which means it may not be worthwhile for a small class. For big classes, however, Rajam says the virtual TAs will allow the professors to have the time to improve the classes for the students. And for the 5 years that the company has existed, Rajam says, "not once have we ever been called on the content of our grading or the knowledge of the TAs."
Students taking classes with the virtual TAs may have no idea who is grading their papers, though. Rajam says that his company has relationships with the insitutions and the professors, not the students. Some instructors do tell their students, and Rajam claims, "the students love it, because they get lots of very good feedback."
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