Automate to Educate

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Science  01 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6085, pp. 1080
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6085.1080-b

Science education reforms face a daunting challenge: How do we assess skills that cannot be easily automated or digitized? Nehm et al., examined the capacity of the software package Summarization Integrated Development Environment (SIDE) to automatically analyze and score written explanations of evolutionary change. Using an online response system, 2260 writing samples from 565 undergraduates with varying levels of evolution knowledge were collected and graded by two human raters. Human-scored responses were used to train SIDE software, and human- and software-scored samples were compared. SIDE performance was found to be most effective when used at the individual item level; that is, SIDE was most effective when it was trained with the same type of items that it subsequently scored. SIDE was found to be advantageous over current commercial text analysis programs, because it required less time and financial investment. Because SIDE can be used in areas outside of biology, it has potential to become an important tool for educators as science education moves to include more authentic problem-solving tasks.

J. Sci. Educ. Technol. 21, 183 (2012).

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