by Beth Bacheldor

There’s More to Offshore, and It’s Not IT

Apr 08, 2010
Enterprise Applications

Now, professors can offshore the grading of papers to virtual teaching assistants in Asia. Really!

I’ll say it again. If outsourcing or offshoring something means it can be done cheaper or faster or better—or better yet—cheaper and faster and better, that something will be outsourced or offshored. But! protests thou: Surely there are some things that cannot be outsourced or offshored.

Apparently, not.

EduMetry, a Herndon, Va.-based company that offers assessment services for universities and colleges, also offers Virtual-TA, which provides, literally, virtual TAs, or teaching assistants.

These virtual TAs work mainly in India, Singapore, and Malaysia, along with some in the United States and elsewhere, according to this story in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The idea behind the service is that by calling on virtual TAs to grade assignments (Edumetry says the service handles everything from term papers, essays, and other higher-order thinking type work) and provide feedback to students, faculty can focus on meatier stuff, such as teaching.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article quotes one such professor, Lori Whisenant, director of business law and ethics studies at the University of Houston. Whisenant, who teaches a course in business law and ethics, requires her students to write nearly 5,000 words a semester. According to the article, she has relied on her own TAs to help grade, but they weren’t as adept at providing the much-needed feedback intended to help students improve their writing. So, she offshored the grading.

Lest you think that Virtual-TA is a one-hit wonder, the company does list a few other customers on its Web site, including West Hills Community College, in Coalinga, Calif., which is using the service for some of its online courses.

The service is not without its critics (surprise). And I might be a little critical myself, if I hadn’t gone too college and worked with TAs who—really—could have given me more feedback on some of my work. Not that TAs aren’t good teaching assistants, but they are generally overloaded with lots of work, not just from assisting teachers but also from their own higher-education efforts.

Of course, when I first learned that teachers were outsourcing their grading, I immediately remembered this blog I wrote last November, about a service that uses tutors in India to help students write term papers and S.A.T. essays, or even help finish homework.

And then I thought:  Why not just cut out the middlemen—the students and teachers—and let outsourcers do the homework and grade it?