The role of autograding
The demand for autograding has taken place across various educational fields. Let’s look at computing, an educational sector expanding at a rapid speed. In North America, the number of Computer Science and Computer Engineering bachelor diplomas given increased from less than 9,000 to more than 16,000 from 2009 to 2014 . With no signs of slowing down, class sizes are increasing and so is teachers’ workload. Unfortunately, this increased popularity is not often met with increased funding and resources for educators. With a backlog of student submissions to unzip, run, assess and re-upload, educators end up working extra hours and have less time to focus on more important aspects, such as meaningful teacher-student interactions! This is where an autograder saves the day. The high volume of grading is tackled by autograding software, giving educators time for personalized feedback.
Autograding is especially useful for coding education. Students learning how to code benefit hugely from an iterative workflow. Waiting more than a few days for feedback on your code (besides the dreaded error messages) is just not conducive to learning. Allowing students to code iteratively and make multiple submissions is a great approach, however, you also increase the amount of time grading. Teachers shouldn’t be put in a position to decide between giving their students quality feedback and getting grades out on time. A sophisticated autograder can provide checks on code quality, structure, and functionality. Educators can then use this information to inform their final grade.
Another benefit of autograding is the elimination of bias. Traditionally, a teacher would read student submissions and assign them a grade - at the mercy of a biased approach. Nowadays, it is common that work is graded and then checked by a different teacher, to resolve this issue. The drawback of this approach is, once again, the amount of time it takes! Automatically grading submissions with clear rubrics ensures that work is marked fairly and consistently, making it a great way to eliminate grading bias.
The benefits of autograding are both quantitative and qualitative. Wilcox (2015) investigated whether automation contributes to learning in undergraduate computer science courses at Colorado State University. Over the course of two years, Wilcox gathered data from an introductory programming course with various methods of automation. Overall, they found that automation boosted both academic performance (seen in higher exam grades) and student interest in the course itself (revealed in exit surveys and instructor evaluations). Additionally, automatic grading was found to be ‘overwhelmingly popular among students’, too.
The bottom line is that teachers cannot and should not be replaced, but they should be supported. What educators stand for and what they aim to achieve remain the same - giving quality education to future generations. Technological innovations such as autograders can help teachers do precisely this. With less staff, longer hours, and larger classes, teachers need all the help they can get!
 Wilcox, C. (2015, February). The role of automation in undergraduate computer science education. In Proceedings of the 46th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (pp. 90-95).