Technology & Literature – A Square Peg in a Circular Hole?

Various and sundry computer programs have been in use in schools to facilitate and evaluate reading comprehension since the 1980s. But there are numerous problems in applying mathematical algorithms to the decidedly unscientific world of literature.

Susan Straight writes in the New York Times about Accelerated Reader, a “reading management” software system that “helps teachers track student reading through computerized comprehension tests and awards students points for books they read based on length and difficulty, as measured by a scientifically researched readability rating.” Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is worth 44 points, whereas To Kill A Mockingbird is worth 15. Even more confusingly, I Like It Like That, a Gossip Girl novel, is worth 8 points and Hamlet — yes, Shakespeare’s Hamlet — is worth 7.

— Via New York Times Book Review.

Similarly, in Britain a proposed computerized system to grade student essays that could be introduced in the next couple years is giving poor marks to famous writers. Winston Churchill is “repetitive,” Ernest Hemingway and William Golding are dismissed as “below average” and Anthony Burgess is “confusing.” According to the system, none would receive an ‘A’.

— Via Times Online


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