The Prof Who Outsourced Her Marking Work to Bangalore

7 04 2010


Lori Whisenant, who teaches business law and ethics at the University of Houston, has outsourced the grading of her students’ papers to a private company in Bangalore. See here. The students get very detailed comments on their essays from Indian writers with postgraduate training.

I have mixed feelings about this idea. It seems to me that the prof who sets the assignment should be the one to mark the assignment. After all, how else can you judge whether the task was an appropriate one that should be included in the course next year? Moreover, some disciplines are very culturally specific. For instance, I throw Hollywood references into my lectures, not Bollywood references. This means that some student essays might not travel that well. (Think gay and lesbian studies). Culture is a de facto trade barrier, which is one of the reasons I’m not too worried that globalization will erode the value of my skills.

That being said, the general concept of outsourcing writing assistance work to a low-cost English-speaking country has some merit, especially when it comes to pre-submission writing assistance as opposed to grading. I should explain that many universities have a place where students can bring drafts of their papers for editorial help before the due date. In some cases, the advice they get is of dubious quality.

I try to give my students detailed feedback on their written work. That’s an important part of my job. But large class sizes are a fact of life and are bound to remain so unless one of the following unpalatable developments takes place: a huge jump in tuition fees to allow for more faculty hiring and smaller classes; keeping the number of professors the same while reducing the proportion of young people who go to university;  a big infusion of government cash to allow for small class sizes; or the division of the existing wage budget into more but smaller salaries (i.e., a paycut for the existing professors).  Don’t hold your breath for any of the above.

Under the current arrangement, there is only so much individualized writing advice a professor can give each student. Moreover, there is much to be desired about the pre-submission assistance many campus writing assistance centres give to students.  Outsourcing the writing assistance work to India seems like a particularly useful idea for universities where it is hard to find qualified workers for on-campus writing centres. In general, good writers want to live in places where there are more opportunities to exercise their skills. This means that the pool of good writers is limited outside of the big cities, especially at universities that lack PhD programs in the humanities.  Emailing the writing assistance work to Bangalore is a superb idea.

In few years, it might be common to overhear students saying that they are planning to Skype their TA in India.