Assessing Digital and Multimodal Student Work

In Sessions on April 2, 2014 at 4:01 pm



  • Skype Q & A with special guest Jody Shipka
  • Online teaching portfolio demo (Ruth)
  • Research project overview (Sean & Matthew)
  • Readings review

Reading for Next Week:

Assignments (as assigned):

  • Write a 300-500 word response to the above readings and bring  a hard copy with you to class, or
  • Prepare a question to ask Adam Banks
  1. The foundation of my teaching philosophy is to enable students to make critical, informed choices about their work and its participation in increasingly high stakes conversations. Admittedly, students not only resist the lack of linearity, but also become overwhelmed with the “allatonceness” Berthoff describes. As a result, my teaching must often negotiate the tension between the real benefits for students working with real-world complexity and decision-making situations and the drawbacks of their frustrations at becoming overwhelmed with a seemingly endless amount of factors to consider and choices to make. Let me just say, it is not always the smoothest ride. I have struggled with the balancing act, and, while most of my students understand the bigger picture of my approach, going on to make substantial gains in perspective and rhetorical skill, the process consumes a lot of time and energy and, at times, wears thin on student dispositions.

    However, I think Adsanatham, Garrett, and Matzke’s “Re-Inventing Digital Delivery” offers a practical way to unite and streamline this approach by working backwards from considerations about the delivery of composed artifacts. In particular, using the different topoi systematically as a set of inventive and reflective exercises would help students to “[keep track of multiple moves and textual layers… [helping] composers make more informed decisions” about their products (318). An attractive claim, to be sure, and yet I think it is important to stress that merely taking this pedagogical tack in the classroom is not sufficient. The pedagogical success of the delivery theory, its topoi, and the subsequent effects on students’ fluency with other canon-specific skills are dependent on how we frame ideas about access, distribution/circulation, and interactivity with authentic audiences. Otherwise, the entire approach becomes blunted.

    Student concerns and reflections about how a real, public audience might encounter their work run through our authors’ essay. However, this crucial point is only explicitly emphasized in one paragraph of their concluding remarks. Drawing on Susan Wells, our authors claim that writing instructors should craft assignments that emphasize writing for public arenas and audiences. Composing pieces that “will enter some form of public space” engages students in “public discursive forms [that] share an orientation to action [and] require a reconfiguration of the writer, and of agency” (Wells 336, qtd. in Adsanatham et al. 327). Furthermore, according to Daniel Anderson, public writing will also link students newly developed literacies to “critical, civic participation and agency” (45 qtd. in Adsanatham et al. 327). In other words, “public” writing born out of the delivery model of pedagogy has the potential to reconfigure and open up how students see composing – as a series of choices that influence others’ thoughts and actions in tangible ways. Specifying a concrete audience has its obvious advantages, but beyond that, this practice serves to (re)connect composing to authentic agentive action, a topic that deserves much more discussion in response to this piece.

    Beyond that, I wonder, in a nod to another of our pieces for this week, if this heuristic could also be applied to a larger scale of composition, such as an online or hybrid course design. How might using this heuristic for evaluating online instructional design strategies improve/change distance education curricula, delivery, and even course outcomes?

  2. Reading “Re-Inventing Digital Delivery for Multimodal Composing: A Theory and Heuristic for Composition Pedagogy” by Chanon Adsanatham, Bre Garrett, and Aurora Matzke got me thinking about my own composition class and how teaching a video project using the six topoi might fit in well with my Detroit proposal argument project.
    My 1020 students’ penultimate project is the proposal argument. Instead of being able to choose their own issue to write about, I narrow down the topic to problems within Detroit (or the WSU) community (since there are so many, there is rarely any overlap, and students are often creative enough to identify problems I hadn’t thought of: a real Detroit advantage). From here, students have to work on defining the problem, looking at various attempts to fix the problem, propose a detailed solution plan, discuss the conditions which need to be in place for the solution to work, bring up possible objections to the plan, and then offer a rebuttal. It’s a whopper of a project. This semester, I have opened up the possibility for students to turn this into a digital project rather than just writing a paper. It is optional, and is actually an extra credit opportunity. I’m not offering too much guidance regarding the digital project: I want to see what my students can come up with, and then possibly use some of these projects as models for future semesters where a digital project might be mandated. However, I am now intrigued by the idea of assigning a video project. Though I think the six topoi could be adequately used with a digital project, a video project highlights certain nuances which must be attended to.

    More specifically speaking, I think this Detroit-based project fits quite well into this discussion of norm-questioning which this study raises. One of the issues raised within the article was the fact that, in the process of trying to be good, credible rhetors, students were reinforcing social norms they may have been simultaneously trying to deconstruct. The authors revised the topoi to reflect more nuance in the body/identity categories, since these were the ones which were causing students trouble. I could see these topoi coming in handy for a project like this. Detroit has such colossal norms inscribed in the narratives which circulate and re-circulate around it (as Jeff Rice has demonstrated for us). One thing I like to tell my students about this project is that they should be trying to “change the story about Detroit,” but we do not do a lot of work in-class which fleshed out what this might look like. Emphasizing these topoi might help us do just that, however, especially since things like race and class factor so heavily in each of the students’ projects, even if they are intentionally not explicit about these things within their projects.

    However, I do have to admit that I felt a little uneasy with the tone of the article at times, particularly in the section which deals with the conflict between rhetorical choice/purpose and the researchers perception of “cultural norming.” In Tatum’s project, she used a male voice for a voice-over, basically because that is what the majority of television and film voice-overs use, and she suspected viewers might respond more positively to this (thus, her rationale behind her rhetorical choice, something we ask from students). The researchers were troubled by this, and by Nathan’s presentation of Asperger’s Syndrome. It sounds as if Nathan was making some really good moves, finding credible sources to interview and integrate into his film on the syndrome, and showing that he understands the idea of “entering a conversation.” However, the researchers were disappointed that he did not make a deep critical intervention into his topic, asserting that “we are lacking narratives about ‘what it’s like for an autistic to be an autistic’” and implying that this is how Nathan should have presented his disability.

    I think it’s worthwhile to have conversations with students about making rhetorical choices while not sacrificing the motivations and goals we have for our projects. However, the authors claim that “we need to challenge students to examine what normative/hegemonic assumptions and depictions about body/identity are evident in society, and how things may come to influence the way we compose, speak, think, and “read” other bodies/identities” (emphasis mine). I agree, to an extent. However, to adequately impress this upon students, I feel like the entire composition course itself would have to be devoted to this exploration, and I’m not sure that’s something we need to do, especially when we amongst ourselves might disagree what counts as “normative/hegemonic assumptions and depictions about body/identity” which are “evident in society.” Again, I think this would be a very productive conversation to have with the class, but I also don’t see myself getting too hung up over Tatum’s rationale for using a male voice-over in her film. However, at least the article is making me question whether or not I should. A decision is pending.

  3. This response will attempt to look at some of the questions raised by Burnett, et al in their article on common rubrics in multimodal classrooms. They ask “what is the role of mandated standard rubrics, mandated flexible rubrics, and individual idiosyncratic rubrics in the future of valid multimodal assessment?” I was always personally against rubrics before I realized that I incorporated the spirit of the rubric into my assessment without realizing it. While the rubric always seemed to be a constraint on the way I wanted to assess student writing, in reality it gave the students a better idea of what I was looking for in the assignment and helped them to understand their final grades. That being said, I appreciated the way the article suggested the viability of rubrics which could be adapted to suit individual instructors or assignments. With the growing influence of the digital humanities in the writing classroom, I believe there is a place for the flexible and idiosyncratic rubrics. A standard rubric which does not allow for adaptation will not be useful in the future of this sort of classroom because the assignments themselves are structured to give students flexibility and freedom in their work. It would be doing a disservice to the students if they were all held to a rubric which may or may not apply to their own work. The flexible rubric, however, will provide a detailed framework by which the students can plan and execute their work. Likewise, the flexible or idiosyncratic rubric will assist instructors who may not always be familiar with the modes the students chose to work with. As mentioned in Kirtley’s article on the technological literacy narrative, it is naïve and harmful to assume anyone’s familiarity with different forms of technology – student OR teacher. These rubrics can be useful in keeping students focused on the task at hand, much like Shipka’s way of requiring students to create a narrative outlining their entire ‘writing’ process.
    Burnett, et al also ask how the administration of a writing program must evolve in order to account for these changes in the writing classroom. Within current university administration, in general, I believe there exists a struggle between a more ‘traditional’ way of teaching/evaluating and an emerging pedagogy which seeks to break from tradition and keep itself relevant. This struggle is particularly true for the humanities/English/writing departments. If these departments hope to last in the future, it is necessary for the administration to accept positive changes within their curricula/pedagogy/assessment. The freshman composition course which focuses on grammar drills and standardized forms will find itself not only irrelevant, but failing to create a body of students best suited for future encounters with writing. By accepting and incorporating new media into the writing classroom, students are able to become more engaged writers in their daily lives and be more prepared for future encounters with writing. Delivery, as discussed by Adsanatham, et al, is as important to the success of a rhetorical piece as are the other rhetorical canons. By encouraging instructors to incorporate digital writing/media in their assignments, administrators will be assisting a new generation of writers capable of creating a rhetorical situation and deliver it in a variety of methods to suit the situation. I also believe that it is the responsibility of administration to make sure their faculty members are capable of working with new media platforms and able to understand the best ways to create/execute/assess these assignments. Mandatory training or reading will be necessary to get all instructors on the same page.
    One of the main concerns of those teaching with digital media is the uncertainty of how to assess the material created but also how their classroom will hold up to the more traditional classroom. By requiring instructors to use a flexible rubric, administration can be sure that certain standards are being met, regardless of how they are being delivered; while at the same time helping faculty to realize the importance and viability of new media.

  4. I would open my response to this reading with a reading suggestion of my own: Rebecca Schuman’s delightfully bitter “The End of the College Essay” which, in paraphrase, suggests that when it comes to papers – students don’t want to write them, and we don’t want to grade them. Out they go.

    This weeks readings, which I think dealt with more street-level applications of digital literacy, in particular the Davis & Yancey article, got me thinking about sensory engagement. Claims that humans are “90% visual” (probably not quite true, according to a 1996 article by Micheal Sivak) notwithstanding, a traditional research paper seems a bit like paying for an unlimited data plan, and then only using it to text yourself a grocery list every week – the full capability of the system is not being put to good use.

    But even if we are predominantly visual creatures, are the other senses not worthy of engagement? Again, referencing the Davis & Yancey article, in particular the sections concerning the use of male or female voices, the delivery of content is problematized by these previous factors which, at best, the rather boring presentation of the traditional research paper might theoretically negate. This implies of course that everyone writes in the same voice, which we know or at least feel to be untrue, but as visual creatures, it seems that we are less “marked” in double-spaced twelve-point Times New Roman.

    But ultimately, why unmark ourselves? Why obsess over disembodiment? This seems to me now a rather silly idea, though perhaps one that will invoke noisy and messy conversation: not necessarily a bad thing, because it seems like these may be conversations in need of having. I’m thinking of Aneeta Sarkeesian’s excellent “Feminist Frequency” video series which has for years now generated intense hatred online in part, I think, because Ms. Sarkeesian chooses a bodied presentation – she clearly shows herself as feminine while discussing feminism. The very fact that this enrages male gamers indicates that a marked presentation may contribute significantly to social movement in ways that decades of writing have not.

    And so maybe that should be our rubric, to borrow from Burnett: does it engage? Does it enrage? Does it immerse the reader and incite catharsis in ways that a traditionally written document can’t?

    But inversely, does the text or artifact merely exploit? Does it overwhelm the reader? If a picture is worth 1000 words, what is the effect of force-feeding a reader 24,000 words per second? This, to me, is the other side of the coin (informed partially by the Kirtly article, and partially by my own fears): If a writer is, as Saul Bellow opined, a “writer moved to emulation,” we risk the same issues of engagement and techne that Schuman discusses in her article, that is, they must learn to read, and read critically, before they learn to write, and that reading must in turn drive them to write. I’m inclined to say: more media, more problems, but perhaps I may just as well say: same problems, different media.

    Schuman’s article can be found here:

  5. One of Susan Kirtley’s concerns at the end of her article “Rendering Technology Visible: The Technological Literacy Narrative” is that students’ assignment follows old methods. In other words, although the topic of the assignment is students’ technological experiences, Kirtley, a teacher, requires students to take “a more conventional form as an extended, three-part narrative” than a newer way of thinking. Likewise, students’ final products are in a traditional printed form although their works are posted on online pages. However, Kirtley also explains that her old-fashioned way is beneficial in that “[t]his longer, more extended process of writing the narratives in several stages over an entire semester allows students to shape their own stories and increases awareness of technology” (201).

    Students’ writings should not necessarily be technologically produced only because they deal with the topic of technological experiences. However, I believe that students are able to think more about technologies if they are also involved in the technological products during the semester. The goal of Kirtley’s model of “Technological Literacy Narratives” is that students are “to describe [their] early relationship with various technologies, to explain [their] current relationship with technology, and to reflect how these relationships have evolved over time” (202). I suggest that students would be more conscious about technological use both in daily lives and academic atmosphere if they conducted their assignment about technological experiences in technological ways. Their past experiences would be more related to personal use such as texting messages, tweeting, blogging, etc. However, if they have opportunities to apply technological tools in the class, they would learn more about technology that it could be applied in diverse ways.

    Moreover, technology does not always change fast. Kirtley argues that students need time to think slowly about their technological experiences for a whole semester because “technologies rise and fall and come and go so quickly” (201). That is true in some part but in other part, we can find somewhat permanent forms like paper documents, e.g., blogs, individual webpages, weblogs, etc. I also suggest that even if technologies change during the semester, it would rather be another continuing moment of students’ experiences with technology so they are able to describe their relationships with technology which are evolving at the very minute of their lives, and to connect their past experiences to the present and to the possible future moments. In other words, by accepting changes in technology as a natural phenomenon, students would be more aware that where they are and what they have done and (can) do in technological era. So I believe that students are able to produce their assignment in technological ways at the same time they slowly expand their thinking process of writing the narratives.

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