Questioning Assessment in New Media

There is no doubt that the explosion of information available through digital resources has changed the climate of reading and writing in the college classroom already.  Various claims have been made for and against this change in literacy.  Such claims demand further investigation into the various elements of teaching online.  There has been limited research into the assessment of new media and writing studies. Today, I am going to focus on the topic of assessment in the writing classroom, and whether or not this assessment is being handled successfully according to the theorists themselves that have covered the topic recently in multiple publications.

There is no current definition of writing assessment, just a set of guiding principles for assessment.  These rules were put into place by the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC).  One of these guiding principles states: Best assessment practice engages students in contextualized, meaningful writing. The assessment of writing must strive to set up writing tasks and situations that identify purposes appropriate to and appealing to the particular students being tested.”  There is a tension surrounding the idea of utilizing such guidelines in the assessment of new media; it has even been suggested that new ways of evaluation and assessment be written and implemented if new media is going to be a large component of particular curriculum.  Madeleine Sorapure states in her article, Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Compositions, “How do we evaluate the coherence of a hypertextual text…or the clarity of a visual argument? Do familiar assessment criteria such as clarity and coherence need to be substantially revised or even rejected when we are evaluating work in new media (Sorapure, 1).

She further goes on to state that we find ourselves in the pitfall of assessing new multimodal assignments from old frameworks of assessment (printed works) because it is of those we are most familiar as instructors.  I find an even greater tension being that as compositionists, we are trained in working with the written text and not in the visual arts.  Students in Sorapure’s class gave demonstrations of multimodal experimentation by completing largely visual representations of text, without the text present.  How can we, who have no training in visual arts or aesthetics, be expected to evaluate student work fairly from that standpoint?  Why should we have to?  Anne Francis Wysoki in the book Writing New Media, her essay, “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty,” discusses frustration with having to deconstruct an advertisement in a magazine that utilizes visual images with limited text, “ My inability to come to a satisfactory accounting leads me to consider how notions of beauty, developed in the late 18th century, have been used in attempts to hold together two different orders of being – and by our time- have failed…teaching the visual aspects of texts is incomplete, and in fact may work against helping students acquire critical and thoughtful agency with the visual” (Wyoscki, 149).    

Should such projects be kept out of the writing classroom and represented more fairly in a visual or graphics arts context, by other trained faculty in other departments?  If we do not make specialty classes available for this sort of expression/visual representation, I believe something is lost…however; I do question the writing classroom being at the forefront of an endeavor that may be outside of our immediate responsibility: to increase the writing skills of our students.  Certainly, some new media will be involved in our classrooms as the world turns rapidly towards being a technological society, but as the constructors of our curriculums, we can decide in our classrooms how this will play out. The CCCC further suggests concrete ways of evaluating our own pedagogy and assessment practices on their website.  

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