Annotated Bibliography: Reilly and Atkins

Reilly, Colleen A., and Anthony T. Atkins. “Rewarding Risk: Designing Aspirational Assessment Processes for Digital Writing Projects.” McKee, Heidi A., and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Eds. Digital Writing Assessment & Evaluation. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2013. Web.

Weigh the Elephant.

In the article “Rewarding Risk” Reilly and Atkins describe a process of creating a method of assessing digital writing projects that encourage students to take risks. In the beginning of the article, Reilly and Atkins discuss the challenges of assessing digital writing projects and the ways in which assessments can either discourage or encourage students from taking risks while undertaking a digital writing project. While students are learning to use new technologies, they benefit from assessments that take into account their attempts to learn to use technologies without punishing them for imperfect outcomes. Reilly and Atkins claim that the language of assessments of digital writing projects should be generalizable, generative, aspirational (encouraging students to use new tools and learn new skills), and should solicit student involvement in assessment creation, which Reilly and Atkins claim will localize and contextualize the assessment). In creating assessments, Reilly and Atkins claim that assessment should clearly support pedagogical practices, that the educational values of the course should be evident, that the assessment should focus on instructive aspects of the course, and that the assessment should give feedback to guide future work (2-3). The assessments that are developed for digital writing projects need to be nimble, adaptable, and take into account students’ unfamiliarity with the technologies that they are utilizing. By connecting assessment to student learning outcomes, can help encourage students to learn new skills. Digital writing projects, according to Reilly and Atkins, should include collaboration, acknowledge the way in which writing has changed, incorporate peer review, and include a revision plan (5). The author’s suggest the use of deliberative practice, which “overtly requires a process that includes trial and error, the experience which leads to expanding proficiencies and developing expertise” (5). They say that assessment must encourage students to move past their current skills level and develop their expertise (6). Deliberative practice requires increasing the level of challenge, so assessments should take into account that students will make mistakes in the learning process. Reilly and Atkins say that assessments that students view as a checklist “discourage the deviation and innovation essential to engaging in deliberate practice and embarking on the process of developing expertise” (7). Attempts by both Reilly and Atkins to develop aspirational processes of assessment are detailed in the passage. They suggest that one way to facilitate assessment is to have students write reflections of their experiences working on projects, can help students to think about their work in rhetorical terms, to demonstrate their knowledge of course concepts, top provide rationales for design choices, and to learn through analyzing their experiences (9). Another approach that they explores was the use of primary trait scoring for digital writing assessment (10). This process involves the students into the creation of an assessment that “accounts for the risks they ned to take to complete a project successfully while simultaneously blurring distinctions between formative and summative assessment and making assessment part of the writing process, informing the development, production, and revision of digital compositions” (11). This process begins with assessment of the assignment, and also includes “analyzing the writing performance, and formulating primary traits” (12). This approach acknowledges that student “accomplishments may be much greater than the product they submit” (13). When involving students in the making of the assessment, the assignment becomes aspirational (15). In their conclusion, Reilly and Atkins acknowledge that there are some limitations to the process, such as time-constraints, but they explain the benefits that they have seen in their courses, such as increased student motivation and helping students learn to determine how projects should be assessed. The outcomes and the results suggest that by utilizing the aspirational process of assessment or the primary trait scoring process can increase student motivation and encourage them to take risks as they learn to use new technologies.

How is this Relevant to the Course:

One way in which the discussion of the creation of assessment of digital writing projects is relevant to the course is that we are ourselves creating digital writing projects that some of us do not necessarily have much experience with. Before my first 894 class, I had a blog but had never really used it. We also use other technologies like Popplet. While I don’t need to know how to write code in the class, I have run into a few issues with Word Press.

As I was reading this article by Reilly and Atkins, it occurred to me that some of the writing prompts, particularly the reading notes prompt, were designed to be an aspirational process of assessment. Because we have choices in the type pf content and the format, we students have the freedom to try new things with our blogs. We have the opportunity to aspire to continue developing our skills with blogging. The reading notes assignment prompt accomplishing two things that Reilly and Atkins felt were important in assessment of digital media projects: It encourages experimentation with composing in digital media, and it motivates “students to move beyond the basic activities necessary to produce the digital compositions” (np.).

Another parallel that I saw was that some of our assignments (particularly the Mind Map) include built in reflection on the use of technology. Reilly and Atkin explain that using a written reflection for digital projects encourages students to think rhetorically about their technological choices, show knowledge of course concepts, and articulate goals. The written discussions of our Mind Maps help us explain the rhetorical choices that we made and give us a place to delve deeper into how course concepts guided our choices.

Vatz and the Rhetorical Situation: How can assessment encourage rhetorical thinking?

Reilly and Atkins say that student reflections “about their digital compositions should involve rhetorically oriented rationales of content and design choices” (9). Why is it important that students be able to explain their rhetorical choices? For the answer to that question, we can turn to Vatz. Vatz says that if “you view meaning as a consequence of rhetorical creation, your paramount concern will be how and by whom symbols create the reality to which people react” (158). I think that this quote by Vatz is sheds some light on the ways in which attention to rhetorical concerns can impact assignment design and assessment.

1. By writing rhetorical rationales, students begin to develop an awareness of the ways in which meaning is “a consequence of rhetorical creation”.

2. Reflection on the assignment helps teachers understand the rhetorical nature of their assignment designs. By examining students’ discussions of the ways in which they interpreted and grappled with an assignment, teachers begin to see how symbols [particularly assignment design symbols] “create the reality to which people react” (158).

6 thoughts on “Annotated Bibliography: Reilly and Atkins

  1. Jenny, I am always in awe at your reading notes and connections; I remember this from our first 894 class together in the summer and I sought out your notes for that reason.
    The Atkins and Reilly article really seems to complement the article I read by VanKooten, because both are talking about the assessments being tied to rhetorical theory (not just pedagogy). Of course we must assess what is taught, and we must have specific and practical and desirable learning outcomes, but these outcomes must also be tied to theoretical principles that are applied through the work that is assessed (I think theory is often lost in the race to make something “useful” and what is applied may be more technical knowledge or lower order thinking,rather than the higher-order synthesis and evaluation skills that would be addressed by paying attention to the theory behind the methods.
    I was interested in your summary of Atkins and Reilly’s assertion that “language of assessments of digital writing projects should be generalizable, generative, aspirational (encouraging students to use new tools and learn new skills), and should solicit student involvement in assessment creation, which Reilly and Atkins claim will localize and contextualize the assessment).” VanKooten also discussed co-creating the rubric with her students, which builds agency and investment in the project, but also requires them to think about the component parts (which would include applied theory) that must go into the assessment. I’m a firm believer in the “localize and contextualize” the assessment to the particular work in that particular class, which isn’t the same from semester to semester even if you are teaching the same class and giving generally the same assignment. I also like their discussion about risk-taking and the aspirational component of assessment. We want to encourage our students to take risks — LEARNING involves risks. If you don’t feel uncomfortable, then you aren’t learning, you’re just doing. Encouraging them to take risks by rewarding them for trying something in a tangible way through the rubric is important. It also assures you won’t get “pat” responses to the assignment and will discourage plagiarism.

  2. Jenny, this is a thorough summary and I especially liked how you used our assignments in this course as examples of the approach Reilly and Atkins advocate for. As I was reading your summary of their approach, it reminded me of Cheryl Ball’s article on assessing visual rhetoric. In that article, she explains the importance of involving the students in the creation of any assessment rubric/tool as it allows them to not only understand but also articulate the goals and elements of their projects.

    Thinking about assessment language as “generalizable, generative, and aspirational” and the use of reflections seems especially useful. I went to a session at the Lilly conference on teaching in November that was focused on assessing mind maps. In it, they basically gave students points for every connection they made between nodes on their mind maps. As a colleague of mine pointed out, “it seems like the students would just start drawing lines between everything.” Shelley and Julia’s approach of making us blog about our connections makes us articulate the physical/visual connections we make that are, in my opinion, often difficult to explain. Certain connections make sense to me but without the articulated reflections, they would certainly be difficult for Julia and Shelley to evaluate.

  3. Jenny, you dealt with a very interesting article and your annotations were very thorough. I especially like the connections you made between this text, our course work, and the article by Vatz. Atkins and Reilly’s article addresses a very important issue in integrating digital writing projects into classrooms of all levels, even when students are more accustomed to working with digital tools than others. The idea of educators taking into account that trial and error is part of the learning process is important, and not just for courses that have students play with unfamiliar forms of technology, but for all classes since students should constantly be coming into contact with material that stretches their minds (though the question is then begged as to how much trial and error is to be allowed). The concept of trial and error reminded me a great deal of Jane McGonigal and her discussion of why video games have the potential to be educational tools because making mistakes and having chances to correct those mistakes to move on and hone strategy is not just an option in video games but a major element to the experience of playing those games. I also thought the idea of reflecting on one’s work and choices was important because it places responsibility on the rhetor as Vatz makes a comment about in his work. By becoming aware of why a person chose what he/she did in a work he/she produced, another layer of complexity is added to the rhetorical choices as the rhetor begins to uncover what underlying beliefs, values, and biases may have led him/her to privilege certain ideas, rhetorical strategies, and genres to the exclusion of others.

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