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.
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).