This unit was centered on 21st century literacies, automated essay scoring technologies, and policy. There was an overarching theme of technological advancement and the advent of digital assessing technologies in this unit. I was interested in what Diane Penrod had to say about how technological convergence affects program assessment and classroom assessment in the following four ways (in Composition in Convergence): 1. “interactively” (through networking apparatuses like hyperlinks, or generally the phenomenon of information created by and for a participatory culture), 2. “graphically” (i.e.- composing in virtual spaces allows students opportunities to exercise visual rhetoric more freely, compared to composing in more traditional spaces), 3. “perspectively” (the motivations for “the establishment of connections” and the portrayal of online composers’ identities (43) and 4. “theoretically” (we have to look at the situation of networked composing knowing that it requires a different kind of thought process and understanding, and approach) (Penrod 40). Dr. Neal writes, in Writing Assessment and the Revolution of Digital Texts and Technologies, that, “as hypermedia is becoming more of an integral component of 21st century literacy both in an outside the classroom, it is becoming increasingly significant in the assessment of writing. This has implications that span the continuum of theoretical and practical” (Neal 93). I think it’s important to remember this continuum; our understanding of advancements in assessment is developing alongside the actual developments, and awareness of this simultaneous formulation of thought and practice underscores Penrod’s four points.
I found these four points interesting because they each are founded in the notion of human-to-human connection and interaction (though often via media or technological interface). The first point’s connection with communication is inherent; we have more ways to interact, participate, and communicate with each other because of digital media and technology. Composing graphically gives us another avenue of composition; that is, we can reach more people because we compose in multiple ways, appealing to different learning styles. The third point, like her first point, is inherently based in communication and connection, and the fourth point, the salience of the development of new theory to tackle technological convergence, entails a more esoteric, but still intensified, form of communication (that is situated academically; scholars looking at this situation, like all theorists, and make connections with each other through conferences, collaborations, publications, etc.).
Based off of Penrod’s points here, I think I can say that a trend I noticed in this unit was that when technology is used to foster communication between people it seems to be a generally constructive force. Writing programs and institutions are doing beautiful things with ePortfolios, digital literacies and rhetoric, etc. (and I should mention, here, this fascinating and elegantly simple idea from Whithaus: “the judging of students’ composing skills in digital compositions is not simply a matter of applying new rubrics based on the structural qualities of web pages and sites. Composing and cognition in electronic environments are affected by the differences in what types of evidence is presented as well as how the delivery of that evidence is shaped” (Whithaus 6). This is my interpretation of his idea: our understanding of digital composing does not need to change so much as it needs to be born, or formed).
But when technology is not used for the primary purpose of forging human connections, when it is used almost as a barrier between groups of people (like, in an AES situation, where machines divvy out scores that decide who gets to join the institution or not), then we have ethical and logistical problems.
One of the scholars we read who has a notably negative opinion about AES is William Condon, who writes that “the type of test AES can score is in conflict with the needs of a student to learn how to improve as a writer and of a teacher, who needs to know how to facilitate that improvement” (Condon). So, in terms of what Condon is saying, if we use AES in an inappropriate context (the definition of which I’m sure varies from person to person, but I here I think it would be safe to assume a general learning environment would work), we are short-changing students who need feedback on their writing that goes beyond an analysis of surface-level craft; machines can’t (at least, they can’t yet) assess content. But Condon doesn’t even seem convinced that AES is a wise decision at all: “In short, the ability of AES to evaluate samples that reveal writing ability—not just fluency, accuracy of text production, and sophistication of vocabulary… is scant, if not non-existent, and for that reason assessments that can be scored via AES are poor predictors of students’ success in courses that require them to think, to write with an awareness of purpose and audience, and to control the writing process” (Condon).