On Evaluation

As much as I enjoyed the readings for this week, I feel that they can be easily summed up by saying that we ought to enter into evaluation with a positive framework and give our students positive and actionable feedback. The old system of ranking is comparative and inaccurate in that it oversimplifies the process in a comparative manner and leaves the lower-ranked students in doubt of their ability and the higher-ranked students in doubt of their authenticity. I can remember a few occasions, especially in my undergrad, when I suspected that I had received an A simply because in one way or another I had guilted the teacher into giving me a higher grade. Although I am ultimately grateful for the benefits that good grades have afforded me, such interactions demonstrate that the ranking system sets up situations that can be demoralizing for all parties involved. Furthermore, these systems are subject to inconsistent evaluation.

Although I agree with the ideas that feedback should be positively actionable, that we should foster an atmosphere of trust through praise of what is good in our students’ writing, and that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, I find the proposition of restructuring the grading system highly problematic. It’s completely Utopian. Sure, the grading system is flawed, but ultimately it’s so built into the education system and ultimately the job market that I don’t think it’s possible to change this while teaching at the level of an introductory composition teacher. So my response to this week’s readings is a question: what alternative do these writers propose? I understand that the consistent thread is evaluation, but we ultimately have to give these students grades. In the world in which we live where everything is built on ones and zeros, we have to have access to transcript data that allows us to quickly and efficiently place these students in the classes in which they belong and push them towards careers in which they will function at their highest level and hopefully at their happiest, although this happiness often overlooked in favor of utility.

Writing is important for educational, professional, and personal life, but for many students in introductory courses, a composition course checks off a box on the list of requirements. Although I believe in teaching writing as though it is the most important thing in the world, I also realize that we ultimately have to end a semester by quantifying student progress in data points. It is here where the philosophical approach to teaching composition for the promotion of holistic mental health of students and the evaluation seem to diverge completely. The oversimplification of this divergence in this week’s readings is frustrating to me. This is a problem that takes more than a six page article to address. This is a problem that takes an entire book that ends in the proposition of an impossible and possibly global social revolution.

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On Research Papers

In the article for today’s class, I didn’t see much about research papers. Rather, this article seems to be a rehash of the piece on boundary guarding v. boundary crossing and the relationship to knowledge transfer. I am familiar with the conversation around knowledge transfer, but more in context of how it applies to the current trend of brain training games. From what I’ve heard on the subject, it sounds like brain training games in particular tend to make one better at the games, but not much else. I didn’t see much similarity between this conversation and the conversation over first year writing students. This article seems to be more focused on the forward application of knowledge. This study showed boundary guarders as having a tendency to graft new knowledge onto old knowledge while boundary crossers tend to reconsider their current knowledge in light of new knowledge.

I have some issues with this view of students in general. It seems like this view of boundary crossers and guarders leads us to favor boundary crossers while trying to change the ways in which boundary guarders naturally think. Today’s article hints at this issue, but it still seems largely ignored in the literature. I’d like to see more work suggesting ways in which we might rethink these teaching biases.

As for the research paper, I agree that many students see it as an information dump and fail to engage with the material in a critical manner. This makes the research useless and trivial. Page length requirements and source number requirements seem to add to this problem, but without strict rubrics, our students might not know where to go. Looser structures with a range of sources and page length requirements might help, but I don’t feel like this is the ultimate answer. It seems like this problem can ultimately be solved only by continuing to push our students to engage with material. One way we can do this is to push the students to feel some way about the subject. If they have chosen the subject, this push should be easy. Beyond this, I still feel pretty lost as to what we should do to better teach research. I honestly don’t remember my first college research project, and I still get nervous around the word. I feel like there are a lot of ambiguous expectations around research. As much as I love gathering the information and coming up with a finished product, I really can’t give a systematic breakdown of my process, so I don’t know how to teach it at this time.

Delivering the Mass-age

I find it appropriately intriguing that the readings for Monday and the readings for Wednesday both cited Marshall McCluhan as a source when discussing writing in the digital age. For those of you who are not familiar with his work, McCluhan was very influential in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the midst of the youth movement. His most influential piece is called The Medium is the Massage (pronounced “mass-idge,” as a sort of beatnik pun combining the words “mass” and “message”). The book is a very short and easy read filled with pictures that communicate just as much as the words. It details the ways in which our thought processes have changed and continue to change due to the evolution of mass media. If I remember correctly, McLuhan talks about the printing press and how increased literacy turned Western culture into linear thinkers because the written word is a linear form. He moves to today and notes that because we are surrounded by media, we are learning to think in all new ways. We are immersed in media. We wear our messages in ways that we never did before. The book is definitely worth the read, and the images are beautiful. I highly recommend it not only as a supplement to this lesson but also for pure enjoyment and self-edification.

As far as the article goes, Trimbur made me think a lot about the issues of teaching pure writing in this era. We are now taught through social media, casual text messages, and emails to create short and concise messages that combine text with images, emojis (which function more like iconography than like photographs), videos, sounds, and other media that help us to express our points in clearer ways. Although I believe that the immediate nature of this multimedia experience can help communication become clearer, the trending change also makes me question the value of classical rhetoric in the classroom. While traditional methods have historical relevance, they are now becoming antiquated as a means of teaching students relevant life skills. As a result of the change in communication strategies, students often struggle to meet page-length requirements, and those who do manage to meet them often deliberately or accidentally fill their pages with fluff. I think that we should learn to adjust our page length expectations and the nature of our assignments to better accommodate the current student population. I think that assignments that integrate the use of photographs, icons, infographics, and other visual elements combined with shorter commentary on the relevance of these images to the point of the “essay” can function as one solution to the problems we face. I also like some of the assignments that we’ve looked at in class such as making infographics and analyzing differences between social networks and the ways in which profiles work. These kinds of assignments work with skills that students either have already or will need in the workplace and in personal life. They also increase student awareness of the ways in which the current world functions. This awareness ultimately will help the students to become better members of the global community by aiding in their interaction.