Header image: Pen Writing. Digital image. The How To Write Shop. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
How to evaluate classroom writing has always been a struggle. In the modern day, this struggle has taken to a digital battlefield. It’s not enough to teach students how to write, students must be taught how to effectively use digital media in a variety of ways if they are to not only stay afloat in the competitive job market, but thrive in an social climate which values web and media skills. Beth Brunk-Chavez and Judith Fourzan-Rice’s article, The Evolution of Digital Writing Assessment in Action: Integrated Programmatic Assessment, discusses the benefits and pitfalls of using a specific technology to aid in classroom evaluation.
The article discusses the use of the website MinerWriter in the context of its use in First-Year Composition (FYC) at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Instructors at the university utilized the program to effectively score and evaluate first year writing students’ work (the examples given are a video documentary calling for social change and an opinion-based article). Although the researchers are still finetuning not only the program itself, but how it’s used, they have encountered promising outcomes so far.
How MinerWriter Works
Students can upload their work through the MinerWriter website where it will be evaluated by a scorer. All identifying information regarding the student is removed and the scorer generally has no relationship with them. The scorer then views the finished assignment and evaluates it using a rubric and an A-F grading scale. The grades given in each part of the rubric add up to a final numerical score which the instructor is then given.
The Benefits of MinerWriter
The authors note that using people beyond the instructor to score the class frees up time for the instructor and allows them to take on more students and prevents them from becoming burned out on paper grading. The students also benefit from being exposed to the scorer rather than having all of their evaluations completed through a single instructor. It brings up the rhetorical question of audience and helps to cut down on pseudotransactionality since the student doesn’t know the scorer and cannot tailor their writing to this person.
Other benefits include a more consistent method of evaluation for students and instructors and a source that can help find weaknesses in instruction. Students who do poorly in one specific area may need more instruction in that area. The final score from the data allows the UTEP to judge the effectiveness and difficult of their own program and refine it for future students.
Another benefit is creating a more relevant composition class. Bringing material online, through the evaluation program itself and through things such as offering the textbook as solely an eBook, helps students not only interaction with the technology their future careers might revolve around, but to see the field of composition as growing, changing, and evolving along with other University subjects. A program which requires students to think outside of a double-spaced paper and into the field of visual rhetoric and integrating media into their papers, is going to lead to ultimately more successful students, whether they continue on in their education or join the workforce.
The Problematic Elements of MinerWriter
Like everything in the world, MinerWriter is not without its issues. Some students receive conflicting feedback from the scorer and other academic sources, on papers which have had more than one draft. Although the rubric is clear, the interpretation of that rubric is left to the individual scorer. If a student did a peer review, got feedback from the instructor, or went to a writing tutor, any of those sources might have given them advice which impacted their grade in a negative fashion. Before the assignment is turned in, it’s impossible to know who the scorer will be and what subtleties they will be looking for when it comes to evaluating their paper.
Additionally, there’s always the problem of the technology gap. When I took my first online class at Thomas Nelson Community College, I went to the orientation, thinking it would be vital information for the operation of the website and information about classes. The instructional area started with turning the computer on and locating the web browser. For a student who uses Internet Explorer and isn’t quite sure about The Facebook, creating a multimedia project such as the documentary assignment discussed in the paper and shown in the videos, would be a thoroughly daunting task. MinerWriter is incredibly beneficial to students, but older students who aren’t so Internet-savvy would be far more likely to get frustrated and confused over the use of technology.
Being the cheerleader for technology that I am, I firmly believe in integrating more technology and media into the college classroom. It seems to me that MinerWriter, while it does have some problems, is much more beneficial to students than detrimental. Through careful research and study the program can be refined and made even more effective and meaningful for students. There will always be the technology gap, although that seems to be closing more and more, and there will always be issues with different reviews offering conflicting information. But no technology or classroom experience is simple or problem-free.
Brunk-Chavez, B., & Fourzan-Rice, J. (n.d.). The Evolution of Digital Writing Assessment in Action: Integrated Programmatic Assessment. Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation. Retrieved from http://ccdigitalpress.org/dwae/index.html