Norbert Elliot, PhD, professor in the department of humanities at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) a team of researchers presented better ways to teach and assess writing at the conference on College Composition and Communication held in Chicago last month. The research is part of an on-going campaign by the humanities faculty at NJIT to promote authentic ways to assess writing.
Elliot, team leader, is the author of On a Scale: A Social History of Writing Assessment (Peter Lang, 2005). The book was the first historical study of writing assessment.
Research highlights included a closer look at the benefits of using portfolios to assess writing. A portfolio is a collection of a student’s essays, short stories, non-fiction papers, letters, diary entries and more that are written throughout a semester when students are both in and out of the classroom.
“Portfolios work well when it comes to teaching writing, so we spent much time explaining how and why,” said Elliot. “We think developing a portfolio has a great advantage over a student taking a timed test which usually takes place in only one afternoon under great stress. The fact is that the act of writing multiple submissions over a period of time, is likelier to reveal a student’s authentic writing capability than one snapshot in time.” The researchers also outlined an assessment method developed at NJIT to evaluate content. They call it the NJIT Portfolio Assessment Method.
The team showed how writing builds community. “When NJIT students spend much time assessing each other’s writing, one of the most important positive outcomes is the social relationships they create,” said Elliot. “This, in turn, builds community and with trust, information flows.”
He added that at NJIT, writing teachers also like to showcase the best student work as a learning tool. Eventually, a community grows from sharing and discussing the data and learning takes place. In addition, teachers then may use the results to set new goals for revising curriculums.
The researchers explained the value of passing out graded writing samples to enable instructors to compare standards. “At NJIT, the curriculum, not the student, is under watch,” said Elliot. “We feel that when instructors view the graded work of students in other classes, it helps them assess their own grading standards.”
Assistant professor Carol Johnson and associate professor Nancy Coppola discussed why they encourage students to create web sites for showing off writing. Since such portfolios can be evaluated anytime, anywhere, the instructors believe that web sites entice more readers, which in turn, provides more feedback.
Associate professor Robert Friedman, PhD, discussed measuring the success of students in web based on-line classes which are said to take place in asynchronous (anytime, anywhere) learning environments. Friedman’s research, which will use other NJIT departments, will eventually investigate the undergraduate course work of more than 20,000 students who have taken both face-to-face and on-line courses at NJIT from 1996 to 2005.
“The real value of all of this work is that it is authentic,” said Elliot. “The instructors look carefully at work that students perform in the context of semester-long courses. There are no tests, there are no high stakes. Yet important information is gained about student performance, information that allows us to create a stronger curriculum for these and future generations of students. Who can ask for anything more?”