Carnegie Mellon University (QATAR)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2010 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Pages: 393-402
ISBN: 978-84-613-5538-9
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 4th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 8-10 March, 2010
Location: Valencia, Spain
The field of professional communication often finds itself offering discipline-specific courses to fulfill departmental or institute-wide communication requirements. However, professional communication classrooms often suffer from the same malaise engineering textbooks do (Wolfe 2009), where the focus is on the manufacture of finished products, with little consideration of rhetorical task, audience and situated context. One of the reasons behind this reluctance to introduce rhetorical considerations is the difficulty in assessing the overall process, especially if there are multiple iterations or drafts involved. The trade-off in this case, however, has significant implications: an insistence on product invariably leads to an evaluation of content-based and surface-level concerns, in contrast to an assessment of real understanding.

As Wiggins and McTighe (1998) have argued in a seminal volume on assessing understanding, there are ways to assess facets of understanding through detailed rubrics and sometimes innovative approaches. One of these facets is self-knowledge, or the ability to reflect on the ways one has acted or made decisions based on their understanding. One such self-reflective model will be the topic of this presentation, and the ways that technology made it possible.

More specifically, I will report on the assessment model for an assignment at a Technical Writing course for Computer Science students. In this assignment, students were required to design a User Guide for a Web-based Virtual Stock Exchange game developed the institution's Business Club. The website had already been deployed once, with dozens of people participating in the game, but there was no user guide or documentation. However, instead of requiring students to produce a finished user guide for evaluation, they had to produce a detailed audience analysis, multiple storyboards and drafts, as well as a reflection on their design decisions in relation to the choice of audience. The connection between these versions and the reasons for accepting or rejecting them can be made with hyperlinks within any networked environment. This way the process became transparent both for them and for the evaluators, as each decision had to be explained and supported by concrete arguments and design principles.

Therefore, levels of learning and understanding could be assessed, based on an analysis of the quality of the final versions of the user guides, and the student comments in course evaluations. This presentation will describe this assessment model, but also argue that an understanding of audience informs both the writing and design of texts aimed at supporting people’s tasks. Beyond simply allowing students to apply their knowledge in masterful ways, the introduction of a structured reflective document affords a deep awareness of the boundaries of one's own understanding.

The implications of this approach extend beyond Communication classrooms: students, especially in CS, are exposed to an assessment model where they learn to be reflective about their practice and justify the directions they took in solving problems. The significance of technologies (graphic design writing, annotation, hyperlinking etc.) to support this model will also be discussed.
Professional Communication, Computer-Mediated Communication, Reflective practice.