Part 2: Assessing Alternative Projects

In our previous blog post, we defined multimodal assignments as different from traditional writing assignments. Multimodal writing assignments ask students to compose across a range of media. Students might be asked to combined text with data visualization and images to create an infographic, or to script and produce a podcast or video.

How do I evaluate multimodal assignments? Evaluation is a common concern about introducing multimodal writing to a course for the first time. Instructors often feel they lack the experience or expertise to grade writing that isn’t primarily alphabetic, since it’s not what they themselves typically produce. And since most of us have years of experience grading essays, we have set methods and expectations for what an “A” paper looks like – but may not have a fixed idea of what realistically constitutes an “A” podcast or website.

There are a variety of different approaches to evaluating multimodal writing, many of which adopt or build on best practices for standard grading. For example, many instructors advocate using some form of student-generated grading criteria or rubrics to assign grades to multimodal assignments; this approach engages students in reflection about what rhetorically effective communication looks like in the assigned modes before they begin producing their own work. Another common strategy is to include a reflection component in the assignment, such as a cover letter in which students reflect in writing on the choices they made in composing their multimodal work. This letter can then be used to guide the instructor’s evaluation, based on the degree of thought and sophistication behind those choices. This allows instructors to focus on what we are experts in: how well students respond to the rhetorical situation in which they’ve been asked to write.

For more detail about applying these strategies, as well as further discussion of the unique challenges and opportunities posed by evaluating multimodal assignments, check out the resources linked below. We’ve rounded up some articles and posts by other experts and experienced instructors that address this common anxiety about multimodal assignments. In our next post, we’ll hear from some instructors here at Georgetown about how they’ve incorporated multimodal writing into courses here.

“Integrating Assessment and Instruction: Using Student-Generated Grading Criteria to Evaluate Multimodal Digital Projects,” Chanon Adsanatham: This article from Computers and Composition makes a case for scaffolding multimodal assignments with discussions that ask students to evaluate the mode they’ve been assigned to compose with before beginning to compose themselves.

“Evaluating Multimodal Assignments,” Elizabeth Kleinfeld and Amy Braziller: This final installment in a 3-part series on digital assignments discusses some practical tips for evaluation, including reflection and rubrics.

“Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited,” Shannon Christine Mattern: Published by the Journal of Digital Humanities, this essay addresses a simple question: when it comes to multimodal assignments, how do we know what’s “good?”