Rice, “Networked Assessment”

Rice, Jeff. (2011). Networked assessment. Computers and Composition, 28, 28–39.

Rice outlines his theory of networked assessment. In particular, this method of assessment aligns with concepts of networked thinking: “networked thinking has emerged as a way to make sense of disparate information collected in a given space” (28). For writing studies and writing assessment, networked thinking would expand or extend how we understand student learning by looking at how various contingent aspects of a writing program are connected. “The connections, or relationships, would reveal patterns and hopefully provide insight into the work we are doing” (35). Defined, network is a concept that describes “the process of figuring out agency, influence, connectivity, and other factors in a given moment or situation” (28).

In this way, Rice focuses on the method of tracing as an important means of describing these processes by drawing attention to patterns and connections not previously understood—what he calls an account: “the purpose of this tracing is to flesh out the possible relationships existing in any given moment, to create what Latour calls an account. An account is a description, not a proof of value” (29). Continuing, he places an emphasis on accounts which do not make value judgments about a particular space, its procedures, or processes (e.g. are students learning effectively, etc).

The exigence of such a new method or theory of assessment is due to—as Rice writes—the common topoi within assessment, organized around familiar terms that define the scope of what we can understand about a writing program. “There are common terms and results that serve a study’ rhetorical framework; these terms make the practice recognizable to its audience…to do a programmatic assessment, then, one must turn to these topoi” (30). However, because such topoi are often “static sites of meaning” in order to communicate with other stakeholders, we run the risk of also repeating common rhetorical claims about student learning and potentially miss other ways to understand how our writing program serves students.

Referencing Huot’s advocacy for localized, site-based assessment practices, Rice further note that such a theory that embraces local further “moves toward assessment that will connect various, localized institutional practices concerned with context, rhetoric, teaching, and learning” (31). In other words, much like Yancey’s self-generated exigence, local assessments are networked together; however, if they are not networked, we run the risk of remaining focused “only on the very specific localized event…These events, no matter how local we make them out to be, function in relationship to other events” (31). “Without tracing all or some of these other influences, Latour notes, we are left with a fleeting moment, not a tracing of an account” (31).

However, looking more closely at a particular writing program assessment, he further notes that we should draw attention to the “wider landscape of affective and motivational trajectories”(Prior and Shipka 192 qtd in Rice 32). IN other words, “a networked tracing, particularly one done as an assessment of writing or a writing program, would trace as many agents or items that are in a relationship as is humanly possible. It doesn’t need to discover that students write for multiple genres. Instead, it would try to trace this writing’s relationship (including multiple genre writing) to other activities, events, moments, places, and related items in a given network” (32). In a network, we do not trace individual entities or phenomena; rather, we look at how each individual part constitutes a larger network of meaning.

Using Youtube as an example, he notes that such a space allows users to form identities by making, shaping, disassembling a connections. The interactions such a space invites in plural and can branch into any number of trajectories. But further, such a space prompts us to use a different kind of language to discuss these phenomena. While networked assessment is both a theory and a method, it also prompts us to recreate the language of assessment, particularly for the spaces of which we are observing.

In program assessment, he offers a twostep process:

  1. “the first step to this work is to describe ach area in as much detail as possible. Collecting material and describing what we find in that material make up our preliminary work”
  2. “the second step will be to identify patterns and relationships that are revealed as we trace these details” (35).




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