Evaluation Anxiety

Margaret Daisley
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Mdaisley@english.umass.edu

Despite their attempts to downplay the worth of grading systems in "theory," when it came to their own individual grades, students began to get more interested in knowing the particular factors Terry would be using to determine their grades--especially the relative worth of their online work with the OU class. This interest became more prounounced after mid-term. As always, focused on the amount of time the course demanded, Student 1's criticism was that, even with "easy" (home) access to e-mail, students didn't get enough "warning time" before receiving reading assignments. "Like, Terry gives us the readings, and we may only get them, what? Two days before classes? [over e-mail]. "I don't have all the time, you know." Another student in the class (in another group) said that although she couldn't remember what Terry's grading policy was, she "supposed" that it was mentioned in the syllabus given out at the beginning of the semester. It was. It had occurred to this student that something about e-mailing would count towards her grade, although she wasn't sure exactly what:

Terry keeps a log of all the e-mail messages, so I assume that it's gonna count, how much everyone's contributed. I don't know if that's gonna, you know, hurt my grade, but I think it's more how the instructor sees your effort. You know, you attend class, and look like you try, and you pay attention, and other people say that you're contributing. I think that's going to count a lot more than e-mail messages, 'cause Terry knows that people talk back and forth to each other.

It was this pressure--the looming reality of grading at the end of the semester-- that seemed to force students to break their own "code of silence" about their problems communicating with students at OU. A comment on the LOCAL list one day sparked a discussion in the physical classroom the next. Although sympathetic to students' complaints -- even offering to speak with the instructor at OU -- Terry also, used this experience as an example to further illustrate the points of management theory they were studying--leadership styles, conflict, and so on. How do you get someone to respond to you? she asked the class, and suggested a variety of channels: e-mailing to the CO-SCHOOL list, rather than just to individuals or small groups; e-mailing the instructor of the other class for assistance in getting a response; or, picking up the telephone and placing a call.

Four out of the five groups in Terry's class, including Group B, would ultimately complete their first co-school collaborative projects with above-average success, in terms of the grades they received for the project. The fifth group (Group D) was not so "successful" as they were not able to establish satisfactory communications with the OU group members and so completed their project mainly by working among themselves. This was the group that had confronted Terry about the "unfairness" of the assignment (having to "work with people a thousand miles away") and the grade they had received, maintaining that it was "not their fault" that the OU group members didn't respond to them adequately. After the session in which Terry offered to talk to the OU instructor, and also offered other advice on ways to facilitate communication, one of the members of Group D posted a strongly-worded message, all in caps, for all to see on the CO-SCHOOL list, which read in part:

...BECAUSE OF THIS LACK OF COMMUNICATION OUR GRADES HAVE SUFFERED. WE WERE MARKED DOWN BECAUSE WE WERE TOLD THAT WE DID NOT COLLABORATE WITH OU. WE DO NOT WANT THIS TO HAPPEN AGAIN. PLEASE WRITE TO US and CHECK YOUR E-MAIL DAILY SINCE WE HAVE ANOTHER PROJECT TO DO WITH ALL OF YOU...

As many cyber-rhetoricians have noted, writing in all caps in e-mail is like shouting. To my knowledge, however, students received no instruction in such arts of cyber-rhetoric-- which might be perceived as another type of silence. On the other hand, none of the other groups--or their correspondents--employed "all caps prose," which might indicate that the majority of these students had a kind of tacit knowledge about the "illocutionary force" (Saville-Troike) of such rhetoric. Likewise, it is also possible that Group D's OU counterparts had a tacit knowledge of the "illocutionary force" of their own silence.


Notes:

Two of the most prevalent "theories" that students used to explain others students' lack of effort, participation, or interest in grades were: 1) students who are seniors have a tendency to "coast" or just kill time until graduation; and 2) future employers are not as interested in grades as they are in evidence of experience. RETURN


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