Assignment, Course, and Programmatic Assessment

The Writing and Communication Program is interested in formative and summative assessment in individual classes and in the program as a whole. To create consistent assessment across the entire program, we use a common base rubric (which individual instructors modify to fit their assignments) and an end-of-semester portfolio system. The portfolio system provides the basis for both summative student assessment as well as our programmatic assessment.


A Word version of the common rubric is available on T-Square, and is included here:


Using the Rubric to Assess WOVEN Artifacts

We use the common rubric (unmodified) to assess final portfolios in our classes and on the programmatic level. The vertical columns represent rhetorical elements, and the horizontal rows represent levels of competence. The rhetorical elements try to be inclusive of the various features you might teach students to consider in their work, but of course they’re not exhaustive. Similarly, the levels of competence try to represent different stages in communicators’ development, but learning rarely fits neatly into six distinct steps.

Please note that the levels of competence are intended to reflect levels common to all communicators. “Mature,” therefore, doesn’t mean “Mature for English 1101” but “Mature when compared to any communication anywhere.” First-year students at Georgia Tech are not likely to produce work that consistently falls into the “Basic” category, and they’re not likely to do work that ranks as “Exemplary.” Additionally, because the rubric represents such a broad range of ability, the levels of competence don’t correlate neatly with grades. Unless you’re introducing a form of communication unfamiliar to most college students, “Basic” communication in English 1101 and English 1102 probably deserves an F, and “Beginning” communication probably won’t escape the D or C range. “Developing” communication, however, might rate a C or low B, and “Competent” communication might rate a B or a low A. However, a student might produce work that achieves a “Competent” in one category and “Beginning” in another; how you balance these differences is up to you. You should determine how you relate the rubric to grades in your class, creating connections between levels of competence and grades that make sense in the context of your assignments.

Please share the rubric with your students and help them to interpret it. You should adapt it to your assignments, adjusting the descriptive language in cells to match your expectations, but keep in mind that we’ll use the standard language for programmatic assessment. You might also encourage students to use the rubric when reflecting on their work and/or when they’re reviewing each other’s work during peer review activities.

Programmatic Assessment: The Portfolio

In fall 2009, a new portfolio assessment replaced a system involving diagnostic essays written at the beginning and end of the semester. The old “pre/post” system didn’t reflect our program’s emphases on process and multimodality; after a year-long review of available options, a campus-wide committee chaired by Brittain Fellow Melissa Graham Meeks determined that a portfolio would be the best way to capture representations of the work students do in our courses. Then, in spring 2014, after a semester-long assessment process of more than a year’s worth of portfolios, a team of Brittain Fellows identified a series of weaknesses in the current portfolio system and developed a model that would better allow instructors and the program to assess student development and achievement. In the fall of 2015, we moved to an electronic portfolio system on the Mahara platform.

Some instructors associate portfolios with radical imposition on and control of individual courses. Don’t worry! The program values your independence and your innovative approaches to teaching. The portfolio’s goal is not to dictate course content but to capture what you do by making programmatic assessment match the actual teaching and learning that occurs in your courses.

The end-of-semester portfolio is designed as a culminating, representative sample of students’ work that requires students to reflect on what they have learned. The portfolio consists of a final, multimodal reflective essay, 3-4 artifacts with supporting documents, and a series of short answers to questions that ask students to articulate the basic context and purpose of their artifacts. Research indicates that reflection is the most effective approach for transferring communication strategies from one task to another, so the reflective writing is a crucial part of the portfolio. We highly recommend that you ask students to complete the short answers as they complete their artifacts during the semester. Additionally, you should dedicate dead week (or more time, if you wish) for the creation and revision of self-review essays. In any case, the portfolio should be an integral part of the course, an integral part of student learning, not an added task that students toss together at the end of the semester.

Description of the Portfolio

Below you see a standardized description of what each student’s end-of-semester portfolio should contain. You don’t have to use the same formatting, but the language in the description needs to appear on your syllabus. For ease in copying, the “you” in the description refers to the student, not the instructor.

ENGL 1101/1102 Competency Portfolio

The end-of-semester portfolio is designed as a culminating, representative, and reflective sample of your work. In order to demonstrate that you have met the stated course goals, you will write a self-review essay and select evidence from the texts you have produced in this course (called artifacts); then, you will describe how each artifact demonstrates your ability to apply the concepts and skills taught in this course. Your portfolio will be created on Mahara ( and contain the following:

1. A 1200-1800 word, multimodal self-review essay that introduces and analyzes the portfolio

2. A series of short answer reflections that address questions on each individual artifact

3. 3-4 artifacts that, together, best reflect your work and development in the course. These artifacts must together address all of the following requirements:


NOTE: You will need to retain copies of all drafts of your work in this course.

As described in the “EnglishCompetencyPortfolio.Fall2015.docx” file, the entire portfolio—self-review essay, artifacts, and short-answer reflections—will be used for program assessment. However, since I will have already graded your artifacts, I will only evaluate your self-review essay and short answer reflections. This assignment counts as 15% of your course grade.

Sample portfolios are available on the Brittain Fellow T-Square site.

Integrating the Portfolio into Your Classes

These tips should help you to integrate the portfolio with minimal hiccups and to make sure the portfolios are ready to submit for programmatic assessment.

  • Announce the project to students early:
    • Include the full details in your syllabus
    • Post a copy of the assignment to T-Square and discuss it during the first or second week of class
    • Explain that some of the work will be completed during Dead Week and that the portfolio serves as a final exam
  • Practice file-saving techniques
    • Make students do File Save As and rename to begin second drafts
    • Show them how to Track Changes
    • Consider using Compare Documents
  • Know what prompts guide your students’ reflections
    • Ask student to think critically about the relationships between process, medium, and message
      • Discuss the relationship between intellectual process and compositional process. Students often think of these as separate activities, one of which happens before the other. Sometimes, they won’t see themselves as having an intellectual process, only a compositional one.
      • Articulate your course goals clearly, both in your syllabus and in your assignments; students will need to be able to discuss these goals in their reflections
      • Discuss not only modes, but genres, so that students can articulate the particular features of the genres they have chosen or been assigned
  • Keep the Portfolio in mind when designing assignments.
    • Require students to record themselves giving oral presentations. They can record practice sessions as “drafts” and as evidence of their skills, or they can record their actual class presentations, or they can even do screen-cast discussions after the actual presentation.
  • Practice reflective thinking
    • Use the language of the rubric in class, modeling, peer review, and comments
    • Discuss every text as a multimodal production
    • Debrief from process activities using questions like:
      • Why did I ask you to do X?
      • What strategy did you learn during this activity?
      • I assigned these tasks. What tasks did you assign yourself to meet my expectations?
      • What would you do differently if we could rewind time?
      • Have students draft the short-answer sections for each artifact as the semester goes along
  • Prepare them for selecting and writing during Dead Week
    • Identify which assignments are appropriate choices for representing each mode
  • Train students to use Mahara
    • Ideally, expose students to Mahara before Dead Week.
  • Know how you will grade your students’ work
    • Use the programmatic rubric for grading the self-review essay and short answers.

Programmatic Assessment Procedures

To successfully meet our SACS accreditation expectations and to maintain the intellectual and pedagogical rigor of our program, Brittain Fellows, lecturers, and administrators will meet in small groups during each month of the semester (3 monthly meetings) to read, discuss, and assess a small set of student portfolios.

At each meeting, each group will assess three (3) portfolios from a past semester according to the rubric guidelines above.

At the beginning of each semester, you will receive a link to a Google spreadsheet with the names of your group members and links to the portfolios and assignment sheets that you will assess each month. Brittain Fellows are responsible for contacting group members as soon as possible in the first weeks of the semester and for setting up meeting times for each month. For each meeting, plan on scheduling a 3-hour block to read and discuss the portfolios together.

Additional instructions for each semester’s assessment as well as tips for best practices will be emailed at the start of each semester.