An increasing body of scholarship describes the use of 3-D virtual environments in education and industry. Stephanie Vie (2008b) observes that, "Second Life has grown in popularity among educators because of their interest in the possible pedagogical uses of video and computer games, including their potential ability to strengthen students' critical media literacies." deWinter and Vie (2008) observe the potential of using Second Life in composition courses to help students learn about critical media literacy related to power, ethics intellectual property and community. Also, Dickey (2005) reported on affordances and constraints of using Active Worlds, another 3-D virtual environment, in education. Such technologies have also appeared in workplace settings, as I observed previously (2010). However, illustrating the need for critical media literacy, Malaby (2007) observes that some companies that have experimented with Second Life are leaving it after ascertaining limitations in its ability to help them operate. Nevertheless, companies continue to use Second Life and similar 3-D virtual world environments.
Much as video game sales have proliferated with new 3-D gaming systems, 3-D virtual platforms are being used for business and industrial uses, ranging from facilitating meetings, presentations and training that includes video training (Wagner, 2007). Indeed, pharmaceutical company Exergen, a maker of digital heat sensitive thermometers, uses machinema to show how it thermometer work. Also, the existence of over 20 companies that produce machinima videos (Linden Labs, 2010) suggests demand for machinima video design skills.
As their use in the workplace and pedagogy increases, students need to practice literacy skills related to machinima production, ranging from literacy associated with using the technology itself to understanding its affordances and constraints to facilitate various operations and tasks in addition to understanding specific concepts in technical communication. Vie (2008a), for example, calls attention to the value of using video games to help technical writing students understand usability concepts. In the midst of these new literacy demands, teachers who encourage development of such video products within technical writing courses need to be able to facilitate learning through the feedback they provide with assessment comments. Assessments enable students to learn to produce effective products that integrate these technologies, learning that will benefit them in their workplace.
Sorapure (2005) observed that scholarship has attempted to articulate a balancing act for “adapting current approaches and inventing new ones to help us assess writing in new media” (parag. 2). However, Neal (2010) observes that, while writing pedagogies are changing with the emergence of various kinds of digital texts and composing technologies, approaches to assessment “currently do little to account for such change;” and he articulates the challenge in recent scholarship to develop a new set of criteria for assessment to facilitate “rhetorical and contextual composing” (p. 757). Ball (2006) observes that many rubrics that facilitate assessment of new media projects tend to emphasize attributes of designer skills; she calls for assessment to focus more attention on the rhetoric involved—taking the reader’s perspective (p. 394). Technical communication pedagogy emphasizes the rhetoric of a given piece considering the readers’ perspective. Indeed, Vie’s (2008a) assignment uses the viewer’s perspective to teach usability testing. After playing the video game Tomb Raider, students develop a “walkthrough for an audience unfamiliar with the game, and then trade their walkthrough with another group of students to test its effectiveness” (p.159). However, there is little scholarship on assessing machinima videos designed by students from either the design perspective or with the audiences’ perspective in mind.
Murray, Sheets and Williams (2010) and Borton and Huot (2004) also acknowledge the challenge of assessing multimodal compositions. They encourage using elements common in assessing traditional print-linguistic compositions to facilitate assessment of multimodal compositions. Instructors need to reconceptualize criteria with which they are familiar in order to be able to assess new media products.
A number of scholars have come to identify rhetorical principles associated with helping a given audience understand a message effectively with any composition as the focus of assessment (Anderson, 2006; Borton and Huot, 2004; Kostelnick and Roberts, 1997; Murray, Sheets and Williams, 2010; and Odell and Katz, 2009). The writer’s considerations of her audience drive decisions about content and how that content is presented. Murray, Sheets and Williams state that instructors, “must figure out how we assess the intermingling of word and image while still remaining true to the goals of a composition course (Parag. 4). They assert that, “meaning is constructed through the combination of [word and image]” (Parag 5). Indeed, Kostelnick and Hassett (2003) observe that “Visual language serves many of the same rhetorical functions as verbal language…and visual/verbal analogies can help students and instructors translate rhetorical concepts from writing to design” (p. 1). While the medium changes, the same rhetorical principles that apply to print-linguistic representations also apply to multimodal texts; the tools available for composing and delivery change, though. However, instructors need to ask how criteria with which they are familiar may be reconceptualized to permit assessment of multimodal products. This Webtext attempts to address that question by considering a case study that applies terms associated with a design-focus to assessment as well as terms associated with an audience-focus to assessment (Table 1).