The Value of the Assessment Tool

The process of applying the assessment tool to a select group of webtexts is straightforward. First, each text is analyzed based on the guiding questions that comprise the tool; assessment questions ask whether a particular characteristic is present within a webtext, which results in a positive (yes) or negative (no) response. Second, the characteristic is analyzed for its scholarly function and whether than function adds value beyond a print-based convention.

For example, question 1 in Category A—“Clear goals”—addresses whether the webtext includes an explicit thesis or argumentative claim in a primary node of the webtext. In answering this question, readers can assess the first few primary nodes (nodes that appear as main content segments linked directly from an overview or webview) to determine whether the thesis is explicitly present. In traditional print-based texts, readers expect to see a thesis within the first few paragraphs of the text—a familiar scholarly convention with the function of informing readers of the author’s goal in writing the text. If the webtext incorporates a thesis in this conventional way—within an opening, prominent node—then the text can be assessed as following a print-based convention associated with scholarly content.

If the text diverges from a print-based convention, the question leads to a determination of what the function of that divergence is and whether a value is added in flaunting that convention. For example, question 3 in Category A explores the use of documentation within the webtext. Readers can analyze the placement and stylistic composition of a reference node in order to determine whether traditional conventions associated with documentation are present. If the webtext incorporates links to online sources from a reference node, then the text can be assessed as diverging from print-based conventions and instead following web-based conventions associated with external link contextualization. The function of such a web-based convention might be to provide immediate access to primary online sources—access that is made possible through the linking capabilities only available in the online medium; the added value may be the potential for authors to increase understanding of and therefore adherence to their arguments.

Category B focuses on the extent to which webtexts follow emerging conventions of web-based writing. The process of applying the assessment tool is similar. For example, question 6 in Category B—“Form/content relationship”—addresses whether the form of the webtext enacts or simply presents the content. Form in print-based texts is fairly standardized and helps satisfy reader expectations by presenting claims and arguments in familiar, linear ways. Form in web-based texts is non-standard and may involve various designs and presentations of content based on multi-linear arrangements of text or other multimedia elements—video, animation, or audio. While form functions as a template to present content in print-based texts, form can function as part of the message of a web-based text. In answering this question, readers must consider whether the structural design and layout of the content underlies or enacts the message in some way. If the webtext discusses strategies of linking, and then explicitly follows or exemplifies those strategies, the text can be assessed as following a convention of web-based writing. Its function would be to demonstrate the message of the text so that both form and content work together to create a resounding argument. Arguably, the added value of this web-based convention is the potential for a stronger rhetorical influence in having both content and form engage the reader and seek his or her understanding.

In order to understand more fully how an online text can be recognized and valued for its scholarly legitimacy, it is crucial to explore the nature of successful (published) online scholarship by asking questions that reveal commonalities and deviations in the function and value of traditional scholarly conventions. The assessment tool questions begin to establish a description of the characteristics that comprise online scholarship using as a sample set of various texts published in Kairos. These characteristics have particular functions that mark them as like or unlike scholarship in traditional print journals; such functions often supercede traditional scholarship by offering a value-added function—providing something extra to readers through their web-based content and/or form.

In short, the assessment tool provides a lens through which function and value can be analyzed. Answers to the assessment questions can help to develop a tool by which scholars can measure online texts against new standards that define an emerging genre of online scholarship. Such a rubric, based on the assessment tool, is planned for presentation in a future publication.