“Bring Workplace Assessment into Business Communication Classrooms: A Proposal to Better Prepare Students for Professional Workplaces” by Han Yu
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BRING WORKPLACE ASSESSMENT INTO BUSINESS
COMMUNICATION CLASSROOMS: A PROPOSAL
TO BETTER PREPARE STUDENTS FOR PROFESSIONAL
Kansas State University
To help students better understand and be better prepared for professional workplaces, the author suggests that business
communication teachers examine and learn from workplace assessment methods. Throughout the article, the author discusses the
ratio- nale behind this proposal, reviews relevant literature, reports interview findings on work- place assessment, and compares
classroom and workplace practices to suggest areas where we can meaningfully bridge the two.
Keywords: assessment; workplace; classroom; business communication
ASSESSMENT, ANDREWS (2001) WROTE, is an important issue frequently raised in Business
Communication Quarterly. Smart assessment “makes teachers accountable, creates a structure or
a road map to success, and can act as a research tool for best practices” (Andrews, 2007, p. 9).
What, then, is “smart assessment”? There is, of course, no one right answer. Teachers in business
communication, technical and professional communication, and rhetoric and compo- sition have
studied this topic from various perspectives. Among the different ideas, this article focuses on
one—that of business commu- nication teachers learning from industry to design and enhance
how we assess students’ written and oral communication.
The idea of learning from industry is nothing new to the field of professional communication:
Our scholars have examined the gen- res and communication contexts at various workplaces (for
instance, Odell & Goswami, 1986; Spilka, 1998) and attempted to enact those contexts in
classrooms (for instance, Blakeslee, 2001; Freedman,
Business Communication Quarterly, Volume 73, Number 1, March 2010 21-39 DOI: 10.1177/1080569909357783
© 2010 by the Association for Business Communication
22 BUSINESS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY / March 2010
Adam, & Smart, 1994; Garay, 1995). However, when it comes to assessment, the idea of learning
from industry is not readily embraced. Only a handful of studies (Bergland, 1997; Dragga, 1991;
Schullery, 2003; Seshadri & Theye, 2000) explicitly point out this need. Why? A possible reason
is that assessment is “powerfully effective for planning, designing, and promoting distinctive
programs and then recruiting desirable students and faculty” (Allen, 2004, p. 93). Looking at
industry to design assessment may thus be interpreted by some faculty as “a degenerative slide
into a vocationalist paradigm that replaces education with training” (Dillon, 1997, p. 49).
So why do I suggest that we learn from workplace assessment? There are several key reasons.
First, as Dillon (1997) wrote, “corpo- rate types” are not all “money-mongering” pragmatists, and
work- place institutions “can and do contribute to student learning” (p. 50). The stereotypical
views of industry “must stop if we are to realize the promise of assessment to change and
improve higher education in this country” (p. 50). Second, as Bazerman (2003) pointed out, we
must understand assessment before we can understand the knowl- edge, skills, and experience
essential to successful performance. If we want to help students succeed in workplace
communication— however “success” is defined by a workplace institution—we must understand
how employees and their performance are assessed and deemed successful in those institutions.
Third, precisely because assessment is a powerful institutional tool, we need to introduce and
expose students to workplace assessment—while they are still in a “safe” classroom
environment—so students may develop the out- sider perspective to question and critique
workplaces’ status quo.
By learning from workplace assessment, I do not mean we should duplicate workplace practices
without pedagogical concerns, a hyper- pragmatic stance that may, indeed, slide education into
training (Scott, Longo, & Wills, 2006). What I suggest is that business communica- tion teachers
(1) try to understand more about workplace assessment and (2) examine the possibilities of
combining the best that classrooms and workplaces have to offer. We need to understand what
kinds of assessment are valued in the workplace (for instance, formative or summative,
longitudinal or immediate), what assessment methods are commonly used in professional
workplaces, and what the pur- poses of these methods are (for instance, making promotion
or enhancing performance. Only then can we find out if there are common grounds between
classrooms and workplaces, whether we can learn from workplace assessment to enhance our
teaching, and if so, how.
These are the questions I try to answer in this article. To do so, I first review relevant literature to
define the scope and focus of my proposal. I then report my interview findings with workplace
pro- fessionals on the topic. Last, drawing from existing studies and my own findings, I propose
several workplace assessment features that may be introduced into business communication
Bazerman et al. (2005) used the following to distinguish studies that examine how we react to
student writing: response, evaluation, and assessment (p. 121). Response pertains to how we
respond, orally or in writing, to student work. Evaluation pertains to how writing influ- ences
student ranking in terms of grades and education placement. Assessment is a more complex term,
addressing both assessment methods (such as the process used and the parties involved) and
assessment criteria (or standards and measurements). To a certain extent, this last category frames
the previous two. Assessment meth- ods can determine the responses we give or at least how
students per- ceive them: Formative assessment, for instance, is more likely than summative
assessment to generate feedback that focuses on learner improvement. Similarly, assessment
criteria can affect the evaluation students receive: The importance we attach to the style of
writing relative to its content, for instance, can influence the grade a piece of writing receives.
Scholars have explored the possibilities of learning from work- places from all three of these
angles. In terms of response, Dragga (1991) compared commentaries made by technical writing
teachers and by professional editors and supervisors and found that writing teachers most often
ask questions, while editors and supervisors prescribe specific changes. Dragga thus questioned
the relevance of facilitative commentary traditionally preferred by English teachers and suggested
we learn from industry’s commentary strategies. In terms of oral response, Freedman and Adam
(1996) found that
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24 BUSINESS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY / March 2010
conversations between workplace supervisors and learners are highly interactive, inviting the full
participation of the learner, which they believed rare in school settings. Freedman and Adam did
not pro- pose that we favor one learning mode over another but that we care- fully consider the
advantages and implications of each.
In terms of evaluation, contributors in Dias, Freedman, Medway, and Paré (1999) and Dias and
Paré (2000) argued that universities engage in learning activities, and therefore teachers are more
likely to evaluate writing and use evaluations to rank students; by contrast, workplaces engage in
economic production, and therefore reviewers are less concerned with evaluation or ranking than
with improving communication as a means to facilitate economic activities. These scholars
suggested that such differences will continue as long as uni- versities and workplaces remain
different institutions and perform different social functions.
In terms of assessment methods, Schullery (2003) suggested a holistic method modeled after real
world practice to emphasize writ- ing’s “effectiveness” at reaching goals rather than its following
of “absolute standards”; Bergland (1997) suggested that business writing teachers use workplace
performance reviews to assess students’ small assignments. In terms of assessment criteria,
Pittenger, Miller, and Mott (2004) combined classroom and industry standards to enhance
students’ presentation skills; Seshadri and Theye (2000) pointed out that business professionals
judge writing more on substance and less on style and suggested that faculty learn from such
Of all these possible angles, this article, in its limited space, focuses on assessment methods, that
is, how we may learn from workplace assessment methods to enhance business communication
classroom practice. I believe this topic calls for more research because existing studies such as
Schullery (2003) and Bergland (1997) focused only on one workplace assessment method and did
not review various other possibilities; furthermore, as mentioned earlier, assessment can impact
how we respond to and evaluate student work, so positive changes in classroom assessment
methods can best enhance how we prepare students for the professional workplace. With these
points in mind, in the following, I draw from an interview study and business literature to
examine different workplace assessment methods. I then
compare these methods with classroom practice to suggest areas where we may learn from
The interview method was used for this study because it could gen- erate rich and descriptive
data. These primary data, combined with secondary findings from business literature, can lead to
more reli- able and contextualized findings. The interviews were qualitatively designed so it was
proper for me to use purposeful sampling and select participants “from which the most can be
learned” (Merriam, 1998, p. 61). The criteria for sampling were as follows: participants have at
least undergraduate education, they work in the kinds of pro- fessional workplaces our students
may aspire to enter upon graduation, and their work involves communication. The following
participants were recruited:
• Bernice, a technical editor at a national insurance company
• Stacy, a communication specialist from the same company as Bernice,
but from a different department
• Jim, a technical analyst at a financial service company
• Lynn, a marketing assistant at a workplace safety consulting firm
• Susan, manager of the System Development Office at a rural university
• Shawn, a software engineer at a local research center
This, I realize, is a small sample and cannot generate representative data, but unlike
quantitative research that uses statistically represen- tative samples to realize
generalization, “qualitative inquiry typically focuses in depth on relatively small samples,
even single cases (N = 1), selected purposefully” (Patton, 2002, p. 230). The goal is indepth
understanding and credibility, not representativeness (Patton, 2002).
The interviews lasted 45-60 minutes and were conducted at par- ticipants’ workplaces.
The interviews were semistructured (Merriam, 1998), starting with questions regarding
participants’ work experiences and job responsibilities, and then moving to questions
about assessment. I asked participants what assessment methods are used at their workplaces,
how do these methods work, and how do they feel about these methods.
Depending on participants’ answers, different follow-up
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26 BUSINESS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY / March 2010
questions were asked. I made notes during the interviews and tran- scribed them immediately
after for analysis.
COMMONLy USED WORKPLACE ASSESSMENT
From the 1960s to the 1990s, performance reviews became increas- ingly popular in various
organizations, industrial as well as govern- mental, large as well as small (Murphy & Cleveland,
1995, pp. 4-5). According to Pfau and Kay (2002), this trend continued into the 21st century: The
number of companies using 360-degree performance reviews, a particular type of review
described later, grew noticeably from 1995 to 2000.
Performance reviews serve two major purposes: providing employ- ees with feedback to validate
and refine their work, and helping orga- nizations make administrative decisions such as
promotions and raises (Murphy & Cleveland, 1995). My interview findings suggest the same:
Jim’s, Shawn’s, and Bernice’s workplaces conduct performance reviews when it is time to make
reappointment, promotion, and raise decisions. At Lynn’s company, reviews generate feedback
for employ- ees to improve their work; although reviews do not immediately lead to employee
reward, they are referenced when such decisions are made in the future.
Companies often conduct performance reviews on an annual basis (Murphy & Cleveland, 1995),
which is true in Bernice’s, Shawn’s, and Lynn’s cases, whereas at Jim’s company, the review is
semian- nual. Because these reviews are infrequent, Lynn and her colleagues have ample time to
prepare for them. Typically, 2 months before the review, Lynn starts reflecting on her
performance in the past year, looking for and collecting evidence of accomplishments, and considering
areas for improvement.
Performance reviews are implemented differently across work- places. At Lynn’s company, the
employee under review collects evi- dence of her performance, and the supervisor examines the
evidence to form an evaluation. This is the traditional, single-source review conducted between a
supervisor and an employee (Church, 2000). In Jim’s and Bernice’s cases, performance reviews
sources: Employees develop—with the input and approval of management—performance goals
that relate to their job responsibili- ties; employees reflect on how they progressed toward those
goals; team members likewise provide feedback; and managers use their own knowledge, peer
feedback, and employees’ self-reflections to make evaluations. These are the new performance
reviews variously called the 360-degree review, multirater review, or full circle review (Church,
2000). As Rynes, Gerhart, and Parks (2005) wrote, “because 360-degree feedback is gathered
from multiple individuals, feed- back reliability and validity may be substantially improved over
the typical supervisor-only evaluation” (p. 579).
Although performance reviews are long-established and widely used, they are not without
drawbacks. As Murphy and Cleveland (1995) argued, performance reviews are not only
assessment tools, they are communication and management tools. That is, raters may use
performance reviews to gain organizational leverage rather than to give accurate assessment:
Peers may give inflated reviews to gain goodwill from fellow employees, supervisors may give
subordinates inflated reviews to make themselves look good to the upper manage- ment, or, on
the other hand, raters may give deflated reviews to employees whom they do not personally
identify with (Murphy & Cleveland, 1995).
Because of “downsizing and reduced hierarchies in organizations, as well as the increasing use of
teams and group accountability, peers are often the most relevant evaluators of their colleagues’
performance” (United States Office of Personnel Management, 1997, p. 4). In addi- tion, because
“peer ratings can be pooled,” peer reviews “can substan- tially increase reliability and partially
remove idiosyncratic biases” (Murphy & Cleveland, 1995, p. 140). As mentioned earlier, peers
often participate in 360-degree performance reviews. At Jim’s com- pany, for instance, peers who
work closely with the employees under review are asked to individually identify the employees’
accomplish- ments and areas for improvement and anonymously submit feedback.
In addition, peers are often involved in routine assessment of each other’s work. Lynn’s
company, for instance, uses biweekly “thinking
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meetings” where employees ask about each other’s progress and offer suggestions. At Susan’s
and Shawn’s workplaces, peer reviews are mandatory processes built into project life cycles: For
instance, employees need to have their application code and web accessibility peer reviewed
before they can move forward with coding or design. For Bernice’s editing team, while peer
editing is not mandatory, it is what the team often relies on to ensure the quality of their work.
But again, workplace peer reviews can be a source of conflict too. Peers are not always
comfortable with being a rater, especially when peer reviews are used to make administrative
decisions such as pro- motions and raises (Murphy & Cleveland, 1995, p. 141). Jim, for instance,
mentioned that negative peer feedback during performance reviews can cause a lot of “mistrust”
and “hurt feelings” in a team. To avoid such negative outcomes, peers may choose to give
inflated reviews (Murphy & Cleveland, 1995) or hesitate to offer critical feedback (Peiperl,
Employee self-assessment is often included in 360-degree perfor- mance reviews. This is because
individuals have ready access to infor- mation about their own performance, information that may
not be observable by others (Murphy & Cleveland, 1995). At the same time, scholars also
acknowledge that there are often discrepancies between self-assessments and ratings by others
(see, for example, Nilsen & Camp- bell, 1993). Given these discrepancies, self-assessment is
generally not accepted as the sole indicator of employee performance. Rather, it is coupled with
information from others to “provide insights into one’s level of self-awareness” (Halverson,
Tonidandel, Barlow, & Dipboye, 2002, pp. 3-4) and to enhance one’s “self-awareness and
subsequent behavioral change” (Church, 2000, p. 99).
In my conversation with Jim, he initially stated that self-assessment is a very small part of his
workplace assessment experience; that is, although employees are asked to reflect on their own
work, those reflections can hardly challenge peer or manager feedback. But as our interview
proceeded, Jim gradually came to acknowledge that although self-assessment may not
significantly affect performance review results, it can be a useful personal development tool: It
him to more consciously monitor his work, cultivate desirable skills, and therefore enhance his
long-term career development. Bernice made similar observations. Years of experience taught her
that a good editor should monitor her own performance and deliver the best work “even when the
boss and the customer are not watching.” At Lynn’s company, self-assessment is used more
systematically: At the end of each month, an employee produces a monthly “responsibility map”
that documents the works she completed, how well they were com- pleted, what lessons were
learned, and her plan for the next month. According to Lynn, these responsibility maps are not
used to evaluate employees but urge them to continuously improve their own work.
These practices, then, seem to correspond with what literature suggests—self-appraisals are often
used for employee development (London & Beatty, 1993). Rather than helping institutions to
deter- mine pay and promotions, self-assessment helps employees to under- stand their own
strength and weakness and make better decisions about their career and development.
Critical Incident Review
Unlike semiannual or annual performance reviews, workplace assess- ment can also be
immediate so as to respond to critical incidents— hence the name “critical incident review.”
Different organizations will have different standards for what is “critical,” but Susan offered a
working definition: Critical incidents are high-priority issues that, if handled inappropriately, can
jeopardize the success of a work effort. While long periods of time can go by without such
incidents, when they happen, they should be assessed immediately when the incidents are still
concrete so the assessment can be more accurate and effec- tive (Billikopf, 2003).
Both Susan’s and Shawn’s workplaces use critical incident reviews. As Susan described, when
critical incidents happen, she invites employees to a review session, which she calls a “critical
inci- dent autopsy.” During this session, attendees analyze and document what led to the incident,
what went wrong, how to correct it, and how to avoid similar situations in the future. While
Susan’s reference to an “autopsy” has negative connotations, critical incident reviews also
include reviewing incidents where employees performed particularly
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well so reviews can reinforce best practice (Billikopf, 2003). Although critical incident reviews
take on much urgency, according to Susan and Shawn, the reviews are not to judge who did what
wrong but to solve problems and improve work practice. At the same time, as Susan and Shawn
were quick to add, if an employee continues to per- form poorly during critical incidents, these
reviews will in the long run lead to negative performance review results.
During our interviews, some participants came to recognize a method they did not see as
assessment before. I call it “casual review,” which includes peer and supervisor informal
feedback—informal in the sense that it is given orally or via quick emails (not documented) and
does not follow established processes as in the case of performance reviews or critical incident
reviews. Participants tended not to see these as “assessment” because such feedback happens
frequently and is part of their work routine.
At Lynn’s company, when an employee’s work is not going well, her team members would
“confront” her. This confrontation, accord- ing to Lynn, is not hostile but is a conversation to help
the team move forward. As Susan and Shawn also described, supervisor feedback can come
rather informally at work: through a spur-of-the-moment sitting down together, hallway
conversations, or phone conversa- tions. The informal format, Shawn explained, enables feedback
with- out taking employees away from their work and slowing down the work pace, which is vital
when the team is trying to meet deadlines.
In addition, according to Shawn and Susan, such informal meet- ings sometimes establish
common ground for later assessment. That is, formal criteria may not always exist prior to a
workplace task; instead, they are developed as the task itself takes shape. In these situ- ations,
employees use informal interactions with peers and supervi- sors to establish common
expectations so they are not held accountable for requirements they are not aware of.
Because of their informal nature, casual reviews do not directly influence employee evaluation. A
supervisor, for instance, does not use hallway conversations to “grill” employees but instead to
gather information to coordinate team efforts or anticipate issues. Then
again, as critical incident reviews, casual reviews can, over time, affect supervisors’ and peers’
opinions of an employee, which they may later channel into performance reviews.
BRINGING WORKPLACE ASSESSMENT INTO THE CLASSROOM
Based on the above findings, in what follows, I discuss some key features of workplace
assessment methods, compare workplace and classroom practices, and explore the possibilities of
bridging the two. I am aware that, as discussed earlier, workplace assessment has its own
drawbacks, but some of its methods, I believe, have promising applications in a business
Workplace performance reviews are based on employees’ longitudinal performance, not their
work on any particular task. At the same time, through frequent supervisor/peer casual reviews,
employees’ continu- ous self-assessment, and necessary critical incident reviews, quality control
is built into employees’ everyday work to enable their progress, and this progress is in turn
captured through longitudinal performance reviews. As Messmer (2004) concluded, the most
effective reviews are year-round reviews supplemented by ongoing feedback so employ- ees have
a clear understanding of how their performance is viewed by others and what kinds of evaluation
to expect at the year end.
Longitudinal assessment is likewise emphasized in our classrooms, notably through portfolio
assessment that examines multiple drafts that a student completes. Nevertheless, several aspects
of workplace performance reviews can inform how we use portfolio assessment. First,
performance reviews, as my participants and Bergland (1997) suggested, evaluate employees’
performance on various tasks, both high-stake tasks and low-stake, day-to-day routine tasks.
Portfolio assessment, on the other hand, often examines selected high-stake papers that have gone
through extensive teacher/peer reviews and student revision (Clark, 1993; Coppola, 1999; Hamp-
Lyons & Condon, 1993). When they do not include routine tasks that students rely more on
themselves to complete, portfolios may not present the full
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32 BUSINESS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY / March 2010
picture of a student’s progress. Second, workplace performance reviews are accompanied by
frequent supervisor and peer feedback, through either casual reviews or more established peer
review sys- tems. Frequent feedback enables employees to catch mistakes earlier on, understand
their strength and weakness, and gradually improve performance. We need to ensure that similar
interactions, as dis- cussed in more detail later, are built into portfolio assessment; other- wise, the
use of a longitudinal assessment method alone would not automatically lead to improved student
In real life, assessment does not depend on universal standards but is influenced by “contextual
limitations, support systems, and ‘rules’ of operation” (Scanlon & Ford, 1998, p. 99). My
interview findings sug- gest the same. When established criteria for a workplace task do not exist
ahead of time, employees use casual interactions with supervi- sors and peers to form common
expectations, which are arguably more contextualized than if they simply invoke rubberstamp
criteria. In addition, performance reviews do not (or at least should not) eval- uate employees
based on universal standards but ones that relate to an employee’s job specifications or personal
goals. Such personalized reviews, Posthuma and Campion (2008) concluded, are the best way to
conduct employee performance reviews.
Assessment theorists such as Huot (1996) likewise emphasized the importance of context in
classroom assessment: “It is a truism in current ideas about literacy that context is a critical
component in the ability of people to transact meaning with written language. . . . A theory of
assessment that recognizes the importance of context should . . . be concerned with creating
assessment procedures that establish meaningful contexts within which teachers read and assess”
(p. 559). Despite such recognition, because we often do not teach writings specific to one
organization or industry (which is, of course, not a weakness itself), we necessarily resort to more
generic criteria in the classroom: meeting the audience’s needs, for instance. But what “the
audience’s needs” are and what counts as meeting those needs vary across rhetorical contexts and
disciplinary fields. This situation is compounded when, in most cases, writing teachers are the
ones prescribing assessment criteria. If each student is developing a unique project and
communicating with a unique audience, teacher- prescribed criteria cannot hope to be
contextualized for all students’ work.
Given these, our teachers may find it helpful to learn from app- roaches used in the workplace:
guide students to develop individu- alized criteria according to students’ different project
contexts, and then use those customized criteria to assess each student’s work. During this
process, writing teachers will gain a better understand- ing of each student’s project and the
unique communication context that he or she is trying to navigate. Armed with such
understanding and the more realistic and specific criteria that students developed, teachers can
reach more valid assessment. At the same time, stu- dents will experience a meaningful learning
process. By identify- ing and developing assessment criteria, students will better understand what
is required of their work at hand, develop a more acute understanding of purpose and audience,
and be better prepared for future workplaces where they will play a more active role in
establishing and identifying assessment criteria.
Focus of Assessment
Whether it is the casual review, critical incident review, or employee self-assessment, the purpose
of workplace assessment is not to eval- uate employees but to improve the work they do. As
mentioned ear- lier, this focus, according to Dias et al. (1999), is determined by the primary goal
of the workplace: pursuing productivity and economic returns. It is true that we cannot always
clearly separate assessment and evaluation: Critical incident reviews and casual reviews, as
described earlier, can over time influence performance reviews. Despite this, the primary purpose
and immediate effect of these assess- ment methods is monitoring the quality of employees’
work, not eval- uating whether they are quality employees—an approach that helps to orient
employees, at least on a daily basis, toward improving the work they do rather than worrying
about rewards or punishment.
As teachers, we also very much emphasize student learning improve- ment: We give comments
on drafts, hold conferences with students, and give formative assessment before summative
grades. But too
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often, students’ concern rests on the grade: They may be more inter- ested in using teacher
comments to fix local “mistakes” in drafts and improve their grades than in considering the wider
implications of those comments to their work and themselves as writers, or they may grow
anxious and defensive, misconstruing, as Elbow (1997) wrote, a question, an observation, or even
a mild praise in our comments as criticism.
These, according to Dias et al. (1999), result from the university’s conflicting motives: On the
one hand, universities perform epistemic activities that help students to learn; on the other,
teachers have to sort and rank students—two goals that “often exist in uneasy tension” (p. 47). If
universities have different (and more complex) social motives from workplaces, can we still
apply their methods in classrooms to refocus assessment? I believe so—because the
assessment/evaluation conflicts we experience in the classroom are not absent in workplaces. As
Murphy and Cleveland (1995) pointed out, performance reviews have conflicting purposes, both
to make administrative decisions such as raises and promotions and to provide employees with
feedback for improvement. Workplace strategies to handle this conflict, especially the use of
casual and critical incident reviews and the more active involvement of employees in assessment,
may help us orient students more toward learning outcomes. Teachers can, throughout the semester,
have informal conversations with students to casually review their progress and areas for
improvement so students understand where they are and what to do next. We can more openly
discuss with students the expectations we set for the class and, if necessary, adjust those
expectations to help the class reach common ground on assessment and clarify
misunderstandings. We can use critical incident reviews to inter- vene or reinforce students’
behaviors, such as when they performed particularly poorly or well on an assignment. Such
activities may help students become less anxious or defensive with assessment and more open to
receiving feedback, which are important not only for improving their classroom learning but for
their future workplace performance.
Rather than relying on supervisors as the sole experts, today’s pro- fessional workplaces
encourage and even require multiple parties to
participate in assessment. Certainly, these parties do not always agree, but such disagreement,
Murphy and Cleveland (1995) reminded us, indicates the very necessity of collecting information
from multiple sources to avoid biases (p. 143).
The value of collaborative assessment is likewise recognized by business communication
teachers: Dillon (1997) involved commu- nity partners to assess student portfolios; Dyrud (2001)
used peer reviews to give students nonevaluative feedback as well as help determine their group
project grades; Pittenger, Miller, and Mott (2004) involved external consultants to teach students
oral presenta- tion skills valued in real workplace settings. These experiments not only led to
targeted classroom learning outcomes—in terms of writ- ing, group work, and oral
communication—they also helped pre- pare students for collaborative assessment in their future
workplaces. These experiments, however, remain the extraordinary rather than the ordinary. More
business communication teachers need to consider involving stakeholders such as students,
faculty from other disci- plines, local community partners, and industry professionals in assessment.
I understand that logistic constraints can make it difficult for teachers to reach out to all
these stakeholders. In those cases, we can start with the less time- or resource-demanding
collaborative meth- ods: student peer assessment and student self-assessment. Many of us already
use these methods, but armed with an understanding of workplace methods, we can enhance our
current practices and better connect with the workplace reality.
For example, workplace employees not only respond to peers’ work but evaluate peers through
360-degree performance reviews, whereas in classrooms, students may only be “peer
respondents” and do not have the authority to evaluate. As Dyrud (2001) advocated, giving
students the chance to evaluate peers provides teachers with more perspectives in evaluation and
also prepares students for work- place practices. In addition, workplace peer reviews are not performed
by any peers but by those who know each other’s work well and are therefore better
prepared to offer feedback and evaluation; by contrast, in the classroom, it is not unusual for
students to complain that they did not understand the work they reviewed or that their reviewers
failed to understand their work. To help students practice meaningful peer assessment, we can put
students in review pairs or
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groups throughout a semester or at least throughout a project life cycle to gain familiarity with
each other’s work; we can also have students review each others’ preliminary project tasks (such
as a proj- ect description, audience analysis, etc.) as opposed to only the final project work.
With regard to self-assessment, employees’ self-assessment hap- pens on a daily basis as they
interact with peers or supervisors at work. This continuous process helps them to internalize
assessment goals and more consciously monitor their performance. Employees’ self- assessment
is also factored into performance reviews. In the class- room, however, self-assessment such as
writing reflectively on one’s learning or evaluating oneself may only be a one-time assignment.
In addition, because it is hard for teachers to “assess” self-assessment and weigh it into grades,
students may see these tasks as “busy work” and complete them haphazardly. To engage students
in more produc- tive self-assessment, we need to educate them that self-assessment is primarily a
personal development tool beneficial for their learning and future career. We can also choose to
reward self-assessment (for instance, including it in performance reviews) so students see that
these tasks do “count.” We may assign reflective journal writing or a series of small selfassessment
tasks at different checkpoints during a semester so students can continuously reflect
on the challenges they encountered, be more critical of their progress or the lack thereof, and thus
be more likely to experience the value of self-assessment.
Professional workplaces, like our classrooms, value longitudinal, contextualized, and
collaborative assessment; moreover, workplaces have developed their own methods to enhance
assessment and resolve conflicting purposes in assessment. By understanding and learning from
these methods, business communication teachers can combine the best that classrooms and
workplaces have to offer.
The methods discussed in this article are by no means exhaustive. More possibilities exist if we
continue to study workplace practices and experiment with bridging classroom and workplace
assessment. Also, various methods can often work together. For instance, we can collaborate with
workplace professionals to help students understand
discipline- or profession-specific writing contexts and create individ- ualized assessment criteria;
student peers can help review these criteria to gain a better understanding of each other’s work;
using individual- ized criteria, workplace professionals, peers, and teachers can collab- oratively
review students’ work; students’ self-developed assessment criteria and peer review comments
can also be included in classroom performance reviews.
These activities will help students prepare for their future work- place assessment. By
understanding assessment, students can also better understand what is expected of them at work
and how to meet those expectations. Lastly, introducing and exposing students to workplace
assessment provides an opportunity for business commu- nication teachers to discuss situations
where workplace assessment breaks down. Such discussion may help students develop a more
informed understanding of the workplace reality and a more critical view of how to position
themselves in those environments.
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Han Yu is an assistant professor at Kansas State University, where she teaches techni- cal and professional writing. Han received her
Ph.D. in English Studies from Illinois State University. Her research interests include writing assessment, workplace studies, and
international and cross-cultural technical communication. Address correspondence to Han Yu, English Depar tment, 108 E/CS
Building, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506; email: [email protected].
Yu / WORKPLACE ASSESSMENT 39
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