Author Bio

ePortfolio Day: the preview

posted: 5.6.13 by archived

As the end of the semester nears, I’ve been reminding my students every class that Portfolio Day is coming, trying to spark a last-minute flurry of revision before the day of reckoning. I disguise the tinge of dread I feel myself for the day that will be, for me, at the same time exhausting, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking (in much the same way as I used to get nervous bringing my kids to the dentist). Things will be a little different this semester, though, because I won’t be scrambling that morning to print out last-minute essays and gather up all the assignments and rosters required; this semester, for the first time, some of us will be submitting not stacks of manila folders but rather electronic portfolios.

The adjective we always use to describe our Portfolio Assessment Project is “homegrown,” and because of this one of its key characteristics has always been its flexibility:

The culture of the department grants faculty a high degree of academic freedom, so the portfolio project is a far cry from an exit exam that asks students to respond to a common prompt for ease of assessment. Instead, in our project, faculty members submit their own individually crafted assignments, which we read along with student work. The tiny window this gives me into my colleagues’ classes is one of my favorite parts of the project, though it invariably fills with a hunger for more discussion of assignment and course design. Over time my own assignments have changed as a result of the project, and I have seen similar development in my colleagues’ assignments.

Over time, the requirements for portfolio pieces have also evolved. Because our course description for the first semester of comp includes basic research competency, one of the four portfolio pieces must require research and demonstrate students’ ability to find, evaluate, integrate, and synthesize sources, but this assignment may take a variety of forms. But when I started the project ten years ago, a piece of timed writing was also required, which is now no longer mandatory; a few instructors still choose to include it both in the belief of the importance of timed writing as a skill and as a way to authenticate the portfolios by giving a reliable sense of student voice. In place of timed writing, though, many of us have started to use a cover letter as a way to promote student reflection.

Membership in the committee is also a fluid thing, as faculty enter and leave the project every semester or two. That participation in the project is totally voluntary has been key to its endurance (over fifteen years, I think—I’ve been participating for ten now), and the arrival of new participants encourages us to reflect on our procedures and to articulate our sense of the value of the project.  Committee membership includes both adjunct and full-time faculty, and it’s one lonely island where the distinctions between the two identities are blurred, to everyone’s benefit.

We’ve been considering as a group (and I’ve been worrying as an individual) how this latest flexible initiative of allowing both paper and electronic portfolios will work. A central issue involves just how portfolio readers will access electronic portfolios (there are two readers per portfolio, with a possible third to settle disagreements), with the complicating factor that we’re allowing multiple formats. Several faculty who use the college LMS need to enable access to their protected course spaces; it’s my understanding that our tech support staff will create dummy accounts with username portfolioreader (or something like that) and an easy password. Of course, readers will still need to be able to navigate to find both assignments and student work, so we’ll see how that works.

For many reasons, I’ve abandoned the LMS in favor of course and student blogs, so readers will have open access, but still need to be able to find the essays to read.

What I’m planning to do (I’m the only faculty member on the committee this semester who’s using open-source blogs) is ask students to create a category “portfolio” on their blog and tag the appropriate entries. I made a quick, rough video to demonstrate the process that can be seen here. I should then be able to provide portfolio readers of each of my sections with an emailed Word file that contains a roster, with student names hyperlinked to URLs of the format

In that emailed doc I’ll also include links to online versions of my assignments, which I’ll probably also print out for the paper-lovers among our ranks.

In order to make sure students are not adversely affected by any kinks in the process, our committee chair has decreed that this be a no-stakes semester for ePortfolio sections, for which I’m grateful, but I’m still concerned about how the process will work and what differences might arise in assessment. How will the paper vs. screen issues I’ve been talking about with my students all semester translate to the faculty side of the aisle? Will the look and format of Essay-as-Blog-Post disturb colleagues who obsess over type fonts and hanging indents? Will my students’ grammar lapses be more or less evident on screen? I’ve been encouraging my students to exploit the advantages of digital communication, encouraging hyperlinking and the use photos in their essays wherever possible and appropriate, on the theory that tired eyes of readers will welcome some spots of color. We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll report back in my next post.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from any of you who are currently using a portfolio assessment project with details about how your version works (or links if available) and whether and how you’ve made the transition from paper to digital portfolios.

Tags: , , , ,

Categories: Holly Pappas
You might also like: Lit for Comp
Read All archived

Comments are closed.