Final Grant Report

Dr. Doukopoulos and I submitted our final ePortfolio Project Research and Assessment Grant report last month.


ePortfolio Grant Final Report


Tech Talks Eportfolio Poster Session

I’m uploading my poster from Auburn University’s Tech Talks symposium last Wednesday, October 19.  The premise is to show how active learning strategies—peer interviews and peer reviews; collaborative exercises in revision, editing, and documentation; carousel exercises; and conferences—are built into the design of the assigned components of each student’s eportfolio project.  And then, considering the intrinsic elements of the eportfolio model—its creation of context and purpose, its encouragement of habits of learning and personal accountability, and its interdisciplinary potential (which enables students to pursue their individual professional interests)—it builds specific skills that, in turn, produce practical benefits that should apply in their professional and personal lives beyond college.



Promoting Eportfolio Design to Faculty

Having read and discussed “ePortfolios and Faculty Engagement: Measuring Change Through Structured Experiences” with Dr. Doukopoulos, I would like to continue building on the promotion of eportfolio design for the Auburn English Department.  This summer’s eportfolio workshops for non-tenured instructors teaching core composition, which Dr. Doukopoulos and Dr. Lesley Bartlett arranged and conducted, went well, and Dr. Doukopoulos and I hope to follow up soon on that by gauging our peers’ response to the workshops and the concept of eportfolio.

I think that to promote and engineer an eportfolio design that meets the needs of our particular department, that is, its faculty and the students it serves, I’d like to see five things.  I’d like to see an opportunity for one or more persons experienced with teaching through eportfolio to address the assembled faculty at one of our regular meetings.  This should be a chance to clarify what it is and what it isn’t and to explain how incorporating this design need not radically alter any teacher’s larger goals, but rather, it would only foster those goals. I’d like to create a website specifically devoted to explaining how one might go about structuring an eportfolio design, either around an existing course or for a new one, and why this is a sound pedagogical idea.

I’d like to expand our department’s one-year-old Teaching Circles, which currently focus on the training of graduate teaching assistants, to incorporate eportfolio design and implementation   It might also be a good idea to encourage more of the faculty to create their own professional eportfolios, which would give experience to those whose lack of it might discourage them from risking eportfolio in the classroom, while also promoting the accomplishments of the department.  And, finally, we should create a chance for instructors and students who have experienced eportfolio to gather together to discuss how the design is working for them and how it might be improved.

Literature Course Redesigned for Eportfolio

In just over a month I will be participating in our Biggio Center’s Summer Course (Re)Design Seminar in order to design a core literature course that incorporates a group eportfolio assignment, if not, in fact, a larger eportfolio design.  There may be a way to bring together some, if not all, of my current assignments into the eportfolio, but for the moment I am imagining a single group assignment as a key component of the active learning environment, and to that end I am asking myself these questions:

How will the eportfolio assignment groups be selected?

Should I determine something about the strengths, weaknesses, and the interests of my students before I assign them to groups? Should I let them self-select?

When will these groups be set up?

If I wish to assemble the groups based on their academic profiles, how much time will I need to gather information or impressions about their capabilities and personalities? I also need to think about how much time the groups will need to complete this assignment satisfactorily.

How much time in class will be spent on eportfolio work?

Obviously, some time will need to be spent on explaining what an eportfolio is in our context, and I will want to explain my expectations, but will they need any class time devoted to workshopping the group eportfolio?

Will they present their work in class?

They already will have a final examination, and so I cannot have their final exams be eportfolio presentations, but, then, should I set aside a day to showcase the finished product?

How will eportfolio topics be made? How will they be chosen? From a bank of choices?

Because I am thinking of this as an extended project over many semesters, if not, in fact, over many years, broader topics such as the Enlightenment, Baroque music, the Africa diaspora, would be quickly exhausted, but if I could assign narrower topics within these broader fields, then it would be more likely that the project could be extended indefinitely. Then I would need, I believe, a bank of very narrow eportfolio topics each semester that would be relevant to that semester’s assigned texts and theme.

How specific must eportfolio topics be?

This will require much more thought and planning.I could, for instance, create potential topics by cross listing categories like cultural periods, geographic regions, and art forms, e.g. folk music of Asia during the seventeenth century, landscape painting in England’s Romantic era, or Native American mythic figures represented on pre-Columbian pottery. But even these are only likely to be starting points.

How will I amass student eportfolio assignments?

If I continue to think of this as an open-ended project, and if I want an uber-site where this information and analysis could be collected, then should I ask students to create eportfolios on platforms of their choosing, assemble the links to their sites and weave them into a site I make on a platform I choose in order for future students to see models of class expectations and to have a resource to supplement their own study in the semester when they’re taking my course?

What grade weight will I assign the group eportfolio?

Apart from the issue of creating more grading work for myself, do I want to assign a higher weight percentage to a collaborative project given the issues, real or imagined, that may turn up over the course of the semester? I’m thinking a lower weight percentage would be more appropriate, but not so low as to de-incentivize the assignment

How will I incorporate peer assessment into the eportfolio grade?

Peer assessment has to be part of the process in anticipation of unequal contributions to the group assignment. Ideally I want something specific, but simple, and I would want to incorporate the peer assessment, perhaps by inserting an average of the peer scores into the assignment’s grading rubric.

Will platforms be optional? What will be the central platform?

At this point, I can’t see any choice except to make the eportfolio platform optional, but I will need to investigate further to determine the best platform for the ongoing uber-site. My experience is primarily with Wix, but I have some experience with WordPress, whose look I prefer, and I have as yet little experience with the other platforms.

How will I reduce the temptation to plagiarism?

I certainly don’t want to create a clearinghouse for cribbed papers.To reduce this probability, I will want to engineer the assignment’s reflective elements and other specific details into a unique, recognizable project that would have limited application outside of assigned context.

What will be the individual components and artifacts of each eportfolio?

My initial thoughts are to approach the literature eportfolio as I have the composition eportfolio, that is, to have a minimum number of required artifacts for each portfolio.  But I may want to specify certain types or numbers or combinations of artifacts since there will be several students, at least, working on each single eportfolio.  I would want each contributing member to include a required reflective text, and additionally I would want some combination of images, embedded videos and/or audio, pdfs, and links.

What do I want them to learn from the eportfolio assignment?

For the individuals in their individual groups I could see this improving their information literacy, their meta-cognition, their critical discernment, their ability to collaborate, and their knowledge of historical and cultural context. Specifically, I would expect them to recognize the interconnectedness of ideas and disciplines, to recognize that neither literature nor any other pursuit happens in isolation.

How will the eportfolio assignment fit in with the rest of the course?

I think the most direct way to have this assignment work towards the overarching themes of the course is to specifically design the required components of the course, and most especially the reflective writing, to address the larger themes. This may also require adjusting the course object to incorporate the educational goals of the eportfolio assignment.


Alternatively, I may have the students work on smaller, individual eportfolios and then have them in their groups assemble these into the group’s eportfolio before passing this along to me to incorporate into the uber-site.  Quite a bit more to figure out.

Grading Reflective Writing

Monica Kennison’s “Developing Reflective Writing as Effective Pedagogy” focuses on educating nursing students, but, of course, the questions and insights posed in her article I believe relate to our efforts in first-year composition.  In many ways it reiterates the positive outcomes expected of reflective writing by its proponents, particularly the idea that a portfolio review of a student’s work over time helps the student be aware of her “tremendous growth throughout…the program” (310).  The question it raised for me, however, and I have seen this addressed elsewhere, is does grading reflective writing “inhibit students from acknowledging and learning from mistakes, a significant aspect of improving practice” (310)?

I can understand how freshmen might believe that acknowledging their difficulties might just be drawing the teacher’s attention to the weaker part of their writing and jeopardizing the grade they want, and, conversely, they might think that highlighting their improvements might do the opposite.  In effect, would grading interfere with the honesty and accuracy of the reflective writing, undercutting its effectiveness pedagogically? Given that eportfolio design relies rather heavily on reflection, skirting the grading issue is difficult.  My rubric for my students’ reflective assignments includes the category “reflective detail,” but that doesn’t address the counterproductive self-consciousness and self-censorship produced by attaching a grade to the work.  If first-year composition were just about sound syntactic and grammatical construction, then I would hardly need to be concerned, but as it should involve ethics and ethically assembled content, I’d like to mitigate this effect of assigning grades to reflective assignments.

Reflective Writing: Authentic or Constructed Identity?

In “Performing the Reflective Self: Audience Awareness in High-stakes Reflection,” Jen Ross’s argument, as her article title suggests, is that because the reflective writing done in an academic setting is usually assessed by an assigned grade, that this writing, like other kinds, becomes high-stakes for the students who become extremely aware of the grading reader and, then, this awareness undercuts the “authenticity of the reflection,” or, as she rephrases it later, the voice of an authentic self. As a case in point, Ross describes how students may filter their remarks because the teachers grading the work are “potentially vulnerable to implied or explicit criticism of their teaching” (227). In short, it seems to me that her survey of interviews and other research, as well as her own interviews with students and teachers, is meant to dispel the notion that reflective assignments reveal an authentic self with an authentic voice.

Of course, if that is what teachers are looking for, then I can’t help but agree, but then I don’t think there is “an authentic self,” or at least not one publically or maybe even privately accessible. Insofar as the article reminds us of our students’ audience awareness (which we generally encourage our students to possess anyway), then it’s a helpful caviat, but even Ross acknowledges that this awareness may affect students’ writing in many different ways and not always negatively. I would say, in fact, that Ross still seems to advocate reflective writing as a good pedagogy: “Where students were clear about assessment criteria, and secure about how they would be applied, the assessment of high-stakes reflection could be seen to be quite straightforward” (224). The upshot for Ross would seem to be that reflective writing shows us our students constructing an identity rather than revealing to us some essential identity, a result which is not necessarily either inaccurate or dishonest, but is certainly something teachers should expect and account for.

Teaching Reflective Writing

Although many years ago I required composition students to keep writing journals, with mixed results, otherwise I haven’t often made reflective writing a part of the course.  Students might reflect on their writing, their subjects, and their choices in conference with me, or even occassionally in online discussion posts, but before this semester I had not made it an integral part of the course.  One effect of this is that I haven’t had much experience with teaching students how to write reflectively, particularly in an academic setting.  To that end, I’m reading a few articles on reflective writing as a teaching method, starting with Mary Ryan’s “Improving Reflective Writing in Higher Education: A Social Semiotic Perspective.”


Distinguishing academic reflection from the non-academic, Ryan points out that the sort that we compose in academia has a “conscious and stated purpose” and that it makes the learning evident.  For it to be active learning, which is certainly important for me, it needs to be deep and to be critical, in which case the reflection becomes a transformative experience for the writer.  “The social purpose of academic reflection,” Ryan writes, “is to transform practice in some way, whether it is the practice of learning or the practice of the discipline or the profession (103).  For me, this seems to involve teaching them to note as much detail in their observations of themselves and their world as is reasonable, but then to interpret these details in a meaningful way; teaching them to use first person and reflective phrases like “it seems to me,” “I wonder if,” “I think,” or “I would like to know;” and teaching them to recognize their own assumptions and how those affect their perceptions of themselves and the world.