Spreading the ePortfolios around

I think that a lot of teachers, when they first hear about ePortfolios, assume that they are best suited for upper-division courses. When I mention that I use them in First Year Composition (ENG102), many of my colleagues seem surprised. Since I began using ePortfolios paired with grade contract assessment in ENG102 last spring (2018), I’m convinced of their effectiveness as tools for enhancing student learning and increasing their interest in and ownership of their writing.

Now in Spring 2019, I’m using ePortfolios for the first time in a graduate course. I’m using what my ENG102 students taught me about using ePortfolios to now enhance the experience of graduate students. In conversation, many of the graduate students in our English MA program have been interested and enthusiastic about the idea of using ePortfolios in First Year Comp–the course that many of them will have a chance to teach while they’re working on their MA. Now, I’m teaching a graduate seminar on Composition, a course designed to help prepare those first-year MA students to teach writing–so asking them to make their own ePortfolios seems like a perfect match to their course and to their interests and goals.

So what will an ePortoflio-focused course look like? Rather than assigning an end-of-semester term paper (it’s common in our program to assign a long conference length to short article length project in our graduate courses), I’m instead assigning several smaller projects, all taking different looks at Composition Pedagogy. Much like in my ENG102 course, students in ENG800 will blog weekly about their readings, and respond to one another’s posts. Their short assignments—including a position paper on what it means to teach writing—will all become parts of their blog. In addition to reading responses for the course, students will write an annotated bibliography looking more deeply into one particular pedagogical specialization. They’ll design sample assignments and analyze them through the lenses of our course readings; and they’ll draft a teaching philosophy that sums up their thoughts and values about teaching. Finally, all of this will be brought together, along with a C.V. and other supporting documents, into a user-friendly and visually-engaging, public-facing ePortfolio.

Now it’s important to note that no single one of these projects is ground breaking. Rather, I think there is value in assigning multiple projects that allow students to explore new material from multiple perspectives and to really delve into unfamiliar territory, with opportunities to try different approaches. More importantly, the ePortfolio itself acts to pull all the disparate parts together, encouraging ongoing reflection and consideration of audience—the portfolio pushes writers to think about how they are representing themselves to a larger, public, and professional audience. A public-facing blog, turned over the course of the semester into a polished (but ideally, continually revised and updated) ePortfolio helps students of all levels (and teachers, too!) to match their research and writing work to professional goals and self-positioning.

As I prepare for the first meeting of the semester with this group of graduate students, I’m excited to see what great work they’ll do with their ePortfolios.

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