ePortfolios Galore!

“Challenging the Boundaries of ePortfolio Scholarship” is the introduction to The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. Throughout the essay, the authors highlight the pieces that make up the 10th issue of the journal and brief synopses of their findings: “They confront, reconceive, and subvert technological, institutional, or pedagogical boundaries to design ePortfolios that feel organic to their unique teaching and learning situations.” The purpose of these studies are to evaluate ePortfolios and the ways that it can help to enhance learning. “Composing in a digital space changes the rhetorical situation, whether that be for students creating ePortfolios or authors publishing in an online, open access journal.”

When signing up for provocations, I chose ePortfolios since I was interested in learning more about them for my practice as a pedagogue. As I went through some of the articles, I realized how many ways ePortfolios can happen that help to enhance the meaning of learning. In “I Lit: An E-Poetry, E-Portfolio Exhibit,” the authors showcase drafts of poetry that is also followed in its final visual artistic representation. Obviously, there are drafts of any piece of writing, but I never thought of publically publishing those different versions for the world to see. Personally, I never conceived of writing poetry in this way even though I have my students work on essay drafts in my high school English courses.

The line that I feel best resonates the purpose of ePortfolios is found in “More Than Assessment: What ePortfolios Make Possible for Students, Faculty, and Curricula”:  “ePortfolios can offer students the opportunity to make connections across their experiences, synthesize their learning, and articulate the meaning and significance of their experiences and learning first to themselves—which is no small feat and should not be undervalued—and then, potentially (but not inevitably), to external audiences.” To me, synthesizing learning and collecting with the larger internet audience should be the goal of ePortfolios if we are to use them in education. We should always be asking ourselves what the broader questions are and why we are using this. However, it seems impossible to make one streamlined ePortfolio that works for everyone.

Apparently, “as of 2013, 50% of colleges and universities across the country have already adopted an ePortfolio platform,” so I question if there is a universal software that can be made that is a “one size fits all” across education institutions/environments. And if so, how would that work? If not, then how do we ensure that ePortfolios are used mindfully and purposely in instruction?

These articles also reminded me of Randy Bass, where he prophetically urges that educators should use technology mindfully in their practice. The ePortfolios mentioned in these articles seem to be that way, but it’s unclear to me how much thought and planning were put into doing this ePortfolios before their publication. Are tackling ePortfolios taking a leap of faith for educational institutions? Do teachers need to have a tech “competency” to ask students of this? And furthermore, are ePortfolios realistic in urban environments where there are inequities that exist with access to technologies? Now, with internet neutrality repealed, what does that mean for equitable access to educational material, or material that is crafted to be educational like ePortfolios?


Side note: What I also particularly loved was the hypothes.is resource highlighted in one section of the piece, which was used as a way for the authors to reconsider how to publish material surrounding ePorfolios. Even though it wasn’t a pivotal point of the paper, for some reason, this struck me. I looked them up, and it turns out that they are a non-profit organization that made a free platform for collaborative annotations. In other words, imagine Wikipedia and Facebook had a baby, and this baby was a super collaborator annotating pro! As soon as I finished reading the article, I downloaded the add-on to my Google Chrome browser and started playing around. Obviously, the about section was indeed annotated with people testing out the software for the first time, but things started to get interesting as I went around to various websites with it. As you bounce around from website to website, you can tell how many people annotated that page already. Anyway, this was a cool annotating resource I learned about, and I can see how it made the publishers lives easier in prioritizing materials.


More on ePortfolios

Joe Ugoretz, our visitor next week, suggests a couple of other online resources on ePortfolio that you should peruse before Monday’s class:

Browse the Pedagogy examples on the Catalyst site http://c2l.mcnrc.org/category/pedagogy-practices/[c2l.mcnrc.org]
He  posted his draft chapter on ePortfolios on his own Academic Commons blog, behind a password.  The password is itp2017.  It’s here: https://prestidigitation.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2017/11/22/springboard-chapter-draft/

Next week’s class on ePortfolios

We will be discussing ePortfolios next week with our guest presenter, Dr. Joe Ugoretz, the chief academic officer of the Macaulay Honors College, CUNY. In addition to the readings listed in the syllabus, Joe recommended that everyone explore the International Journal of ePortfolio (IJEP) . We may also have you read one or two scanned selections from the Eynon/Gambino book, but not sure as yet. Ignore the Light, Chen, and Ittelson reference for next week’s class; too hard to find the book.

Yochai Benkler. The Wealth of Networks, 2006

Yochai Benkler assesses a shift from “Industrial Information Economy” to “Networked Information Economy” (31 – 32). The former was characterized by the high cost of the means of producing and sharing (the media), which buttressed a much centralized and concentrated production of content (TV, newspapers, etc). The latter is characterized by a dramatic decrease in these costs. It opened the door a democratic, participatory and rhizomatic production of content, and to the flourishing of “nonmarket production” (56); that is, to a world in which individuals fully retrieve their power to create. Through his advocating of the saint trilogy “information, knowledge, culture”, Benkler outlines technological affordances personal computers and access to the Internet have bestowed, while responding to problems that were coming to a head at the time he was writing. Indeed, in the 2000s, and under the pressure of music and movie industries, many countries were enacting repressive regulations aimed at sanctioning and circumscribing the sprawling of copyright infringement that the Internet made possible. Taking a firm stance against such institutional, vertical forms of regulation, Benkler supports horizontal forms of self- or peer-regulation (he illustrates his point through the example of Wikipedia (71-74) Slashdot (76-80), and Amazon (!), if I remember well). Benkler also demonstrates the economic sustainability of the model of free culture, and how “libre” knowledge fosters further innovations.

Although optimistic in tone, Benkler cautions us that “there is no guarantee that networked information technology will lead to the improvements in innovation, freedom, and justice that I suggest are possible. That is a choice we face as a society”(18)… It is good to be reminded that it is at least partly thanks to idealists and altruists that we are able to share our thoughts on this blog, amongst many other things. Yet from our 2017 standpoint, Benkler’s “techno-future” sounds in many ways like a path not taken. As Tim Berners-Lee – hardly suspected of having a prejudice against the Internet – bluntly puts it in a recent interview: “The system is failing“. This failure is arguably due to phenomena that may not have been predictable back in 2006, but also to problems embedded in the ideological tenets of “hacker culture”, and stemming from the blind spots of the idealistic views on which Benkler draws. I especially take issue with the idea that voluntarily creating for free is a practice everyone can equally afford, and that sharing is an inherently altruistic practice. I shall summarize some of these problems below. Please feel free to comment, correct, and add up any thought.

Common knowledge“, “semiotic democracy and transparency” and “participatory culture” are all predicated on a generous view of humanity. Granted, Benkler does mention the possibility of misinformation (“gobbledygook”) and even trolling (75-77), but these are posited as problems that peer-production will easily redress. And… well. I will not dwell on this point, for we are all too aware of what’s happened: the destabilizing of traditional forms of knowledge hierarchization and validation has given way to the rampant spread of fake news and propagandistic forms of disinformation, to an extent only comparable to what happens during wartime, and in the face of which peer processes of accreditation have seemed mostly powerless. It is disheartening to see that faith in humanity can be proven so wrong. But perhaps this error of judgment is related to the way enemies were picked…

Indeed, Benkler posits liberal States – jointly with traditional mass industries – as the main villain of the story. An “anarchic/libertarian” view, as he puts it. From what I can remember, the debate on intellectual property was very much constructed under these terms in the 2000s. Those terms and the enemy thus picked seem to have made Benkler (along with everyone involved at the time) oblivious/unaware of the fact that digital sharing was to be done through (private and for-profits) intermediaries. Material ones (cables, physical storages aka “clouds” etc) bring up the issue of net neutrality. Digital intermediaries, such as web search engines, social media, and social networking services have generated a whole set of problems of which we are now all too aware as well. Perhaps “nonmarket behavior is becoming central to producing our information and environment” (56), but it’s also turned out that intermediaries did find ways to turn those “nonmarket” exchanges into commodities. The advent of social media and social networking services has thus dramatically reshaped the terms of the discussion throughout the last decade. The opaque processing of citizens’ data, subsequent manipulations of public opinion, the looming threat over democracies etc. spring from the ways companies have taken hold of the sharing culture the Networked Information Economy fosters (see Adeline Koh). A bit of wariness towards the very private companies (Google, Amazon, etc) that sounded so nice back then, a bit of state regulation instead of laissez-faire towards them (and instead of targeting and criminalizing individuals) might have been an answer. This is an easy thing to say now…

Keeping in mind the terms of the debate in which Benkler was engaged is also helpful to account for the insufficiencies of the binary he builds on to think of intellectual property. I  exaggerate a little bit, but the big picture is copyright = big bad industries protected by big bad states vs. commons/copyleft = universally good model for altruistic individuals. Benkler promotes an unbridled access to, reworking, and sharing of creative contents. His view is buttressed by a representation of “information, knowledge, culture” as non-rivals goods, i.e goods whose value does not decrease when sharing them, just like love or friendship (vs. rival ones, 35-36). At the individual level, that framework leaves out some important issues. In a capitalist context, one risk is to have “libre” content creation reduced to a privilege granted to those who are sufficiently stable/safe, economically and emotionally speaking, to take risks, and/or who are from a culture which encourages risks taking, and/or who are somehow insiders having a sense of which kind of creations is worth investing time and energy on. In the meantime, the rest is silenced or pressed to take more or less informed risks in the hope that their time and energy will eventually generate earnings. More bluntly: how do individuals make a living out of their creations in the reign of unbridled “cultural freedom”?

This American Life’s latest episode illustrates some of the limits entailed in Benkler’s radical stance:

The story began in 2011 when the wildlife photographer David J. Slater got stunning photos of monkeys in Indonesia. The trick is that these pictures were selfies, which made Wikipedia claim them as public domain. Wikipedians got pretty nasty about it, publicly ridiculing Slater when he asked for compensation (nicely asking, not suing). One thing led to another, and the photographer ended up being sued, for copyright infringement, by one of the monkeys… It is an interesting case for diverse reasons, notably for the blurring of the concept of “authorship” (is the monkey the author for having pressed the button?). Here, the point is that if we were to follow Benkler’s altruistic, volunteering and disinterested conception of individual content creation, this photographer could not make a living and pay for the months he spent in Indonesia. Perhaps Benkler would respond that Slater should rather become a “Joe Einstein” (p43). But then, how does one reach such status in the first place? I felt that Fred Benenson‘s framework (fungible vs. nonfungible work) and the nuances he makes between different models, along with Lewis Hyde‘s historically-based definition of commons (workable in a “stinted market, one constrained by moral concerns”, Hyde: 36) addresses these issues in a much more effective way.

“Democracy for anyone with a fifteen-hundred-dollar computer”

Lawrence Lessig is one of the most important figures in shaping the movement for free (libre) technology and media. Since my time as a teenager playing with linux, he and other figures of the FOSS and creative commons movement instilled an image of a better society where everyone can be free of state oppression and freely collaborate. Contributing to the commons according to their ability, and in turn getting what they need. This all culminates into their vision of a new political future of… sensibly regulated capitalism?

It pains me to criticize these heroic figures, but it pains me even more to read the Liberalism in their work. Endorsement of the market place of ideas (“certain fantastic ideas will win in this cultural debate”) and similar sentiments reduce creativity and speech to mere inevitablities of greater economic intensives. His sentiments are far kinder than the status quo, but throughout he defends the interests of those with access from those without. Like many family members I will be seeing this holiday weekend, I just want to shake Lawrence and say “I love you, but please wake up”.

This, but unionically

This post and all images are covered by the Creative Communism license. Use anything according to your needs, provided you participate in group solidarity, resist state oppression, and embody trans-inclusive feminism(s).

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how to access Fred Benenson, “On the Fungibility and Necessity of Cultural Freedom”; and Michael Mandiberg, “Giving Things Away is Hard Work: Three Creative Commons Case Studies” in Mandiberg, The Social Media Reader, Part V: Law.

I was trying to access the article “Fred Benenson, “On the Fungibility and Necessity of Cultural Freedom”; and Michael Mandiberg, “Giving Things Away is Hard Work: Three Creative Commons Case Studies” in Mandiberg, The Social Media Reader, Part V: Law.” However, when I clicked the link to the E-book, it requires that I should log in by selecting my institution from a list, and CUNY GC doesn’t seem to be there. So I was wondering how to access the file. Thank you.


Klein & Manovich: a Textual Analysis

As someone in academia, and who cares about non-academics’ access to information, the first thing that strikes me is that Lauren Klein‘s article is published in a paywalled academic journal, American Literature published by the prestigious Duke University Press. I’m disappointed that she did not contribute the article to her institutional repository. Naughty DH scholar! In contrast, Lev Manovich‘s article is published on his personal website. Self-publishing may lead readers to grant Manovich’s writing to be less authoritative than a refereed journal like American Literature. Also, Manovich’s article is full of usage errors, beginning with the title, “What is Visualization?,” which proper usage would render “What Is Visualization?” The usage errors prompt me to observe that Manovich is a non-native English speaker, having emigrated to the US when he was 21. At the same age, more or less, Klein was graduating from Harvard. Fancy! Continue reading

Graphs, Maps, Trees and Distant Reading (Franco Moretti)


Before coming to Graduate Center’s Theatre Program, I studied in English program (in Korea) for about six years. Back then “distant reading” was not part of the academic curriculum (not sure if it is now) and I remember how canonical “the rise of the novel” (Ian Watt) was. My provocation is partly based on my journey from literary to theatre studies, although not always exclusive, so please do correct my response and add comments if there is any misreading/interpretation (as I am reading it alone for the first time).

Graphs, Maps, Trees by Franco Moretti

In Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History, Franco Moretti provides an alternative/radical methodology of doing literary studies, which has traditionally been based on close reading of an individual text. Moretti’s interdisciplinary approach proposes “distance reading” as a new form of knowledge, based not on individual (canonic) texts but three “deliberately” abstract models—graphs (from quantitative history), maps (from geography, though closer to geometry), and trees (from evolutionary theory). The book was first published in 2005 and developed out of three essays that Moretti wrote for New Left Review.

The Polemics?

The recent New York Times article on Moretti (as well as the book cover of GMT) states that he is “famous for urging his colleagues to stop reading books.” Moretti might have been more polemical and radical in proposing his views in other places (please add comments if you know more about it) and I also understand that it might have become a signature of distant reading. However, I think that more helpful way to read GMT is learning different ways of engaging with the “books” to find out patterns, structures, and relations that are independent of/or unavailable from interpretations (close reading).

I find it worth noting that Moretti’s work received criticism for comparing natural evolution with cultural change or for not providing connections with other fields of study. In addition to that, Harold Bloom’s dismissive reaction toward Moretti, described in another New York Times article published in 2004, is also worth noting as Bloom said “with an audible shudder” that he is interested in reading and that’s all he is interested in. Bloom’s definition of “reading” here is that of interpretive reading, a traditional way of engaging with the books (remember: he is the author of The Western Canon).

Based on the assumption that people in our class might have varying degrees of acceptance/rejection of Moretti’s argument, I would like to ask the following questions: Do you buy Moretti’s concept of distant reading in literary studies? How about for other fields? Have the scholars in your field of study accepted, criticized, or wholly abandoned this type of reading? Is Moretti’s argument helpful in understanding and expanding our discussion on “what is text” and “what is data” last week? Reading GMT in 2017, I wonder if digitization and database (in the context of data visualization) have played (or will play) an important role in circulating and/or expanding Moretti’s models. As far as I know, distant reading has not been a big thing in theatre studies (other than Shakespeare-related work), but as I have recently discovered an example of “distant watching” (visualizing Broadway project), I would like to hear about any interesting projects in your fields.

The Canon, the Genre, and the Model?

Rather than discussing the specific examples-figures Moretti provided, I would like to focus more on a methodological perspective. On the one hand, Moretti’s GMT can be understood as a political project (or can it be?) as the approach problematizes the literary history written out of “the one per cent of the cannon and the ninety-nine of forgotten literature” (77). Since the 1960s, feminist, queer, postcolonial theories (to name but a few) have challenged the construction of the Western canon, but in a way they have also created other sets of canon that are now frequently part of the curriculum. I think Moretti’s approach is fundamentally different because it is not about evaluating the aesthetic quality of the canon or would-be-canon, but about teasing out the relations between the canonical and the non-canonical work (either by abolishing all qualitative difference or articulating the very difference). Then, is there a place for aesthetic connoisseurship as such? How will it change the status of the canon (or the “high” and “low” forms)?

Moretti’s analysis in GMT is grounded in literary genres. By discovering patterns and devices of genres/cycles, he often aims to understand the structural whole which is larger than the sum of individual parts (in case of the literary maps, 53 & also in the New York Times articles). I am mindful of speaking the language of “the whole” and wonder if this seemingly “scientific” view would provoke any backlash. Although larger sample sizes can offer more accurate analysis, we should also be mindful of differentiating large “samples” from “the whole.” After all, as an extension of last week’s discussion, what is available in the archive or database can influence directions and results of the studies proposed by Moretti. Thsn, is it always the better way to map the “world literature” as such?


In sum, I like that Moretti does not propose his models (“materialist concept of form”) as “the ultimate” model for rational literary history. He states in the last sentence of GMT that “opening new conceptual possibilities seemed more important than justifying in every detail” (92). Are we still at the stage of opening new possibilities, or now it is time to justify details? What Moretti said as a “dream” in 2004, which is “a literary class that would look more like a lab than a Platonic academy,” is still a dream? How can you (or do you want to) use the methods of distant reading in your classroom?

Have a great weekend!