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.


Bass’ “Engines of Inquiry” Through an Educator’s Lens

Bass opens “Engines of Inquiry” noting that the contemporary version of the “technological sublime” once associated with the Industrial Revolution, is now associated with the “Information Age” centered finding solutions and using information efficiently (Brass 1).  Computers are now machines which make us more perfect and speed up our process of finding answers and our problem-solving abilities.  Brass notes Stuart Moulthrop analysis of this as “the game of perfect information,” and that it is precisely this understanding of technology as “perfect information” that has disillusioned educators and education leaders as to how they should use new technologies in education. Effective and meaningful learning with technology cannot take place with this misinformed understanding of technology is coupled with problems that already exist in education.

Bass’ paper explores the various kinds of learning that there are and the ways that technology can be used efficiently within and outside of these learning environments. To be effective pedagogues, then we must zoom out and understand the situations conducive to and enhanced by digital tools, and those that are not. Hence, technology cannot be used with the desire to integrate it, but with purposeful and imaginative intent in how the technology will be used.

He also argues that we cannot use technology effectively when there is a misunderstood notion of perfection and access to information via technology. Instead of access to perfect information, pedagogues can use technology democratically to foster engagement and to have students question and study their learning.  Therefore, students can engage with online and become responsible citizens with responsibility for knowledge creation.  Communication and accountability for this information will then become a collaborative effort.

Brass’ paper instinctively made me reflect on our society and the way in which we use technology as consumers. Every innovation that major technology companies come out with is their attempt to make the “perfect” technological society.  When thinking of technology as supplemental parts of ourselves that are used to extend our knowledge, arguably, people conceive it as a perfect means of exploring information.  After all, every iPhone is “the best iPhone ever,” and a perfect version of its predecessor. The idea of technology as perfect has permeated society with a misunderstanding of use that is evident in our schools.  And, when I think about teachers who use technology and those who don’t, the ones who don’t are scared not to have it “perfect.”  The most effective teachers who integrate technology are those who dive right in.

When I think about these questions with a teaching hat on, the most apparent provocation for me is: How can we do what Brass proposes in education institutions to help teachers use technology creatively, imaginatively, and purposefully as Bass so clearly argues?

On the other hand, when I think about Brass paper through the lens of my Urban Education experiences, it brings us back to the question of “What does it mean to teach in a democratic society” and “What is an education?”  Does everyone have the same understanding of what an education is? Therefore, are Brass’ arguments made here with technology universally relevant? Does our society want us to be citizens who contribute to and question the more in-depth and collective knowledge of the people within its society? And if so, how do we teach teachers how to do this in our educator preparation programs with all the other questions and anxieties they have going into the profession in the first place?