|Note: This webpage has been designed based on my FYW students' definitions & inventions of the required components of a multimedia essay: 1) moving images (i.e, gifs), 2) weblinks, 3) embedded videos, 4) weblinked/sourced and relevant images, 5) highlighted sidebars and titles using the table function, 6) use of color for sectioning, 7) right and left-justifed images for eye movement.|
ePortfolios & Digital Projects in FYW:
THREE CRITICAL POINTS
Uniqueness of ¡Adelante!
A distinct trend has emerged for me amongst students with the most invested interest in building public ePortfolios: they link their URLs on resumes and I describe their class work (with weblinks listed) on their letters of reference. Those students with the most aggressive digital footprints in my classes have been most successful in their out-of-school, professional pursuits. The ¡Adelante! program adds a dynamic process and context to extend that trend.
Based on a critical research base about the education of racially and economically marginalized youth, we know that (See "Foundational Research & Scholarship" for more on this):
- racially and economically marginalized youth do well in collaborative, multimodal, culturally-relevant, portfolio-based teaching approaches
- racially and economically marginalized youth who chose to cultivate their academic identities in the context of deliberate connections to ethnic studies/ethnic rhetorics academically perform better (often outperforming their peers).
For me, Adelante, thus, harnesses these opportunities in three, critical ways. (1) Students are connected to a dynamic Latin American & Latin@ Studoes (LLS) faculty who are themselves critical activists in the justice struggles for brown and black peoples globally. The program, thus, offers a quietly radical approach to the literate and academic identities for Latino youth (think Arizona’s ban on Ethnic Studies, with its strategic targeting of Chican@/La Raza Studies despite the longitudinal research and analytics of its effectiveness) in the context of a university which has not yet figured out what it means to be an HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institution). (2) Multimedia opportunities for students are embraced in an intensive, year-long, project-based first-year writing curriculum with a digital focus. (3) A dynamic co-curricular experience brings communities, career, and schooling together for students through peer mentoring, service work, and internship/ professional development.
The first semester of first year writing (FYW) focuses on textual production in the 21st century as a public endeavor. The point here is to get students to think about what writing does and how. Instead of experiencing school-based and/or professional writing as something that only a teacher reads, students are asked to commit to writing in public spaces as agents of change, cultural insight, and new energy. ePortfolios are the mechanism for this work. We begin by learning the CSS of the ePortfolio platform (I consider basic coding in this way a 21st century literacy skill) in order to design a webspace that communicates a message. Before students upload any essay or write any prose, they are asked to think of the public meanings they will create with design. Thus, design is rhetoric. Then the focus turns to unpacking what a multimedia essay looks like and does. A student journal called Digital Spectrum using the ePortfolio platform was created in fall 2013 as a public experimental space for thinking about the unique components of 21st century essay-writing for multiple publics. The course ends with an original, mini-qualitative study that is presented on the ePortfolio as research toward a wider, public good. All of these components are in sync with the department's curriculum (focused mainly on analog portfolios).
The second semester of FYW focuses specifically on digital rhetorics where students are introduced explicitly to rhetoric scholarship, a departmental requirement. Students start the semester crafting a traditional essay focused on a rhetorical analysis of contemporary speeches or performances. These essays are done collaboratively with a partner through google docs and then presented on students' individual ePortfolios with the performances embedded on the webpage. Students then move into team websites where they look closely at and archive the digital tools of central activists on a social justice topic of their choosing. The semester ends with digital storytelling about students' cultural capital where students are asked to merge words, sound, image (still and moving), reflect on their process, and enter the theoretical debates about digital storytelling. Each of these projects is represented on students' ePortfolios.
Because ¡Adelante! students have spent a year working together with ePortfolios and digital projects within a cohesive program, they were asked, in the final week of class, to write a collective statement. In that statement, they defined digital storyteling alongside all of their other dgital projects and what it uniquely means for them. The video to the left represents that final statement.
Research & Teaching Philosophy for ePortfolios and Digital Projects
In 2007, Pamela Takayoshi and Cynthia Selfe argued that “the texts that students have produced in response to composition assignments have remained essentially the same for 150 years… [primarily] words on a page, arranged into paragraphs…only occasionally interrupted by titles, headings, diagrams, or footnotes” (Selfe, 2007, p. 1). Though many scholars, in the fields of digital humanities and digital rhetorics especially, might consider this 2007 text (a staple in the first year classrooms presented at this website) outdated, the authors’ criticism of many 21st century school compositions remains relevant.
The standard view in many fields, from schooling to development programs, works from the assumption that literacy in itself--autonomously--will have effects on other social and cognitive practices. Introducing literacy to poor, "illiterate" people, villages, urban youth etc. will have the effect of enhancing their cognitive skills, improving their economic prospects, making them better citizens, regardless of the social and economic conditions that accounted for their "illiteracy" in the first place. I refer to this as an "autonomous" model of literacy. The model, I suggest, disguises the cultural and ideological assumptions that underpin it so that it can then be presented as though they are neutral and universal and that literacy as such will have these benign effects…. The autonomous approach is simply imposing western conceptions of literacy on to other cultures or within a country those of one class or cultural group onto others.
Despite the lightning speed of cultural change and adaptation related to multimedia production and social media, many first year college students often enter their writing classrooms today with few chances to analyze the cultural shifts in meanings of writing, composing, and texts that Takayoshi and Selfe described in 2007. The opportunities for such analyses are not always offered in later college classrooms either. As one student attending our college argued in her ePortfolio: “my former teachers and even current professors complain about multimedia and do not even allow the use of any technology in their classrooms.” If we take this student’s observation to heart, then we can see that, although many current students are immersed in multiple spaces where digital writing and composing shape “agentive selves,” students do not always experience classrooms as spaces where they can theorize those selves and processes. The need, therefore, for students to simultaneously analyze, experiment with, and create digital artifacts is critical today.
As a compositionist and rhetorician interested in the ways that multiple texts (oratory, essays, digital products, etc) work in their sociocultural contexts, ePortfolios and digital projects represent logical, organic connections. It means continuing to go against what Brian Street has so infamously called the “autonomous skills” approach that still dominates
most literacy instruction and keep embracing an “ideological model of literacy” where literacy works rhetorically (see "Foundational Research & Scholarship" for more on this):
- as social practices according to given places and times
- as epistemology
- as a deep part of knowledge formation, itself always contested
- as political processes related to power and domination
For me, to teach in fields related to writing and literacy without particular attention to digital cultures is unconscionable today. ePortfolios, however, when treated as multimedia spaces, can inspire that kind of attention.