E-Portfolios: Balancing Assessment and Virtual Identities


Using portfolios as an assessment tool in first-year writing courses has become the norm. Students in our program compile a portfolio at the end of the semester, and it comprises at last 50% of their final course grade. Hefty, for sure, but the metacognitive act of reflecting on their writing journey and their emerging writerly identities not only solidifies what they’ve learned, it also affords more genuine assessment.

The shift over the past few years from paper to digital portfolios brought with it limitless possibilities for design, a component necessary for modern digital composition, and while some teachers were slower than others, most now consider design an essential element when assessing multimodal writing. But our adoption of e-portfolios superseded the proper platforms created to house them, resulting in experimentation with tools like Weebly and Wix, free website builders that offered students ample choice in design, free access, and easy sharing.

I, too, have used these platforms, even required them for some semesters, but I’ve struggled with this practice of forcing students to publish their first-year writing experience on the web, where nothing can truly be deleted. I believe that a conversation about student virtual identities is long overdue, at least in our program, as it is time to reconsider placing design options over our students’ virtual identities.

Is requiring students to build public websites where they discuss their shortcomings and share their reflective writing, which can be raw and personal, in compliance with best practices? I say no. The past few semesters we’ve had program assessments that required us to read through multiple e-portfolios, and I cringed every time I came across a published student portfolio that described angst over low high school or AP testing performance or acknowledged weakness in mechanics and grammar. Too many also contained highly-confidential discussions of family dynamics or socioeconomic status within literacy narratives.

It seems others are now recognizing this growing concern, since the latest position statement of CCCCs on electronic portfolios addresses this very thing.

Principle # 3: Virtual Identities

Students represent themselves through personalized information that conveys a web-savvy and deliberately constructed ethos for various uses of the e-portfolio. Students manage those identities by having control over artifacts and who sees them. 

Taking the CCCCs position step a bit further, consider this assertion from Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson’s “Researched Writing”

Initially, online portfolios were collected on public websites, allowing students to showcase their work but also raising intellectual property issues. The majority are now collected as part of a closed course management program such as Blackboard or Moodle or on a local or commercial password-protected Cloud server such as Dropbox. [Emphasis Added]

I hope this is accurate and that most college freshmen aren’t being forced to publish their beginning scholarly writing journey, but the conversation hasn’t even begun in our program.



1 Comment

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One response to “E-Portfolios: Balancing Assessment and Virtual Identities

  1. jessiecarty

    Just for my own sanity I tended to use the free online programs as well, but I also used them because I wanted the students to look at what their classmates were working on since peer review was such an important part of my classroom.

    When I used Blackboard I felt more comfortable having them complete their portfolio as a powerpoint or word document that could be uploaded into Blackboard and a discussion board so the conversations could take place. I never felt as comfortable with Moodle, especially to use a specific place in something like a Moodle which may not allow them access to their portfolio later.

    Most of the free websites and such will allow you to password protect and only share with the people you want. Perhaps that’s another way to approach this?

    I heard this also came up a few years ago with schools requiring graduate students to publish their theses online.


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