I’m thinking about a visit our program had yesterday from Bob Broad, a prominent writing assessment researcher, who led our faculty through a version of his Dynamic Criteria Mapping (DCM) technique. I find myself thinking a lot about the values that emerged, especially that we seemed to have much agreement in what we deemed as successes and shortcomings in the three sample portfolios we read. I did come away with several comments reverberating and this blog is my reflection on them.
Comment 1: Who would want to read this. (Seems like a question, but it truly was a comment)
I didn’t make this comment, but I couldn’t agree more. The portfolios we read had inauthentic, generic, public audiences in mind. While we didn’t see the assignment sheets that led to their production, the portfolios were clearly for an instructor, and if I were to put my rhetorical analysis hat on, I could easily pinpoint that the audience is limited to a specific first-year writing instructor. Not to be redundant, but who else would want to read this?
The question I generate from this is what’s wrong with having an instructor audience for a freshman-level writing portfolio? When you talk to students about audience, don’t they need to analyze what an audience of one, a future instructor, will need or prefer in order to assess their learning? After all, the reality is that the portfolios our students turn in are the single assessment tool for at least 50% of their final course grade. This is not the end of a student’s journey to becoming a stronger writer; it’s merely the first tiny step. Are we guilty of inflating what can be accomplished in one or two semesters?
Comment 2: I like black backgrounds with white font.
Again, I agreed with this comment, as I find black and white to be a highly professional color-scheme. There were many naysayers, and while we didn’t discuss this preference, I’ve noticed so many portfolios with pastel or brightly-colored backgrounds that many deemed high quality. I’m curious as to whether this is a creative question. I ask two follow-up questions: are writing porfolios supposed to be creative? and is multimodal design inherently creative?
To both questions, I would argue the answer is no. I say this because we’ve had these discussions in my classroom numerous times. It always breaks down like this: a group of math or engineering students largely immersed in logic and order argue that multimodal design should be clean and simple; a group of dance, art, and other humanities students versed in the art of flair argue that vibrancy and flow of both color and layout is necessary; and there are a group of students who fall somewhere in the middle. I can’t argue with any of that — unless I want to project my professorial vision of correctness onto those who don’t agree.
Comment 3: I have an aversion to clicking on too many links and opening attachments.
This time I’m the culprit. I made this statement, and I not only stick by it, I want someone who does value these things to help me understand why. I use hyperlinks in my blogs quite often, and I’ve built numerous Wix and Weebly sites myself, so I come from a place of practice in this matter. Hyperlinks are for further reading, an audience “extra” if you will; they aren’t for vital evidence being discussed in a reflective portfolio. And as to multiple links which strive to serve as “pages” of content, let me say that as a rabid consumer of online news, journals, blogs, and shopping sites, there is nothing more annoying to a reader/shopper than having to click one tab to read about something that refers to an article or item under another tab. That’s not audience-friendly.
This takes me back to comment one above regarding audience — why would anyone, much less an instructor facing the assessment of upwards of 88 portfolios, want to download and open numerous attachments? This is the lesson students should be learning when creating their first-year writing (what I would label as “practice”) portfolios.