Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Hex Files

Yesterday I saw a stunning demo of the impressive xFolio tool that is designed to improve upon the Minnesota ePortfolio system, which also has the potential to be available to a wide range of students in California to organize and display their work electronically. Lynne Groves and John Ittelson showed stakeholders at UC Irvine how this proposed system for archiving coursework and extracurricular achievements for a longitudinal profile would work. A sample mock-up with improvised content from the designers is here. What can't be seen is the appealing interface or the extensive system of permissions and checklists that supports different kinds of student use.

Nonetheless, as Kathleen Yancey warned in her address to the Computers and Writing conference, some want to use e-porfolio systems to further covert backdoor No Child Left Behind-style assessment agendas that do nothing to improve pedagogy. But the Minnesota system did seem to have many of the features that Yancey said would be desirable, such as an emphasis on reflection, which is furthered by an actually "reflection" text box with which to annotate documents.

Of course, some may also question the emphasis on teaching the principles of Weberian bureaucracy, in the sense of the maintenance of discrete files of information, since the interface emphasizes a presentation of identity as a series of virtual folders, the content of which can be dragged and dropped to pre-formatted web pages. Despite it's user-friendly drag-and-drop features, updating pages relies on save and preview practices rather than a WYSIWYG screen. An art faculty member also indicated some concern about whether the easy widget-based set of tools, which will be familiar to many students from using social network sites, would give creative students the design freedom that they would want for their self-presentation activities.

My biggest gripe with the system, as it is designed, is that -- although it is created to facilitate different kinds of peer and supervisory review of documents and to incorporate critical feedback -- it isn't set up for the kinds of collaborative writing situations that can be important for students in technical fields.

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