Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Big Trouble in Little Cyberspace

I have a colleague currently suffering with a case of "PPP," otherwise known as the "penis posting problem," which occasionally afflicts those who use wikis as a course management tool, when students abuse their login privileges to display phallic images that show that the teacher's authority is being tested. It has even happened to critical luminaries in digital scholarship, such as Alan Liu, who once had an outbreak of PPP related to an animated gif of a looping male crotch that zoomed through its infinite pelvic regress from a link on a class wiki page.

Since most students regard the prospect of their futures carefully, sometimes excessively so, this kind of juvenile territory marking by students who challenge an institution's authority is probably the least of the potential problems raised by calls for electronic portfolios, where students have the ability to archive work from their college experience and create a public profile for potential employers and admissions officers at graduate and professional schools.

Although organizations like the Conference on College Composition and Communication have attempted to articulate common principles and practices for using portfolios in the context of writing instruction and philanthropic organizations promoting "integrative learning," such as the Carnegie Foundation, would like to see cumulative approaches in education given more stature, students, faculty, administrators, corporate employers, educational policy experts, privacy advocates, and politicians concerned with institutional accountability may all have different ideas about what an ideal electronic portfolio for a college student should be.

E-portfolio expert Kathleen Yancey participated in a colloquy called "A Rose is (not) a Rose is (not) a Rose: Diversity in Electronic Portfolio Aims, Models, and Outcomes" and a series of meetings at U.C. Irvine today. She argued that stakeholders often have very differing agendas for why they would want to see work digitally archived, and far too often they leave out opportunities for the author to provide critical reflection and the social component of peer feedback on the process.

At U.C. Irvine, faculty and staff are considering the K-20 Minnesota model, after the state signed an agreement with developers there. I plan to take part in one of the pilot programs this year with the participation of students who have won Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program prizes in the freshman year. (See here and here for past winners.)

To demonstrate the range of possible genres, she provided four models to stimulate discussion among the working group: 1) Career Portfolio: Math, 2) English Education Program Portfolio, 3) Self-Designed Major: Bio, Psych, Health and Illness, and 4) LSU Communication Certificate Portfolio: Architecture. She noted that a range of purposes could be served depending on the central definition emphasized among collection, selection, reflection, projection, development, diversity, communication, and evaluation.

She also argued that it was important to understand the Realpolitik of university culture and accept that some merely want a data collection system. She encouraged realism about the importance of branding in these kinds of efforts as well. And she tried to break stereotypes that students were necessarily visual learners, even though she considered concept mapping important, particularly if students were to represent how their different learning experiences fit together and design a web navigation system that reproduces those linkages.

Perhaps some of her most interesting observations about the topic had to do with how such portfolios function in medical education in conjunction with what is called "critical incident theory," a term that originated in aviation when stakeholders reinvented the genre of the traditional accident report. The field of risk communication often gets little attention from those who think about how discourse functions in the academy, but in real world settings collective deliberation about preventability and what is constituted as normal can be extremely important in everything from finance to foreign policy.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home