Scouting Report: Electronic Portfolio, a Call to Action Realized

One of the “hot topics” at the Computers and Writing Conference at UC Davis that I attended this past June surrounded the idea of “electronic portfolios.”  The concept made total sense to me.  This definitely will be the future status of the “resume,” whether academic or professional, easily updatable and accessible, and always ready to send or post anywhere, anytime, anyplace.  Leaving the conference, I made a mental note that electronic portfolios would be something I would look into soon as something I would teach in the composition classroom.

Walking into one of my MA classes earlier this semester, I overheard the instructor from the previous class discussing electronic portfolios with one of his students.  Highly interested, I excused myself for interrupting, and asked if he could give me more information. His eyes lit up and he quickly engaged himself in the newer conversation.  Ironically, this professor, Dr. Mark Beck, developed an electronic portfolio file for the agriculture department at CSU Stanislaus.  He explained that he has been working with this program for twelve years now and completed numerous revisions and updates in order to perfect the document and process.

Kindly, Dr. Beck shared the URL to where I could locate the PDF of the document.  The document, not copyrighted, allows for easy personal updates.  I “urled” the site and downloaded the PDF.  A long document, it covers every aspect needed for an online resume.  I am anxious to work this new writing assignment into future lesson plans.  As the curriculum for this semester has been “set in stone” since last summer, I now plan to utilize the electronic portfolio in my 1001 class in spring 2010. 

In researching the topic, I found that the electronic portfolio in essence epitomizes “literacy.”  According to OED Online, literacy involves being “literate,” or “letterate,” and having the ability to “read and write.”  As a composition instructor, I envision my students not only covering the basic literacy requirement, but utilizing current new media helping them stay in step with technological progress.  The electronic portfolio therefore not only “calls to action,” but then can be “acted upon” in the composition classroom.  This inherent quality of new media serves as motivation for students who require instant results from their efforts.  If they print out a hardcopy of their resume to hand to their professor or a potential employer, the process of getting the portfolio to this “audience” seems halted between “printing and handing” and in need of additional stimuli to actually “get the portfolio out there” to an audience.  When publishing the portfolio online, at the very moment of publication, the professor or potential employer has instant access to the file.  The call to action has resulted in a call realized.  Before getting to that step of self-actualization, though, ground work needs to be performed.

The beginning steps of designing information for the electronic portfolio involve students creatively “essaying” their strengths.  They need to approach the organization of an electronic portfolio the same as an academic essay.  Assuming students want to present themselves in a professional manner, they benefit by understanding their purpose and audience, being aware of appropriate and supportive rhetoric that represents them in their “best light” in order to prepare portfolios that get them the responses they desire:  a job.

Working on their portfolios, students in the composition classroom now have the opportunity to join ranks with other “digital natives” or align with the ever growing group of “digital immigrants.”  In either case, when the semester is over, all students will better understand the practical application of an essay.  Their purpose, or thesis, will revolve around what job or opportunity this resume promotes.  Their thesis will need to be carefully considered so that the support information they supply indeed supports the position they promote. 

Once having a strong thesis, best results occur when students internalize the concept that they write for an asynchronous audience and imagine and finally “realize” who will be reading their portfolios.  This will cause them to consider and reconsider their image, or identity, online and cause them to focus more so on their word choices in the portfolio.  In Danah Boyd’s article “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites:  The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life,” this very topic comes to light.  Identity becomes a huge issue for those students who use their virtual world as a developmental arena for who they want to be.  Sometimes this causes a deceptive outcome which may put them on the spot when they meet their audience in person.  As word choices become proxies for who they are, those who in the past did not think English and grammar important, now come to an “eye-opening” understanding that English plays a vitally significant role in their personal representation.

Personal representation comes not only in word choice, but likewise in the visual rhetoric involving mechanics, layout, and style of their portfolio.  These elements give a sense of each student’s character and exemplify how well they handle technology in the form of software and computer hardware.  Once published, the boundaries of digital native or digital immigrant become blurred and basically nonexistent.  All can be successful candidates through a composition class that teaches utilization of the electronic portfolio.

Electronic portfolios serve well as vehicles for literacy.  They actually expand the horizon on the simple ideology that literacy consists of reading and writing well.  They help train students in new media preparing them to be competitive in computer technology.  Students work to develop each piece in the “essayed” portfolio, keeping purpose or thesis and audience in focus, while bringing in appropriate rhetorical supports aiding their cause.  Once complete, publication of their document gives their actions instant results by making their information readily available to their instructor or employer audience.  The business world comprises utilizing technology.  It comprises using software and hardware.  It comprises literacy.

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