Paper. Pixels. Publishing

Thursday was my last class for the semester and the Digital Rhetoric and Pedagogies students presented their final versions of their eportfolios with an emphasis on their seminar papers. Really good stuff, and if any of them decide to make their eportfolios public, I’ll link them here on Techsophist. The next morning was Basic Writing portfolio evaluation, but it got delayed for a couple of hours because of weather. I came in on time, but regretted it about two-thirds of the way over when I saw a wheeled trash bin on its side in my lane coming straight at me going about 20 mph, maybe more. Much windier than I thought, with straight-line winds up to 80 mph. By noon though, there were blue skies and fresh stacks of assessed portfolios.

So today I join all my colleagues in their scattered favorite places to grade, assessing the last projects for the semester whether they be paper or pixels. I chose to have students turn in in seminar papers as paper rather than files, a strange choice on the surface given that I really prefer screen-reading. However, I have learned that paper retains some real usability advantages: It can go everywhere, requires no electricity as long as natural lighting lasts, and also doesn’t need an internet connection. Spring in Kansas and Missouri (where I am) can be crazy-crazy weather-wise, with no accurate way to predict storms more than a day or two out. Sure, they try, but the saying that ends just look out the window” hangs on for a reason, no matter how super the doppler radar. So, I’m using paper to grade text documents, which also gives me more flexibility in commenting than commenting/ review panes in word processors. I use Open Office Writer 3.0 in the classroom and like its increased commenting functionality over past versions, but ink will always be able to do more at least until I have a tablet (I’m waiting for Apple) that will let me scrawl and draw things in the margins. It can convert to text–I’m fine with that–but I want to draw symbols and other indicators to show what isn’t there in the current text and to, at  times, literally illustrate text. So… I use paper.

At the other extreme is the eportfolios. I have set components for the ENG 625 eportfolios, some of which would easily print out except for one thing: with the exception of the seminar paper, they were created for the web and would lose the interconnecting links and multimodal elements if I did. Even with some of the seminar papers, students wanted to link and I let them. For those papers, I will go back and read them in their native environment. For the eportfolios, the way the contents were joined together very much matters and each eportfolio has its own approach and quirks, making them a very individual mode of expression. I see that as positive. When students construct a record and presentation of their work and thoughts for the semester, the result should be unique, something that only they could produce. A template may be easy, but it also bends students into that oxymoron, one size fits all. We all know that one size never fits all. The only thing I regret is that because this was a master’s-level course that focused on pedagogy, I went for tools they would be able to use no matter where they taught, which meant no Dreamweaver (or comparable, but Dreamweaver is still my preferred choice) and no basic HTML. They could have done much more using Dreamweaver alongside Illustrator, Fireworks, and Photoshop. However, using all of those programs would mean a time-grabbing learning curve when learning particular tools was not the focus of the course. Learning technological literacy strategies was (the point).

At the same time, even given my Dreamweaver regrets, I take pride in the choice to use F/OSS (free and/or open source software) as much as possible, given that positive results are already coming in for the classroom teachers who were able to take what they learned and apply it to their classroom on the fly. As long as they had internet access and a browser, the things they learned in the class were possible–no additional funding needed.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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