What it looks like

This is what grading papers with an iPad looks like. I ‘m using iAnnotate to comment on and assess two sections’ worth of 8-10 page papers. I did the poetry portfolios in paper, but I’m thinking of converting that process also. What is keeping me from doing that is tech literacy expectations. Undergrads here are expected to take a computer literacy class that covers the basics and then some. It even goes so far as to cover keyboard shortcuts for common programs and so forth. Even so, I still have technology resisters who claim that they are “just not good at computers,” like it is an unchangeable trait such as blood type. My response is to calmly reply, “Then it’s time to start.” That puts the responsibility back on them and it usually gets a positive reaction since it also implies that I see them as inherently capable.

For my poetry class, I already have them submitting files through Moodle using a “Poem X Due Here” link that takes them to an upload screen. All of my students were able to do this, but three tech resisters were not able to do it every time, claiming it was “broken.” It worked fine for the other eighteen students as well as the forty-four others in my other classes, so that was not very believable. I asked them to submit it again the same day, and sometimes it worked, sometimes not. At mid-semester I reviewed syllabus policy on late work. In future semesters I think I need to clearly state that not getting the assignment in through the Moodle “Due Here” link means it is not turned in. The tech resisters tended to come in with handwritten poems (pencil, not quill pen) or nothing. I’m hoping that even if a clearer definition of late work doesn’t help these students, it will at least make it clear that they will pay the price for not turning in a poem on time and having it workshopped. Current policy for their portfolio being incomplete is dropping the portfolio grade one full letter grade per missing poem. The portfolio is 70% of the semester grade, so this is significant.

So here is my dilemma: given the crazy problems by a very few students with a simple upload (they have problems with email attachments too, but that’s just confirmation that it is resistance, not ability), would digital portfolio submission be asking too much? If this were a perfect world where student had access to Acrobat Pro and could take the files and make it a binder, that would be perfect. They could also turn them into a Prezi or even a PowerPoint, but it would have to include the instructor-commented drafts too. I like the binder idea best and they DO have Acrobat Pro access through our labs, but I suspect virtually all of them don’t know how to use it. I hadn’t considered presentation software before writing this, but I think I will go with that.

Now, next semester I will be doing a blended Writing I, which also has a portfolio used for program assessment and calibration. The program currently uses paper and scans everything to convert to file. I will have them submitting work in PDF from the start and once again, wonder about the binder in Acrobat Pro. I may assemble portfolios myself, or I may try showing them how in an online tutorial. I find that I also have resistance, only my resistance is against technology resisters. I won’t let them give up on a literacy that they need so much, both now and in their post-degree lives.

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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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