As someone who was recently on the job market, I realized again how difficult it can be to obtain a clear sense of a writing program from a simple web search or during a job interview. This is because writing programs are complex and contextual1. Though we may be able to get a sense of the components of a program (First-Year Writing, Writing Centers, WAC/WID, Writing Majors, etc.), and, if we’re lucky, their programming, reach, and resources, it’s less likely that we’ll learn about their interrelatedness and intersections, successful cross-campus collaborations or tensions, recent expenditures or impending budget cuts, and pedagogical innovations or stangnance. So, when getting to know a writing program, as my grandfather would say, how do we tell a lemon from a peach? A quick look through the Conference on Composition and Communication Certificate of Writing Program Excellence recipients shows us that there are lots of different ways to distinguish successful programs. However, even more than I realized at the time, Old Dominion University’s (ODU) commitment to ePortfolio pedagogies played a substantial role in my decision to accept their inaugural position of Associate Chair of Writing Studies and General Education. ePortfolios are required in the general education (gen. ed.) composition and literature courses, and thanks to the leadership of our campus's Office of ePortfolios and Digital Initiatives and the university's Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) dedicated to Improving Disciplinary Writing, they are also increasingly being implemented in several other courses across campus, particularly the upper-level writing-intensive courses. This existing, albeit still budding, commitment to ePortfolio pedagogy and initiatives provided me answers to the very kinds of questions I most wanted to ask about the campus2.
What shared values, if any, does the program have about writing, and are they shared among colleagues beyond the writing program?
ePortfolio (eP) pedagogies are rooted in the understanding that one’s best composing is done intentionally and diligently through vision and revision, both of which take time. ePortfolio pedagogies recognize that writing is a situated, public activity, and we should showcase and share our best writing with others. When a gen. ed. composition program, like ODU’s, requires all students to develop an eP and then uses the students’ ePs as assessment artifacts, it shows that program leaders recognize that we obtain more meaningful data from writers who have been given the opportunity to engage in recursive drafting processes as opposed to one-and-done, high stakes compositions3. When our colleagues in other fields across campus implement eP pedagogies, it demonstrates a willingness to recognize, engage in, or at least entertain best practices in our field.
How current are the program’s pedagogies, and how open are the program, campus, and the colleagues therein to pedagogical innovations?
eP pedagogies indicate a willingness to learn about and engage with media and consider broader definitions of texts. Engaging in rhetorically and pedagogically grounded digital writing and multimodality expands our understanding of "composing" beyond alphabetic text on a physical page. As a Writing Program Administrator (WPA), when I see that a program or university has implemented a large-scale pedagogical innovation that is in line with field best practices, like ePs, I discern that faculty members are expected to evolve with the field and technological advances and with the support to do so. ePortfolio initiatives are not for the faint of heart; they take staff, education, professional development, resources, space, and open minds to work. Thus, the very existence of a successful eP initiative suggests to me that the university isn’t (or hasn’t yet been) scared off by the hard work and necessary investment of pedagogical innovation.
We have a big job to do: Who’s With Me?
Effective writing instruction provides students practice composing different genres for different purposes and audiences within different contexts4. It takes time, and it takes a village5. Thus, perhaps most compelling to me as a WPA is that the implementation of ePs beyond the composition classroom illustrates that (at least some of) our campus colleagues understand that the teaching of writing is important, cannot be contained to just one semester, and is not the responsibility of general education composition teachers alone. Taken further, particularly when students build upon their ePs throughout their academic career, the synthesis across the curriculum through the vehicle of a central artifact enables us to think and communicate about how our pedagogical efforts can coordinate with one another to provide students the best education possible.
Program websites, search committee members, and upper administration may tell us that writing is revered, but the implementation and support of eP pedagogies shows us. This isn’t to say that ODU’s gen. ed. composition and literature program and the campus, at large, do not have room to improve because we do, but the integration of ePs across our gen. ed. courses and the encouragement to build on them throughout students’ academic careers in their other courses shows me that the writing program and campus are committed to field best practices and our students. And, when I was moving my family across the country to start over, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one ready to make big moves6,7.
1. In their edited collection, Ecologies of Writing Programs: Program Profiles in Context, Mary Jo Reiff, Anis Bawarshi, Michelle Ballif, and Christian Weisser discuss the complexity of writing programs and offer an ecological approach to understanding their complexities.
2. The benefits of ePortfolios are outlined in a more general way in the Conference on College Composition and Communication "Position Statement on Principles and Practices in Electronic Portfolios."
3. For more information about ePs as artifacts for assessment and more information about eP pedagogies, in general, check out J. Elizabeth Clark and Brett Eynon's "E-portfolios at 2.0—Surveying the Field."
4. For more information about genres and how they inform the teaching of writing, check out Anis S. Bawarshi’s Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy.
5. For information about the origins of this proverb, check out this interesting article, “It Takes A Village To Determine The Origins Of An African Proverb” written by Joel Goldberg for NPR.
6. To learn more about the programs that support student and faculty writers and the teaching of writing and composing at ODU, visit our websites: Writing at ODU; The Center for High Impact Practices's ePortfolio Program; Quality Enhancement Plan: Improving Disciplinary Writing; The Writing Center.
7. Big shoutouts go to the Director of ePortfolios and Digitial Initiatives at ODU, Megan Mize, and the Director of the Writing Center, Meg Boeshart, for the brainstorming sessions that ultimately led to this piece.