Decolonization, ePortfolios, and Students of Color

Though I have had some reservations about ePortfolios, I am more turned off by the ways ePorts get used rather than with the actual ePortfolio technologies available.  These platforms are already pre-packaged and pre-formatted so I am deeply disturbed when faculty create a master template where students (or staff) just input data.  It amazes me that ePortfolios can become just another 5-paragraph formula so quickly.   Here is what I mean by a template:

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The box wrapped in a gray line is called the top navigation bar of an ePortfolio.  You click on a word/item and then you get a series of corresponding ePages that have another series of left navigation options.  What happens in many of the classrooms that I see is that teachers set the topics of the navigation bar to match the requirements of the department, state standards, etc.  Students just load in their work, almost like sifting recyclables into the correct bin.  While that kind of automated sifting is an important task for one’s daily household chores, it most certainly does not qualify as digital literacy or even LITERACY.  For me, it is simply tragic that this sifting passes mustard for writing classrooms.

This sifting into digital templates is yet another kind of standardization and corporate cloning.  That kind of ePortfolio robs students of even minimal levels of digital design in already pre-formatted platforms.  The technology actually allows you to remove the line around the box, thicken it, shadow-box it, color it, round its ages, make buttons, add a background color, etc.  You can do the same with the left navigation (click here for my own ePort as a sample).  You can have multiple backgrounds in all of these spaces. The examples are so countless that you need an actual design plan.  In fact, most websites start with a sketch, a practice that stirs significant conflict since far too many teachers do not see sketching as composing and writing.  I am always so wonderfully surprised when I hear web designers talk about their design choices in the same way that an interior designer does.  It makes sense since we are, in essence, designing a space.  So if students are not allowed to think about any of these design elements for themselves, then can we really call their work an ePortfolio? I remain stunned that writing teachers do not think design has any part of literacy in the 21st century.  While that fact alone is not shocking, such teaching practices are especially violent for students of color.

The images of smiling, happy students of color are masterfully manipulated in college marketing for every brochure, poster, and college webpage— images that, once again, are not controlled by people of color. The overall saturation of images in a multimedia era has not meant anything positive for people of color.  When you do not control the resources, you certainly do not control how your image is portrayed.  I am talking about decolonization here: what might it mean for people of color to (re)imagine their image inside of  the violence of a visual/media culture that denies them this kind of self-determination?   Self-determined visual cultures will be vital for digital literacies in the 21st century, all the more so given the stunning number of college teachers who use educational technologies to strip students of their own cultural-visual rhetorics.

Giving students control of their own visual image has meant that I have had to introduce a little CSS in my class. It’s not that difficult.  While many of my rather crotchety colleagues might seem to think that the sole focus of college writing in the 21st century is grammar in print texts, I know better than to trust such systems and teachers. I am disappointed by how many remain intent on denying my students the REALEST and most basic of human rights/literacy in the 21st century… self-determination.