Oswal and Durst et al

29 Oct

Sushil K. Oswal’s “Accessible ePortfolios For Visually Impaired Users: Interfaces, Designs, and Infrastructures”

In this article, Oswal discusses the problems of ePortfolio pedagogy and disabilities (specifically visual impairment and blindness). Here, he also raises questions about the legal and ethical responsibilities of universities in terms of fulfilling the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Oswal claims that while ePortfolios tend to be arranged based on principles of visual rhetoric, there are steps that we can (and should) take to make them more accessible to students and teachers with various disabilities. 
I think that fundamental to Oswal’s argument is this quote from web accessibility scholar John Slatin: “Accessibility is fundamentally a rhetorical issue, a matter of fleshing out (literally) our conception of audience to include an awareness that there are people with disabilities in that audience and developing effective skills and strategies for addressing the entire audience” (138). 
Oswal discusses his own research using screen readers with visually impaired students and asserts that there are simple design choices one can make in designing ePortfolios that can help to address the problems of accessibility. Oswal argues that these problems are solvable and they fall under four categories: “the user getting lost in information organization, confusing navigation menus, invisible information, and not providing enough control to users” (144). While he doesn’t provide much in the way of recommendations (outside of manually testing ePortfolio platforms using a screen reader), Oswal does encourage teachers to think about issues of accessibility when designing any multimodal assignment. 
I had never really thought about multimodal composition in terms of disabilities… I’ve found myself so caught up in visual and aesthetic choices, that I can’t say I’ve done anything to ensure accessibility on my own portfolios outside of providing image tags. And, I certainly haven’t considered the pedagogical ramifications of assigning multimodal compositions to students with disabilities, for which Oswal barely begins to offer recommendations. 
Durst, Roemer, and Schultz’s “Portfolio Negotiations: Acts in Speech”
Here, Durst et al bring “the idea of talk, of discussion about students’ written work” (218) into the assessment of ePortfolios. They discuss pass/fail grading of portfolios in discussion groups to “make our actions, normally carried out in isolation, into language that is open to interrogation, not merely in terms of true or false, or right or wrong, as if the judgment reflected a description of the paper’s absolute value, but in terms of evaluations to be contested” (218). 
They detail discussions among teachers during grading discussion groups and come to the conclusion that what works with portfolios is that “differences in reading” have the ability to “produce different consequences” (228). From there, they discuss the messiness of setting up a program-wide portfolio system and the establishment of standards so that “the program is accountable to something and that the students in it have equitable treatment” (229). 
I have a hard time with this method of portfolio grading. I understand the need for inter-grader reliability (if that’s what you’d call it), but I feel like this group discussion method also discounts the agency of individual teachers. Especially when the question is pass or fail, rather than agreeing on a letter grade. 

Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “Oswal and Durst et al

  1. jasonecuster

    October 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    The Durst, Roemer, and Schultz portion of your readings for this week actually feels really familiar from my reading of Elbow & Belanoff. In particular, the idea of negotiating the grades of students on a collaborative level, and how those discussions function among teachers. Perhaps my favorite bit of the Elbow/Belanoff piece was on page 99 in AWS when they describe the kind of good-cop/bad-cop relationship that emerges for students working with portfolios in terms of their teacher’s class as well as an outside reader (which inevitably looks something like “I’d like to give you a break but my buddy is a mean son of a bitch” (99)… metaphorically, anyway). They add that “the only way to bring a bit of trustworthiness to grading is to get teachers negotiating together in a community to make some collaborative judgments” (100), which seems to match up nicely with Durst, Roemer, and Schultz as well, and perhaps might inform their approach in some way? Or vice versa? Still, both articles seems to have a solid focus on having teachers negotiate what writing and grades should be at a programmatic level using collaboration. I definitely thought it was both odd and interesting to see Elbow and Belanoff willing to explain the relationships that emerge from this approach as good-cop/bad-cop, and while I think the idea of negotiating whether a portfolio meets a certain standard is a good (or at the very least interesting idea), the adversarial relationships folks like E&B mention put me off a bit. I wonder how much of that emerges from your reading of Durst, Roemer, and Schultz as well.

  2. E Workman

    October 29, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    I understand and agree with your concerns about this method of portfolio assessment, though I think that Hamp-Lyons and Condon’s piece speaks to some of the benefits of this type of system. They seem to see this type of assessment as a way of bringing faculty together to discuss values, which in turn works to provide a certain amount of standardization across the curriculum. While they caution that portfolio assessment doesn’t necessarily mean mean that pedagogical and curricular values are taken into account–that is, the assessment could differ wildly from what happens in each classroom–they do seem to think that faculty interaction makes this possible. Their interviews with faculty at WSU also indicate that readers do want “criteria and standards against which to measure portfolios” (326), though they seem to think that external criteria are not necessary if “the scoring criteria are implicit in the whole system of writing instruction that leads up to the completion of the portfolio” (326). Perhaps in this way, the agency of individual instructors is not discounted because what they teach in their classrooms is ultimately what ends up being assessed (if the process works well).


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