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