Yancey: “Postmodernism, Palimpsest, and Portfolios: Theoretical Issues in the Representation of Student Work”

29 Oct

Yancey begins her article by stating that “what we ask students to do is who we ask them to be” (20). She uses this statement as a way of thinking about the differences between print and electronic portfolios, which leads her to make the following three claims: 

1. The student represented in each type of portfolio is different because “these spaces that studens are invited to make their own offer fundamentally different intellectual and affective opportunities” (23).

2. Examining print and electronic portfolios helps us to see what kind of intellectual work each makes possible (23). 

3. Given these points, educators need to consider the following question when designing their courses: “which kind of portfolio, which kind of composition, and why?” (23). 

Yancey compares print portfolios to palimptexts, a term from literary critic Michael Davidson, which she defines as being a “verbal application of palimpsest” that invites us to read the text “in its own developmental context” (21-22). Electronic portfolios, on the other hand, are more palimpsests, which is a multiply layered text. These differences are important because arrangement and delivery become a more integral part of the process of designing an electronic portfolio. 

Yancey identifies three types of electronic portfolios: an online assessment system that requires students to use templates, (25-26) “print-uploaded” (print portfolio made digital) (26), and “web sensible” (27). While print portfolios (and print-uploaded electronic portfolios) are linear and more singular, digital portfolios are “located in multiple and multiple kinds of relationships.” Digital portfolios have multiple entry points and “invite other narratives” and “arrangements of other selves.” Unlike print portfolios, which are “published only once,” digital portfolios are more open-ended and located outside and between composing sites. Yancey concludes her discussion by asking what the effects of digital portfolios mean for the field of composition, for teaching composing, and for teaching graduate seminars. 


Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Yancey: “Postmodernism, Palimpsest, and Portfolios: Theoretical Issues in the Representation of Student Work”

  1. brucebowlesjr

    October 29, 2013 at 3:35 pm


    I think your chapter is kind of an antithesis to the chapter I read by Whithaus. While I enjoyed the angle that Whithaus took, I felt as if his desire to use portfolios for large-scale assessment seemed at odds with the choices individual classroom teachers might make for teaching and learning as well as the choices that individual students might make. Here, Dr. Yancey seems to be encouraging critical reflection on the types of portfolios used; in Whithaus’ article, it seemed as if (I could be wrong though) the portfolios were being tailored to gather certain types of data. Seeing these two different angles to portfolios was quite intriguing.

  2. DB

    October 29, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Erin, I see a connection here to the article I read by D’Angelo and Maid. When you write, “These differences are important because arrangement and delivery become a more integral part of the process of designing an electronic portfolio,” that’s exactly their burden: students are sometimes more interested in delivery (and in delivery systems), than in invention and style. Perhaps having students critically reflect on technological tools in the portfolio would be a way to create a bridge between the rhetorical canons here.

  3. sarahm1320

    October 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    This article addresses the differences between print and electronic Portfolios from a different perspective than Zaldivar et al. For Zaldivar et al., the main differences between print and electronic portfolios are the ease of managing, sharing, data-gathering, and transporting. Basically ePortfolios are like print Portfolios Ultra. They don’t really consider how print or ePortfolios might offer different affordances/constraints for students in their composing processes / self-representation.

  4. jeffnaftzinger

    October 29, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    I think that this article fits well with the one that I read by Bonsignore, which is about Career ePortfolios. These portfolios ask students to create a professional identity using an ePortfolio template. Bonsignore’s article seems to show Yancey’s three claims in action.

    1) The students who make career ePortfolios are different from each other, because they’re applying for different jobs, or they’re creating different professional identities. Even though they’re working at the same assignment they’re making “fundamentally different intellectual and affective opportunities” based on what they’re trying to do with that portfolio.

    2) I think this claim is less applicable to the argument that Bonsignore makes, but I think it can still fit. The career ePortfolio is solely an electronic, online portfolio. But in looking at WHY (caps for emphasis) that’s the case, we can see what type of intellectual work makes it possible. The ePortfolio needs to be dynamic to show the changing capabilities and/or interests of the student who’s making it. If it was a static, print portfolio, the student would have to add to it, update it, or scrap it every time their interests and/or skills changed. Instead, it takes a few clicks and the student is ready to send the ePortfolio somewhere else.

    3) The third claim, that instructors must consider “which kind of portfolio, which kind of composition, and why? while designing their courses, is really interesting in the context of Bonsignore’s article. City Tech is focusing on a single type of portfolio (ePortfolio), that houses a few different compositions, for a specific purpose (to get a job). In order to facilitate this the courses and assignments are being restructured to work around the career ePortfolio. Similarly, instructors are being re/trained to learn how to incorporate these portfolios into their courses, and also how to assess them.


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