Sustainable Practices

As Barbara Cambridge (2001) argued, without reflection the portfolio is simply a "scrapbook of materials [that] is only an accumulation of information" from which no meaning, no knowledge, can be made (p. 4). The webtext we have produced and you are reading now functions critically and practically as a portfolio. We have produced a collection of materials and have connected those materials with reflection and some critical concepts we find useful and important. We hope for qualitative feedback that will then become part of our own metacognitive work on the relation of infrastructure and pedagogy here at UGA.

The discussion and reflection fostered by programs like FYC and WCP, as well as other campus programs that deal explicity with student writing skills and writing assessment, like the WIP, CURO, and the faculty Writing Fellows program, are, therefore, critical to the emergence of a knowledge of writing practices and writing instruction that will more effectively support a sustainable writing culture at UGA. As Jonathan Monroe (2003) noted in reflecting on the success of the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines at Cornell University (one of the oldest and most esteemed WAC/WID programs), one of the key components for keeping faculty on board with the program is fostering "an understanding of the teaching of writing as a nexus of interaction" with dialogue and reflection taking place across, as well as within, disciplinary boundaries (p. 258). No doubt we need some distance from our own work and more time for critical reflection. As this webtext draws to a close, we have a new opportunity to consider our strengths and weaknesses in a new light. The best reflection will question the assumptions with which we began the process; we need to be wary of comfortable success as we look for progress in our writing programs.

In the WCP, students may take the one-hour eportfolio workshop up to three times for credit. In this class, they put together their capstone portfolio for the program, and taking the course multiple times gives them more than one opportunity to revisit past works and, perhaps more importantly, to think and write reflectively about what the pieces in the portfolio and the portfolio as a whole show about the development of their skills over time. It is this kind of recursivity that we hope forms the foundation of our writing infrastructure through the connection of pedagogical principles with technology. As with writing, the best scholarship is also recursive and reiterative, and this webtext is in many ways our first attempt at crafting a portfolio that honestly investigates the relation of infrastructure and pedagogy.

Our work on this webtext with its multimedia components has, for example, inspired us to further consider our own multimodal pedagogical praxis, including the technological factors involved in the production and publication of multimedia texts, which should then inform the way we move forward in creating spaces that will support and nurture such compositional practices. The only way that can happen, however, is if we also continue to make space for critical dialogue and reflection. Ultimately, the portfolio approach that serves as the structural support for our writing programs allows for assessment that looks at a bigger picture, a wider perspective on the development of writing skills over time and the way local practices—disciplinary and departmental conventions and constraints, for example—inform that development, helping us see the multiple local practices within the larger space of the university. These many and varied practices cannot simply be bulldozed over, but must be considered as part of the larger ecology of our diverse ecosystem.

Even for WCP students who take the eportfolio workshop only once, usually in their last semester before graduation, the metacognitive benefits that arise from revising old papers and writing a critical reflective introduction that situates the revised works in the portfolio are not to be underestimated. Reflection and a shared processual approach to learning writing skills provide the soft infrastructure that may allow for the growth of a strong writing ecosystem, but only if we continue to attend to that infrastructure, supporting and nurturing it with steady sustenance and thoughtful interventions. We may want to consider building a portfolio that keeps track of the writing initiatives, established and fledgling, that already exist in order to better assess and reflect on the progress we have made and identify areas with untapped potential. Susan Kahn (2001) claimed that the process of creating an institutional portfolio can help make the work of campus projects and initiatives visible, enabling faculty and administrators to see both achievements and "unmet needs and areas for improvement" (p. 141). Certainly this is what students can see when they put together portfolios in <emma>: successes and failures and, in the gaps between, the spaces where bridges and connections can be built, the new infrastructures created from critical reflection.

Return to "Introduction"

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In the video, Ron demonstrates the process of compiling a portfolio in <emma> as he assembles the texts he's created in the process of working on this article.

View a transcript for this video.