I previously worked with Dr. Lisa McNair on her NSF CAREER grant examining ePortfolios and graduate student development. This has resulted in multiple conference opportunities and a journal publication listing for my CV. It has also been part of the inspiration for my preliminary exam format – this ePortfolio is a metanarrative defending my status as a graduate student who is prepared to perform independent research by incorporating my own work on ePortfolios.
The motivation for doing something is as important as the action itself. When I read a book, it might be because I want to enjoy it, or to learn something new. When I put something online in this ePortfolio, I do that for a specific purpose as well.
Firstly, I think that creating an ePortfolio is important in terms of crafting my online identity (see more explanation on my page regarding Digital Homes). I prefer this proactive approach that allows me to mold the image that others find when they search for “Martina Svyantek.” This includes reflections on my experiences navigating through academia, as well as artifacts such as nametags and conference proceedings that serve as the evidence of these experiences.
Second, while written papers offer the traditional, classic standard for an assessment, I think that there are a lot of potential benefits to writing the narrative of how I have gained my experience and skills. If the purpose of the prelim is to ascertain that I am ready to perform independent doctoral research, then examining my experiences performing research, as well as all of the other experiences that have been a part of my doctoral training, makes sense.
Within my ePortfolio work, I have analyzed previously collected survey data to observe the potential effects that the process of creating an ePortfolio has on graduate students in engineering fields. This work was published by the International Journal of ePortfolio during the fall of 2015. The experience of coming into a research project and analyzing previously collected data; collaborating on the drafting and editing a paper; and waiting through the review and revision cycles gave me a much greater appreciation of the efforts involved with the academic publishing process.
Related to both the grant work and my experiences with ePortfolios, I have also presented this work to colleagues at conferences and within graduate school. I’ve also been examining ePortfolios from a Disability perspective with respect to digital performances and accessibility.
While research exists exploring how the use of ePortfolios as an assessment method, or as tools of professional development, there has been less focus on the performance aspect of ePortfolios themselves. One way that performance has been examined is by Kathleen Ramirez in her 2011 IJeP article, “ePerformance: Crafting, Rehearsing, and Presenting the ePortfolio Persona”. By looking at them as a theater performance, Ramirez explored the relationship between ePortfolios, their creators, and their audience, explicitly naming the ePortfolio “as an elastic, ultra-accessible theatrical arena in which students may create, rehearse, and present themselves” (2011, p. 7).
It is this phrase, and the use of the term “ultra-accessible” that helped to spark the ideas leading to my co-mingling of ePortfolio and Disability. What does it mean to be “ultra-accessible” – both in the world of ePortfolios and the world we navigate in our daily lives?
In addition to looking at ePortfolios as performances, I have been developing a new understanding of those digital performances (including my own) through the use of terminology used in the field of disability studies. The term “accessible” is a loaded one, especially when you begin to examine in in the light of disability studies.
I’ve run workshops related to this idea of ePortfolio performance at both AAEEBL conferences and at the 2016 Gender, Bodies, and Technology conference. This year, I have proposed a workshop* for the national AAEEBL conference examining the use of alt-text; this is the text associated with a visual that is supposed to convey the same information as the image. The abstract for this workshop is provided below:
ePortfolios offer different forms of spaces for self reflection while shaping a digital representation of identity. Identity performance and what individuals choose to curate within ePortfolios also reflective of audience. Who then do we include in our consideration of audience? Will it always be someone who accesses information in the same manner as the creators of an ePortfolio?
For example, have you ever considered incorporating universal design principles into your ePortfolio development? Have you heard discussions around online ADA requirements and/or accessibility, and don’t know what that really means? If so, this workshop is for you! We will be focusing on the potential to incorporate reflective practices throughout the ePortfolio, moving beyond familiar narrative into alt-text.
Alt-text development encourages the ePortfolio creator to question their own assumptions – do they want their audience to see the big picture, or to focus in on narrow details? By posing these questions, current reflective practices might expand to the benefit of the creators as well as their audience.
*codeveloped with Ashley Clayson, a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of English at the University of West Florida