BLOG POST: E-Portfolios: Modern Day Hagiographies – James Robson

James ProfileI filled in my e-portfolio yesterday, making a record of my learning progress over the last term.  Apart from the less than enjoyable aspect of having to rewrite everything when I discovered that the upload function not only uploads, but also deletes webform content, it was generally a very useful exercise.  Filling in the forms gave me a good opportunity to reflect on my progress.

However, once the reflection had been completed, the forms filled in, and the document saved, I began to think what the document itself actually represented.  It occurred to me that despite the very useful and honest reflection, what I had actually produced was not a neutral document.  It was tailored to the people I was expecting to read it.  The language and thought patterns I had used were dictated by the form and format, the implicit expectations associated with the medium and language contained in the guidance documents.  In short, I had entered into a highly structured context, operated within that structure and produced something that was highly stylized.

Furthermore, despite the useful reflection, the structure and language of achievement embedded in the form meant that I had created an idealized representation of myself: a self with a rigid focus, clear achievements, clear goals, and clear paths to further achievement; as opposed to the much more mundane identity that seems to regularly appear, where focus is questioned, achievements are lucky and goals are aspirational.

Of course no document is neutral and almost all documents are likely to contain a particularly representation of the self.  For example, right how, by using language of structure and the self, and hinting at power relations between author and reader, I am entering into a particular discourse which itself structures my thought and expression.  In doing so I have (although more consciously in this case) adopted a particular identity position.  However, while here I have decided to enter into this discourse myself, it is arguable that there is little room for agency in the case of e-portfolios.  Here the identity position one can adopt is determined by the structure embedded in the format of the forms and the language surrounding it.

Perhaps the purpose of e-portfolios, then, is to get the student to adopt an ideal student identity position.  Then through a process of normalization, the student adopts this position in other areas of their work.  However, I suspect this in itself is an idealized view of identity construction.   Instead I wonder if the e-portfolio is really a kind of modern day secular hagiography.  The structures surrounding it inevitably lead to a stylized and idealized biography of studenthood, which serves to propagate and perpetuate institutional concepts of the ideal learner and the ideal student: a retrospective biographical tool, used to promote a particular future.

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