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The Missing Scaffold; the Broken Discourse

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013

December 5th, 2011

The Missing Scaffold; the Broken Discourse

During the many years that I taught first-year writing courses – composition 101 – I met a new group of students each semester in each of my classes. The only introduction I had to these students was a list of their names. The big challenge for me was to discover their level of capabilities that, before information technology, was the main factor in deciding how I taught the course.

If most of the students were strong writers, I would challenge them with difficult concepts and issues to write about. They could draft grammatical and readable text but could they do that if they wrote about complex and challenging topics?

If, on the other hand, most of the students had basic fluency problems, having difficulty expressing even simple ideas, we would focus much more on pre-writing activities such as brainstorming and one-minute papers and peer-review – all techniques designed to frame "writing” in their minds as communication and not performance. These exercises were also designed to de-mystify writing and build their confidence as writers.

Because of needing to discover more about my new students, we often spent two weeks getting to know each other and to settle into an appropriate learning design.

If, however, I could have looked at my new students’ prior work before class even started, we would not have to waste two weeks. If I had the scaffold of eportfolio evidence, I could have done a better job of teaching.

Our conversations about eportfolios and how they can support more varied and new kinds of learning designs have become more and more sophisticated. But, as the most basic level, the essential continuity of learning is kept intact with eportfoliios. Each new course is informed by evidence from previous courses. The discourse between learners and teachers is kept intact.

Most college courses still miss the scaffold that eportfolios can provide. Most college courses suffer from a learning discourse that is broken because it is discontinuous. We educators have become aware of how information technologies can distribute learning geographically and how eportfolios can capture evidence of these distributed learning experiences anywhere in the world, but we are perhaps a bit less aware of how eportfolios can help support a coherent learning conversation over time.

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