Selami Aydin, of Balikesir University, Turkey, Zina Romova, of Unitec, Auckland, New Zealand, and Martin Andrew, Victoria University, New Zealand teach English as a second-language at their respective universities and have written on portfolio use in second-language writing classes. Aydin’s focus in both of her articles selected for this week is on students’ attitudes and reactions to portfolios, balanced against their use as a means of assessment. Of interest is that these authors are writing on students outside of the U.S., providing an opportunity to compare pedagogical practices in a broader setting than just U.S. institutions.
Aydin points out that while portfolio use has been studied and determined that they “make considerable contributions to foreign language writing,” that rarely have students’ perceptions been studied or addressed, despite that “use of portfolios creates an interactive assessment process that involves both teachers and students and forges a partnership in the learning process” (195). Asking 39 EFL first-year teaching students in the English Language Teaching Department (ELT) at Balikesir University, Turkey, she discovered that while the portfolio ”contributes considerably to vocabulary and grammar knowledge, reading, research, and writing skills” and that students recognize this, they also “complain that portfolio keeping is boring, tiring, and takes too much time.” Students also felt that checklists, as a part of portfolio-keeping were confusing, and that it was “difficult to study with a peer,” but they did not “experience anxiety” as part of the process (198-200). Concluding that while beneficial, there is also room for improvement in informing teachers “about motivational issues and autonomous learning” as a method to solve some of the problems; she further expanded her examination in her second article, by studying Facebook portfolios, noting, “in general, existing research reveals primarily positive effects of Facebook on educational activities, and research on portfolio keeping in EFL writing shows both benefits and problem areas” (60).
How can the two areas of portfolios and social media be combined for better student engagement while maintaining the benefits of portfolios’ learning elements? By using e-portfolios within Facebook, she attempted to see if this could alleviate problems of understanding of directions, or of students being bored, since “Facebook is a social network that, for many, is commonly used in daily life” and offers a “fresh environment for portfolio keeping in the writing process” (60). Citing numerous studies, she offers that there is value in using Facebook as a learning tool “about different cultures and languages” as well as for improving reading and writing in foreign languages. What she sees as lacking in the research to date is anything related to Facebook as a “portfolio tool” (61).
Students responding to this study felt “comfortable and excited with the idea of using Facebook as a tool for writing in English” and thought it had “considerable effect on the way they write in English” (67). They again demonstrated improvements in language, writing and reading. But, as in her earlier study, they still felt the portfolios were “boring, time-consuming and tiring” and that feedback was difficult to give, as well as revising and drafting (68). Students with computers responded with more satisfaction than student without computers, while overall those who were more familiar with Facebook faced increased fear of “negative evaluation from their peers” (70).
Interesting in this study, was that Aydin found that her male students felt “more comfortable with F-Portfolios” while female students exhibited more “fear of negative evaluations” (70). That in itself would be worthy of further exploration, as students perhaps recognized the breadth of social media’s visibility and gendered reactions to feedback in a web space vs. a written portfolio seen by only their class. While F-Portfolios were useful in writing instruction for improving vocabulary, reading, and writing skills, Aydin recognizes that this is still not a “tool that presents solutions to all problems encountered during the portfolio keeping process” (71).
While Romova and Andrew’s article, addresses basically the same pedagogical impact of portfolios, they also identify how students’ identities are “negotiated in text formation,” citing additional scholarship on language use within “situated context and community” and “notions of imagined community”– all of which leads to students “affective roles of investment and belongingness in generating writing characteristic[s] of discourse communities” [my emphases] (114). They discuss students’ reactions to writing, research and citing conventions in Western academic writing, seeing vast differences in how students’ first-language knowledge is often at odds with academic English, noting that “academic literacy factors can be enhanced by increasing learner awareness of cross-cultural contrasts” (117).
As Romova and Andrew provide insight into students’ reflective practices, they observe that the portfolios provide “a retrospectively and holistically reflective function” as a way students came to know themselves (119). I selected this article because of Romova and Andrew’s attention to student identity in the process of portfolio creation and feedback as I am interested in exploring how the students’ themselves are an object of study within second-language writing. In my interview with Dr. Kevin DePew, he discussed the importance of seeing the student as a recognized object of study and I plan to further research how students’ identities are established and exhibited through their writing and in response to feedback. I will expand on students’ identity and feedback via portfolios and other means as objects of study within second-language writing studies in Paper #3.
Aydin, Selami. “EFL Writers’ Attitudes and Perceptions toward F-Portfolio Use.” TechTrends 28.2 (2014): 59-77.
—. “EFL Writers’ Perceptions of Portfolio Keeping.” Assessing Writing 15.3 (2010): 194-203.
Romova, Zina, and Martin Andrew. “Teaching and Assessing Academic Writing via the Portfolio: Benefits for Learners of English as an Additional Language.” Assessing Writing 16.2 (2011): 111-22.
 Just to name a few, Aydin (2012); Boon & Sinclair (2009); Bowers-Campbell (2008); Mills (2011); West, Lewis & Currie (2009); DePew (2011) and Dippold (2009).