Session F.09: Making Spaces for Student Voices with ePortfolios and Grading Contracts


Presenters: Margaret Frozena (Eastern Kentucky University) and James F. McClure (Eastern Kentucky University)

Chair/Speaker: Dominic Ashby (Eastern Kentucky University)

This panel featured three speakers’ experiences in designing and delivering composition courses using grading contracts and ePortfolios. It did so from three different perspectives: a tenure-track professor, an instructor, and a graduate student serving as a Course Embedded Consultant (CEC). In working with the conference theme, this panel from EKU explored how the combination of contracts and ePortfolios supported, enabled, and encouraged students’ performances of writing, identities as writers, and views of their projects having trajectories well beyond the course itself. The panel explored intersections of theory, practice, and experience, highlighting their own experiences and students’ work in a 2nd-semester research-focused composition class.

Dominic Ashby, Theoretical Matters

Dominic Ashby opened the panel with an exploration of the theory and curricular structure supporting the use of ePortfolios and grading contracts. He argued that this combination created a sense of urgency for students because they were revising for a real audience with real goals and had the safety to fail, learn, and try again. He outlined how their choices built from the work of Peter Elbow, Ira Shore, and Asao Inoue and illustrated the impacts of their context. He stressed the creation of documentation and rationales for instructors and students. He then illustrated how ongoing self-assessment through conferences and ongoing conversations helped students to push themselves further with their work, seeking opportunities for creativity and growth. They found that this structure has helped students’ reported agency with the class due to the transparency of assessment through the explicit connection of grades to labor. He also explored how using ePortfolios and the grading contracts allowed for better extending assignments across the semester, so students were able to explore how they changed over time, were used, and how they performed in different spaces for different audiences.

Maggie Frozena, Examples and Day-to-Day Practical Matters

Maggie Frozena then offered a reflection on the practice of implementing and working with the intersection of ePortfolios and grading contracts. She first highlighted the course blog, UnhingedGates – Unlearning the practice of gatekeeping, that serves as a supportive space for the course and houses course materials. She narrated how they turned towards this course design and delivery after running into student confusion and resistance to an 8-10 page research paper assignment. Given the student population at EKU, students weren’t seeing how the assignment was relevant or related to their own experiences. She explored how in shifting to an ePortfolio they took the best aspects of the research paper and allowed students to speak from their own point of view and to see themselves as an active and valuable part of the academic community even if they don’t sound like professors. She explored how the shift has led to students taking ownership of “their project,” and being able to see themselves as makers, researchers, and writers. The grading contracts provided a level of comfort for students to be able to try new things, reduced apprehension of failure, and allowed them to present the ePortfolio as a place that celebrated their individual successes. It also allowed for students to better relate to one another as peers, to get invested in each other’s projects, to experience the value of collaboration, and to get excited about each other and each other’s projects. She then highlighted 3 former and current students ePortfolios to illustrate these experiences.

James F. McClure, The Experiences of a Course Embedded Consultant

James McClure then provided his experiences as a course embedded consultant working with a class of developmental writers in an English 102 class. He explained his role as a CEC involved working exclusively with 1 class throughout a semester, meeting with each student one-on-one at least 8 times, and offering students support outside of the temporal and spatial bounds of the classroom. He highlighted how many students at this institution are non-traditional and marginalized, and this course set-up allowed for them to negotiate, following bell hooks, the power structures of the class as they dismantled the traditional and oppressive power structure of writing as they determined what it meant for them. As a CEC he saw how the contracts helped students to set their own criteria for writing and to work with, instead of against, the stresses of the class to meet these self-defined goals. The combination of contracts and ePortfolios helped to demystify the process for many student as they learned to negotiate their own standards of learning with the experiences of writing with and for their class peers and a larger audience through the ePortfolios. This allowed for student risk-taking that otherwise wouldn’t be possible in more traditional grading structures, allowing them the space to explore what they are actually interested in with the room to be a self-determined student, without the pressures of their work being graded by some outside standard.

Other Highlights

To conclude the panel and transition into Q&A, the panelists highlighted some of the ways in which the student population and institutional requirements influenced their pedagogical choices. They also discussed using WordPress as a platform and their ongoing conversations with students. They all highlighted the ways in which the ePortfolios and the contracts offer students a way into conversations that gives them a sense of belonging to the EKU and academic communities. They stressed the importance of ongoing dialogue, honesty with students about struggles, and allowing students to take control and use their own expertise to teach and support each other.


The panel itself offered an optimism for this approach, with a lot of excitement for the possibilities within students exploration and products. The combination of ePortfolios and grading contracts was presented as a valuable pedagogical choice for first-year writing. At times, the presentation relied heavily on the localized context, and there would have been a benefit more concrete takeaways for attendees own current or future pedagogies. For example, the CEC was a unique angle in the intersection and making connections to other types of consulting and tutoring spaces could have illuminated how to support the pedagogy in different contexts. The combination of theory, practice, and experience allowed for thinking deeply about the context at EKU while imagining possibilities for other contexts, but some additional thoughts on transfer to new contexts would have been a welcome addition. A real strength of the presentation was how clearly students own their classroom performances and how the contracts and ePortfolios allowed students to experience their agency through laboring and celebrating the products of that labor.

About Author

Michael Healy

Michael is a PhD candidate at Florida State University where he is researching techne, creativity, and textx-technologies.

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