2019-20 Award

Ruth Ann Marotta

2019-20 Aportfolio Faculty Award Winner

Department: Rhetoric and Composition

A Creative Look at Using Aportfolios to Build Rhetorical Awareness


Leading with creativity is a good place to start with teaching. When we begin a new semester with a simple, creative product upon which students can stamp their own personalities, digital designs, and hopes for the future, the fragile semester-beginning can begin with student affirmation and success. The Aportfolio is a digital portfolio that can be used to showcase our students’ best work, and it provides an opportunity for students to visualize their futures and construct a deepening sense of rhetorical awareness around their complex, multifaceted lives. It is also a tool they can use to be more competitive on the job market.

Students are creative beings. With the constancy of the sun, their lives are the fruit of daily choices about the clothes they wear, the make-up they apply, the images they share on social media, the music they jam to, the food they eat, the ways they communicate, and how they handle their nuanced relationship with classroom experiences. Education can be static, based upon a transactional, give-and-take relationship between students and teachers, or it can be transformational, based upon an evolution of self that comes from applying principles learned or experienced in class to change lives. Aportfolios can be used as tools for transformational education. They not only display who students are at present, with current writing skills and carefully Marotta 2 chosen images and designs, but they can also work as attractive, forward-focused, rhetorical frames that help students display the personas, abilities, and choices they imagine having in the future. They can also function as visual, conversation-starters for potential employers.

Rhetorical Awareness, Digital Design, and When to Begin Constructing the Portfolio

The Aportfolio showcases written work, but it also showcases abilities in digital design. Colorful backgrounds, page and font types and colors, positioning of texts and photos, and students’ own written invitation into their lives and goals create a compelling mix of rhetorical layering. For example, students may share professional pictures such as graduation photos or headshots, or they may share pictures that display their ability to do the type of work they have chosen to study: examining nature, teaching children, or serving others with bright, smiling faces that engage viewers. With each aesthetic and rhetorical choice, students build upon the growing understanding of what they want to achieve in the small scope of their digital portfolio and the larger scope of their professional lives.

Students can start imagining the potential of their Aportfolios by looking at Aportfolio Scholars’ work and thinking about what makes the scholars’ writing and design choices attractive and informative: in essence, award-winning. Though scholars are typically graduating seniors and their portfolios may have been built over the course of several semesters, the thoroughness of the presentation, including multiple class experiences, internships, travel photos, writing samples, and other work gives younger students fresh ideas about how they can present images and samples of their work Marotta 3 digitally. Once students envision how their portfolios can look, they start thinking about micro and macro goals for the use of the Aportfolio in their course. Each course will require different visual presentations and sample projects. In writing courses, for example, writing samples are essential; however, in conceptual, artistic, mathematical, or science courses, illustrations, digital designs, photographs, and emphases on lines, shape, color, and detail may make student-understanding of algorithms, principles, and equations clear and visible, and even teachable moments for teachers, other students, and potential employers.

Portfolio goals set by teachers can hover around immediate class projects to how these projects will be presented to the public, extending the learning experience from the classroom to circles outside the university. Rubrics, other successful portfolios (student and professional), and student-generated goals can be used to orient students around portfolio goals. In this digital-media and social-platform age, it’s easy for students to conceptualize the marketing of their abilities. The more attractive and understandable these professional qualities are, whether soft or hard academic and social skills, the more likely they are to draw the attention of other students, graduate schools, and job opportunities. Rubrics can be simple or complex, depending on the goals of the teacher or student.

There are pros and cons for integrating portfolio use at the beginning, middle, or end of the semester. For instance, students who create portfolios after they have completed certain assignments can develop portfolios that display these learning goals. In early writing classes, course goals are connected to understanding what academic Marotta 4 writing is, writing within students’ majors, research, persuasion, drafting, editing, and writing as a process, so beginning a portfolio after students have registered a sense of how these things work will construct it with a focus toward these end-goals. Yet, there are other advantages for students beginning the semester with a process-oriented approach or a creative, visual, outward-focusing presentation of themselves, as mentioned earlier. Interestingly, strong writing is reflective and internal. Portfolios can provide a balancing of the external and internal expressions of self. The rubric that I use for this first major assignment, due within the first two weeks of class, begins with the following rhetorical questions:


Thinking about the Aportfolio

Completion of this Introduction to the Aportfolio assignment will help you think about what type of visual impression you want to make on a professional audience, enabling you to practice a visual form of rhetorical awareness. It will also require you to examine some life goals. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before getting started on the design and content of your Aportfolio:

1. Of all the audiences with whom you could be engaging, how would you define the professional audience you would like to be a part of in your future career?

2. Who are they?

3. What type of employee do you think they would like to have work alongside them?

4. What type of visual impression might you try to make?

5. Can you be yourself, while maintaining an awareness of your future goals?

6. Consider your formal or informal language. Are there words you commonly use that do have a place here? Are there words you commonly use that do not have a place here?

7. Reflect upon a professional or nonprofessional tone and vocabulary.

8. Think about the use of space, colors, and photos that may appeal to you and your audience. Why might certain colors or photos be better than others?

9. What are some academic, professional, or life-goals you can verbalize right now? If you find that you haven’t thought this far down the road, now is the time to practice imagining what you would like to make happen.

10. Do you have any personal goals for this digital portfolio?

Co-Teaching with Aportfolio Staff, Scheduling, and Design

Aportfolio tutors can visit classes virtually, face-to-face, or provide premade tutorials. Templates can also be created for classes ahead of time, depending on teacher goals and projects. I typically reserve one full class for Aportfolio construction and design. Tutors can help students work through the most essential elements of sharing their portfolios with the instructor and class, to more sophisticated design elements such as color opacity, background texture, or repeated page designs.

At the end of each in-person or online class, students have created attractive, functional digital portfolios they can use for the rest of their academic career, a baseline formula and envisioning of what is possible for other presentations of abilities and the self. Digital portfolios can also showcase other work or life-experiences that relate to current or future goals. For example, new tabs can be created that display resumes, career goals, volunteer activities and photos, projects from other classes, and materials that increase students’ marketability and well-roundedness. All of the work from the current course can be placed under a separate tab if they want to continue using the portfolio for other classes or goals. They can also save only their best work from any class as a representation of their abilities.

In my beginning writing courses, the nuts and bolts of their first Aportfolio assignment are linked to point values connected to writing about majors, the draw of those majors to it, writing or scholarship goals for the semester, three-five year goals, and five-seven year goals. This is not just an exercise in creative visualization. This is an opportunity for them to imagine their best lives, what they truly want, and if they have not imagined their future in detail yet, this is one instance in their lives when they can, and write about it. In order for students to live their best lives, they must first imagine them and then begin building them:

Aportfolio Introduction

In a minimum of 250-500 words, please include the following introductory material within the first page or first tab of your Aportfolio:

1. What is your major, occupational interest, or set of activities that might lead to professional situations in the future? (x points)

2. What led you to consider studying or being involved with it? Use experiences, stories, realizations, or observations to help you answer this question (x points).

3. Where would you like your writing, knowledge, and scholarship in this area to be by the end of the semester? (x points)

4. Where do you see yourself in three-five years? (x points)

5. Where do you see yourself in five-seven years? (x points)

6. Include two photos of yourself. (x points)

7. Ensure that colors and overall design allow for readability and a sense professionalism. (x points)

8. Make sure that your portfolio is attractive and does not use colors that clash (x points)

9. Your Aportfolio is published and visible to me by the day and time that it is due (x points). See late policy rules on the General Syllabus.


Pedagogical Success

When students are present in class the day that Aportfolio tutors visit or virtual meetings/tutorials are held, over ninety percent of my students meet all rubric goals, make one hundred percent of the points available for this assignment, and do not show signs of anxiety around using the Aporfolio in the future. However, students who miss class instruction tend to require individualized instruction later. Tutorials on the Aportfolio webpage are helpful, especially the two that provide instruction on how to make portfolios viewable and published.


Students’ Work

I am often surprised by the beauty of students’ portfolios. Though freshman and sophomore students might not have the bulk of material that senior students have, they certainly have the same eye for design, color, writing, and photos that are as attractive as Aportfolio Scholar award-winners, more mature students, and even digital design and art students. With examples and clearly communicated goals, all students can display superb rhetorical awareness in their photo, design, color, and presentation of projects.

Classes in art, math, science, languages, communication education, technology, and any other subject can benefit from the digital design and rhetorical awareness principles that can be taught alongside construction of Aportfolios. Videos, interviews, podcasts, surveys and survey results can be embedded into portfolios, alongside photos, sketches, diagrams, formal and informal projects, and writing.

Digital portfolios can also also help promote diversity and inclusion by engaging students who want to highlight their cultures, identities, abilities, and find ways to link all parts of their lives with their academic and future selves. Further, the visual, spatial, writerly, and design rhetoric of portfolios can continue to help students extend their advanced social marketing and digital media faculties, connecting their classroom experiences to real-world transformations and fully-realized dreams and goals.