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Using ePortfolios to Enhance…..Part 1

My Story…

There have been many books, articles, and blog posts written about the use of ePortfolios in schools. Each time I read one, I am taken back to my experiences throughout my career in education.

My first introduction to using portfolios and not “work folders” was in the early 1990s. As elementary teachers we were excited to learn that we could have pizza boxes donated to our classroom as a method for gathering student artifacts throughout each quarter. We would then pick the last week of the quarter to have our students build a “memory book” of learning. Each page would have a learning goal, a piece of student work representing that goal, and a statement of reflection by the student.

Although I believed that having the students reflect on their learning was powerful,  I did not believe I had learned enough to be an effective adviser of learning. So,  in 1996, II volunteered to become a member an innovative task force, I was one of 5 elementary and special education teachers who agreed to allow the University of Kansas to implement digital portfolio processes into our classrooms. Our task was to identify if using digital portfolios showed a correlation between objectives taught and student learning. Our end product was a digital collection of student work that could be used during conferencing. These records of practice allowed the student to speak to how he or she believed the content objectives were met.

My third encounter with digital portfolio creation was in 2002- 2003. I was selected, by my school district, to participate in the the National Board of Professional Teachers certification process. This was a year long process that changed my teaching forever! I believe this change had to do with the requirement of creating a portfolio of work that was proof that my teaching was the cause of student learning. I was required to collect three types of artifacts: (a) video capture of student learning (b) written student work,  and (c) an artifact that was physically constructed by the student. Then, I created written documentation for each artifact as evidence of my mastery of national board standards.During this process I learned the power of tying intentional goal setting, analysis of artifacts, and reflection was a key determinant in my every day practice as an educator.

My fourth encounter was two years ago. I  created a portfolio of my scholarly and community work through Learning Management System (LMS). used by our university.  At this point in my career, I had collected many digital artifacts created in a variety of digital platforms including Animoto, Prezi, and iMovie. My task was to create a portfolio for rank promotion that would provide proof of my competencies as an associate professor within the School of Education. Although I accomplished this task, I felt my ePortfolio was more of a digital repository than a reflective journey through my accomplishments. I knew I needed to learn more.

Conference Learning!

So when I had the opportunity to attend sessions at the 2015 AAC&U National conference in D.C. this year, I was excited to see an entire conference strand on using ePortfolios to enhance liberal learning in universities and colleges. The presentation that most moved me was presented by Wooster College.The presenters included:administration ( Dean for Curriculum and Academic Engagement and the Associate Dean for Academic Advising), faculty and chair of the education department, and a junior who was seeking a degree from the department of Communication Science and Disorders.

This session was on the last day of the conference near lunch time, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew I wanted to increase ways to use ePortfolios at our university and this session spoke volumes to me.

They began by posting their mission statement:

…in a community of independent minds, working together to prepare students to become leaders of  character and influence in an interdependent global community…Wooster graduates are creative and independent thinkers with exceptional abilities to ask important questions, research complex issues, solve problems, and communicate new knowledge and insight.

What I found interesting about the presentation and the college, was not the technical content of using ePortfolios per se but the enthusiasm and buy-in of speakers toward using this process.. Each person breathed the above missions statement and believed that ePortfolios was a road-map to achieving this mission.

Students began their freshman learning experience at Wooster College by using an advising ePortfolio to help align academic and social goals with their desired degree. Advising sessions were not simply identification of course offerings and selection but the capturing of conversations to support the architecture of a college learning experience. These advising ePortfolios required the students to.identify personal and learning needs to meet their stated goals.Here are a few tips I picked up:

The best advising portfolios promote discussion and questioning, are used for intentional planning, and lead to informed decisions and use of resources.

I had to ask myself if my advisees were taught from the beginning to build their learning and social experience at our university, or did I simply share the “required classes” within the time structure that was offered? After a loit of thought, I believe I attempted to accomplish the use of discussion and questioning during advising, but what I did not have was an electronic record, created by the student, to show their thinking during our sessions. What I had was a bank of notes I took to show I covered the needed content.

AHA!  As a faculty member, my job during advising should help the student create a draft of his or her story of learning, make intentional edits along the way, and support eh student in creating his or her own voice as a learner at our university.

Thank you Wooster!.

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