Scaling Up Story: Picking Up the Pace with ePortfolios

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Summary

Pace University’s ePortfolio team focused on incorporating ePortfolios into the teaching and learning experience, though we have also tried to promote ePortfolios for assessment and career development. ePortfolios span through various core and major courses. One pleasant surprise is how may graduate programs have adopted ePortfolios in courses and overall program assessment. Contributing elements to our scaling up story include the team of student eterns and a commitment by the University to support the Mahara ePortfolio platform.  There is also a University cross-campus interdepartmental advisory board; a faculty development Teaching Circles initiative; and institutionally  supported use of ePortfolios for tenure and promotion.

In addition the University is engaged in multidisciplinary assessment pilots using ePortfolios to evaluate evidence of Core Curriculum learning outcomes. Another new effort is our outreach to individual departments, especially in the Arts and Sciences.

Our Scaling Up Story

Part I: Current Status

As of fall 2013, we are entering our 4th year of an institutional-wide ePortfolio project at Pace University.  We have about 2,000 ePortfolio users consisting primarily of students, but also a fair number of faculty and staff.  Our main focus has been on incorporating ePortfolios into teaching and learning, beginning briefly in Orientation and UNV 101 (Freshmen Seminar course) and spanning through core and major courses. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by how may graduate programs have adopted ePortfolios in courses and overall programs.  We have also partnered with our Deans for Students for Student development (leadership) work and our Career Services office for career development work.  Both of these efforts are in early stages but we hope to continue to build momentum in these areas.

Part II: Catalyst and Connectors

There are certain initiatives that we are undertaking as we scale up that speak to Randy Bass’s  formulation of ePortfolios as “a network of connections,” and as “a catalyst for change.”   Our approach has been multi-faceted from the beginning, since our vision has been to enable students, with their ePortfolios to develop an “educational passport,” as they move through their academic experience both inside and outside the classroom.  One of our major goals has been to have ePortfolios permeate our Pace culture, be seen as a way to show evidence of high impact practices, and curricular innovation.  Although most agree as Randy Bass notes that the paradigm has shifted, “to one that is learning –focused, outcomes-driven, and student centered,” it is difficult to operationalize such a model on a college campus, or systematize the use of ePortfolios.   However, we are making progress with our program.   Integrating learning and making connections have been our mantras as, from the start, we have built partnerships with faculty, staff, and administrators from all schools, many disciplines, as well as Student Life, Office of Assessment, and Career Services.  We formed our Advisory Board with stakeholders from all of these areas, and have created pilot programs with most of these groups. One way in which our ePortfolio project has served as both a connector and catalyst for change is in our Teaching Circle faculty development work.  In these semester-long faculty development groups, we have engaged groups of faculty (60+ to date) in workshops and discussions about ePortfolios, but much of the work in these sessions is about significant curricular re-design in terms of assignments, learning objectives and assessment.

One member of our team participated in our Provost funded Undergraduate Faculty-Student Research program with a student who was a former ePortfolio etern. Their research examined student ePortfolios, especially student reflections, to find evidence that the ePortfolio had an impact on student learning.  They presented their findings to the Pace community, and introduced more students and faculty to the benefits of ePortfolio practice; also, the director of the program mandated that all twenty faculty-student research teams use the ePortfolio to showcase their work, and reflect on it.

ePortfolios have been used by Student Life on one campus  as part of a new Leadership Certificate Program; students in the program—first year and second year students, and their upper class mentors, used the ePortfolio to document and reflect on their activities, workshops, and leadership development.

Another new effort is our outreach to individual departments, especially in the Arts and Sciences. We are offering departments a small stipend to incorporate the ePortfolio into their major programs, for learning outcomes assessment, travel courses, and/or Capstone courses. Meeting individually with Chairs,  we are brainstorming ways that the ePortfolio can be used; already Modern Languages and Biology have begun to work on this initiative. Our upgraded Mahara platform allows for individual “Collections” to be created, and many departments want to create departmental ePortfolios in addition to having them used in courses and for programmatic assessment. The English department on one campus has agreed to use ePortfolios in all composition classes,  first year and upper level Writing in the Disciplines; and incorporate our adapted Written Communication Values Rubric (see below) for our ePortfolio review process, in partnership with our Instructional Librarians.

We are also using ePortfolios for Tenure and Promotion (TAP) review, which has been helpful in getting faculty experienced with the platform, both as a candidate and as a reviewer. At Pace the full time faculty must have an up-to-date academic portfolio when they apply for TAP. The methodology for this portfolio was established by Peter Seldin and is followed by many institutions. The academic portfolio consists of three parts- teaching, scholarship/research and then community service. While constructing their academic portfolio, the faculty member can keep it in any format for their personal use. When it comes time for TAP the faculty member must transfer the documentation to the ePortfolio. The three parts of the academic portfolio become the template for the ePortfolio. Academic year 2011-12 was the first year for Tenure and Promotion and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The Provost and Deans approved ePortfolios as the official TAP platform for AY 2012-13. In June 2012 Administrative Portfolios using the ePortfolio platform was introduced at the annual Staff Development Day.

For the past few years we have engaged in several ePortfolio Assessment Pilots.  In spring 2011 and 2013 we led a multidisciplinary assessment pilot, using ePortfolios to evaluate evidence of three Core Curriculum learning outcomes: Communication, Analysis and Information Literacy and Research Skills.  We used and modified Value rubrics, and though our numbers of participants have been limited, we have gathered and analyzed useful data that we have shared with our Provost and advisory board.

In fall 2011, spring 2012 and spring 2013 we conducted ePortfolio assessment pilots with 6 faculty members from the Pleasantville campus English writing faculty in partnership with instructional librarians to assess students’ written communication and information literacy competencies, using the Written Communication and Information Literacy rubrics (written communication and info literacy rubrics.docx).  We hoped to scale up this spring as the chair of the department expected all writing faculty to begin using ePortfolio and participating in ePortfolio assessment review. The English department has now instituted a required “Writing Portfolio” page for student ePortfolios which provides a template for uploading and reflecting upon writing in the ENG 110, ENG 120 and ENG 201 courses. We hope to continue the review of student work using this new template as it develops and is implemented by the English department.

In general, our Provost and Deans are promoting high impact practices across the university, and, in scaling up, we see ePortfolios playing a bigger role in UNV 101, Capstone courses, Learning Communities, and Undergraduate Research opportunities. Also, we see highlighting the kinds of research that faculty are pursuing around these practices as supporting our cause; already this year, we have found out about two faculty members who have participated in our Teaching Circles, who are publishing, and/or presenting at conferences about using ePortfolios for curricular enrichment. See our Scholarship page for a list of these publications and presentations.

Similar to other schools, we face many of the same challenges in terms of shortage of time and resources to commit to ePortfolio adoption.  We would like to see more overall adoption of ePortfolios by undergraduate departments and would also like to see more universal acceptance of ePortfolio as an authentic mode of assessment.

Some adoption issues seem to come out of a lack of understanding of ePortfolio as a truly integrative pedagogy and technology.  Some faculty members still see this as an add-on.  Others do not understand the difference between ePortfolios and Blackboard (our LMS). We are hoping to continue building on our successes and while that won’t solve our challenges, it will hopefully minimize them by showing all that’s possible with ePortfolios.

We also just upgraded our version of Mahara to 1.7, making a huge leap in functionality. We’re very hopeful that the flexibility of this new version will help us to increase usage and increase satisfaction overall.  Keeping up with the technology upgrades is a challenge, but we have a clear plan for how to do this now.

Our ePortfolio project has served as both a connector and catalyst in a variety of ways.  First, we approached our ePortfolio initiative as an integrated process, pulling together aspects of teaching/learning, assessment and career development.  While we haven’t made all of the connections and created all of the change we’d like in this process, we are on our way.  Our work has been a gradual evolution, but our ePortfolio team represents a  cross section of departments and together we continue to strive to increase awareness and adoption.

Some changes that have happened on our campus, which are evidence of this evolutionary change are the participation of 100+ faculty in our teaching circles, the requirement of ePortfolios for tenure and promotion, and the reliance on eTerns for not only ePortfolio support, but also for academic technology help in general.

Part III: Developmental History:

While a handful of faculty have been using portfolios and electronic portfolios for over 10 years, our university-wide project began to take shape in the summer of 2009.  During that time, our two ePortfolio co-directors were determined to get a universal platform in place.  Before this time, we had experimented with a variety of ePortfolio solutions including purchased products and homegrown solutions with limited degrees of success. We knew that to progress, we would have to adopt a stronger platform, get the buy-in from the top as well as from the all the academic and support areas.

The summer of 2009 also happened to be a time of change at Pace when we hired a new CIO.  Luckily he came to us with an understanding and some experience using ePortfolios at his previous institution.   We worked closely with him during his first few months at Pace and he promised to either build us or find us an ePortfolio solution that would meet our needs.  He encouraged us to create a “bucket list” and to focus on what we wanted our ePortfolio to do and show rather than focus on the technology.  This was a pivotal moment for our project, because it forced us to focus on what we wanted ePortfolios to accomplish rather than floundering around searching for the elusive perfect platform.

We formed an advisory board, consisting of members from across the university.  This board was critical in helping us create our 7 page template, including sub-topics and internal help guides.  This template became the foundation of our project and is still in place now.  The CIO support, advisory board members and template all combined to create a culture of understanding and enthusiasm for this project – all key aspects of our success.  We also had Provost support, despite the turnover in this role. After the first year, the Provost appointed 2 co-Directors of ePortfolio and that has also helped to formalize the project.  The Provost support has been instrumental in granting us funding to run the teaching circles and recognize students in annual ePortfolio showcases.

We have been able to obtain 3 internal Pace-Verizon Thinkfinity Grants, which have helped us incentivize faculty, fund student e-terns, and promote our program.

Another key to our development was our participation in the Making Connections Grant as part of Cohort C.  The timing was perfect for us as we were already on our way with our CIO/Provost support, Mahara platform and advisory board.  The Making Connections group gave us ample encouragement and motivation to keep moving ahead and working with the willing, despite so many obstacles.  We will always be grateful for the time spent learning from LaGuardia and the other schools involved.

Part IV: Connection to Core Strategies

Developing an Effective Campus ePortfolio Team

Creating and working with our university wide advisory board was a key part of our scaling up success.  The group consisted of members from each of our academic areas and also the Library, Information Technology Services, Center for Teaching Learning and Technology, Office of Students Success, and Assessment Office . We also included some students here, though students have played a much larger role after the roll out of Mahara.

In addition to the advisory board, great efforts were made early in the process to reach out to key stakeholders to get their input and support.  In a way, there has been a continuous PR process for all stakeholders including administrators, faculty, staff and students.  Now as we are in our 4th  year, we’re looking to continue our communication efforts. So much effort was initially put into communicating what is an ePortfolio and now we want to deepen that understanding among our Pace community.  We are re-evaluating our original campus ePortfolio team and looking for new ways to engage them and keep them committed to supporting ePortfolios.

Engaging Students

Pace students are at the heart of the ePortfolio project.  One of the key members of our ePortfolio team, Samantha Egan, is a recent graduate who was part of our original pilot in spring 2010.  Since she has the experience of being a student using ePortfolio, she is extremely well suited for presenting ePortfolios to faculty and other students.  She is also leading our talented group of eTerns (seven students as of fall 2013), funded by grants and ITS. The eTerns create tutorials, lead workshops and do much of the publicity and hands-on training.  We could not do this initiative without them. Their energy and ideas about ePortfolios are vital to our program. They grapple with the technology and find great ways of showing faculty and students how to maximize the ePortfolio tool to enhance the teaching and learning.

eTern Mentoring Program

The summer following our initial pilot program, we hired one eTern, Sam, through the AmeriCorps program. Sam conducted sessions and met with instructors who seemed interested in ePortfolio. When ePortfolio access became University-wide in the fall, Sam began visiting classes to do demonstrations and workshops. As more courses utilized ePortfolio, the demand for one-on-one support for both faculty and students began to grow. In addition to providing support, Sam also helped create resources, including a glossary of tutorials, tip sheets and guides, some designed specifically for faculty. Supporting the teaching circle participants on each campus was also a key part of Sam’s role.

By January, the word was spreading about ePortfolio and the demand for support increased. Beth and Linda hired another eTern, this time through the Thinkfinity grant at Pace University.  This eTern worked while school was in session, from January to early May. Simultaneously, Sam became a full-time ITS staff member. Through ITS, Beth hired an eTern to serve the NYC campus. This eTern was able to be the key point of contact for the NYC teaching circle participants, as well as any other ePortfolio clients on the NYC campus. Initially, it was a bit of a challenge to manage the NYC eTern and help them feel connected to the rest of the team, who were primarily based on the Westchester campus. However, as our eTern program developed, our team learned how to bridge this gap better.

The following fall, Beth was able to hire a graduate assistant through ITS, who helped manage the growing administrative tasks associated with the now fully-fledged ePortfolio program. Linda also connected with an eager NYC student who was enthusiastic about ePortfolios and willing to join the team remotely. We began to see that the most successful eTerns were not necessarily especially technical, but had excellent communication skills and the people-skills to help students and faculties use ePortfolio.

Eventually our team expanded to two eTerns on each campus (including the graduate assistant). To help build team collaboration, Sam scheduled monthly check-in meetings though webinars and checked-in with each eTern as needed. When new eTerns were added, our veterans were able to train them and coach them for conduction demonstrations and workshops. The team camaraderie became a central piece to the eTern system. We fostered this through end-of-the-semester lunches where the co-directors and the eTerns came together to reflect on the previous semester, in true ePortfolio spirit.

Currently, our team consists of three NYC eTerns and four Westchester eTerns. It is easy to see the transformation take place within our more seasoned eTerns; after a year of being on the team, they have become confident presenters, have a strong sense of professionalism and an eagerness to help the community.

Our ePortfolio staff and eTerns travel to classes to conduct demonstrations. Usually we encourage professors to book computer classrooms so students can follow along during the demo. Otherwise, the instructor asks the students to bring their laptops and they can follow along via the projector in the classroom.

On the Westchester campus, we have an office space where eTerns sit. Usually faculty members like to have eTerns come to their offices for one-on-one help, but adjuncts and students often come to our office. On the NYC campus, we are fortunate that two of our eTerns belong to student government and are able to use that space. However, there is an increasing need for a phone line and stationary computer for testing software. This semester we were able to reserve a single-person space in the education media department and reserve and ePortfolio table in the library.

As our eTern program has evolved, we have refined our managerial approach to more effectively engage our students on both campuses. In spring 2013 we worked with Human Resources to develop a brief performance review. We also had our first summer orientation in late August 2013 to gather all eTerns together and inform them of news, and updates and participate in team building activities to prepare for the academic year. Many of our eTerns have told us that they feel part of team. It is encouraging when we see our students include their eTern position on their Facebook pages and/or email signatures (something we do not ask them to do), reflecting the pride they take in their positions.

We were fortunate to have our  graduate assistant, Adam Yogel, who created the video below on the powerful impact our eTerns have on our ePortfolio program:

Samples:

We have five students currently on Pace’s Digital Commons site where they have provided a screenshot and description of their ePortfolios and links to them as well (some are private and others are public).

Digital Commons ePortfolio Showcase: http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/eportfolio_showcase/

In spring 2012, we also created videos of our ePortfolio Contest winners. They each presented their ePortfolio at an our annual award ceremony.

•Ashley Dandridge

•Kiersten Albrecht:

Here are some of our eTern ePortfolios:

Megan Burke

meg page

 

Adam Yogeladam page

 

  • Hana Ljubicic
  • Hana page

 

 

nelli paGE

 

 

Next Steps

We have many next steps for our project, which is part of the challenge – trying to decide what best to focus on. Some of the next steps include:

  • Increasing adoption in key areas such as UNV 101, core courses, major departments
  • Continuing our Teaching Circle work and following up with Teaching Circle Alums
  • Incorporating more Digital Storytelling work
  • Creating a more robust reporting structure in Mahara
  • Create a sustainable assessment plan for ePortfolios including quantitative and qualitative measures on student reflections
  • Continue our leadership role in the Mahara User Group (MUG) an international group of 150+ members
  • Foster use of ePortfolios for Advising and incorporate ePortfolios into the Provost’s Electronic Personal Development Plan (ePDP) for all students.

The challenge with our list above is that it is vast and ever growing and there are limited resources to work with.  Our team is committed to this project, but we need to find ways to encourage adoption across more departments and programs. Our team continues to address challenges by continuing to work through obstacles and spread the word about successes and continuing to work through the obstacles. We know we will not convince everyone to use ePortfolios but feel we can have a successful program even without 100% acceptance.

Two of the strategies that may be useful to us in this next phase are listed below.  We have aligned ePortfolios with a few key programs such as Communications, the Pleasantville campus Writing department, and a doctoral degree in Nursing, but we would like to do more of this in the future.  We also want faculty to understand that ePortfolios can be part of high-impact practice strategy.  And hopefully this work will be valued in the annual review and tenure/promotion process for all. Successful ePortfolio initiatives build relationships with degree programs. When ePortfolio is integrated across a program, it both helps engage a wider community of faculty and can serve as a model and catalyst for other departments at the institution.

Successful ePortfolio initiatives also build connections to the ten high-impact practices that have been revealed through broad research to demonstrably improve student success and learning in higher education. ePortfolios have already shown an intensifying and integrating effect on certain high-impact practices, especially First-Year Seminars and Experiences, Capstones, and Learning Communities.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst

Pedagogy 

As a result of semester-long faculty development Teaching Circles, a group of faculty incorporated ePortfolios into their teaching methodology. The power of ePortfolios enabled the faculty to assess student learning through dynamic student reflections. One Biology Professor used ePortfolios as a teaching tool to have students reflect on the synergy between the learning outcomes and real world applications. The skill sets achieved by the students produced evidence of a dynamic social pedagogy. Another examples of e-portfolio as a pedagogical tool is the creation of students’ digital stories and aligning those stories to the stated outcomes of the course. Finally faculty have incorporated reflection into their teaching and stated learning outcomes with ePortfolios as the powerful tool to create those reflections.

Professional Development

There are two professional development programs that have been successful with bringing   new faculty members to learn about and incorporate e-Portfolios.

The first initiative is to have ePortfolios serve as the platform for Tenure and Promotion (TAP) process throughout the University.There will be a campaign to make the TAP portfolio more dynamic including mufti-media files to allow the fine arts faculty to better document their portfolio.

The second professional development activity for our ePortfolio project acts as both a connector and catalyst for change is are the  Teaching Circles.  In these semester-long faculty development groups, we have engaged groups of faculty (100+ to date) in workshops and discussions about ePortfolios and their effective use in teaching and learning. Much of the work in these sessions is about significant curricular re-design in terms of assignments, learning objectives and assessment. The semester after the Teaching Circles are offered it is expected for faculty participants to adopt e-Portfolios into their pedagogy.

Outcomes Assessment 

Our assessment pilots, mentioned above, are the key ways that we hope to move ePortfolio assessment forward on campus.

Technology

Technology has played a pivotal role in our scaling up process because it wasn’t until the adoption of Mahara that our university-wide initiative picked up traction.  There are several reasons for this.  First is that Mahara is open source and customizable so we were able to create a template to meet the needs of a variety of stakeholders.  We have been able to make key integrations with Banner, which has helped our faculty to view students’ ePortfolios and allows students to see their courses listings on their Academic Materials page.  Secondly, the cost of Mahara has been “free” in some ways because it is open source.  However there is a cost involved in terms of the programmer and technical staff time required to customize, host and upgrade. Thirdly, Mahara has a social networking feel that has helped with our adoption around campus. Although some students and faculty do report usability issues, the team is working toward addressing those concerns with more training and support from our talented eTerns.

 Attachments and Supporting Documents

Assessment Rubrics

2012 Assessment Pilot Summary

eTern Program

  • eTerns at Pace University:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmvpsedOVKA

 Conclusion

The Pace journey with e-Portfolios has been rewarding. There is no denying that there have been bumps in the road but after the 4 year journey the University is seeing the dynamic power of e-portfolios to change teaching and learning. From our Teaching Circles each academic year we recruit willing faculty who want to transform their “classroom” experience. The students in the classes are able to reap the rewards of using e-portfolios to document and assess their learning outcomes. The students are actively involved with creating evidence of their learning with e-portfolios and create a platform to highlight their skill sets and the transfer of knowledge from the learning experience.

The e-Portfolio Advisory Board membership that is from different sectors of the University assures that the e-Portfolio initiative is connected to the Pace community and that community needs drive the e-portfolios process. The tenure and promotion professional development demonstrate that the Provost and the Deans are well invested with e-Portfolios.

As we continue on the journey with e-Portfolios we are excited to see student –faculty research collaborations, to witness students using e-portfolios document their lifelong education and to use it for career planning. Lastly, we have faculty beginning to see the power of e-portfolios as a tool for social pedagogy in the arts and sciences. We are confident in the year to come that we will pick up the pace with e-Portfolios.