Getting Social with Bio

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As our ePortfolio program has grown, we’ve seen several courses establish ePortfolio assignments that involve social pedagogy.

Professor Andrew Stout, who teaches a core English course, used the Mahara groups feature to host discussion forums, keeping the conversation among students in the course within ePortfolios. Communications professor, Dr. Michelle Pulaski Behling, has students create robust portfolios of their work and education experience and present them to their peers. In so doing one student describe e-portfolios as an evolving “live” tool that provokes thought and inspiration. Another student talked about the power of the story that was created with e-portfolio and the nature of a social narrative.

In this same spirit, Dr. Andrew Wier’s microbiology course requires students to interact with one another as they build a robust ePortfolio page. The students spend eight weeks developing an ePortfolio dedicated to a specific species of bacterial phylum. The page components include an introduction, news blog and multimedia.

The social pedagogy factor of the assignment is highlighted when students review one another’s work.  This component is key! Students are required to share their page with all logged-in users. To reinforce the sharing aspect, 15% of final exam material is taken from student ePortfolios. Dr. Wier’s assignment adds to the work the e-Portfolio team is doing with biology department. Currently the team is working with the department chair to establish procedures for using ePortfolio as the assessment tool for the BIO internship course. Students that have taken Dr. Wier’s course are better prepared for future ePortfolio requirements.


Dr. Andrew Wier, Assistant Professor, Biology and Health Sciences

Description of Practice

Microbiology is a biology elective course. Students are introduced to the course assignment at the beginning of the course, and an eTern visits the class to do an ePortfolio demonstration. Dr. Wier speaks to the eTern prior to the session, so the presentation is specifically catered to the course assignment. Students are given some in-class time in computer labs to start their assignment pages. During the lab session, Dr. Wier gives feedback to students. Following the lab sessions, students meet in groups of four to give feedback on their peers’ pages. After receiving this feedback, students are required to set their page permissions to all logged in users and view the rest of their classmates’ ePortfolio pages on their own. They are asked to continue to leave feedback. Dr. Wier encourages them to leave feedback with constructive components.  Dr. Wier takes 15% of the final exam questions from the course ePortfolios, which motivates students to carefully review their peers’ work.

Each student uses textboxes, RSS feeds, journals and posts files and images to create each of the following components:

  • Introduction: Written for high school-college-age students, includes important genera, close relatives, ecology, energy-carbon source and typical mode of nutrition, relevance to humans and the Earth, role in nutrient cycling and other important facets. Includes references and is 3-5 pages in length.

  • News Blog: Includes news from both print and online sources relevant to the phylum. Eight entries are required. Each post includes: title, commentary regarding the article (why it is relevant, interesting and worthy of posting), link to the article or uploaded copy, appropriate credit/acknowledgements to the source and author of article

  • Multimedia: Photographs (displayed in image gallery, includes captions and acknowledgements), videos (cited) and scientific publications (links and PDFs)

By researching and reviewing various sources, students become “experts” on their particular species of bacteria. In addition to the knowledge about the course content, students are also learning to summarize complex scholarly articles and clearly communicate their findings to their classmates.

By viewing their peers’ pages early in the process, students gain knowledge about range of online resources in their field. This assignment also prepares students to properly cite sources beyond the course text and Wikipedia. The assignment also requires students to use various features of the ePortfolio, including rss feeds, images, files and journals. The ePortfolio allows information to be clearly organized and presented.

The assignment is generally limited to the class. However, students have viewed the work of previous students. This allows students to learn and build on the history of the course in order to deepen their understanding of the material. Because the final exam stems from this assignment, students have extra motivation to spend time review one another’s work and adding valuable feedback.

At the end of the assignment, Dr. Wier plans to get student feedback though a Qualtrics survey.  Dr. Wier intends to distribute the survey prior to the final exam and count the survey as part of their participation grade. The reflection would not receive a letter grade. This survey is currently in development.

Students gain awareness of the relevancy of various types of bacteria in current events and research.   The cumulative nature of the assignment requires students to acquire a detailed knowledge of their topic, more so than the process of writing a final paper. This assignment does not allow students to cram their research into one night before the deadline.

  Supporting Documentation

Katelyn Spadalik:

Katelyn Spadalik

Mark De Jesus:Mark De Jesus

Paul Grey:

Paul Gray

Khushbu Kanani:

Khusnbu Kanani

Impact and Evidence

This assignment helps students develop inquiry-based learning skills, and develop their writing. Students also establish a solid foundation in ePortfolios that goes beyond basic file-uploading. As we continue to work with the biology department to further develop their use of ePortfolio across the department, Dr Wier’s course will be a key point of interaction with ePortfolios.

Dr. Wier feels that the social pedagogy aspect of the assignment encourages better quality work. The requirement to share their ePortfolios with the University, rather than restricting access to the course, students are more conscious to develop a better page with quality content and design. It is hoped that the impact of the assignment will be measured to the student’s perceptions of the social interaction though ePortfolios. The results will be captured through Qualtrics survey.

The team was able to experience the impact this assignment had on students when three of them attended our Lunch and Learn on ePortfolios last month. As students presented their microbiology pages, the audience was able to sense their enthusiasm, which helped encourage some of our more hesitant faculty. One student noted that at the beginning of the semester, she thought the assignment was “busy work,” but by the end, was surprised how much she enjoyed it.

Connections to other Polished Practices

This assignment ties in with many of our previous jams. This assignment can be seen as an example of “scaling up,”as it represents a piece of the progress we are making with the biology department. Dr. Wier is an alumni of our ePortfolio Teaching Circle, which we discussed in our Professional Development Practice. In terms out outcomes assessment, our interdisciplinary assessment committee will be reviewing Dr. Wier’s students’ work. The various types of technology tools students use to build their multi-media microbiology pages relate to our technology story.

Next Steps

Dr. Wier also teaches an introductory biology course which is a required course for all majors. This assignment can be adapted to fit the needs of this course, which will reach more students, and perhaps some non-biology students. We hope Dr. Weir’s work will be a motivator for faculty involved in the biology internship course to use and evaluate the e-Portfolio platform.