Fortuitously, we developed a university-wide ePortolio platform in Fall, 2009, just a few months before joining with LaGuardia CC and the NY Metro area based Making Connections FIPSE funded grant. The timing was perfect for beginning a small pilot program in Spring, 2010, with 10 faculty and 250 students. With the second phase of the FIPSE, the national Connect 2 Learn (C2L)Grant, we could begin to build on a foundation, with our Mahara customized open-source platform in place, an Advisory Board, a faculty development program of teaching circles, and a cohort of interested faculty. With the support of C2L we began to nurture our eP culture at Pace, something we continue to work on.
Although we started out by focusing on using the ePortfolio in individual classes for teaching and learning, over the past few years, thanks to our collaboration with C2L, and our outreach with Pace stakeholders, we have branched out considerably, trying to take an integrated approach, which has included piloting two outcomes assessment initiatives, working with career services, advising staff, Student Life personnel, and co-curricular faculty who teach service learning and study abroad faculty. We have had some success with getting departments to incorporate ePortfolios as part of a capstone experience (Biology) and outcomes assessment for writing courses (English, Pleasantville campus). Some of our best successes have been with having ePortfolios required in some Graduate Programs: Communications and Media, Homeland Security, and Public Administration. On the other hand, although we were inspired by the work of some of our C2L colleagues with incorporating the ePortfolio into the First Year Seminar, and learned a great deal from them, we have faced many challenges in trying to integrate the ePortfolio into our UNV 101 courses. Therefore, we have pulled back, and instead are working more with individual departments, and our other stakeholders mentioned above.
Our scaling up efforts are now focused even more on pedagogical concerns, curricular design and outcomes assessment.
All along we have concentrated on faculty development, incentivizing faculty to join our Teaching Circle seminars (providing healthy stipends, funded in part by C2L and by internal grants), presenting at various faculty conference days, and holding workshops. Many more faculty are being introduced to ePortfolios as they are now part of the Tenure and Promotion process.
As we seek to document evidence that ePortfolios are making a difference in student success, we are trying to scale up our ePortfolio outcomes assessment efforts. The work of the C2L eP team with the English Department on our Pleasantville campus has pushed that department to take the initiative to set up an eP template for the ENG Core sequence. All writing faculty are required to use the ePortfolio and are undertaking a systematic evaluation of writing development, tracking students through all required courses. – The two assessment pilots conducted during the past few years (interdisciplinary and writing), though small in size, and the collaboration with C2L colleagues, have enabled us to expand our efforts in this direction.
Our Work Together
The collaborative work with our creative and talented colleagues across the network helped to inspire us in a variety of significant ways. We learned a great deal through the online jams and were motivated by our time spent face-to-face, and we were also relieved to discover that ePortfolio projects are challenging for all institutions, even for those schools who seems so advanced in the field. In so many cases, we heard about similar issues to ones we face. For example, other schools are also grappling with the tension between ePortfolio as a student tool versus an institutional assessment tool.
We also shared in the successes of each other and remember feeling encouraged by the progress of others. In particular, we remember working with our Manhattanville College colleagues in the Making Connections program, when they were just beginning to think about ePortfolios. Throughout the Connect to Learn project, we witness their ePortfolio evolution (moving from paper to electronic) and we were so impressed by their work. Being part of the C2L network has been extremely rewarding because we have not only enhanced our own ePortfolio project, but we also shared in the joy of others as they made progress at their own institutions. We look forward to more collaborations within this network and beyond, as the field of ePortfolios will continue to grow and change and through our collaborations, we can be better prepared to meet the new challenges ahead.
Looking ahead, we have several clear goals for the coming year. First, we are working on improving the user-friendliness of our platform in response to comments from faculty and students. We plan to make these changes locally but also work through the Mahara Open source community and our Mahara user group to get these changes incorporated into future versions of “core” Mahara. Second, we hope to encourage more significant pedagogical transformation through ePortfolios. We have spent the last few years promoting what ePortfolios are. Now we are shifting to explain more of the “whys” and “hows”. We want to help faculty embed ePortfolios more effectively into their courses and programs, which requires an ongoing cycle of faculty development, beginning with new faculty, but also revisiting and following up with faculty who have already been through ePortfolio training. We are also switching gears with our approach to faculty development away from individual teaching circles and looking more toward departmental adoption. We’re hoping to have more of an impact on the curricular redesign by working with groups of faculty by discipline.
As we look forward, we also look back upon our outcomes assessment work in the past including our various pilots and our first retention and NSSE data reports. We are reviewing all efforts and need to determine which efforts to continue and which to redefine. We will work closely with our Assessment office in the coming year to strengthen our programmatic assessment plans, which will hopefully play a key role as we prepare for our next Middle States review.
We also look forward to our C2l site “going viral” in 2014 and helping to spread the word about the power of ePortfolios. We plan to publicize our work on this through our stakeholders at Pace, through our involvement with our Mahara user group community and beyond and we look forward to making ePortfolios a signature Pace program, as well as to contributing to the larger field of ePortfolios.
What We Learned
At the beginning of our ePortfolio journey, and of our C2L collaboration, we believed instinctively that ePortfolios could be a catalyst for positive change, that it made learning visible, and that it deepened students’ learning. Now that we have spent the past 3 years attempting to integrate ePortfolios into the Pace experience, and learning from our C2L colleagues, we are more convinced about its potential to enhance and capture student learning, but at the same time realize that we need to systematically find the best ways to reach more of our stakeholders, focus on the pedagogical issues and “folio thinking” that comes with effective ePortfolio use, and discover and document evidence of the connections between ePortfolio use and student learning.
We have a better understanding about ingredients needed to grow our program; grassroots support works up to a point, but without resources (funding and people power), administrative support , and our student army of eterns, we couldn’t sustain our program or expand into a university-wide culture of ePortfolio. In addition, the elements of technical support and professional development are keys to success. If the eP platform is not intuitive or perceived as easy to use, faculty and students resist its benefits, even with available training and tutorials. If the leadership team does not do enough outreach to faculty, staff, and departments, then our program is in danger of stalling. We believe that ePortfolios have a role to play in the classroom, for programmatic and outcomes assessment,
for career development and internships, Student Life leadership initiatives, and co-curricular activities, including study abroad, and service learning.
Above all, it is as a result of our C2l work and collaboration with our ePortfolio colleagues at Pace that we have learned we need to slowly and strategically expand our program. As Randy Bass, one of our C2L leaders has noted, expanding “involves broadening and deepening,”—through networking with others within our university and beyond, as well as exploring with faculty and administrators about how ePortfolios can showcase and document high impact curricular practices and a student-centered learning paradigm. “Collect, Reflect, Connect,” remains our ePortfolio mantra, but the resonance for each of the terms has intensified.