Scaling Up, Scaling Back

Current Status

At the School of Professional Studies, with mostly fully-online programs, ePortfolio provides a space outside of the “four walls” of Blackboard for students to save and share their academic work across courses and semesters.  As a school for degree completers, with mostly fully online programs, SPS faces an unusual set of challenges with ePortfolio implementation.  Most of our students are adult learners, looking to advance their education while meeting full time employment and family responsibilities.  They may resent ePortfolio as another platform to learn or not understand why they are being asked to submit work via ePortfolio rather than in the more familiar Blackboard LMS.  Our challenge has been to make ePortfolio meaningful as a space to share and reflect on learning and through other facets of online student life at SPS.

Our ePortfolio program started small, targeting individual faculty from across different disciplines.  We now have over 30 participating faculty teaching 40-plus ePortfolio sections, but ePortfolio implementation is uneven:  the Sociology Program uses ePortfolio in all of its sections, General Education uses ePortfolio in about half of its section, in other programs ePortfolio is used sparingly if at all. After three years of ePortfolio growth, a fully online program pauses to assess its implementation plan.

Developmental HistorySlide02

False Starts
SPS’s official entrance into the world of ePortfolios began with participation in Cohort A of the Making Connections Mini-Grant Seminar at LaGuardia Community College in February 2008. With the support of this group, SPS launched its initial ePortfolio pilot in Summer 2009, expanding to five courses in Fall 2009.

With our acceptance into C2L in Fall 2010, we made a second attempt at ePortfolio implementation, this time focused on students, rather than on faculty.  We developed sample ePortfolios and support documents, but without faculty participation and without making ePortfolio a course requirement, students stayed away in droves.

Decision:  We Needed Faculty Involvement
After participating in one of the first C2L jams, we realized that in order to get student buy-in, we needed faculty buy-in.  The work done during 2010-2011 laid the foundation necessary to expand ePortfolios at SPS by focusing on the faculty role.

Faculty Development workshops along with follow up “reunions” at which faculty share and talk about “successes and messes” have helped SPS to develop a strong faculty connection to ePortfolio.  This commitment transfers into the classroom by way of developing interesting assignments and projects that engage the students and provide a source for connection on multiple levels:  capstone ePortfolios allow Disability Studies seniors to reflect on cumulative coursework and field experience; Marketing students live what they study in their eCommerce course; Sociology majors share their research through a program ePortfolio that provides resources, advisement, and shared discussion space.

Decision: Ramp Up User Support
As our numbers of student and faculty ePortfolio users increased, we needed to ramp up user support.  The ePortfolio Advisement team, established in 2010,  has developed a robust (and growing) collection of resources for faculty and students and works directly with students and faculty.  We also have an ePortfolio oversight team made up of administrators and faculty who participate in Connect to Learning.

Currently we have two ePortfolio advisors supporting students and faculty.  Through a shared email account and Virtual Office Hours, the advisors are available during the day and most evenings. The advisors share a tracking spreadsheet and every interaction with students is logged. A lot of good data comes from this but unfortunately our team is made up of two part time people and one full time person whose work is split between two departments.

Celebrate Student Achievement
In addition to showcasing faculty efforts at ePortfolio workshops and reunions, we created an  ePortfolio Showcase  to celebrate exemplary student course work and to generate interest in the project, from faculty, students, and administrators.

Catalyst and Connector

In our fully online environment, ePortfolio integration necessitates changes to the structure of the course in the LMS.   In the workshops we encourage faculty to focus on a problem — a concept that challenges students or an assignment that disappoints — and to re-envision the project through the lens of ePortfolio.  Rather than being simply a new technology or new platform, ePortfolio has been a catalyst for changes in the way that our online courses are taught.  Particularly exciting examples of this work are a history course in which students work collaboratively to create an ePortfolio knowledge base  and another course in which students create and share podcasts in which they discuss images and objects that they have selected to represent a particular moment or theme in American History and Culture.

Connections to Core Strategies

Advancing Through Professional Development
Professional development has been critical to our ability to scale up.  With a mostly adjunct faculty teaching fully online courses, faculty development has been an important community-building activity.  Each semester we invite veterans back to meet and offer advice to workshop participants.   Feedback from participants indicate that they find the workshops valuable and that they would recommend them to colleagues.   We have created a vibrant community of practice around ePortfolio. Through informal assessment of our project in pre and post faculty surveys, faculty state that their enthusiasm for the project is reinforced by the support of the ePortfolio advisors and continued faculty development opportunities.  These include gatherings of new and seasoned ePortfolio faculty at the close of each workshop.   Indeed, ePortfolio has helped our faculty to “connect.”

Connecting to Programs
Our Nursing, Sociology, and Disability Studies programs have committed to using ePortfolio across courses and/or in capstones  Buy-in at the program level is important because it creates a more coherent experience for students, since they will be collecting work from each of the courses that they take in their degree program in a single ePortfolio, rather than having separate and often un-linked course-based ePortfolios.

Team Building and Leveraging of Resources
These two strategies are joined.  Most of the members of our core ePortfolio team are full-time employees at SPS, with administrative and professional roles in the institution.  Making ePortfolio part of our job responsibilities brought administrative support, structure, and funding to the project. That said, adding ePortfolio to the already-full plates of our team members, has also been a strain as we struggle to balance the demands of the ePortfolio project and C2L with our other responsibilities.  We have been able to fund part-time ePortfolio advisor and coordinator positions, which have helped enormously in terms of student and faculty support.  Without a strong support/help desk system, part-time faculty would be reluctant to take on the additional work of ePortfolio implementation.

Next Steps, New Directions?

Our fifth year of ePortfolio at SPS has been a year of soul-searching about how best to implement ePortfolio, at the course or program level.  Disability Studies uses ePortfolio as a capstone option, which seems to be working quite well.  Sociology uses ePortfolio in most sections and also as a capstone, working toward full program ePortfolio implementation.  Gen Ed uses ePortfolio in about half its sections, but through course-based implementation, not at the program level.  A result of this scattershot implementation (some course-based, some capstone or program based) is that almost a third of our ePortfolio users have three or more ePortfolios.  If ePortfolio is meant to help students connect ideas across classes and reflect on their learning holistically, what is the use of building a separate ePortfolio for each course, especially without a mechanism for connecting them?

Lacking a mandate for school-wide use of ePortfolio, we began with course-based implementation out of necessity, building a coalition of the willing.  The question is where to go from here:  some faculty have completely redesigned their online courses, moving activities and interaction out of Blackboard and on to Digication; others have opted for more modest implementation, having students post revised papers in their ePortfolio or using ePortfolio for a single project.  For the latter group, we are considering dispensing with course-based implementation and, instead, asking students to place a single “signature” assignment into an ePortfolio.

But how/where/when will students create the single ePortfolio in which they collect all coursework and how will that ePortfolio integrate with existing course ePortfolios that students may have?  To give students a single ePortfolio, we must either issue one to each student upon admission or identify some other “starting point” at which the student begins his or her ePortfolio.   Since SPS is a “completer degree” school with no true Freshman and no shared starting point, this is a challenge.

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