Technology Story

Our Platform – Introduction

CUNY SPS has used the Digication platform since 2009. This platform allows students and faculty to easily create both ePortfolios and ePortfolio templates.

Key features include:

  • Text editor
  • Custom CSS
  • Modules that can be rearranged using the drag & drop feature
  • Copies of ePortfolio can be produced
  • ePortfolios can be downloaded for offline viewing
  • embedding multimedia
  • the creation of templates
  • moving/copying content within and between ePortfolios
  • comments with email notification

Some weaknesses include:

  • not being able to use HTML
  • buggy/clunky at times
  • too many clicks before content is published
  • java/flash notifications
  • cannot turn off email notifications for comments
  • lacking robust reporting
  • faculty aren’t able to add students’ ePortfolios to their class
  • requires separate login from Blackboard

Platform Selection – as a Process

Platform selection was part of SPS participation in Making Connections.  Working with colleagues at Bronx Community College, we reviewed Digication; Learning Objects; and Epsilen, and selected Digication after hearing a presentation from Jeff Yan.

The selection of the vendor was an important take-away from Making Connections.  Without MK, we would still be waiting for the Learning Objects product, which is now scheduled to be available to us in Fall 2013. Once we arrived at the decision, other CUNY campuses (KCC, LaGuardia, Bronx CC, Lehman, Hostos CC) all went with Digication at the same time.

Engaging Students

Since SPS is primarily an online campus, our hope is that ePortfolios can provide students with a space to cultivate their online identity. Through Discussion Boards in Blackboard students are able to introduce themselves and get to know each other, but ePortfolio can be seen as a way to extend conversations beyond and across individual courses and sections.  ePortfolio also allows students to pull other artifacts and interests into a space they can share with others, promoting authorship, ownership, and metacognition.

Students create course-based ePortfolios using faculty-developed templates, supported by the ePortfolio team. Digication’s template feature has made it easier to indicate to students what should be included in their ePortfolio and how it should look, though many of our faculty members encourage students to customize their ePortfolios.

The recent addition of comment notifications has allowed faculty to use ePortfolios in a more social way. In our newly developed history courses (20th Century History and US History and Culture), which were designed with ePortfolio in mind, ePortfolio is not viewed by students as an “add on” because it has been embedded within the course more seamlessly than other courses that have simply moved assignments from Blackboard to ePortfolio.

Classes include eportfolios as:

  • A workspace for the semester’s work that is shared
  • A website that hosts all aspects of a course project:  finding and collecting sources, outline, drafts, final project, multimedia.
  • A showcase for assignments projects and papers
  • A shared group blogspace
  • An academic /professional showcase of work and connection
  • A Program Portfolio where faculty and students can access resources and templates for program specific course and professional eportfolios.

All of these uses of ePortfolio offer students control and responsibility to share themselves and their work, communicate more freely than with emails and discussion fora, and also demonstrate what they have learned throughout the course and their program.

In the spring 2011 we established an ePortfolio advisement team, created to relieve faculty of the need to spend valuable class time teaching students how to create ePortfolios.   A dedicated team of ePortfolio advisors works with students to create, build, and polish their ePortfolios. This service includes one-on-one support for students via Live Chat or email, video tutorials, and ongoing ePortfolio advisement. 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.  We also identify experienced students (those with previous eportfolios) and encourage instructors to let experienced student ePortfolio users mentor the novices.

quizTo make ePortfolio implementation easier for our online instructors, we developed an ePortfolio Readiness Quiz that can be uploaded into Blackboard sites.  The quiz is a self-check for students to ensure that they understand how to use Digication and how to create their ePortfolio.

Student feedback comes from our C2L surveys and has been mixed, but mostly positive. Most students enjoyed building their ePortfolios and agreed that it was important part of the course. Some students felt that the technology was overwhelming while others commented that Digication was too low-tech. The ePortfolio advisors were happy to see that an overwhelming majority of students noted that they were aware of ePortfolio help that was available. Survey data also reveal that we need to work on ways to incorporate education planning and figure out how to get students to include information from outside of the class in which they are building the ePortfolio. While the survey data was disappointing in terms of ePortfolio use for education planning and activities outside of the classroom, it’s not terribly surprising considering our initial focus has been on faculty development and course-based ePortfolio implementation.

While we have focused on course-based ePortfolios up until this point, this semester we are developing strategies to help students “link” disparate course ePortfolios and will create additional video resources and a webinar for students interested in creating an ePortfolio outside of the classroom.  This year’s showcase will go beyond faculty nominations and allow students to self-nominate.  It is our hope that students use the new resources to build their own ePortfolio for submission to the ePortfolio Showcase.

Pedagogy

In our fully online environment, ePortfolio integration necessitates changes to the structure of the course in the LMS. Rather than being simply a new technology or new platform, ePortfolio has been a catalyst for changing 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.

Professional Development and Training

We currently offer ePortfolio faculty Development opportunities each semester with a strong focus on peer review, reflection, and getting the most out of the technologies that Digication offers.

We set up our faculty development workshops in Digication to help faculty become more accustomed to the navigation and interface. This past semester, in addition to offering the workshop in-person, we made our workshop fully asynchronous so that those who couldn’t attend in person could still participate. To that end we created a workshop ePortfolio to house support materials and information and added some of the newly created resources, such as the ePortfolio Info Session Video and Digication Overview Video, to our public ePortfolio Resource Website. We also created a shared ePortfolio “sandbox” where each workshop participant (whether they attended the first session in-person or online) completed a number of tasks that demonstrated their technical abilities. The rest of the workshop focuses on faculty creating their ePortfolio template for use in the following semester. After faculty are given the resources they need to create their template, they have about 4-6 weeks to draft their template for review. During that time, faculty can work with ePortfolio advisors either online or in-person.

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.

Support and Collaboration

Our Digication license is funded through the CUNY Student Technology Fee.  We have used CUNY funding for Coordinated Undergraduate Education to support our faculty development initiatives and the C2L grant funds to staff the ePortfolio team.   Our ePortfolio/Digication Tech Support is separate from the regular SPS Student Help Desk.  We are a small school, so members of the ePortfolio leadership team have other duties on both the academic and administrative side, and work closely with IT, finance, and budget administrators on technology project planning, vision and implementation.

Currently, our ePortfolio platform does not interface with other college applications. We believe this lack of integration hinders our ability to get full buy-in from both students and faculty.

Looking Forward – Conclusion

We are hopeful that our platform will continue to make improvements based on user needs. One of the great things about Digication is that they are open to suggestions and work to make them a reality. Ideally, the perfect platform for SPS would be one where students could log in to one place to do all of their work and connect with students and faculty.

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