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The ePortfolio portal to professional development; Or, How a tool for assessment became a catalyst for career transformation

Excerpt

We adopted ePortfolios at the College of General Studies (CGS), Boston University, because we were looking for a means of assessing the impact of our program; we certainly got that, but along the way several faculty have expanded their areas of academic expertise and have won grants to support our electronic portfolio work and presented numerous papers and posters on ePortfolios at national and international conferences.

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John Regan represents Boston University as an Invited Speaker at the AAC&U’s Employer/University Summit, Hynes Convention Center, Oct. 2013.

Summary

When we began looking into electronic portfolios as a possible means of assessing student progress in our 2-year, interdisciplinary general education college, we never imagined that our work would lead us to receiving over $300,000 in grant funding, nor did we think that several of us would regularly be making presentations about ePortfolios at national meetings of the AAC &U (American Association of Colleges and Universities) and AAEEBL (Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning). But that, in fact, has been the case, and the result is that several of our members now have a substantial second field of expertise to add to the one they began their careers with, and other colleges across the country are consulting with members of our college (CGS) as they begin to develop their own electronic portfolio projects.  The professional development that our faculty has experienced in this project has led to a stronger sense of professional accomplishment, a richer understanding of our academic program as a whole, and more robust annual reports for those involved, and at the same time it has burnished the reputation of the whole college.

 

Author

Natalie McKnight, Amod Lele, and John Regan, Boston University.

Natalie McKnightAmod Lele John Regan

 

Overview of ePortfolio-Related Professional Development on Our Campus

Part I: Our Professional Development Story

From the beginning, professional development has been at the center of BU’s approach to electronic portfolios as a tool for “making learning visible” to students, faculty, administrators, and other stakeholders.  Members of the upper administration at BU have spearheaded efforts centrally to unite the schools and colleges of BU under a single vision and promote professional development around the use of electronic portfolios.

An important first step was the “One BU” initiative led by Dr. Victor Coelho, the former Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, which unites the university with a common vision for growth.   “One BU” recognizes ePortfolio as an important tool for student assessment, learning, and reflection. This broad acknowledgment opens the door for faculty to ask questions, seek collaboration, and share successes with one another. There is a wealth of accessible faculty support for ePortfolio pedagogy, thanks to the umbrella of “One BU.”  The links below provide examples of some of the resources made available to faculty as part of this initiative:

http://www.bu.edu/ceit/initiatives/

http://www.bu.edu/eportfolio/

http://www.bu.edu/tech/web/ePortfolio-sites/

In particular, the Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching, or CEIT, has been a lifeline for faculty development at Boston University. On March 5, 2011 CEIT hosted its third annual Instructional Innovation Conference.  Faculty from the School of Public Health gave a presentation on using ePortfolios to document, present, and assess public health competencies gained in the classroom.  Since then, faculty from across campus have continued to present their work using ePortfolios to faculty colleagues through the CEIT, creating the possibility for dialogue and professional development.

The College of General Studies at Boston University represents the largest group of ePortfolio users on campus.  This is thanks in part to a two-year professional development grant from the Davis Educational Foundation that allowed us to launch a large-scale implementation of ePortfolios with all of the faculty and students in our two-year, team-taught program.

The objectives for the grant’s first year were to draw on the expertise of software developer Jeffrey Yan and Professor Evangeline Stefanakis of BU’s School of Education to help train faculty in the use of Digication software for electronic portfolios through a series of faculty development workshops. These workshops focused on training faculty and staff, discussing integrating assessment with our pedagogical and advising goals, and stimulating team teaching and projects in the coming academic year.  We aimed to improve faculty technological fluency, engage in sustained and focused discussions on both disciplinary and interdisciplinary assessment, and pilot the use of electronic portfolios in all CGS freshman courses during the 2009-2010 school year.  To evaluate the ePortfolio-assessment instrument’s flexibility for interdisciplinary teaching, learning, and advising and for appraising particular outcomes in each area, our first year concluded with a faculty participant questionnaire and survey.  We used our existing team and committee structure for ongoing discussions of the value of portfolios and their role in assessment for the College.  Within that structure, and based on feedback from teams and division chairs, our Student Writing and Research Committee developed a joint rubric that reflects our goals as a college.  We archived sample student portfolios at the end of the first year of using ePortfolios and conducted a survey of faculty participants.  Lead faculty used feedback from the survey to improve communication between leaders and faculty and in planning a second round of workshops to train sophomore faculty.

During the following summer, we used our own lead faculty to train a second group of faculty, chairs, and advisors.  The focus was on sophomore faculty, who immediately saw the benefits of electronic portfolios to make work on collaborative capstone projects visible.  Freshman faculty were able to reflect on the work that took place during the first year of the project to make adjustments for the school year ahead.  We initiated broader discussions of our program rubric, solicited feedback from all faculty, and made plans to introduce the outcomes described in the rubric to our students so that they could begin to reflect on their progress towards these goals.

By the start of the 2010-2011 school year, all faculty and students at the College of General Studies were using electronic portfolios, and we were frequently cited as leaders in the use of electronic portfolio use at BU.   Students were asked to write end-of-year self-assessments tied to the program outcomes described in our rubric; some were asked to do this in video format (see an example.)

Additionally, we formed a committee to test the rubric we developed to assess student progress using numerical scores on archived portfolios and began to collect initial data.  A second grant from the Davis Educational Foundation in the fall of 2011 has enabled us to pay 10 faculty (our assessment committee) stipends to assess student work on ePortfolios in the summers of 2012 and 2013. Data collected in these assessments can be seen in the tables on our Assements page: http://bu.mcnrc.org/oa-story/ 

The Davis Foundation Grants helped raise the profile and visibility of the College of General Studies’ general education program both within and outside of Boston University in crucial ways.  Since it is the largest ePortfolio pilot on campus, many other programs within the University have looked to us as a model and continue to do so.  In the fall of 2009, faculty from our program made a presentation at the “Making Learning Visible” campus conference, and we have also been able to promote our work and the assistance we received from the Davis Educational Foundation outside of the university through presentations at writing conferences, NEASC, AAC & U, and AAEEBL.

All of this work in professional development has laid the foundation for an ongoing culture of assessment at the College of General studies that we expect will influence the university community as a whole.   In this spirit, on February 2, 2012 Professor Natalie McKnight and Dean Linda Wells hosted a “Lunch and Learn” to inform other colleges at BU receiving incoming CGS students about how these students have been trained to use ePortfolios, with the expectation that other programs will build upon this solid foundation—part of our conception of the “scaling up” process on our campus.

We attribute our success so far to upper administration spearheading in the early stages, grant money to create the sense of a time-sensitive project as well as financial incentive to participate, the use of lead faculty and gaining faculty buy-in as ePortfolios were presented as a solution to existing pedagogical problems, and strong faculty collaboration in our interdisciplinary college using existing committee structures.   Challenges remain.  There have been substantial changes in the upper administration at BU.  It is our hope that with the structures we have put into place, ePortfolios will remain at the center of our approach to teaching and assessment

 

Part II: Professional Development Philosophy and Conceptual Framework

Within the College of General Studies, the three principles of Inquiry, Reflection, and Innovation have guided our approach to ePortfolios, and professional development has always been at the center of our approach.  Through faculty workshops and two-year grant cycles to pilot new approaches, we have been able to generate ideas, try new approaches, and share successes as part of the inquiry phase of our framework.  We also used faculty surveys, student reflection assignments, and college-wide discussions to reflect on the work undertaken so far and to chart a future course.  During this phase of our work, at least two college committees considered student and faculty data from our ePortfolio pilot and used the information to begin work on a college-wide rubric.  Finally, we were able to integrate inquiry and reflection into a set of established practices in the college, including the across the board of use of student reflection essays and implementation of the rubric: http://bu.mcnrc.org/ref-practice/ . This is an ongoing cycle:  our next phase of inquiry led to a second grant through the Davis Educational Foundation that built on the work of the first and allowed us to pilot outcomes assessment with a core group of faculty (our Assessment Committee) and a significant sample of student portfolios.  The general model of trying new ideas, sharing results, and using feedback to guide curricular change governs all of our activities.

Part III. Professional Development for Scaling Up

We do see professional development as helping to advance the “scaling up” process on our campus.  The “Lunch and Learn” hosted by CGS for faculty from other schools, participation in CEITL, and the work of our Assessment Committee all support an integrative culture of learning at BU with electronic portfolios at the center. Now that all programs at BU are required to develop an assessment process, our use of ePortfolios for assessment is increasingly being seen as a model for others to follow.

 

Evidence

Perhaps the best evidence of our professional development work is the list of faculty presentations and publications that we have accrued over the past several years as the result of our ePortfolio project. It is important to note that three of these presentations have involved students presenting along with faculty. The recent list includes:  

Presentations and Publications on ePortfolio, Fall 2012/Spring 2013

“Eportfolio Assessment at the College of General Studies, Boston University” with Natalie McKnight. AAEEBL Annual Conference, Boston, MA, July, 2013.

“Does ePortfolio Have a Future in the College Admissions Process?” with John Regan, AAEEBL Annual Conference, Boston, MA July 2013.

“Making Interdisciplinary Connections Visible with ePortfolio” with Megan Sullivan and John Regan, Northeast AAEEBL Conference, JWU, Providence, RI, March 15, 2013

“Using ePortfolio Assessment Data to Initiate Curricular Change: Or, Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire?” with Natalie McKnight, Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Gillian Pierce and Gunita Singh, AAC & U General Education and Assessment Meeting, Boston, March 1, 2013.

“Developing a Culture of EPortfolio Use at a Large University,” with Natalie McKnight, John Regan and Amod Lele, AAC & U Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA, January 24, 2013.

“Using ePortfolio to Assess General Education at Boston University” (Poster Session) with John Regan, 2012 AEEBL Annual National Conference, Seaport Convention Center, Boston, MA, July 17, 2013.

“General Education: Foundation for the Future,” Natalie McKnight. First International Conference on General Education, Seoul, S. Korea, June 8, 2012.

ePortfolio-related presentations and posters

Lavalli, K.L. and S.K. Sommers Smith  (2012)  The classic text of science.  18th Annual     Conference of the Association for Core Texts and Courses, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 29 March-1 April 2012.

Griffin, H., S.K. Sommers Smith, and K.L. Lavalli  (2012)  Assessments of undergraduate writing in the sciences.  American Association of Anatomists/Experimental Biology Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, April 21-25, 2012, Poster LB26.

Sommers Smith, S.K., K. L. Lavalli, and H. Griffin.  (2013)  Assessment of undergraduate writing in the sciences using ePortfolios.  American Association of Anatomists/Experimental Biology Annual Meeting, Boston, MA, 20-24 April 2013, Poster 517.8.

The evidence of impact on our students is also clear in their self-assessment/reflection essays archived in their ePortfolios.  For an example, see Nahomi Velasquez’s reflective essays.

 Before we launched our ePortfolio project we never asked students to reflect on their learning, nor would it have been easy for them to do so without an electronic archive of all they’ve done. Now, with ePortfolios in place for all our students, self-assessment/reflection assignments are a regular part of their end-of-term experience in both the freshman and sophomore year, and they are more conscious of and articulate about their learning as a result.

 

Connections to Other Sections of the Catalyst

Pedagogy. As mentioned above (“Evidence”), ePortfolios have led us to adopt reflective/self-assessment assignments into our freshman and sophomore programs.  The challenge with these new practices is getting student and faculty “buy-in.”  Sometimes students simply aren’t archiving their work, and some faculty are not requiring them to do so. In the past year we have started holding an ePortfolio contest to encourage students to produce comprehensive and attractive portfolios. We have also hired Peer Mentors for ePortfolio who help students and faculty with ePortfolios problems.

Also the Dean and Associate Dean for Student Life now meet with all incoming students during summer orientation to discuss our reasons for using ePortfolios. beginning in the fall 2013, our full-time advising professionals have developed an ePortfolio-based component to encourage students to reflect upon their career goals and aspirations. All CGS students maintain an “Advising” section on their ePortfolios to post their responses. Below is the first assignment for this component.

CGS Advising 1CGS Adv 2

Along with encouraging deeper student reflection and engagement, we are hoping that all three of these initiatives will help “buy-in,” along with the university’s new mandate that all programs have an assessment system in place.

Scaling Up.  Our ePortfolio project has fostered a network of connections between us and faculty and staff in other colleges and programs at BU.  As mentioned above, our faculty have made numerous presentations at workshops of the Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching, and those led us to participating in a campus-wide ePortfolio discussion group for about a year (that group has not reconvened for a year but some of its focus has now been taken up by a campus-wide Assessment Committee that one of our C2L members is part of). Again, as mentioned above, since the upper administration now requires faculty and staff to have assessment processes in place, our well-articulated ePortfolio assessment system is being seen as a model for others to follow. For four years our ePortfolio project has been funded by grants from the Davis Educational Foundation; moving forward we are shifting to a model that incorporates assessment in the regular committee work of 10 or more faculty each year. Click here to read our full Scaling Up story.

Outcomes Assessment.  As stated above, our ePortfolio project began because we were looking for an assessment tool, but our work with electronic portfolios has transcended the original purpose. While we certainly have a strong assessment system in place, we have also made important changes in our pedagogy by emphasizing reflection, and we have become more integrated with the rest of the university through our “scaling up” efforts. Click here to learn more about our Outcomes Assessment. 

Technology.  We use the Digication platform and in general have been very pleased with it and with the service provided by Digication staff. That said, there are occasional glitches, and some faculty and students find it more difficult to work with than others.  Technology problems and/or fears (along with lack of time) are the chief reasons why some faculty don’t’ “buy in” to ePortfolios.  Fortunately for us as a college (and for us as a C2L team), the university hired an Educational Technologist for ePortfolio (Amod Lele), and he has been a great asset in our project and across campus in general. Click here to learn more about our use of technology.

 

Supporting Documents

Please see our Assessment Polished Stories and Practices page for further details about our project.

 

Conclusion

Our professional development story has been a success because we have had dedicated and versatile faculty and staff involved in every stage and because we were fortunate enough to secure grant funding from the Davis Educational Foundation to cover travel expenses and faculty stipends. The biggest challenge has been and continues to be student and faculty “buy-in”, but we are making progress on both and have had at least 70% buy-in from the start. The take-away?  If you want to have a successful ePortfolio project, make sure you have a core-group of dedicated faculty and staff who are likely to be around for at least several years, and try to secure grant funding at an early stage.

 

Additional Visuals

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Photo of Professor Sally Sommers Smith and Harry Griffin (student) working on a science writing ePortfolio project.

 

 

 

Photos of Natalie McKnight, Gillian Pierce, Gunita Singh, and Lynn O’Brien Hallstein making a presentation about ePortfolios at the AAC & U General Education and Assessment conference in Boston, March 2013:

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Screenshot from Nahomi Velasquez’s ePortfolio homepage:
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