What We’ve Learned

Our participation in C2L has strengthened our ePortfolio project as we have drawn from the theories and practices of C2L leaders and peer participants. From the beginning of our project in 2009, we have made numerous changes as our project has grown. C2L activities such as forums and summer institutes have deepened our work as ePortfolio practitioners on both practical and theoretical levels. While the assessment component of our project was more or less firmly established before we joined C2L, our participation in C2L was invaluable in virtually every other aspect of our project.

Evidence

Through our interaction with our C2L peers, we learned several important practices that strengthened our project. For example, in 2012 we hired our first peer-mentor for ePortfolios, and she proved to be a great help throughout the year. She regularly met with students and faculty who were having various technical problems, and she was almost always able to find a solution. Simply being able to remind students and faculty that there was someone to turn to in the building for help with ePortfolio issues was a big help.

CGS Eport InstAnother recent change was that John Regan and Amod Lele composed helpful online instructions on how to set up and add to ePorfolios, and we sent links to these instructions to all students at the very beginning of each semester. The instructions are lucid and full of excellent visuals, including numerous screenshots, unlike some of the past instructions we’ve sent to students. Student appear to be using these instructions—our “CGS ePortfolio Instructions” received over 1,800 hits in the first two weeks of school. It also helped for the instructions to be sent directly from a central administrative office instead of relying on faculty to forward the instructions to students. Communicating to all CGS students directly this year has helped student buy-in immensely since it insures that all students are getting the same message about ePortfolios.

We also held our first student ePortfolio contest this spring, and we awarded $100 prizes to 3 freshmen and 1 sophomore, all of whom had really rich, visually stimulating portfolios. Announcing the contest a couple of times during the year seems to have given students more incentive to post work in their portfolios and to make some real effort with them. Plus, letting professors know that their students might win prizes for their portfolios helped faculty buy-in at least a little: even professors who are not particularly fond of ePortfolios don’t want to jeopardize their students’ chances of getting an award.

ePortfolio showcaseCGS Eport Showcase Winner

All of these new approaches have strengthened our project and led to more complete (and attractive!) portfolios.

In addition, programmatic ePortfolio use is growing around BU in various schools outside of CGS. In the past year, the School of Theology has begun using ePortfolios for program assessment. The School of Hospitality Administration has started using ePortfolios as a rich record of its summer internship courses. The Goldman School of Dental Medicine and the Distance Education program in Health Communication are also integrating ePortfolios into their programs.

We have learned excellent strategies for increasing student and faculty buy-in and for assessment from our C2L work. In fact, our decisions to hire a peer mentor and to run an ePortfolio contest both came about during the C2L meeting last summer in Providence, and both, as we’ve stated above, have proven to be very useful. We’ve also been intrigued to learn about the assessment practices of other campuses, and we are taking notes about how we might revise our own procedures once we’ve completed the two-year assessment research project we are now conducting. (Also, see the next paragraph for things we’ve learned about reflection).

Before we began using ePortfolios, few, if any of us, ever asked students to reflect on their learning. The readings we have done as part of C2L, and the jams we’ve participated in, have led us to incorporate reflection assignments at the end of both the freshman and the sophomore years. Both assignments, described in our polished practices section of our campus portfolio, have encouraged students to articulate what they’ve learned over the year and how they’ve developed in terms of the outcomes listed in our rubric. Students often report that these reflections have enabled them to see more connections among their courses and more progress in their own competencies than they had been conscious of before.

We assessed the progress of 106 students in the summer of 2012 and summer of 2013 using our rubric and the students’ postings on their ePortfolios. Clearly students are making progress in our program. Unfortunately we don’t have any data prior to our use of ePortfolios to compare these numbers to, but we have shown a slight increase in retention (about 2%) since we began using ePortfolios, and gpa averages are about the same.

Clearly, ePortfolios have made our students’ learning more visible to them and to us. As we’ve said above, having all their work in one place has enabled students to reflect on their learning more thoroughly and specifically, and it has also helped us assess their progress from semester to semester. Recently BU’s upper administration has begun asking all colleges and programs to create assessment procedures (beyond credit hours and gpas) to document student learning. Since we already have such a system in place, faculty and staff across BU have been soliciting our advice about assessment and will probably be doing so in increasing numbers next year. In addition, a delegation from Texas Christian University visited us in June 2013 to consult with us about our use of ePortfolios, having heard about our work from our presentations and publications.

We will continue to ask all CGS students to post work from each of their classes on their ePortfolios, and we plan to continue using their ePortfolios to assess their progress in our program. By the end of the summer of 2013, we have collected and computed data on another 100+ student ePortfolios and are now at the point where we are ready to discuss what the data suggests about improvements we might make in our program. We will also be discussing how we can tweak our assessment practices and our rubric to make both clearer and more efficient, and we have trained four new members for our assessment committee.

This past summer for the first time one member of our team (Natalie McKnight) met with freshmen at each orientation session to discuss how and why we use ePortfolios, and she will distribute hard-copy instructions on how to set up their portfolios, with a link to the online instructions. We hope to increase student buy-in by introducing them to ePortfolios and encouraging them to set their portfolios up even before they start their freshman year. We will also continue the practice of hiring a peer mentor, running an ePortfolio contest, and communicating directly with all CGS students about ePortfolio expectations. In addition, we plan to do a few more conference presentations on our assessment project and our use of ePortfolios in general.

Finally, we hope to extend our assessment project to the January freshman program that will be starting in 2014. We would like to assess a significant number of students from this program and compare the assessment scores to those from our regular program in order to see if the increased focus on experiential learning and interdisciplinarity of the January program enable student to make even more progress (we are submitting a grant for this project within the next 2 weeks).

Project Dashboard

At the College of General Studies, 28 sections of Humanities 101, 102, and 26 sections of HU 201, 202, 28 sections of Rhetoric 101 and 102, 28 sections of Social Science 101 and 102, and 26 sections of SS 201 and 202, and 26 sections of Natural Science 201 and 202 used ePortfolios in both the spring and fall. Approximately 1,100 students at CGS used ePortfolios over the past year. 68 faculty and advisors participated in our ePortfolio project over the past year, since all faculty and advisors are supposed to be encouraging students to post work, etc. on their portfolios. We have 4 members of our C2L team—3 faculty from CGS and 1 staff member from I.T. We also have one peer mentor who works out of the offices of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning.

Author, John Regan, jregan@bu.edu

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