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    Impressions to Reflections

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:03 pm

    Almost all Macaulay students study abroad at some point during their four years.  We support this (including financially) and see it as a key element in the curriculum.  This year we also begain an eportfolio project, and (somewhat unexpectedly) found many of our students using their eportfolios as blogs/eportfolios (I use the terms somewhat interchangeably–a separate question and subject to be discussed) of their study abroad experience.

    I’m interested in a range of questions about these away and abroad eportfolios.  I see the eportfolios as a place for students to engage in social pedagogy-type activities, but often separately from the context of a specific class.  They are having experiences which are learning experiences as they encounter classes (academic and economic), cultures, places, foods, living arrangements, politics, and languages which they’re not used to, which are different from those they’ve encountered at home or on their home campuses.  And as they have these experiences, they’re describing them and reflecting on them, posting photos and videos, getting and responding to questions and comments from friends back home and in other countries, because they have these public away and abroad eportfolios.

    These eportfolios seem to move through the framework “counterclockwise,” in the sense that they start with (and are designed to start with?) connecting the affective and the cognitive–they start with impressions or the equivalent of tourist journals.  But as they become more conscious of addressing a real audience (as they get comments or readers) and engaging with an intellectual community (which we promote and design for by aggregating all their eportfolios into a single site and directing advisors, other students, and the public to that site), they also become more conscious of representing knowledge for others and their explorations become more open-ended.

    What I want to see, the core design element towards which I hope they are moving, is to go from impressions (tourism) to reflections (engagement with authenticity and difficulty).  This does seem to be happening with many of the eportfolios, especially as they connect their experiences away and abroad to what they’ve learned back on campus.  I can already see and code for some of these moments, and I hope to locate more, as well as to see what kinds of design elements and pedagogies can promote this (more specifically).  I also think as time goes by (this is the beginning of these projects, so most students have not yet returned), I would like to see how these travel eportfolios get integrated into (connected? linked? cross-reflected?) their broader eportfolios of their thinking and learning when they return from abroad.

    I’m also interested in some of the social elements of the experience that are only beginning to occur–but for which I do notice I’m designing (sometimes without knowing I was doing it).  In several cases, we have several students studying abroad in the same place, and they have chosen to create a group eportfolio–so it’s one site with multiple authors, and they talk to each other in comments but also in posts directed to each others posts.

    Finally, we’ve just implemented (but not fully announced or launched) the BuddyPress suite of plugins which layers social networking on top of the eportfolios.  The idea of this is that all members of the Macaulay eportfolio community (not just study abroad) have their eportfolios connected to a central audience/response/intellectual community site, where they see new posts and blogs and member profiles and status messsages, and groups and friends–all searchable and connected. I’m anxious to see how this designed community might affect student experiences of situated feedback, and other connections I might not expect.

    (Oh, and one more thing–as if I don’t have enough–most of the away and abroad eportfolios make extensive use of photographs, and some video and audio, too.  I’m curious about how and why students make use of multimedia in these contexts–and whether this might have to be a separate petal entirely?)