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    A problem of practice

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:06 pm

    Our Connecting Students/Connecting Classrooms seminar was designed to help faculty confront a challenging problem:  how to use ePortfolio more effectively as a tool for connection.

    The process was challenging in part because the core issues of connection and integration are fundamentally difficult.  There is a reason that integrative learning remains one of the great unaddressed needs of higher education — as faculty, we are trained to focus on the curriculum of our individual courses.  Shifting to a focus on the whole undergraduate experience could be said to require a paradigm shift.

    Other factors also contributed to the challenge.  The technology used added a degree of difficulty, in that our ePortfolio platform does not currently integrate web 2.0 functionality, which would have facilitated connection.  Our faculty’s 9 course-per-year teaching load adds stress and fatigue to the equation.  And anytime one asks faculty to change their teaching practices, one is asking them to put in extra time and add to the risk of failure.

    Faculty who applied to participate took part in a series of monthly meetings, focused on practice.  We started with what faculty were already doing with ePortfolio in their classrooms.  We raised the possibility of new approaches, connecting where possible to the practices that were already underway, but persistently prompting faculty to consider ways that they could do more with ePortfolio and help students get more out of the process.  Month by month, we moved from considering possibilties to asking faculty to design new classroom activities, to actually testing those activities with their students, and returning to discuss what transpired.

    The persistent focus was on pedagogy, the craft of teaching.  We asked faculty to focus on a shared issue of practice, and to undertake a process of considering the problem, learning from the literature, developing solutions, testing those solutions, and reporting on the results.  The approach or strategy we used was the recursive dialectic between seminar and classroom.

    This dialectical approach is common to many of our semiars, and while it takes time, it generally works well.  In this seminar, we added an additional element — having faculty bring in and present examples of their students’ portfolios.  We did not want to stop at faculty talking about what THEY did.  We wanted to put the spotlight on what their STUDENTS were doing.  How their students were using ePortfolios, throughout the course.  And we didn’t want only finished ePortfolios — we asked to see ePortfolios repeatedly through the semester, beginning, middle and end.  We asked faculty to share and discuss their students’ portfolios in pairs and small groups.  And we asked them to present them to the seminar as a whole.  Again and again,  we asked them to highlight in their sharing and presentation, the evidence of different forms of connection and integration.