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    Collaborating to Connect

    May 2nd, 2009, 3:29 pm

    The core concept that I want to focus on is connection.   In our ePortfolio project, we use the mantra “Collect, Select, Reflect & Connect.”  As of last year, I had begun to feel that, in our ePortfolio practice, we were underplaying or missing out on the opportunity for connection.

    Our ePortfolio project was and is thriving.  We have thousands of students building ePortfolios, creating rich, beautiful ePortfolios.  But I felt we weren’t getting enough out of the process.  We weren’t doing enough to use ePortfolio as a tool for interaction, connecting students to faculty, students to students, building intellectual community.  And we weren’t doing enough to use ePortfolio as a tool for helping students connect their learning across classes and semesters.

    The successes of the process were multiple.  Course work was going into boxes, and students were reflecting on their specific pieces of work.  And they were thinking about how they were changing as individuals, constructing new identities in a process that combined the cognitive and the affective in powerful ways.  But despite the success, something was missing.   The process we tended to use were individuated, not collective.   Students rarely looked at each others’ work or each other’s stories.  The sharing of ePortfolios outside the classroom was sporadic and lacked organization, which undercut the sense of pupose generated by the process.  Moreover, there were all too few explicit linkages made across courses — the academic experience typically remained discrete and fragmented.   I wanted to see what we could do to change all of that, to encourage integration, to strengthen ePortfolio as a tool for social learning, to build connection.

    To my mind, this was an issue of pedagogy.  We weren’t getting connection because we, as faculty, weren’t asking for it.  We weren’t asking students to look at each others’ portfolios — in many cases, we as faculty weren’t looking that carefully at portfolios ourselves.  Neither were we developing and implementing the reflective prompts that asked students to consider the ways their courses interconnected and supported each other.  And to some extent, faculty weren’t doing this because we, the project leadership, had not paid sufficiently meaningful attention to this issue ourselves.

    It was a double case of,  “if you don’t ask for it, it won’t happen.”  Students weren’t using ePortfolio as a tool for connection because faculty hadn’t asked them to do it.  And faculty hadn’t asked them to, because we as faculty leaders hadn’t effectively prompted them to focus on the issue.

    With this in mind, I decided to launch two year-long faculty seminars for 2008-9, both of which would address connection and integration.  One was our seminar, Rethinking the Capstone Experience, which asked faculty to study capstone learning and reconceptualize their capstone courses to address issues of synthesis and integration, utilizing ePortfolio as one of the tools at their disposal.  Only faculty teaching capstone courses were eligible for this seminar.  The second seminar, Connecting Students, Connecting Classrooms, was open to anyone, and it focused explicitly and primarily on strengthening the use of ePortfolio as a tool for connection and integration.

    For this project, I want to focus primarily on the work of this second faculty seminar, the Connecting Students, Connecting Classrooms seminar.  It has been a challenging seminar in some ways — the work we’ve asked faculty to do has been difficult.  But over the course of the year, we built considerable momentum, and developed some promising approaches.  I want to consider the course design elements that went into the structuring of the seminar.  I’ll look at some of what happened in the seminar, when we put those elements into play.  And I’ll look at outcomes — what happened in the classrooms where faculty tested out their new approaches to ePortfolio with their students.