Connecting the Dots: Integrating Learning with ePortfolios

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About the Activity

The College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University holds two faculty Development Days per year, one in the fall and one in the early spring. The 90 minute workshop described below was offered in March 2014, co-facilitated by Laurie Poklop and Gail Matthews-DeNatale. Laurie is an Associate Director with the University’s Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning through Research and Gail is on the faculty of the Graduate School of Education.

The workshop was offered twice. The first session was streamed live so that faculty could access the workshop online in addition to those who attended in person.

The term “integrated learning” can mean many things and our assumptions regarding integration are often tacit. The goal of this session was to help faculty to reflect upon the elements of student learning and experience that they want their students to connect. The workshop was structured around a process of inquiry, reflection, and integration.

poklopLaurie Poklop, Ph.D.
Center for Advancing Teaching & Learning Through Research
Northeastern University

Inquiry: At the beginning of the workshop the faculty participated in an activity that was designed to help them surface their tacit assumptions about integrated learning. The central question for this portion of the workshop was “What do we want students to integrate?”

Participants each received a handout that was filled with blank circles and given the following prompt:

Please fill in as many circles as possible with discreet elements of your students’ educational and life experience that could be relevant to their learning and development. “Relevance” could refer to a course, program, or complete college/university experience.

gail_reduced_white_eye_cropped_vert200Gail Matthews-DeNatale, Ph.D.
Graduate School of Education
Northeastern University

The facilitators then opened the session up to group discussion. Because the faculty in attendance come from a number programs, particularly those dedicated to graduate professional study, their desires for integration were both distinct and overlapping. Examples include:

  • Theory with practice
  • Connect with each other
  • Personal passion, classroom learning, and social issues
  • Content and process
  • Ideas and concepts from courses across the curriculum

Reflection: Following this debrief, participants were asked to draw lines between the items on their handout, reflecting upon potential connections, to create a visual web of relationships between the goals of the curriculum and student experience both inside and outside the classroom.

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Integration: Workshop participants then explored the role that ePortfolios can play in integrating learning. They were introduced to a typology of portfolios, including ePortfolio examples and assignments available on through the Connect to Learning catalyst site. Examples included

This led into a discussion of the integrated, systems approach within institutions that are most successful with ePortfolios, including a discussion of the Catalyst model.

The final questions posed to the group were “What does integration look like?” and “How will we know it when we see it?”

Participants formed small groups of 2-3. Each group was given a packet that included sample portfolios and the AAC&U Integrative Learning VALUE Rubric with one criterion highlighted (highlighting differed across groups so that all criteria would be represented). Groups were asked to examine their sample portfolios in relationship with one criterion from the rubric to look for evidence of integration, consider areas of strength, and identify opportunities for improvement.

After debriefing on this experience, at the end of the session the participants were given several articles for additional reading, including “Integrative Learning: Mapping the Terrain” by Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings and “Integrative Learning” by Bret Eynon, Laura Gambino, and Judit T├Ârok.

Reflection on Implementation

While the workshop went well and the participants were highly engaged, in retrospect this was too much to accomplish in 90 minutes. Participants needed time to immerse themselves in the rubric and study the ePortfolio examples and so two hours would have been a more appropriate time frame. In addition, it would have been nice to allow time for considering applications to their own teaching, brainstorming ideas for integrating portfolios into their own practice. An ideal scenario would be to offer the workshop in two parts, with the first session serving as an introduction to ePortfolio typology and exploration of the potiential for connection-making through portfolio pedagogies, followed by a second session in which participants proposed and planned portfolio integration in their own teaching.

From a logistical perspective, it was not possible for the on-ground participants to access the site during the session. We provided these participants with printed pages from the Catalyst site and from the institutional portfolios developed by partner sites. The virtual attendees had more of an opportunity to explore the sites because they were provided with links and were already at their computers.

Our successful experience with virtual attendees leads us to believe that the workshop could be offered in a fully online format, either with a synchronous webinar tool that supports breakout groups or as an asynchronous threaded discussion. An asynchronous online workshop would remove time pressures and create opportunities for guided exploration of practices documented in the Connect to Learning sites.

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