Reflection

Looking Back

Final Reflection – Guiding Questions

We went into Connect to Learning with considerable experience in the realm of ePortfolios. But expertise can be both help and hindrance. There is tremendous value to approaching life in a spirit of inquiry. Education researcher Eleanor Duckworth calls this the “virtue of not knowing.” In the past three years (actually two, because we joined in the second year) we have enjoyed listening to each other, pursuing deeper understanding of the unknown in the context of an open-minded community.

Knowing the right answer requires no decisions, carries no risks, and makes no demands. It is automatic. It is thoughtless

The virtues involved in not knowing are the ones that really count in the long run. What you do about what you don’t know is, in the final analysis, what determines what you will know.

– Eleanor Duckworth (2006, pp. 63. 67)

The C2L leadership team members have been deeply involved with ePortfolio initiatives at Northeastern and other institutions for over a decade. We’ve enjoyed sharing this expertise with our C2L colleagues. However, the greatest value has come from considering questions for which there are no easy answers, and even from identifying challenges that we had yet to perceive. What thorny issues were our partners trying to address, what evidence had they collected to gain deeper understanding of those concerns, and how have they interpreted that data? What were their surprises, what actions did they take in response to new information, and what happened after that?

Some of the most exciting questions posed relate directly to the Catalyst Framework. For example, how do learning design and implementation impact outcomes? At what juncture(s) is reflection most valuable for the learners? Does the optimal role of reflection and social pedagogy vary across disciplines, student demographics, and end purposes – and if so, how? How have others managed to maintain a delicate balance between program-level assessment that can be validated, personalized student engagement with ePortfolios, and the dynamic teaching that correlates with faculty autonomy?

The primary focus for our project was the Graduate School of Education’s Masters program within the College of Professional Studies. That ePortfolio initiative was already underway before our involvement with C2L began, but it was not as generative as we would have hoped. Connect to Learning has created opportunities for us to take that work deeper and farther than we would have been able to without C2L’s network of support.

Change often leads to fatigue and even conflict, and C2L has helped us place those stressors within a larger, normalized, perspective. The Catalyst Framework has also provided us with a model for addressing the complexity and opportunities associated with ePortfolio work.

catalyst_306Because The Framework represents intersecting facets of a system, it helps people from a range of perspectives understand the concerns of others, and offers a visual representation that conveys the benefits of collaboration. It serves as a mandala, a visual story that describes describes success and establishes a shared language for dialogue with others — in the words of Sherry Turkle, it is an “object to think with.”

The C2L experience has informed work on a newly redesigned Masters curriculum that integrates ePortfolio work throughout the program. The C2L project structure itself even shaped our curricular approach, when for example we embedded the Jam structure in the fabric of our newest Masters concentration in eLearning and Instructional Design. And, while the Masters program redesign initiative can’t claim all the credit, we are also observing a ripple effect in which ePortfolios are becoming integral to a number of new initiatives throughout the College of Professional Studies.

The C2L experience has informed work on a newly redesigned Masters curriculum that integrates ePortfolio work throughout the program. The C2L project structure itself even shaped our curricular approach, when for example we embedded the Jam structure in the fabric of our newest Masters concentration in eLearning and Instructional Design. And, while the Masters program redesign initiative can’t claim all the credit, we are also observing a ripple effect in which ePortfolios are becoming integral to a number of new initiatives throughout the College of Professional Studies.

Our Work Together

Northeastern is a large and dynamic institution. At the beginning of our C2L involvement, some members of the leadership team were brand new to the school, and teammates were also based in different sectors and physical locations. The team’s shared knowledge was limited (e.g. about teammate expertise, previous ePortfolio initiatives, and the University’s current work with ePortfolios). C2L provided a tremendous opportunity for these key people to become acquainted, share resources, brainstorm ideas, and provide each other with feedback on works-in-progress. The leadership team structure helped put a crack in institutional silos so that we could learn from each other.

Higher education is in rapid transition, shifting leadership is to be expected in any multi-year initiative, and Northeastern is no exception. All of the original C2L leadership team members are still at Northeastern, but only one of them is working in the same capacity as she was at the beginning of the project. Some people who were active at the beginning of the project are only peripherally involved now. New people have been added to the community of engagement, but not in a leadership capacity. Despite the fact that membership change has created challenges for workload and continuity, the flexible approach to structure and expectations for involvement has allowed people to maintain connections, and that has expanded awareness and extended the conversation about C2L in serendipitous ways. The Catalyst Framework advocates a sustainable approach, and in many ways our ever-changing cast of actors helps prepare us for a time in the near future when C2L is in the rear-view mirror.

Looking Forward

The redesigned Master of Education program launched in fall 2013 and so by the midpoint of 2014 we will have gathered sufficient data to assess the impact of courses that are early in the curriculum sequence. We have done a tremendous amount of work, but in many ways we are just getting started.

We anticipate that the role of ePortfolios in CPS as a whole will continue to expand, because there are a number of college-wide initiatives that include an ePortfolio component.  For example, one creates a framework of support for workplace-based experiential learning among graduate students enrolled in CPS online programs.

It would be easy for initiatives to proliferate without the upward spiral of improvement that comes with dialogue across projects and colleges within the university, as was the case before diverse leaders joined the same team for C2L. However, in the words of David Weinberger, we will make the most progress if we are “small pieces loosely joined.” An attempt to control the spawning of new initiatives would not be productive because it would thwart experimentation and expanded engagement. Even though the C2L leaders have significant expertise, we need to remember that there is still a virtue in not knowing, because that disposition creates an opening for inquiry, dialogue, and growth.

 

References

Duckworth, E.R. (2006). “The having of wonderful ideas” and other essays on teaching and learning. Third edition. New York: Teachers College Press.

Turkle, S. (2007). Evocative objects: things we think with. Boston: MIT Press.

Weinberger, D. (2001). Small pieces loosely joined: a unified theory of the web. New York: Perseus Publishing.

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