Learning Portfolios So Far

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, but I’ve only gotten my head above water about this in the last few days. Bear with me as semester start-itis hasn’t really cleared my system and I’m definitely fighting off a cold with flu like symptoms.

I’m very lucky to work at an institution with some pretty good vision from the top down. I’m not glad handing anyone here, I honestly mean it. Patrick Deane, McMaster’s President, has a vision, and put some institutional money behind enacting that vision. He’s identified the learning portfolio as something that students can use to document their learning journey. Watch the YouTube video for his take.

Admittedly, I have a vested interest in this idea working out, because I’m front and centre with this initiative around what we call Learning Portfolios, and what most of you call ePortfolios. I’ve ran over 20 workshops on the tool in the last year and a half, have become the defacto technical face of the thing, and well, I spent my summer working on it so that I can support the widespread use of it by faculty and students this year.

The summer has been a blur of activity – I’ve mostly had a chance to tweet about some of the things I’m doing, but here’s a quick rundown:

Figure out how to change the wording of ePortfolio in the D2L instance to Learning Portfolio

You’d think this was an easy thing – except that it’s buried in the Language options of the D2L admin settings.  To my dismay, it wasn’t as easy as changing one thing and it propagating to the hundreds of instances of the word throughout the system – it was hundreds of entries. Think it took 4 hours to manually go through and adjust this. After the upgrade to version 10.2 I needed to redo some of this work as the upgrade process either created new language entries or something got overwritten.

 Document how to use it

I’ve always believed in local documentation – I frankly hate using vendor documentation because it’s never specific enough to your particular install, nor does it illustrate why you would use it. I stayed away from the why, because that was for other people (students, namely) to decide. I did however create this repository of PDFs. 20 PDFs, articulating and well, showing students and faculty how to use the damn thing. There’s about 10 more that I want to do – these having to do with social media connections. While some of this stuff is documented in the vendor documentation, with us changing the name of the tool to something else, there is a high likelihood of confusion had we not done this. This whole thing took months of work, and isn’t close to being done. Also, I think we all recognize that students generally don’t use these systems because they aren’t as slick as Pinterest, or Facebook, or Tumblr. The ePortfolio tool is definitely not as slick as Tumblr, nor as easily customizable. So anything to get the technical details out of the way and into student hands is a desirable thing.

To that end I wrote scripts for twelve videos – eight of them are on YouTube. These were talked about in another post so I won’t go into much detail other than many people have really dug them. I think we’ll be doing more of these for not only the Learning Portfolio but also for the LMS.  With very little promotion, one video has 100 hits and the channel has 15 subscriptions, so it’s fair to say that people are interested in this type of support. More of these will have to be made.

Bend it to make it do what you want

One of the institutional goals is to help students take ownership of their learning and make explicit learning goals for themselves. With self-directed goals, many of them are not achievable in four years (or five, or fifteen even). We looked at some ways that might make sense for learners to create and self select their own goals. Ultimately, with some help from Desire2Learn, we settled on a form accessible via a widget that lives on the homepage of the LMS. That form allows the student to fill out a learning goal, making it explicit, do some thinking about it, and track it throughout your time at McMaster. So, we have a piece that does that in conjunction with the Learning Portfolio. I hope that Desire2Learn are thinking about adding this sort of functionality into the ePortfolio tool, because that gives users a giant reason why the ePortfolio tool is better than a blog, Tumblr or any other service in helping you make those connections.

Push out a template for students to use

Seeing as the institution wants to help students – what is the best way to help? There’s no one best way I’m sure, but one idea is that we push out a template to any student who registered in a course between Fall 2012 and Fall 2013. Our System Administrator looked at using the API to accomplish a push, however, there wasn’t enough time to test the script properly, so we are manually doing this. I have a CSV extract of all 30,000+ students who had the student role in at least a course over the last calendar year. I chop that down to 1000 student segments, enroll those students in a course, then push the template from my account into those student’s Learning Portfolio. Unenroll the students, after making course active due to a bug in D2L’s system (you can’t unenroll a person from a course while the course is inactive), and repeat the process.

I ramped up the numbers to 1000 (I started at 200, moved to 600, then 800, then a 1000), and that seems to be the best number to hold at. When I approached some of the ePortfolio team over the summer about our plans, they were concerned about a push to 20,000. I hope they work on the scalability of the tool going forward. Once I got into a rhythm, and used the 1000 enrollment levels, I knocked off 10,000 fairly quickly.

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