AAEEBL Conference Notes – Day Three

And on the third day, we rested… well not really. We heard about and connected with some people at Deakin University who are using the D2L ePortfolio tool in a collaborative way – which is a real limitation that we’ve run into in that even if the permissions on the shared item are “edit”, a presentation is still not editable. It’s a weird problem that seems to stump a lot of us, so it’ll be nice to talk to the people at Deakin who are using ePortfolio in collaboration.

ePortfolio Meets Peer Mentoring

At McMaster, we’re entering year two of the Learning Portfolio and one of the hopes is that students who used it in year one continue to use it in year two as well as mentor new students and offload some of the technical support that we do. Mercy College have a stipend for their peer mentors, who have to complete bi-weekly portfolio tasks which are submitted for assessment against the learning outcomes of the program (which include leadership, personal and professional development). It’s an interesting scenario because our student success office has something similar and is not running into the problems that Mercy College exhibited around time investment to put stuff in their ePortfolio platform (Mercy College uses Digication).

Evaluationg Artifact Selection to Improve EPIC Initiatives at Wentworth Institute of Technology

The first question on my mind was what’s EPIC? Turns out EPIC is External, Problem based, Interdisciplinary Curriculum. What they found was that students added anything that was graded above a B, and was related to their major. Students found that there were three top motivators to keep things up to date – jobs, professors and completion of the course. The real interesting thing is that forming a committee that’s student driven – basically an ePortfolio Advisory Board. I think this is something that we’ve missed here at McMaster.

ePortfolio and the Whole Learner: Intergrating Curricular, Co-Curricular and Experiential Learning

Guttman Community College’s Laura Gambino presented this session which was essentially a very specific use case – Guttman’s curriculum was designed in a very unique way, essentially tailored to the specifics of their student body. This includes a lot of experiential learning, curriculum tied to community based learning and the first year curriculum is very tailored to the Guttman learning outcomes. They use the ePortfolio for integrating learning between the courses – to help transfer and connect knowledge. The first year curriculum is based around a theme like Urban Ecology, and the ePortfolio helps connect the specific course curriculum to that theme by collecting reflections on the theme, and document community based learning days. To “standardize” ePortfolio marking Guttman has Assessment Days to look through portfolios, review processes and use ePortfolio as an LMS itself.

Future of Technology in Higher Education

Bryan Alexander’s keynote was a walk through potential futures of education – depending on how you view what the trends suggest where we might be heading. I can’t really recap the key points because it was something that you should really experience as a whole event. I will say that many of the scenarios were dire for education as we know it. That’s not necessarily bad, it suggests that we might be in for some turbulent times. The best quote of the day was during the keynote:

Social media will become media, media that isn’t social will be asocial.. like Blackboard.

I’m not sure that this is entirely true, I have a bit of a different view of new media in that it doesn’t replace or supplant existing media; it diminishes the prominence of the previous media structure. Social media is diminishing phone calls, letters, e-mail and that sort of long-form personal communication. If we look at previous media shifts, TV didn’t replace radio, DVD/VHS didn’t replace film and so on. Where it does replace existing media (digital photography replacing commercial film photography, telephone replacing the telegraph) it’s really the same media mode – with social media it’s a multimedia thing – social media is pictures, video, text and anything else people create and share. Maybe a slight criticism, but I get what Bryan was getting at. In that social media will become so ubiquitous that it’s just media. There will be very little differentiation between professional media created for consumption and amateur created media as the quality and accessibility of professional grade tools to create media.

AAEEBL Conference Notes – Day Two

Day two started as a sleepy morning in Boston – coffee and a bagel helped a fair bit. I was still jazzed over some of the ideas shared the previous day so that excitement began to sink into where my brain goes next, which is how to do this badging server at my place. Trent Batson said at one of the breaks, ” The beauty of badges is the metadata behind the badge.” Now a recap of the sessions I attended.

Lessons Learned – Mobilizing an Institution to Embrace ePortfolios to Measure Essential Learning Outcomes

Before this session even started, I was skeptical. We all know that marking using ePortfolios take longer, so how does one actually get the entire institution to take on that extra work. I mean, there’s a reason faculty use multiple choice, scantron style assessment methods right? It’s faster to mark. Well, this session didn’t totally answer the question, but it did mention two key concepts that the entire conference revolved around – learning outcomes (competencies or objectives depending on your local syntax) and curriculum change from teacher focused to student focused. Faculty and students were looking for a better experience, and the only way to do it was through curriculum change. Stockton College took four years to identify the correct outcomes (at the institutional level), gain consensus, map out the connections to the institution level and the course and program level, create an assessment plan and select an ePortfolio platform (Blackboard and Digication).

Digital Connections: From College to Career

This presentation was about a ePortfolio use in Business Administration program at Tunxis Community College – many of the same lessons we’ve learned in the first year; you need to make it worth something, and you need to integrate other elements of academic life into the ePortfolio process. It’s also nice to see that students there resist the ePortfolio stuff but recognize the value at the end when they see their own growth.

Iterating on the Academic Transcript: Linking Outcomes to ePortfolio Evidence

This session was about working on the lack of information in a traditional transcript. Stanford University has flipped the transcript – it presents information along the outcomes that were in the program. So it would list the outcome (say, something like ethical reasoning) and list the courses that assess that outcome and the result of that course. ePortfolios sit beside this process as an unofficial record of what was achieved. Drexel University is currently in the process of doing this – except they have things called student learning priorities, which are measured from three areas: co-curricular, curricular and co-op. I see a lot of McMaster’s Learning Portfolio initiative in Drexel’s approach.

Cultivating Learning Cultures: Reflective Habits of Mind and the Value of Uncertainty

“I wanted to hijack the eportfolio to be about the learning process.” Kathy Takayama

This keynote was one of those talks that sits with you for a while. I really had to think about this one, so my notes are not that great… but the gist of it was that ePortfolios are learning spaces for metacognition. By using open language (like “so far” and “at this time”) and integrating the language of uncertainty into the course (and obviously the requirements) it allowed Kathy a pathway to allow students to develop the idea of metacognition about one’s own learning.

Design Thinking: Digital Badges and Portfolios

This was a workshop, which engaged us in thinking about developing a series of badges that could be offered at our institutions, and give that framework some thought. We primarily worked with the Jisc Open Badge Design Kit. We did have to consider what goes into a badge to make it powerful – what we came up with was that the criteria is part of the badge, and that students provide evidence of “earning” or achieving that badge. I’ll write something in the near future about this, but we’ll be exploring this area in the next few months as our MacServe program wants to issue badges, and I have to make it happen!

AAEEBL Conference Notes – Day One

As part of my personal effort to broaden my scope beyond just LMS work (which is what I’ve done the last three years or so) I’m trying to attend all sorts of different educational technology related conferences. A lot of the work I’m doing has this weird intersection of outcomes based assessment and evidence, which ePortfolios really understand. Coincidentally, McMaster has this Learning Portfolio initiative going on. Strange how these things line up? So going back a few months, Tracy Penny Light was working with McMaster as a visiting professor around how we can better integrate the Learning Portfolio around campus, as well as how McMaster can start participating with ePortfolio campuses around the world – one of the suggested ways to start was to attend AAEEBL’s annual conference.

So after the brilliant people at Passport Canada got me an emergency passport (I had left mine in a car service the week before – and the car service was in Buffalo, and unable to return my passport), off to Boston I went. The sessions I was in were typically 20 minutes, so the notes won’t be as extensive as what I did for Fusion. Here’s my notes:

ePortfolio in Study Abroad: A Model for Engaged Intercultural Learning

A couple of interesting ideas – Indiana University Purdue offer 70+ study abroad programs and the ePortfolio use in those courses are widespread across disciplines (Humanities, Biology and Liberal Arts were mentioned specifically). These study abroad programs are aligned with graduation outcomes – I didn’t catch whether or not they were assessed for graduation, but certainly they could be. I wonder what a University or College would be like if they built in some experiential component, that required them to document what they’ve learned, and show evidence of that learning as part of graduating?

ePortfolios in Graduate Education – Developing Critical Reflection and Lifelong Learning

Athabasca University uses ePortfolios at the Master’s level in their Distance Education program to assess for PLA (prior learning assessment) and as a program long piece. One of the big takeaways was that they have to work really hard to steer students away from a showcase style ePortfolio, to a more reflective critical practice portfolio. I wonder if this is the end goal for us, to have users engage in this critical practice, do we have to get away from the showcase style stuff we’re doing already? Or can we accept that cognitive dissonance, and really push students to use the Learning Portfolio for more than one reason? That is going to be a tough task.

Keynote: Catalyst For Learning

So I’ve heard about the Catalyst for Learning website, it comes up fairly frequently in ePortfolio circles, and it really is a valuable resource. Some interesting ideas brought up during the keynote – the one that really resonated was the preliminary research that suggested that ePortfolio use on campus can aid retention by 20% – which is a huge number. Another was this sub-site for the use of ePortfolio as a Curriculum change agent. The keys for success in implementing ePortfolios is to find opportunities that use inquiry and reflection, and make the ePortfolio component of those teaching acts meaningful (beyond grades).

A small portion of the keynote was spent on scaling up – and that’s something that I’ve struggled with getting my head around. There’s the typical connect ePortfolio use to institutional goals, engage students (well duh!) but two of the scalability points resonated and bodes well for what we’ve done at McMaster. The first was “develop an ePortfolio team” – which I think we’ve done very well. We’re forming a Learning Portfolio advisory committee, which will include students and student government as well as faculty and staff. The second was really nice to hear, and that was “make use of evidence of the impact of ePortfolio use”. That’s the stuff that we’re digging into this year.

Building a Sound Foundation: Supporting University Wide Learning Portfolios

My name in blurry lights.


This was my presentation about the technical supports that we put in to support campus wide ePortfolio use. We did some informal data collection around the effectiveness of the stuff we built – what students used, and basically the resources I expected to be used were not used as much as the stuff that I felt would not be used. Basically I’m a bad judge of what people will use.

Two tough questions I got that I couldn’t answer: Is there evidence that attendance in the workshops for faculty help delivery? Does faculty taking the workshop filter down to the students?

Make It Do What It Do: The Intersection of Culturally Relevant Teaching, Digital Rhetoric in Freshman Writing Classrooms

I will say, this pairing of presentations was definitely the odd couple of the conference. What is not astounding is that this session blew my mind. I was drawing comparisons to all sorts of communication theory, Walter Ong’s oral tradition, cultural studies, bell hoooks, Public Enemy songs… just a cornucopia of stuff firing off. Also, the quote of the conference right here:

“Uploading Word Documents to a predefined template emulates a violent history of technology that reinforces existing power paradigms”

So what was my takeaway from all this? Being a white dude, I have to remember that this technology and initiative comes from a white dude perspective. How do we diversify this initiative in a way that is respectful and not tokenizing? I guess there’s some element of diversification of ePortfolios – remembering that they are not some panacea, but come from a specific perspective, and while they may be used by any person, the pedagogy that surrounds them is almost certainly from a particular perspective.

How to Design an Assessment Program Using an ePortfolio: Linking Mission to Learning

While this session was stacked at the end of what was an exhausting day, it reinforced a lot of the things that we’re doing at McMaster: ePortfolios allow a channel of communication between institution and student, data from the assessment of ePortfolios (program oriented ePortfolios) aren’t useful for deep analysis, but can reveal opportunities for curriculum improvement, and rubrics used to assess ePortfolios can be linked to program level outcomes.