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.