A Buffet of Educational Technology Thoughts

If you’ve read anything in this blog, you know that I’m subject to “oh look, shiny!”, constantly distracted and going in one hundred directions. This post will get as close to the way my brain works.

First up, we’re scrapping Blackboard Collaborate as our web conferencing tool and installing WebEx. As a conferencing tool it’s light years ahead in terms of usability and functionality. I’m sure some of our more advanced users will find the quirks, but hopefully we can manage to stay one or two steps ahead of them. We had been Collaborate clients for years, migrating over from a self hosted Elluminate install.  Over time, the product, and it’s terrible Java interface, caused our users issues. We did integrate it directly with our D2L installation, which solved a lot of the interface issues, but then we’ve been hit with conversion errors that can’t be fixed by the user but prompt a ticket to Blackboard support. While Blackboard support have been excellent in this particular case, they haven’t been great over the years. Combine that with the fact that Blackboard has been promising a lot, and not producing a whit of evidence that they’ll be able to pull it off. If they weren’t so big, I’d be calling all their promises vaporware, but I fully expect they’ll be able to deliver eventually. It’s the eventually part that’s the problem.

Second, I’m working through how we can roll out blogs effectively to faculty who want their students to blog, but want a campus install to do it from. I know WordPress Multisite is the way to go, but it’s going to be a slow going process as we need to work with other groups on campus to make this one happen. I personally think that having an academic blog is an important piece of the process of going to University and becoming an academic – how else do people disseminate their findings to the public without the filter of a news organization? How else do academics form their own personal learning network? I’m a huge believer in blogging as a form; and I see it as a reflective practice more often than not. It’s also a space that I can use to see how ideas sound, and it helps me articulate ideas better (by slowing my brain down to typing speed, which is much slower than my mouth goes).

Third, is the upgrade to Turnitin, will practically force us to convert our existing connection between D2L and Turnitin to the new LTI connection between the two parties. As always, this is a last minute addition to our semester startup, so it’s an added complexity that we didn’t really want to think about but will have to consider over the next few days. While Turnitin is forcing everyone to upgrade, there is an opt-out process, but from what I know (and I’ll know more later this week when we chat with our academic integrity office) we don’t know what that really means? How does opting-out effect us? Can we revert if everything craps out and nothing works post-upgrade?

Fourth, I’ve been asked to sit on a portfolio advocacy committee, that will push portfolio use to “the next level” campus wide. I have a few ideas, but I’ve never been fond of sitting on committees, more fond of the work that needs to get done out of the committees. I guess it’s progress when you have someone who knows what it takes and whether it can be done currently, rather than facing down the fact you can’t do what you had proposed due to technical feasibility. My boss is sneaky good at eliminating my ability to point the finger at other people’s decisions, so I guess this one will partially be on me.

PebblePad (Academic) Year One

So as we round out another academic year, now seems to be as good a time to talk about my view of PebblePad.

In this first year, I created 9000+ accounts, who logged in to the system a total of almost 39,000 times (I only count for 319 of those!), working on a total of 8700+ workbooks, or one of 12,500+ templates; creating 9700+ portfolios and submitting almost 7300 things for assessment in 99 active workspaces (PebblePad’s language for a course space). Personally that resulted in 37.5 hours of overtime, 30 consultations with at least 20 different faculty and 30 presentations to students from as few as 20 to as many as 200.

PebblePad has received one major upgrade (and one forthcoming in a few weeks), and a couple of minor patches. The upgrades were smooth as silk from an administrator perspective, because they happened in the wee hours of the morning and were usually done by the time I logged into the system as part of my morning ritual.

How’s it been? Busy. The work in the previous paragraph has been enough to keep me busy were it my only task, but in this time I’ve also had to support the LMS, and bring badging online (that, alone is another story that will be blogged about shortly). I did crunch some numbers and I spent approximately 75% of my time on ePortfolio related work – whether that be documentation, consultations or working with the tool itself.

The administration of PebblePad is dead simple because there’s very little beyond the initial configuration (in fact, I’ve only been back to look for the Turnitin linkage and to run monthly reports). The only glaring thing missing is that the system can’t tell you how many people logged in during a month long period – but I can get that information by looking at the last 28/30/31 days activity page, on the first. It’s not exact, but it’s close enough for now.

I did notice throughout the year that there was very few inquiries from students about how to do anything. They didn’t contact me anyways. They might’ve gone to instructors, but anything complex that had to be done usually had accompanying documentation or a video. I do know that most of my support requests were about getting their login credentials (the system was not connected to our central authentication system for the academic year – due to technical issues we’ve been having that’s mostly out of our control). That issue will be out of the way this month, so it should be clear sailing for folks next year.

We had people use PebblePad (well, Pebble+ specifically) for the sort of thing you’d expect a portfolio platform to do – collect disparate experiences, assemble them into a coherent statement about the experience or themselves and submit it for assessment (or credit for an experience). We also had people use portfolios as a way to assess (and have students self-assess) against programatic outcomes. We also had a few rogues use the peer grading capability of Atlas (the assessment piece of PebblePad) without using the portfolio piece at all, which is great that people are pushing the envelope so early. We had a group use PebblePad as the platform rather than the LMS as they had previously done. We have a group using PebblePad to replace existing paper based workbooks with digital ones. All good foundational work in our third year of ePortfolio/Learning Portfolio initiatives on campus, and the first year of PebblePad.

What could I have done better?

Well, I think I could’ve pushed for more help to ensure that some of the things I did were done the right way. For instance, I ended up doing too much work for faculty, instead of them being trained on how to use the system well and then letting them configure and play. Part of that was the late starting date of the system (September 2nd) – part of that was me trying to make things easy for people – so they could focus on teaching rather than the technical stuff. I wonder if I’ve set a terrible precedent for taking on too much work, which will make the sustainability of what we do, untenable?

I could’ve asked better questions about why students were doing this, rather than getting on with the work – I do that in other aspects of my job, so why I didn’t really challenge people with portfolio work is a bit puzzling. I suppose it could’ve been that there was just so much to do, that I didn’t want to get into it with many people. That has to change. Even though I’m not an Instructional Designer, sometimes I’m the only person (along with my colleagues who hold the same title) instructors will come to with their ideas about using technology.


First Month (and a bit) of PebblePad

It seems that the basic uses of an eportfolio platform are easy as pie for our campus. We’re now at the mid-to-highly complex uses that I thought we might see before this – which begs a question. Is it that no one wanted to push the boundaries of the older system, or was it that the boundaries weren’t worth pushing? Or maybe we weren’t ready to push? I’ve often said I’ve built a career out of workarounds and getting systems to do what they weren’t meant to do. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder to do that – with LTI and ubiquitous acceptance of embed codes from social sites – there’s not a lot of need to bend systems.

However, getting acquainted with a new system (full caveat I had access to the older version of the system for almost two months before PebblePad was turned on September 2nd), while trying to wrap my head around some of the complex asks has been challenging for an old brain like me. For instance, wanting peer marking, peer review and feedback, but not allowing other peers to see the graded assessment or the graded feedback, yet allowing for a commentary feedback to exist on the item, and the assessor can provide a final grade based on the accumulated individual feedback from other students. In a class of close to 80 students. Turns out, not a problem. Even with some initial missteps, it was relatively simple to setup and have working (with some significant help from PebblePad support).

Flexibility for what students can do in the system? No problem. We’ve got one class that’s given workspaces to all their project groups giving them full access to that area to configure how they like. They just can’t remove managers (the instructors) or give grades. They could if their role was configured for it, and the instructors wanted that. That kind of power in a system is really something I’ve missed with the major LMS vendors (and believe me, I’ve asked for the power to give instructors the ability to give students a sandboxed area to add their own content, create their own assignments, etc. etc.). We’ve got another doing peer review. We’ve got another doing typical portfolio stuff – where the student assembles a portfolio and submits that to a lone marker.

I don’t want to sound like a pitch man for PebblePad, but honestly, in a decade plus of working with learning systems, putting in tickets and generally working with educational technology, I’ve never had better service than I do with PebblePad. Tickets are answered intelligently within 24 business hours, most often resolved within that time. Now maybe that’s me, finding easy problems to solve… but only one ticket has lasted longer than a week, and it was to do with the iOS app that was mostly waiting for Apple to approve the app’s update. Which is a huge testament to the people working at PebblePad.

With that said, we’re working with version 5 of PebblePad, and I’m starting to get at some of the limitations. The first one, is that you can’t embed anything into the system except YouTube videos. Students just don’t use YouTube – in fact many use Vimeo, Prezi, Slideshare, Vine and any number of other sites would be nice to embed that right on a portfolio page rather than link it. Now, having spoken to them about it, they’ve stated that they will look at it and see if there’s something they can do to branch out from just YouTube (I suggested adding Prezi, Vimeo, Slideshare, and a couple other ubiquitous sites). There was some security concerns about rogue embeds, but I’m sure they can figure out a solution. Most of the limitations I’m seeing currently will be gone when version 5 and 3 have parity in February – and some were addressed in the November 15th update – again a good thing to see with a company.

So over a month in, I’m really, really impressed. I don’t often get ebullient with external companies (in fact I’m usually very critical of edtech capitalism), as I’ve seen companies grow and what that growth means for the clients,  I hope the future is as bright as the present.

Full disclosure: I was invited to attend a week’s advanced training at PebblePad HQ in the UK. My work paid for the flight, Pebble Learning paid for a week’s accomodation as well as meals and drinks. I don’t think that my opinion can be bought with a week’s accomodation and food (we did have a lovely time), nor change my opinion of the product. Your opinion and mine may vary.

First Week of Using PebblePad

A little preamble.

We’ve been looking at bringing on a second ePortfolio platform since January. We’ve used the D2L ePortfolio platform for two years, with some significant gains, but with quite a few growing pains. The tool doesn’t seem to be getting much focus from D2L – instead they seem to be looking at mobile ePortfolios the last few years. While that’s great, and the app is very, very slick, the way we authenticate to our LMS prevents us from using any of the D2L developed apps; Assignment Grader, ePortfolio, Binder, Pulse, none of them will work for us because of the way we authenticate. Changing our authentication process is on our list of things to do, but isn’t going to happen soon (think: one to two years).

While ePortfolio is a good tool for individual use in context of classroom activity, it doesn’t really do co-curricular stuff well without a bunch of workarounds, like creating a course to house the co-curricular activity. It works well in a mentorship situation (where the mentor is an instructor in a class). It also doesn’t allow people to collaborate effectively. You can share a presentation, giving the other person full rights to edit, but for some weird design reason, you cannot edit anything that exists in the presentation. Even with permission to edit the underlying artifact. This was a deal breaker for a few faculty in large classes. Critical reflection in a social space is something our faculty want, our students want and the literature suggests might be more effective at challenging underlying fundamental thinking.

So we started looking at options.

I tried to advocate for a Domain of One’s Own style project using WordPress as a base for how students could construct a “portfolio” – but too many people felt that it couldn’t adapt to a curriculum based approach where an instructor type person could securely grade and provide individual feedback. People that have used WordPress understand that you can in fact, do just that, but it take a little more work. All else fails there’s e-mail right? Honestly, I didn’t think this option would gain much ground, it’s too radical for our campus, and not necessarily a perfect, easy fit for our needs.

We looked at other providers, Known, Digication, Mahara (and holy crap if you think D2L ePortfolio produces elderly looking portfolios, Mahara looks like warm garbage strewn across an empty strip mall from the 80’s) and a number of free solutions (including Pathbrite). Nothing really did all of the things that we wanted – we needed a pretty broad tool that could do many different things (including co-curriculum uses, personal uses, group/shared uses, curricular uses and finally, a mentor/mentee communication tool).

After putting the others through the review process, we ended up selecting PebblePad and began planning. Negotiation took a bit longer than we liked, but all in all, we turned on the system on September 2nd. We didn’t have time to do single sign-on, or connect the Student Information System to it, or our authentication system. Basically we have a link in the LMS that takes the student/user to the login page and they authenticate to an account I’ve created (to date, 7260 accounts). It also means that the assessment areas in PebblePad – called ATLAS –  (which are distinct from assessment in the LMS) were created manually by me (about 40 so far).

The fact that we turned on the system and did some minor configuration and started running within hours (albeit in a hosted environment) was pretty pleasant. There’s been no major issues (so far). There’s been no real questions come in to ask about “how do I?” – mostly about “can I get an account?” I’ll update in a month or so how things have gone to that date in the future.

Work = Life = ePorfolios

Even though it’s the weekend, it’s August 8. This is my work anniversary. So I’ll be taking a moment to write about work while I enjoy the evening.

After a long discussion with my direct boss, we decided that I needed to stop doing everything that I do and focus on doing a few things. I can say that it’s a good idea, I’m a bit of a control freak. If you’ve worked with anyone like me, you’ve probably been witness to someone who has opinions, shares them with the drop of a hat, and will doggedly defend those beliefs and continue to circle back to fight for them again and again. Where this becomes a problem is when I feel the insane need to do everything. Redesign training? Check. Read the 100+ page document about the LMS upgrade? Check. Dissect it and rewrite it for our campus? Check. Update websites? Check.

I honestly do want other people to feel they have room to do work without me jumping into what they do. I like to think I’m a good person, and I fully recognize my flaws (and this is a big one). I’d also like to think that I’ve tried to make room for others to do stuff. Maybe I haven’t been as effective in doing that, I don’t know as I can’t speak to how others feel. So I’ve vowed to step back from the LMS administration side of things to focus on the ePortfolio and badging projects that we have going.

Now, if you pay attention to LMS’s you’ll know that D2L announced that their badging service will be available for clients on continuous delivery (Brightspace version 10.4 and higher) starting September 2015. We’re also expanding the number of University wide ePortfolio software solutions from just the D2L ePortfolio tool, adding another to complement where D2L eP is weak. There’s not been an official announcement, however we’ve started internal training and I should be writing about the process of getting this other software up and running as I think it’ll be quite an accomplishment in the time frames we have set.

Now you may wonder where the D2L ePortfolio tool is weak?

Well, first, let me give you two caveats. One, I’ve given this information to our account manager and I know for a fact it’s gone up the chain to D2L CEO John Baker. I think we’ll see improvements in the tool over the next while. I’m cautiously optimistic that by this time next year D2L’s ePortfolio tool will be improved, with that I keep an interested eye on the Product Idea Exchange inside the Brightspace Community, for developments. The other caveat, is that we’re using ePortfolios in such a way that we want to leverage social opportunities for reflective practice. Frankly this wasn’t something that we knew when we started with ePortfolios, and hence wasn’t part of our initial needs.

OK the weaknesses from my perspective).

1. The visual appeal of the tool is challenged. The web portfolios that are created are OK looking. It needs a visual design overhaul. Many aspects of the tool still bear the visual look of pre-version 10 look of D2L’s products. It also needs to be able to be intuitive to use for students, and part of that falls on the visual arrangement of tools. There’s three sections of the ePortfolio dashboard where you can do “stuff” (menus, the quick reflection box and on the right hand side for filling out forms and other ephemera). I totally understand why you need complexity for a complex tool – especially one designed to be multi-purpose.

2. Learning goals, which is a huge part of reflective practice, are not built into the portfolio process. You can, yes, create an artifact that could represent your learning goal, and associate other artifacts as evidence of achieving that goal – but I’d ask you to engage in doing that process as a user to see why it’s problematic. Many, many clicks.

3. There is a distinct silo effect between the academic side and the personal side of things. If we extrapolate our learning goals to be equivalent to learning outcomes (and I feel they should be) – those learning goals are still artifacts and outcomes/competencies pulled from the courses are labelled something else. Again, I don’t think the design of the ePortfolio tool is aimed at this idea, however, if we’re serious about student centred learning, shouldn’t we be serious about what the student wants to get out of this experience, and treat what they want out of the experience, whatever that is, at the same level as what teachers, or accreditation bodies, or departments, or schools feel they should know?

4. Too many clicks to do things. Six clicks to upload a file as an artifact is too many.

5. Group portfolios are possible, but so challenging to do, that we’ve instituted a best practice that you organize it socially and make one person responsible for collecting artifacts and submitting the portfolio presentation. Even if you want to take on the challenge, when you share a presentation with another person and give them edit rights, the tool still doesn’t let you edit in the sense that you would expect the word edit to mean. You can add your stuff to the presentation, but can’t do squat with anything else in the presentation. In some ways it makes sense, but functionally it’s a nightmare. What if your group member is a total tool and puts their about me stuff on the wrong page? What if they made an error that you catch, why do you have to make them fix it instead of the sensible thing and being able to fix it yourself?

With all that said, people tend to like the tool once they figure it out. The problem is, that many don’t get past that hurdle without help, and there’s only so much help to go around.

Extending D2L Reports Using Python

So before I get going on this long post, a little bit about me. I fancy myself a programmer. In fact, the first “real” job I had out of college (the second time I went through college, the first job the first time through college was a video store clerk) was programming a PHP/MySQL driven website in 2003-ish (on a scavenged Windows 2000 server running on an HP box). So I have some chops. Of course, as educational technology has moved away from being a multiple skillset job where a little programming, a little graphic design, a little instructional design was all part of what one did, now it’s been parsed out into teams. Anyways, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to write any code for a long time. The last thing I did seriously was some CSS work on my website about four months ago, which is not really doing anything.

With that all said, the LMS administration I do requires little programming skill, as being an admin, while having it’s perks, isn’t exactly a technical job. I do recognize that some admins deal with enrollments and SIS integrations that require a whole skillset that I could do, but I don’t.

As part of my admin jobs, I run monthly reports on how many items are created in D2L’s ePortfolio – these reports include date and time, username and item type. We use this as a gauge of how active students are and cross-referenced with other information it’s incredibly useful in letting us know things like 22,383 items were created by 2650 unique users in ePortfolio in November 2014 (actual numbers).

Using Excel, I can see if users in a month have ever used ePortfolio before, so I can also track how many users are new to the tool per month. However the one thing I can’t easily look at is how frequently a user might interact with ePortfolio. With a total record number of over 125,000, it’s not something I want to do by hand. So I wrote a script. In Python. A language I don’t know well.

If you want to avoid my lengthy diatribe about what I’m doing and skip right to the code it’s on GitHub here: https://github.com/jonkruithof/python-csv-manipulation-d2l-reports. If you don’t want to click a link, here’s the embedded code here:

Basically the code does this:

Look at the username, see if it exists in memory already. If it does, find the difference since the last login write that information to a CSV, and then overwrite the existing entry with this entry. If it does not exist, then write it to memory. Loop through and at the end, you’ll have a large ass CSV that you’d have to manipulate further to get some sense of whether users are frequently using the ePortfolio tool (which might indicate they see value in the reflection process). I do that in CSVed, a handy little Windows program that handles extremely large CSVs quite well. A quick sort by username (an improvement in the Python code coming sometime soonish) and we have something parseable by machine. I’m thinking of taking the difference in creation times, and creating some sort of chart that shows the distribution of differences… I’m not sure what it’ll look like.

D2L Regional Conference (Ontario) 2014 Recap

Thought I published this in late October, but I guess not. Whoops.

So this conference was all about ePortfolio and the Competencies tool – every presentation I went to had something to do with either of those two topics. If neither of those are interesting to you, then well this’ll be a boring recap.

I took part of a focus group around course level analytics – I don’t know if D2L got much out of our conversations, but they were good ones. I hope they heard that the analytics tools are good at what they do, but aren’t robust enough for the complexity of the task.

On to the  presentations.

Tracking Overall Expectations in Brightspace

This presentation was by the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board administrators who are using the Competencies tools to track outcomes. It’s interesting that they use the language learning goals (as a proxy for outcomes) and success criteria (as a proxy for activities). That language is much clearer for K-12 – but would probably be a bit bristly for higher education. John Baker was in the meeting and suggested that there will be a D2L tool to copy outcomes from the standards source (whether that be a District School Board, Provincial standard or other). If that comes to fruition, I could see the CEAB (Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board) lining up to get their standards in, which would be a big boom for D2L clients who have Engineering departments. They also shared their videos for how to use the Competency tool.

At lunch I was sitting with a friend and John Baker came by, and I asked him about future improvements to ePortfolio – as we’ve been struggling with the presentation creation aspect of the tool. He mentioned some things that they were working on, specifically learning goals (unfortunately I couldn’t ask him more about this) and automatic page creation based on tags.

D2L ePortfolio and All About Me

Durham CDSB use ePortfolio as a way for students to think about where they are going. Specifically these are K-6 students, so elementary students for those who don’t reside in Canada. It seems the program is all about identity forming and goal setting. Interesting aspects, and the approach is pretty much how you’d expect. Students are prompted to answer questions about their future, and they periodically answer the questions over the six years. One key thing is that they’ve developed a workflow page, which I think goes a long way to helping students with their tool use. Another interesting aspect is the teacher is selecting artifacts for the student, putting them into a collection and then sharing that collection with the student.

Learning Portfolio: Year One

This was my co-presentation with Catherine Swanson, the Learning Portfolio Program Manager. We talked about some of the challenges of introducing a portfolio process across all disciplines, in all facets of campus and how we did. As an institution we did fine. In many of the cases where the ePortfolio tool was used in conjunction with a good use in a course (particularly good where one has to make a choice or work through a messy process to “learn”) it was ultimately successful. Where the purpose was less directed, more fuzzy, well things didn’t work as well.


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.