Rutgers University – Intermediary Spaces: Our Campus’s ePortfolio-related Professional Development

Overview of our ePortfolio-related Professional Development on campus

“ . . . we are excited about the use of the library as a “non-classroom” site where learning necessarily occurs, and these intermediary spaces may be remarkably useful locations for ePortfolio partnerships.”

At Douglass, we have trained instructors of our first year course through a workshop at the beginning of the term, although the majority of our instructors are graduate students or Part Time Lecturers rather than tenure track faculty. We focus on the value of the ePortfolio as a vehicle for our students to find their voices by creating online and academic identities, and writing a preliminary statement about who they are in relation to what they plan to study. Instructors have been especially impressed (“sold”) by the video on the LaGuardia College ePortfolio site, which we’ve included in training. In our case, the significance of asking a highly diverse group of students to create autobiographical assertions at the beginning of their college career relates well to material in the course and to our focus on women’s voices. The course examines gendered identities through constructions of power and ways in which power defines and values (or devalues) various forms of knowledge. Meanwhile, the Douglass ePortfolio Tutorial page provides instructional material.

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Our Professional Development Story

The ability to engage the “official” professional development staff of a large research university with new technology, a technology that is not on their immediate agenda, may prove to be the biggest challenge for an ePortfolio program that develops within a relatively small unit of a large university. That challenge, combined with major administrative turn-overs, required some creative “scaling down” in our ePortfolio program, especially as we encountered problems finding faculty who were willing to incorporate the ePortfolio in their classes. At Rutgers. we began by implementing three basic ePortfolio programs for undergraduates: one for the First Year Interest Groups taught by upper-class students; one for the students participating in undergraduate research; and one for the students at Douglass Residential College for women. Professional development occurred primarily through distinct training programs for faculty and instructors in the research program and the Residential College. The office of undergraduate research (Aresty Research Center) also asked faculty to impose a grading rubric adapted from the AACU Value Rubrics. Because the upper levels of our administration had not promoted ePortfolios or the AACU Value Rubrics rubrics, the faculty simply evaluated student work according to standard (or personal) practices within their disciplines. With staff turnover and restructuring (constant variables!), the FIGS program and the undergraduate research program discontinued their ePortfolio projects. The residential college for women (approximately 1900 students currently enrolled), continues to require students in the first year mission course to begin building ePortfolios–thus approximately 450 students/year begin portfolios, including first year students and transfer students. We train the instructors through a workshop at the beginning of the term, focusing on value of ePortfolios as a vehicle for our students to find their voices through the representation and creation of online and academic identities, that is, to create a preliminary statement about who they are in relation to what they plan to study. The significance of asking students to create autobiographical assertions at the beginning of their college career relates well to material in the course that examines gendered identities.

Currently, we are exploring a relationship with library staff who are interested in the matrix contained within the ePortfolio. They have agreed to work with us on helping students to map their learning across academic and co-curricular contexts to various skills associated with their experiences. Our relationship with library staff began two years ago through a meeting related to their technology labs; we are finally planning programs for the spring with more emphasis on student learning. This alliance with a small group of tenured library staff may lead to opportunities to engage faculty in professional development trials. However, we are excited about the use of the library as a “non-classroom” site where learning necessarily occurs, and these intermediary spaces may be remarkably useful locations for ePortfolio partnerships. Overall, we have learned that the process of implementing an ePortfolio program from the ground-up (initiating our grass-roots stakeholders—the students), and working from outside the disciplines, no matter how much we emphasize the integrative possibilities of the project, presents many obstacles to faculty engagement.

Nevertheless, embedding ePortfolio practice in non-classroom alternative learning sites may ultimately be a lengthy, but fruitful, strategy, especially as we know that learning takes place outside the classroom as much as it occurs within the classroom.

Our Professional Development Philosophy and Conceptual Framework

As discussed in part 1, different philosophies guided our projects, and different ideas about Professional Development were implicit. The most carefully wrought Professional Development practice occurred in the Office for Undergraduate Research, in which the director (now at another university) provided faculty with evaluation rubrics.

Because departments have developed individualized assessment models based on faculty agreement within the department – instead of adopting an across–the-board assessment framework — any model that attempts to compel faculty outside of their disciplinary approaches would present challenges. Moreover, those disciplinary divides may inevitably govern large-scale universities, where silos are all too often be the norm. Given its flexibility, the construction of department-specific assessment strategies, developed through the guidance of an assessment dean and committee, intentionally acknowledged and responded to a range of entrenched faculty practices. Therefore, the strategy resulted in a number of sturdy departmental rubrics versus a single model of assessment.

Professional Development for Scaling Up

At Douglass our “scaling up” resulted in “scaling down,” for a number of reasons. Implementing the ePortfolio through the advising program at the residential college essentially foreclosed on the possibility of faculty development. On the other hand, linking the ePortfolio to academic advising has enabled us to train a core group of staff advisors to perceive the students’ experience holistically. Advisors initiate dialogues with students through an advising model that insists on the integrative nature of student experience across an axis of campus engagement–from coursework to internships, campus involvement and service education to research.

Our ePortfolio project connects high impact practices in the residential college. Initiated in the first year required course, students revisit their portfolio in the living-learning communities (1.5 credit courses offered first and second semester for students in one of 11 themed residential communities). Advisors are trained to address linkages between academic and co-curricular programs to enable students to think holistically about their college experience, and the ePortfolio contains a page that prompts students to reflect on and describe precisely these connections. Until the current academic year, our program at the residential college has required each new class of students to engage with the ePortfolio, thus we’ve scaled up in terms of our students’ interactions with the ePortfolio technology.

BUILDING CONNECTIONS

Our ePortfolio-related Professional Development activities foster the following network of connections on our campus:

Connecting interdisciplinary programs and majors (curriculum, structures, policies) to each other

At Douglass, we’ve structured advising to respond to the potential for fragmentation that students experience as they try to make sense of their curricula, core requirements, majors, and campus involvement. By working with the library instructional staff, we are working with a department that is quite literally an inter-disciplinary site within the university, just as the residential college comprises such a space. Working “between” academic departments, we can enable students to link learning experiences across multiple experiences.

LEADERSHIP

The relationship between our campus ePortfolio leadership team and our campus Center for Teaching & Learning (or director for professional development) is the following:
CTL leader is somewhat familiar with eP but ambivalent about it

TECHNOLOGY

Overall, ePortfolio-related Professional Development on our campus is:
Somewhat more focused on pedagogy

OUTCOMES ASSESSMENT

Overall, our ePortfolio-related Professional Development has
Minimal linkage to Outcomes Assessment

Speaking for the university as a whole: the School of Pharmacy has replaced paper portfolios for degree certification with digital portfolios; and the Graduate School of Education has begun to implement an ePortfolio geared toward outcomes assessment and program accreditation. Otherwise, the university has not adopted ePortfolios in general, and outcomes assessment practices which were carefully developed over the past few years vary significantly across departments.

EVIDENCE

We collect the following types of evidence to document the effectiveness of most of our ePortfolio-related Professional Development on campus:
Faculty/Staff Reflections, Student learning outcomes for courses taught by faculty participants

At the residential college, we discuss the ePortfolio informally with instructors due to turnover of PTL’s and the course content/course directors. There is little time to offer professional development for this population, and they use the ePortfolio differently according to their exposure to the technology (for example new versus continuing instructors). Much of the response to the ePortfolio relates to the technology and problems that arise for new instructors. These reactions have 1) forced us to push our technology team more aggressively, 2) opened up questions about assessment; how can we assess the goals without getting bogged down in the technology.

FUNDING

ePortfolio-related Professional Development activity is funded by:
Some funding for ePortfolio training comes out of my budget for advising.

STRATEGIC PLAN

Our college’s strategic plan includes ePortfolio-related Professional Development:
No

RECRUITMENT

We recruit and encourage faculty/staff participation in ePortfolio-related Professional Development by the following:
We do not have formal ePortfolio professional development.

ADJUNCT FACULTY

The following proportion represents adjunct faculty participation:
More than 50% of participants are adjuncts

We encourage adjunct participation by the following:
Requirement for teaching particular classes or sections

CHALLENGES

The following is a list of challenges facing our campus ePortfolio-related Professional Development ranked in order of most challenging on top to least challenging on the bottom:

• Generating and sustaining interest and engagement
• Identifying faculty that are amenable to innovation
• Embedding faculty development in general campus culture
• Being creative in finding ways of enticing faculty and compensating them for their participation
• Ensuring faculty buy-in
• Building a culture of evidence
• Gaining credibility as faculty leaders
• Making seminars an on-going effort to institutional change
• Focusing on learning-centered practice
• Helping faculty and staff move from discussion to implementation
• Monitoring faculty progress in implementing common goals
• Building a common language

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