Rutgers University – I Got it Covered: Reflection as Integrative, Social Pedagogy

Author: Rebecca Reynolds, Rutgers University

Working on ePortfolios, Douglass students frequently reflect on their enrollment in the Residential College. Directly or indirectly, students convey their development through their membership in a distinct women’s program focused on agency, service, gender and social change, and the relationship between self and community.

All students begin work on the ePortfolio through the first year course, “Knowledge and Power: Issues in Women’s Leadership.” They are asked to share ePortfolios with the peer mentor assigned to their class, a class member, and the instructor. Through dialogue and reflection, students often express the transformative nature of social pedagogy in their learning and development. These reflections are later refined as sophomore and upper-class students revisit the ePortfolio in one of the Douglass living-learning communities, which we refer to as “The Global Village.” They may also submit the ePortfolio for applications to leadership positions on campus.

The following student reflects on the development of identity and voice within community. In her statement, she emphasizes the importance of sharing experiences with peers as a route to knowledge and agency.

Although I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, I have been raised, have formed my beliefs, have received my education, and have lived my culture in America. Because my family arrived to the U.S when I was four years old, I was given the opportunity to sift my personality through many dimensions before I was able to find my ‘self’ in the word, “myself”. Because I have been labeled “different” for the majority of my life, especially after choosing to wear a scarf, I can truly appreciate the diversity the University community offers. I have learned that I had a habit of unconsciously wrapping my voice and my feelings when I wrapped my scarf, because I felt as if no one could relate to the way I felt; however, I have discovered that there are many other women who have shared my feelings and concerns. Sharing my experiences and listening to those of my peers, has allowed me to realize that we never lose our voices; on the contrary, we are actually searching to share our voices. –Hira U.

The pictures below, from another student’s portfolio, serve nicely as literal emblems of self-definition, or each student’s experimental movement through life and learning.

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What is the Impact of this Practice on Student Success?

We see the impact this integrative, social pedagogy practice has on student learning  in the ePortfolio examples shown above.   We also wanted to investigate the impact this practice had on student success, looking in particular at student GPA data.  We compared GPAs of students in ePortfolio courses versus non ePortfolio courses.  After ePortfolio was introduced into our required first semester ‘mission’ course in 2008-9, student performance improved significantly. The average grade point in the course for two semesters before ePortfolio was introduced was a B (3.213); in nine semesters with ePortfolio, students earned an average of a B+ (3.508). Not only did students’ GPA in the “mission” course improve, their GPAs across all of their courses improved as well. Before the ePortfolio, their average cumulative GPA was 2.933; in the nine semesters since, average cumulative GPA has been 3.095.

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Description:

By way of introducing the ePortfolio to over 450 new students (both first year and transfer) who enroll in Douglass Residential College at Rutgers, we include an ePortfolio assignment early in the required mission course, “Knowledge and Power: Issues in Women’s Leadership.” Most students enroll in the fall, when we run 15 or 16 sections with about 22 students in each. The assignment allows them to describe themselves briefly, define their interests and articulate an issue that concerns them. We consider it important to do this early in the semester so that students 1) learn about the ePortfolio as early as possible, and 2) so that students inhabit the classroom as distinct learners with distinct voices as they begin to shape their interests.

When students meet with the residential college advisors, advisors encourage them to think more about the issues that they care about, to connect those issues to academic pathways and to cocurricular programs at the residential college and the university, whether leadership, service learning, study abroad, or research. A page is built into the ePortfolio called “My Path,” and we encourage students to develop this page by their junior year. Although finished portfolios are optional, students who participate in one of our several learning communities must also enter their experience in the ePortfolio. Finally, we have required students to submit ePortfolios for scholarships and/or one of several leadership positions at the college.

Initial Assignment:

Second short essay and ePortfolio assignment due: Complete the Homepage and About Me page of your ePortfolio. Your About Me page should include an essay in which you find your voice by writing about a current issue that engages you. In addition to your 2-4 pp. (500-1000 words) essay, identify an object, piece of music, drawing, picture, spoken word, poem related to your essay, and use it in your ePortfolio. Share your ePortfolio by sending the URL in the body of an email to your assigned partner, mentor, and instructor. See instructions on Instructional Page of the Sakai site. Make sure to leave “comments” open.

Click here for a first year student sample

Where is the practice used?

  • First Year course and living-learning communities.
    • Course (all sections)
  • Program
    • First Year Course (includes new transfer students)

We have discussed the introduction of ePortfolio in the required first year course, each year altering the assignment as the use of the ePortfolio has gained traction among students. Each section of this course includes an upper-class student who acts as a kind of teaching assistant/mentor and can help the first year students (including first year transfer students) navigate the ePortfolio in Sakai. The first year assignment now asks the students simply to describe themselves and incorporate any artifact they choose, such as a picture or quote. They share this with another student in the class. Their artifacts often help the students communicate and clarify distinct goals.

A recent transfer student writes:

“All things by immortal power,
Near and Far
Hiddenly
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.”
– Francis Thompson, “The Mistress of Vision”

. . . I find that a “neuronal forest,” that is, the concept of the interconnected neurons in the nervous system, is an appropriate metaphor for the interdisciplinary nature of my academic interests.

The excerpt from the above poem has often been used as a poetic reference to quantum physics, specifically quantum entanglement, the basis of which is that all things are connected. This area of physics, when fused with the theory of “universal consciousness,” acquires an aura. Such ideas have yet to be proven, and, having a spiritual level, will likely never be proven. However, I think there is merit to this philosophy, especially in regards to education. Essentially, all studies are interdisciplinary. Similar to the neurons in the brain’s “forest,” I am finding connections among my diverse interests so as to develop a cohesive plan of action for my education.

My Chinese name literally means, “to admire the forest.” I certainly appreciate nature, especially in regards to mountain hikes. However, this expression can also refer to my fascination with the aforementioned “neuronal forest” . . .

The mission course has often left a lasting impact on students and encourages integration and personal reflection that structures the ePortfolio, as well as our students’ development through college and beyond. The following student includes a reflection about the first year course in her ePortfolio:

When I first learned of the class Knowledge and Power: Issues in Women’s Leadership, I thought that it would be a leadership training course for Douglass students to take so they could become more active on-and-off-campus. I predicted that there would be some articles that we would have to read that exemplified the roadblocks women have faced and still face. In a way, what I had expected were discussed, but the focus was not on the oppression of women, but the opportunity they can seize to improve the world around them. Since the professor I had has travelled to many places and is experienced in her field, her approach to teaching Knowledge and Power [had] a global perspective. We did not only discuss readings, but we shared our personal stories, discussed famous women, and learned a lot about each other and the material that was introduced to us. My professor encouraged us to get involved and take the opportunities we have in college to start our own organizations and build our own visions. She introduced us to many sites like shatterthelookingglass.com,ted.com, thedailymuse.com, and others to get us more involved and knowledgeable about the global world around us. In addition to these sites she encouraged us to read BBC and the book Half of the Sky. After I read Half of the Sky, I learned a lot about social issues that women face and it helped better define that I want to learn more about different international systems and the different statuses of women, during and after my years at Rutgers.”

Reflection as Integrative:

Students’ ePortfolio reflections are designed to help them…

  • Make connections among academic, co-curricular, and lived experiences.

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The ePortfolio reflects the Douglass model of advisement. When developing an advising framework for the residential college, we based it on an integrative model, promoting academic “pathways,” ideally helping students link academic work to co-curricular programs and to personal and professional goals. We encouraged students to see the ePortfolio as a career showcase tool, one they would revise as needed, so that first year assignments and lengthy meditations might develop into clearer statements about professional goals. We also emphasized the importance of connecting classroom and non-classroom work: ultimately, students should be able to create an integrated portrait of their interests, goals, and skills.

The page entitled “My Path” prompts the students to connect experiences so that they themselves develop integrative habits of thought, as the student above, in the East Asian House (one of the learning communities) eventually links Chinese words for “nervous disorders” to her interest in neurobiology and the stigmas associated with mental illness, as well as connections that her brain makes in learning a new language. By learning a new language and learning in general, my brain is working in different ways and developing new connections. I intend this to be a lifelong process. There are an infinite number of ways to challenge the mind, she writes.

See statement below by a junior:

La Casa Hispanica

Although I am yet to live in the Spanish House, I have been accepted into the Global Village for the 2012-2013 academic year . . . Living in the Spanish House will complement my Spanish minor here at Rutgers. Additionally, I hope to double minor in Latin American Studies as well. My reason for living in the Spanish House next year is based on my prior experience with Hispanic culture, and my hope for the future. I am majoring in Business Analytics and Information Technology because I hope to significantly influence the economic development of Latin American nations through technology. Through the means of an international NGO such as Mercy Corps, I hope to use my analytical and technical skills in economic development throughout Latin America.

Reflection as systematic & disciplined:

Students’ ePortfolio reflection processes embody…

  • The reflective cycle

We’ve promoted the ePortfolio to our students as a career development tool, but woven it through our mission and our advising practices to encourage students to define themselves in relation to a discipline — a process that calls on intellectual and reflective capacities. The structure of the ePortfolio, with the “My Path” page, models these connections so that learning –and reflection on learning — might occur inside and outside the classroom and lead students to new insights. Some students elaborate on the ways in which experiences connect and deepen over time, whereas other students present mimimal information. Thus for some students, the ePortfolio structures an articulation of learning across sites, whereas other students do not gravitate toward the tool outside of the first year course. Promoting the ePortfolio for professional purposes may eventually compel the more pragmatic students who are increasingly concerned about future employment.

Therefore, we talk about the ePortfolio as a career tool for practical purposes. At this time, we can’t ensure that students will use the ePortfolio outside of the first year course or our learning communities, although at times we have required students to submit the ePortfolios at various intervals for application to different opportunities, including the many scholarships offered by our alumnae association. We created a matrix for the students to reflect on their classes and experiences (coursework, campus involvement, research, professional experience, and the learning communities). We’ve included in the ePortfolio language about reflection and prompts to guide students through the different sections of the ePortfolio. An instructional page also provides a description of reflective writing.

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Reflection as Social Pedagogy:

Students use ePortfolio to share/peer review/ discuss/collaborate, connecting around course work, reflections, plans, goals, stories, etc.

  • Sharing & engaging in interactive ePortfolio commentary w/ other students:

We asked students to share their ePortfolios with other students (comments have been hidden in published ePortfolios).

Our intention was twofold: to encourage students to see themselves as learners within a community of learners, and to develop a broader notion of audience when writing in their ePortfolios. Since we ask students to find their “voice,” we are implicitly asking them to link that sense of self, or “voice,” to a reader (other students, the peer mentor, the instructor). In this way, the ePortfolio requires students to think about their writing within the context of a classroom as they develop a web presence that is not a form of social media, rather something to be taken seriously, as well as a chance to share an aspect of one’s self that might not otherwise be known by other community members. The ePortfolio becomes most compelling as students are asked to allow their inner lives to become outer lives — to incorporate their selves in their studies, their personal, subjective, social, academic and disciplinary experiences, that is, to develop a public self. It is that “public” self who may take on a leadership role or become an agent of social change. Much of the reading in the first year course focuses on ways in which women claim identities and power.

EPortfolios allow students to write about and validate the kinds of personal experiences that are so often discouraged in “objective” academic settings. Nevertheless, these experiences shape our students’ goals and motivate learning. (The following student participated in an ePortfolio workshop this fall and transferred some of her Sakai content to Wix.com.)

http://piafrancescarossi.wix.com/piaf#!school/c199t

Reflection as a process of guiding personal change:

Students use ePortfolio for educational and career development, identity formation, by …

  • Articulating their educational and career goals
  • Considering their evolving personal relationship to learning and education
  • Preparing ePortfolio to showcase to potential employers

We have stressed to students the importance of using the ePortfolio to articulate the very kinds of statements and goals that they will need to express clearly in interviews and/or personal statements.
From another student’s ePortfolio, under “Global Awareness” in the matrix.

International Public Health Course and Travel Experience:

I was given the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua for [my] International Public Health course. The purpose of this experience was to broaden my knowledge on global issues involving health in Nicaragua. We visited the local and rural health clinic, hospitals, and International Nonprofit organizations. During the trip, in groups we taught children of different orphanages in Nicaragua about nutrition, hygiene, and dental care. This trip gave me the opportunity to see how public health was improving the quality of life for people and I want to see these types of programs in my country [Nigeria]. Traveling to Nicaragua, and seeing the impact of public health interventions in the lives of children, mothers and low income families, has taught us that public health can only be successful with the proper implementation of policies to combat health issues that are afflicting people of low income communities, continuous and proper education to improve and increase people’s knowledge of proper health behaviors, and to continuously advocate for health related human rights to be able to successfully . . . promote good health. A huge portion of the trip made us reflect on the forces outside of public health that will play a huge role in how it is implemented. These forces include the government and policy-making, educational institutions, local hospitals and clinics, and different health related non-profit organizations. All of these forces play a role in the ultimate success of public health intervention programs.

“Career or Professional Interests”

Epidemiology

One of my goals in life is to become a Doctor of Internal Medicine. To be a doctor that caters to the needs of your patient, you have to be educated about the health problems people in the population you are assisting are facing. The course “Epidemiology” has given me introductory education about the different diseases that affect people in different countries. It has also allowed me to enhance my skills in statistical calculations of different diseases.

Professional Development

Course instructors (approx. 16) received training at the beginning of the year. We used the LaGuardia video about ePortfolios as part of the training presentation, and some of the instructors, in turn, used it in their classes. The Office of Advising, which runs the ePortfolio program, lost its “technical staff” (one part time grad student) this year, so training consisted of a brief overview of the ePortfolio as a pedagogical tool, downplaying the technology, which tends to make the instructors anxious. This presentation was part of a longer introduction to the residential college for instructors of the course, so we did not ask instructors to read or review additional material. However, the presentation was contextualized within a series of presentations from staff and students, focusing quite a bit on the kinds of leadership our students engage in. Since we stress student engagement, we link the ePortfolio to our advising. The training for advisors¬¬ is informed by a number of articles and includes readings from the list below.

Miller, R., Morgaine, W., 2009. “The Benefits of E-portfolios for Students and Faculty in Their own Words.” AAC&U Peer Review.
Wildman, T.M., 2007. “Taking Seriously the Intellectual Growth of Students: Accommodations for Self-Authorship.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 109, Spring.
Cambridge, D., 2009. “Two Faces of Integrative Learning Online.” Electronic Portfolios 2.0.
Baxter Magolda, M.B., King, P. M., 2008. “Toward Reflective Conversations: An Advising Approach that Promotes Self-Authorship.” AAC&U Peer Review, Winter 2008.
Rich, A., 1977, “Claiming an Education,” Speech Delivered at the convocation of Douglass College.
Rich, A., 1979, “Taking Women Students Seriously.” On Lies, Secrets, and Silence.” New York: Norton.
Weiler, K., 1991. “Freire and a Feminist Pedagogy of Difference.” Harvard Educational Review 61(4) 449.
Durfee, A., and Rosenberg, K, 2009. “Teaching Sensitive Issues: Feminist Pedagogy and the Practice of Advocacy-Based Counseling.” Feminist Teacher, Vol 19, No. 2.

During the first few weeks of classes, we have provided training for students in the first year course and provided a handout for instructors on how to access ePortfolios. The students sometimes encounter problems sharing the ePortfolios, a problem related to the programming; thus we include plenty of instructional material about sharing the ePortfolio for both students and instructors.

Peer Mentors

We recruit a peer mentor for each section of the first year course, and they are indispensible in helping students create their ePortfolios. We also have trained peer advisors in our residence halls, Peer Academic Leaders, or “PALs,” and they also assist students with ePortfolios. The peer mentors and peer advisors tend to help students with the technical piece — which leaves more time for the instructors to focus on content. Therefore the upper-class students really teach incoming students how to use the ePortfolio and model its use in the class.

Advisement

The Office of Advising drives the ePortfolio program at Douglass and was the office that initiated development of the ePortfolio in 2007. Once we became interested in integrative learning as an advising model, we were able to structure the ePortfolio with an integrative advising approach, asking students to connect curricular and non-curricular experience with various, transferable skills through the Matrix and My Path pages.

Our emphasis on integrative learning has been the most visible, productive effect of the ePortfolio, and vice versa, especially as students link their own experience to topics in the mission course (a moment when they can find personal resonance and meaning in the classroom). I find it most exciting to see how students are linking their experiences, and tried to provide examples above.

Professional Guidance

The Sakai platform we are currently using does not support broad-based departmental assessment, but the university as a whole has not adopted the ePortfolio; professional development occurs through the individual departments.

Student work/ePortfolio examples

https://sakai.rutgers.edu/osp-presentation…

https://sakai.rutgers.edu/osp-presentation…

“Each individual person has a specific calling and a certain attribute that they can contribute to this larger community. In this world a responsible member cannot act like a raisin in the sun, they must figure out their personal legend, and they mustexplode.”

..

Jen T.

Jen_T

Jen T.

From another student:

In order to be a responsible member of this community, a person’s backbone must be perfectly aligned. It cannot bend too easily, yet it also cannot be rigid and unyielding. In other words, a person must find their own balance of give and take, their own checks and balances, and their own nirvana. Each individual person has a specific calling and a certain attribute that they can contribute to this larger community. In this world a responsible member cannot act like a raisin in the sun, they must figure out their personal legend, and they must explode.

While having an education is a very common way to success, it is beyond the books and beyond my current GPA of a 3.9 where I have really exploded. Just as I have been the one in the one obtaining valuable skills and making tremendous strides, I am also strongly committed to giving back and being active in the community. I am currently the Co-Founder and Treasurer of Douglass D.I.V.A.S., an organization started to empower women and discuss prevalent female issues in today’s society. Douglass D.I.V.A.S. is extremely important because it inspires students to create knowledge outside of the classroom and helps them learn that they, too, have a voice that matters. I am also a student volunteer at Youth Empowerment Services of New Brunswick. My work here began by writing a grant for their Oasis Summer Camp Program to provide two nutritious meals for each participant in the summer camp everyday. In a city with stark deficiencies in areas like nutrition and health, this grant will allow the children and their parents to become more food secure. Currently I devote two hours each week to tutor the elementary school children in the program in various subjects. Lastly, as a member of the Women’s Business Leadership Initiative, I am working with Women Aware on an anti-domestic violence campaign to help raise awareness throughout the community and funds for domestic violence victims in the program. For people who have so little and who have stresses much greater than a biology or calculus exam, it is the least I could do to help out and support.

. . . More importantly, I hope to use the skills I have gained to give a voice to those people who would otherwise be silenced and stand up for what I believe is right. A community leader of mine once told me a famous quote by the English poet, Robert Browning. He said, “…a person’s reach should exceed their grasp or what’s a heaven for?” With all of the things I have been accomplishing, I know that I can extend my reach far beyond the ordinary and achieve my goals that were before considered among the impossible. That is what my heaven is for and I’m starting with the WOMAN in the mirror. (Jenae K)

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