Stony Brook University – Technology Story

Establishing an ePortfolio Culture and Enhancing Campus Community with Digication
Nancy Wozniak, Learning Architect and ePortfolio Program Manager

Why Digication?  Our History: An Overview.

Our first steps in our eportfolio implementation was to review Stony Brook’s institutional mission and get to know the faculty, students, administration, support staff, and programs at Stony Brook.  How would the eportfolio process enhance learning and research at Stony Brook?  Before introducing eportfolios, it was essential to know and understand our teaching and learning culture. It also was essential to identify the “Bright Spots”. What programs and faculty on campus were practicing student-centered, integrative and inquiry-based learning in their traditional and online classrooms? The Riders, initiators of technology and learner-centered activities in the classroom, were separated from the Elephants, hesitant of change and satisfied with instruction-centered formats for teaching. It was the Riders in the programs identified as “Bright Spots” that would pilot and clear the pathways for the uses of eportfolios at Stony Brook.  We focused on the Riders to pilot and provide practical evidence of the organizational and learning benefits of eportfolio use. NOTE: Elephants need evidence, and if provided evidence, they move. And, when elephants move, the ground shakes.  Implementation of a new learning process and instructional technology takes a good 5 years before becoming part of the teaching and learning culture.  Focus on the Riders.  It is highly suggested that those involved in the implementation of any technology or learner-centered classroom strategies read, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath.

In the fall of 2009, we started to look at strategies for our eportfolio implementation.  An eportfolio review committee with faculty, support staff, administrators, and students was formed and we started reviewing eportfolio systems. Our top two choices were Epsilen and Digication. We looked at Mahara, but an open source system wasn’t going to fit our information technology architecture and support structure.  Also, a campus-based eportfolio system would require eportfolio owners to be listed in our active directory (LDAP). The eportfolio account would end when the owners graduated or left Stony Brook. Task Stream and other assessment-driven eportfolio systems were dropped from our list because the focus was more on institutional assessment, rather than integrative and lifelong learning. They were too expensive and didn’t fit our campus learning culture. ePortfolios housed in learning management systems were never considered. An LMS is a LMS and not designed for facilitating learning connections and scaffolding knowledge over a lifetime. Our top priority or criterion for an eportfolio system was the ability to support integrative, lifelong learning.  The eportfolio owner must have access to the eportfolio after graduation. Digication allowed for the seamless continuation of the eportfolio, without a blip, after the owner left campus.  Graduates would be able to remain a part of the campus learning community.  We also chose Digication because our interest was in integrative learning, particularly for undergraduate studies. Integrative learning involves collaboration between faculty and students to realize and apply the knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired in the classroom to academic, co-curricular, and life experiences. This is why Digication with the Digi Directory was our top consideration. We believed the organized eportfolio directory would help create a sense of community for our eportfolio owners and promote an eportfolio culture that would nurture integrative and lifelong learning. Digication also provided a back-end assessment tool.

Though a variety of Stony Brook faculty, students, and support staff  took part in the eportfolio systems review, the main (consistent) committee members were Patricia Aceves, Director of the Faculty Center; Cynthia Davidson, Emerging Technologies Coordinator and Sr. Lecturer in Writing and Rhetoric; Graham Glynn, Executive Director of Teaching, Learning and Technology; Kaitlin Gorman, Graduate Student, Linda Unger, Director of Online Learning for the School of Professional Development; Ying Xiong, Assessment Specialist; and Nancy Wozniak, Learning Architect and ePortfolio Program Manager.

Overall Evaluation of Digication

Through continued student and faculty focus groups and surveys (longitudinal study), we have found the following strengths and weakness with Digication.

The Strengths are

  • Minimal learning curve – Students pick up on it quickly.
  • Allows for personal design – Important factor for establishing ownership and continued self-directed activity.
  • Intuitive Design and Lay-out – Facilitates inquiry and reflective-based learning (foundation of Stony Brook learning objectives and outcomes). Excellent tool for applying learning and organizing content and thoughts.
  • Promotes Lifelong Learning – Owner is able to maintain eportfolios graduation and remain a part of the Stony Brook learning community.
  • Easy to Manage – Allows the owner to easily organize and display content. Content for public viewing can be displayed, while other content can be hidden and viewed only by the owner. This ability facilitates reflection.
  • Ability to have more than one eportfolio – The system allows the owner to create eportfolios for specific purposes. Content can be copied from eportfolio to eportfolio.
  • Ability to create course and community eportfolio templates
  • Ability to create eportfolios for group collaboration and inquiry projects
  • Course and Community Creation Feature – Allows faculty to organize student eportfolios in a course for easy review.  Has assessment, grade book and discussion features.  Rubrics and program standards can be loaded and applied to assignments.
  • Facilitates Community with Directory – The Digi Directory allows owners to view other eportfolios and comment. Privacy settings allow the owners to make the eportfolio public, viewable only within Stony Brook Community, or private (viewable only to the owner).

The Weakness are

  • WYSIWYG Limitations – The same as any WYSIWYG, the formatting is frustrating at times, but not impossible.
  • Assessment Tool – Has a learning curve, but is worth the effort for applying rubric learning outcomes criteria and program standards.   Adequate for course and program assessment, not institutional assessment.
  • Updates – Student focus groups would like more social networking features and design updates.

Digication features most useful for strengthening inquiry-based social and reflective pedagogies

  • Layout Design – The layout design is perfect for facilitating the inquiry process: Planning (Ask Question), Searching (Research), Assessing (Evaluate), Communicating (Present), and Reflecting (What’s Next). The layout is linear and intuitive. Examples:
    • Biomedical Senior Design
      Blood Pressure Assist Device https://stonybrook.digication.com/biodesign_group_5
    • Freshman Leadership and Service Team Research Projects
      Genetic Modification of Food https://stonybrook.digication.com/genetic_modification_a_monopoly_on_food
      SOL Community Design Team Project
      https://stonybrook.digication.com/sol-community
    • Writing and Rhetoric Personal Essay
      The Park
      https://stonybrook.digication.com/annie_bernberg
      Being in a Place
      https://stonybrook.digication.com/vishwaja_muppa
  • Ability to organize and hide content – The system allows the owner to easily organize content and hide personal notes and reflection.
  • Allows for Group Collaboration – Group eportfolios can be created for project planning, management, and presentation. Group members can communicate within the eportfolio, and individual contributions to project can be tracked.
  • Course and Project Templates – Inquiry and reflection prompts easily can be placed throughout a course template. Examples: LDS 101 Leadership Challenge https://stonybrook.digication.com/lds_101_leadership_challenge_template BME 442 – Biomedical Senior Design https://stonybrook.digication.com/senior_biodesign_template2/need

Digication Features that contribute to our Professional Development abilities

  • Ability to create teaching eportfolio template. This is important for TAs and GAs beginning teaching at Stony Brook. It also provides faculty a starting point with their own teaching eportfolios. See https://stonybrook.digication.com/teachingtemplate.  The directory provides examples of exemplary professional eportfolios and best practices.  See https://stonybrook.digication.com/teachingtemplate.
  • Comment And Community Features – Brings discussion outside of the LMS discussion board for continued exchange after the course ends.  For instance, the internship eportfolios use the comment (blog) feature that allows the internship supervisor and faculty coordinator to guide the students through the internship process.  Comments also promote peer review.  Also,  the system provides a Community feature that helps organize a professional community of interest and organizes exchange of information between members.

Strategies for Selection of an ePortfolio System – the Process

  • Know the Campus Learning Culture – Stony Brook is a Research I institution and inquiry combined with evidence-based reflection are essential practices.  It was vital for us to review the mission of our university and review SBU’s 5 Year Strategic Plan.  How could the eportfolio process enhance the University’s learning goals and outcomes?  Another step, as stated earlier, was to take time to know the faculty, students, support staff, and programs at Stony Brook. Before introducing eportfolios, it was essential to know and understand the teaching and learning culture. It also was essential to identify our “Bright Spots” that would pilot eportfolio use at Stony Brook. What programs and faculty on campus were practicing student-centered, integrative and inquiry-based learning in their classrooms that could be enhanced by the eportfolio learning process?  We identified this group and asked them for their input on selecting an eportfolio system.
  • Pilot Team – A core committee (pilot implementation team) of faculty, students, administrative and support staff was formed to review and decide upon an eportfolio platform. The core committee’s faculty members were early adaptors of technologies in the classroom and employed student-centered learning strategies. Many went on to pilot eportfolio use in the  2010 Fall Semester. The committee meetings were advertised and open to all faculty, students, and support staff.  Representatives from various eportfolio platforms were invited to present. The vendor presentations were advertised and open to everyone.  Early initiators of the eportfolio practice were the only faculty members attending these presentations.
  • Learning and Assessment Criteria – We identified various learning and assessment criteria for selecting a system. Through department focus groups and faculty interviews, the core committee identified ease of use and features that facilitated integrative learning, inquiry, and evidence-based practices as the top considerations for selecting an eportfolio system.  Cost and the ability for eportfolio owners to continue maintaining their eportfolio(s),  after graduation or leaving the campus, also were top priorities.
  • IT was a hindrance. IT staff concerns and objections were considered, but they chose not to be  involved in the selection process.  At the time, they didn’t see the point of eportfolio use.  That has since changed.   Open source was not an option and a cost analysis showed that it would cost more than choosing a system hosted by a third party vendor.  We tested Epsilen and eFolioworld (Minnesota based) before deciding on Digication.
  • Lifelong Learning – We are not closed to switching eportfolio systems or offering an alternative to Digication. However, the eportfolio system must provide our eportfolio owners continued use after graduating or leaving Stony Brook. It also must promote community with a directory and commenting abilities.
  • Professional Affiliations – We selected Digication before our involvement with Making Connections, AAEEBL and EPAC; however, networking with members of these organizations was essential for our strategic planning and the continued growth of eportfolio use at Stony Brook.

Engaging Students

  • Directory and Comment Feature – ePortfolio use at Stony Brook is student-driven (a key factor when we considered eportfolio use for engaging students and promoting an appreciation for  lifelong learning).  For eportfolios to become a part of the learning community at Stony Brook, posting and reflecting must be intrinsically motivated. Students are the owners and are encouraged to add self-directed artifacts that document their professional skills and abilities within their showcase (integrative learning) eportfolios.  They are able to create as many eportfolios as they want, but the showcase eportfolio is central.  See The Implementation of Integrative ePortfolios at Stony Brook University at  http://tinyurl.com/EnhanceInquiry-ePortfolio.  As stated before, the Digication directory and comment features promote community and nurture a culture of self-directed learning at Stony Brook. The students view and comment on other eportfolios in the directory. Students recognize each other on campus because of the eportfolio directory. Training and support for eportfolio use are provided by a group of students, ePortfolio and Media Consultants, that use the comment feature to guide and encourage the students to post professional self-directed activities with reflection in their eportfolios by using the directory.  Support and encouragement are key.
  • Student Focus Groups and Student Advisory Committee – Through ongoing student focus groups and a Student ePortfolio Advisory Committee, we know that students find Digication easy to use and they enjoy the ability to design their own banners and backgrounds. The CSS feature is popular and, at times, we get some crazy color schemes, but it’s interesting to watch the design and color schemes become more professional as students advance in their academic careers. They would like more integration with social media and cloud apps in Digication. Students own their eportfolios, and we believe this is why we see more intrinsically motivated, self-directed activities with evidence of applied, integrative learning posted in the eportfolios.
  • ePortfolio support and training are provided by our student ePortfolio and Media Consultants.  This is a Peer Instruction practice.  The ePortfolio Consultants visit the classrooms and help faculty and students create and design their course eportfolios. Workshops and special Undergraduate Colleges eportfolio events are conducted throughout the academic year.  The Consultants browse the Digi Directory and post encouraging comments and suggestions in the student eportfolios. They maintain a Spotlight on ePortfolios site at https://stonybrook.digication.com/StonyBrookEportfolios and social media sites that feature model student eportfolios. A annual Spotlights on ePortfolios Student Showcase is held during Stony Brook’s Annual Teaching and Learning Colloquium.  Owners of the Best of the Best featured eportfolios are awarded and invited to showcase their eportfolios for faculty, family, and friends.

Pedagogy

  • Digication was chosen because of its organized layout, navigation, flexible design, community directory, and comments features which support and promote integrative, evidence-based reflection and inquiry-based learning.  It was essential that our eportfolio system would continue without interruption after the students graduated. The system integrates with Google documents and  provides embedding wizards for multimedia formats which facilitate multimodal composition and expression.
  • The “e” in eportfolio allows the owner to organize, reflect, and connect their learning experiences for life. A forgotten paper portfolio gathers dust and turns yellow on a shelf.  An eportfolio is active and alive. It allows faculty to organize and document their teaching strategies and the students to scaffold and integrate their learning experiences.  The eportfolio allows the owner to look back on the learning process over a lifetime and consider new paths and directions with their academic, professional, and personal activities.  It’s important to have an eportfolio system that facilitates and enhances this process.
  • The use of eportfolios, in general, and the Digication layout design with collaborative features allow faculty to layout their syllabi with instructions in a course template and, in a hands-off manner, guide their students through assignments and projects. This organizes inquiry and reflection and promotes self-determined, independent learning behaviors.  By having students post artifacts in an eportfolio, faculty are able to determine, right away,  where students are struggling. They can comment in the eportfolio pages using conversations (similar to Google Docs comments ) and the blog-like comments feature in Digication. This reveals the learning process and allows it to be organized and continuous, not fragmented in emails, notes, and classroom meetings. Digication allows for group projects and enhances classroom management abilities for faculty. An example of group research and presentation is the LDS 101 Leadership Challenge required for freshman in their first semester. This student group project, with inquiry and reflection prompts posted throughout the project eportfolio template, allows faculty to track student understanding and participation. Template example – https://stonybrook.digication.com/lds_101_leadership_challenge_template Example of complete project –  https://stonybrook.digication.com/teen_suicide_prevention

Outcomes Assessment

  • The design layout of Digication includes students in the outcomes assessment process.  Digication’s linear design and blog-like comments feature, when used with rubrics, support self-assessment and peer review. The design also organizes course performance and achievements. The system allows for commenting and tagging within the pages to collect performance samples for program outcomes assessment.
  • The back-end assessment tool is has a learning curve, but is effective for documenting and reporting learning outcomes.  Professional support is key.  The upside is that it helps faculty to understand, create, and apply higher cognitive learning objectives.

Professional Development and Training

  • We use a “Train-the-Trainer” approach at Stony Brook. The ePortfolio Program Manager and student ePortfolio and Media Consultants help individual faculty and their students develop course specific eportfolio designs for authentic learning and assessment. As eportfolio use increases in a specific program, the early initiator becomes the trainer for other faculty in the department. The ePortfolio Consultants train the TAs in the program to help students with the technology and how to review the eportfolios with rubrics and checklists. Materials (handouts) are available that help faculty and students get started and demonstrate best practices with eportfolio use and design. Materials can be viewed at our Spotlight on ePortfolios site – https://stonybrook.digication.com/StonyBrookEportfolios. A knowledge base is available with step-by-step instructions on using the various features in Digication – https://stonybrook.digication.com/eportfolio-help. Training also includes tips on creating a professional career eportfolio and the reflective practice. Our emphasis is to take the burden with the technology and student training off the faculty. It is the ePortfolio and Media Consultants responsibility to assist faculty with course template design, train the students, and provide classroom support. Again, student-centered, integrative learning is emphasized and faculty are assisted by the Faculty Center staff on customizing eportfolio uses to meet the learning objectives and outcomes of their courses and programs.
  • Faculty Led Development – At Stony Brook, faculty development has to be initiated by the faculty with the encouragement and support of the Faculty Center staff.  We often go to departmental meetings to present and answer questions. Most of our faculty don’t care to be “developed”.  They’re busy. Regularly planned workshops and webinars don’t work here. What does work is our sponsored events such as our ePortfolio Institute and the Annual Teaching and Learning Spring Colloquiums. Inviting experts to speak at a Provost’s Lecture or conduct seminars are effect and well-received. Faculty will consult individually or in teams with the Faculty Center staff on learning strategies presented at a seminar or conference. Also, we are supporting and facilitating an SBU and SUNY ePortfolio Community of Interest and Network (COIN).  Faculty also are encourage to apply for a Talent Grant that awards up to $6,000 to develop innovative teaching and learning models with the use of instructional technology.  Many of the awarded grants include eportfolio use.  An instructional designer and/or educational technologist is assigned to each of the Talent Grants.  SUNY also provides Innovative Instructional Technology Grants (IITG).   Teaching, Learning, and Technology (TLT) staff work as a team to support the faculty with the development of their proposals and project designs. The ePortfolio Program Manager works, specifically, with the faculty with eportfolio, reflective digital media, and experiential learning projects.

Support and Collaboration

  • Teaming with a Third-Party Vendor – Digication, as with all of our instructional technologies, are supported by our technology fees (Tech Fees). The IT staff  (DoIt) teams with the Teaching, Learning, and Technology (TLT) staff and Digication support staff  to assure Digication is secure and operational. The IT team collaborate with Digication staff to assure secure authentication using Shibboleth.    Digication integrates with PeopleSoft for bulk loading student accounts into the eportfolio courses and will be integrating with Blackboard and Google Apps for Education in the near future.   The entire Teaching, Learning, and Technology staff  and student Consultants join together to provide pedagogical and instructional technology support for the SBU faculty, students, staff, and alumni using eportfolios.  Faculty join in the support efforts.  We dub this support and collaboration as Team ePortfolio.  See our blog at http://you.stonybrook.edu/eportfolioconsultants

Looking Forward — Conclusion

  • Switching Platforms – It would take a lot for us to switch platforms.  Our eportfolio system assures the uninterrupted continuation of student eportfolios after graduation.  A learning and information exchange community has formed between faculty, staff, students, and alumni as a result of our eportfolio system.  We have found that the development of an eportfolio community is a key component for stimulating self-directed activity in our student integrative learning eportfolios. The Digi Directory helps us to establish best practices and professional use of eportfolios by allowing students to view other eportfolios. The ability to maintain eportfolios after leaving campus is a top priority. We are impressed with Digication’s commitment to that.
  • Future Improvement – Again, student and faculty focus groups have suggested improvement to the interface and the ability to upload and open Google Documents in pages.  Digication listens to our suggestions and that ability will be available in 2014.   The back end course management features (Discussion, Gradebook, ePortfolio View) need design improvements.  Digication support staff is working with us on training faculty and improving the process.  Faculty and students also noted that the Digi Directory search tool isn’t accurate at times. We have collected responses for Digication improvements from faculty and student surveys and focus groups.  Digication welcomes these suggestions and has acted on many of them.  This is one of the main reasons we chose Digication, they listen and respond.  They work with our IT and Instructional Design and Technology staff to assure a secure and operation eportfolio system.  All in all, we are happy with Digication and are not looking at any changes with our eportfolio platform. Our eportfolio program has grown at a rapid pace. An eportfolio culture has taken root and sprouted at Stony Brook. Digication’s overall design has helped to nurture that community, along with self-directed eportfolio activities and integrative learning. With the ability of  the eportfolio owners to maintain their eportfolio after leaving campus, alumni will continue to be a part of the Stony Brook community. Our eportfolio system promotes an appreciation for lifelong learning in our students.  One last note, with the arrival of our new CIO, Cole Camplese, we will use Google Apps for Education and SB You (Edublog) to compliment Digication and complete our eportfolio capabilities.  We now have the total package!

 

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