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E-Portfolios in Student Roadmaps at Salt Lake Community College
At Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) approximately 60 percent of incoming students place into developmental math. Too often, these students are consigned to a slow-start to higher education, when they need a jump-start instead. When designing our SLCC project as part of AAC&U’s Developing a Community College Student Roadmap project, we wanted to make sure that our intervention with students would serve them as much in their general education and major coursework as it did in developmental math. To this end, we took two existing initiatives that apply to all students—a college success course and our general education e-portfolio—and combined them with a new initiative in developmental math, and we tied all three efforts together so they would have the greatest impact on our students.
Our Roadmap initiative takes students who often languish in developmental math courses and gives them the opportunity to accelerate their learning in a high-touch classroom environment. At the same time, they enroll in a college studies course that helps them with note-taking, study habits, time management, academic habits of mind, and reflective pedagogy—while also giving them a solid introduction to learning outcomes and the e-portfolio that they will use in all of their future general education courses.
Students placing into developmental math now have the option to enroll in the Math Emporium instead of taking the traditional sequence of precollege math courses. The Emporium combines lectures with self-paced work in a computerized math lab under the tutelage of faculty and lab aides. We started the Math Emporium with 225 students in spring 2012; it has since grown to 522 students in spring 2013. Our initial data from spring and fall 2012 indicate that over 60 percent of the students who enrolled in the modularized curriculum of the Math Emporium made adequate progress, and that between ten percent (spring) and five percent (fall) of those students passed completely through developmental math in one semester and were prepared for their first college-level math course. We will continue to track all Emporium students and compare their progress with those who took traditional developmental math courses.
SLCC has long had a college success course—EDU 1020 Essentials of College Study—open to all students. We knew from ten years of internal analysis that students who scored in the lowest quartile on our placement exams but passed EDU 1020 within their first three semesters at SLCC had higher GPAs and an increased probability of graduating compared to students with similar test scores who did not take EDU 1020. With statistically significant results like these, we did not hesitate to make Essentials of College Study a corequisite for students opting to take the Math Emporium.
Introduced in the summer 2010, SLCC’s e-portfolio initiative requires students to create an e-portfolio and use it in all of their general education courses. Faculty who teach general education identify one or more “signature assignments” from their courses—assignments other than quizzes or tests that address two or more of our general education learning outcomes—and ask students to put them in the e-portfolio along with reflection about the assignment or about the course.
We intend a student’s e-portfolio to serve him or her as a multifaceted educational compass. The portfolio is divided into several sections that allow students to map personal priorities with essential learning outcomes, as well as to catalog their work in both curricular and cocurricular settings. When students have evidence in their Coursework and Outside the Classroom pages, they can then link those artifacts to the general education learning outcomes on their Goals and Outcomes page. This sort of educational orienteering affords students a chance to make better sense of our general education program and act intentionally to achieve its outcomes. The e-portfolio also requires students to map their unique path through our general education requirements. Reflection plays a key role in this mapping.
For each course represented in the e-portfolio, we want students to take a step back and reflect, putting their work in broader personal or intellectual contexts. We want them to make connections between their work in one course and work they might have done in other courses. We want them to think about the process they went through in completing their assignments, or perhaps interrogate their own thinking before and after the assignment. Faculty design prompts to elicit these kinds of deep reflection. This aspect of the e-portfolio represents a big learning curve for our faculty and our students, but we’re making progress.
Reflection can produce a different kind of roadmap for students—a map of their intellectual journey, informed by metacognition, the interconnection of knowledge, and the relevance of essential learning outcomes. Moreover, this roadmap is one that students create for themselves, albeit mediated by the reflection prompts they encounter in each general education course. They can make meaningful sense of their learning while they are still in school, rather than having to wait years for a retrospective look.
Let’s look at a typical example of meaning-making in one student’s e-portfolio. Danielle “Dani” Wickingson recently won a scholarship for using her e-portfolio to demonstrate her excellence. In high school Dani took part in a short student exchange program in Japan and then was able to spend the next year studying and living there. Upon returning to Utah, she enrolled at SLCC and one of the first courses she took was Culture and Human Experience. In her e-portfolio she wrote the following:
Everything I was taught in this class made me understand why a lot of things happened during my time in Japan: the mistakes I made, my cultural misinterpretations, my ethnocentrism, but also my triumphs and accomplishments.
When reading this, one can see that Dani is acting as her own educational navigator—she is claiming an education rather than simply receiving one. As Bain put it, metacognition “allows people to engage in a valuable conversation with themselves, exploring their background, questioning and correcting their thinking in process, and pursuing the dynamic power of their minds” (2012, 24).
Can all students make the kinds of intellectual moves that Dani has demonstrated? I think they can, in their own ways and in their own voices. Drawing upon their unique curricular and extracurricular activities—backed up by the lives they’ve led before they walk in our doors—students have demonstrated a remarkable ability to make connections and give voice to their learning through their e-portfolios.
Colleges and universities need to give students opportunities to make those connections. At SLCC, we’re trying to use the Roadmap initiative to create a solid foundation for our students who come to us unprepared in math. Rather than focus just on math, however, we see our initiative as a way to prepare them for the road ahead. A math foundation, knowledge of how to be a successful student, and an e-portfolio to collect and reflect upon curricular and cocurricular work comprise the trifecta of student success at SLCC.
Bain, K. 2012. What the Best College Students Do. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
David Hubert is a professor of political science and e-portfolio director at Salt Lake Community College.