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Helping Community College Students "Connect the Dots" of their College Experience with E-Portfolios
In late summer 2010, Middlesex Community College (MCC), one of the largest community colleges in Massachusetts, was named as a leadership institution for AAC&U’s Developing a Community College Roadmap project, and we launched our efforts to expand and connect two college initiatives designed to increase student engagement and learning. One of these initiatives, a Title III grant program targeting first-year students, used intrusive advising and a revised curriculum to engage students in the development of Institutional Student Learning Outcomes (ISLOs)—in particular, the outcome for personal and professional development. The other initiative, emerging from our recently revised strategic plan, was general education (GE) revision work with a strong emphasis on “evidence-based practices.” This revision work drew on annual ISLO assessment evidence collected over four years that had made clear that “one course does not a writer (or a critical thinker or a socially responsible person) make.” In response, we were replacing our then current distribution system of individual course “intensives” with a GE curriculum that provided students with “ample and sufficient” opportunities to practice and receive feedback on their development of our ISLOs.
This GE revision became the foundation for our Roadmap project. As they redesigned their courses for GE designation, MCC faculty sought professional development support to help them design assessments and modify learning experiences that supported and assessed our ISLOs in contextually relevant ways. The resources and network of collaboration of the Roadmap project would help us to move our work forward.
In 2011, we sent a team to the AAC&U Summer Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success to begin work on a model for professional development that would support the integration and assessment of our most effective ISLO, personal and professional development. The team, inspired by institute presentations and discussions, returned to campus with the design for a freshman seminar that would link with GE courses as learning communities, providing students with authentic opportunities to think metacognitively while building competency with one or more ISLOs. These freshman seminar learning communities would provide us baseline evidence of student competency with our ISLOs, and students’ e-portfolios would complement that evidence with formative qualitative narratives that would help us better understand how our students were learning.
Leveraging Multiple Funding Opportunities
While our Roadmap team worked to build consensus for the development of a freshman seminar that summer, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts put out an RFP for Performance Incentive Fund opportunities to advance the state’s Vision Project goals. MCC submitted a proposal that included the development of one-credit freshman seminars (first-year experience courses—FYEs) linked to GE courses as learning communities, using the Roadmap team’s freshman seminar model. Our proposal was funded, providing us with adequate support for the development of a full-scale freshman seminar. This additional source of funding allowed us to redesign our Roadmap project to focus on the use of e-portfolios in freshman seminars.
Laying the Foundation for Student E-portfolios at Middlesex Community College
The Roadmap team decided to use the pilot year of FYE implementation to lay the foundation for an e-portfolio culture at MCC, so that eventual e-portfolio creation in FYE classes would create an entry point for MCC students’ e-portfolio use that would be built upon during the remainder of students’ college years.
During this year of culture-building, we sought and received valuable support from two of our fellow Roadmap institutions already using e-portfolios. Using Roadmap project funds, we invited presenters from Queensborough Community College and Salt Lake Community College to MCC to share with our college community ways in which they were using e-portfolios to enhance and assess student learning.
Additional culture-building work during this year included multiple information sessions offered by the Roadmap team to the larger college community. We shared ideas, practices, and examples from other institutions, and we facilitated dialogue on the topic of student e-portfolio use. Using an informational, community-building model, we held “listening sessions” where we encouraged discussion of likely obstacles and drawbacks to this new pedagogy, as well as exploration of the possibilities for increasing students’ engagement with their learning, their metacognition, and their ability to make interdisciplinary connections between what might currently be perceived as disparate learning experiences on and off campus.
E-portfolios for Learning and Assessment
An e-portfolio culture enables students to proudly represent and reflect upon their learning publicly, but it requires e-portfolios to function as tools for increasing student learning and engagement first and foremost, while secondarily serving institutional assessment needs. Early in this work, our team identified this prioritization, articulating our belief that only if the tool was determined to be valuable for the former purpose could it ever be used authentically for the latter purpose. This mirrors our philosophy for student learning assessment. We believe that keeping assessment work focused on the learning yields useful, authentic assessment results that faculty and staff care about and use as part of a feedback loop to improve their students’ learning.
E-portfolio Faculty Fellows
During our year of culture-building, two faculty emerged as potential “cheerleaders” for student e-portfolio use, leading us to create two stipended e-portfolio faculty fellow positions, with distinct areas of focus—one for FYE and linked GE courses, and one for e-portfolios in career programs. We intend for students to create their e-portfolios as first-year students, affirming their new status as college students, and then add to them over time, validating for themselves and for others their personal, academic and professional growth while in college.
Some career programs had models for e-portfolio use in mind, based on their current use of “hard copy” student portfolios. Others built templates from scratch. What was particularly interesting about the actual implementation of these e-portfolio models in career programs was that many students adapted the faculty-developed templates as they built their own e-portfolios, making use of the web-based environment they are often quite familiar with. In these instances, the technology, put in the hands of student users, appeared to be driving curricular change.
In fall 2012, we launched our e-portfolio pilot, with our “early adopters” from FYE courses and the business, criminal justice, dental hygiene, and hospitality management programs, supported by peer tutors recruited from our peer tutoring program. In all, approximately 150 students built e-portfolios during this pilot semester as part of their coursework. At the end of the semester, students were encouraged to submit their e-portfolios to our first annual MCC E-portfolio Showcase, judged by faculty, staff, and student tutors as well as two faculty from Salt Lake. Seven student e-portfolios were selected as winners, and they were highlighted on the MCC Pinterest site. We are recruiting these student winners to serve as next year’s peer tutors, using their winning e-portfolios as models and examples for future students.
During our fall 2012 pilot semester, our e-portfolio faculty fellows continued their outreach to FYE and GE faculty and career programs, as well as to student affairs staff. We have new pilots planned for 2013 in many areas. We are also working closely with our service learning area to develop a service learning e-portfolio template that will capture and enhance those student learning experiences while also providing our service learning partners with web-based insight into the impact that these experiences have on students. This focus on cocurricular learning is a priority for us, as we believe that student use of e-portfolios to make connections between and among learning experiences, related to institutional and programmatic learning outcomes, will foster integrative learning. Connecting these varied learning experiences will provide students with multimodal representations of the various ways in which they experience and develop competency with learning outcomes across and beyond their college experiences, thus creating model roadmaps for new students at MCC.
Miller, R., and W. Morgaine. 2009. “The Benefits of E-portfolios for Students and Faculty in Their Own Words.” Peer Review 11 (1): 8-12.
Elise Martin is dean of assessment at Middlesex Community College.