Aftershocks

I again got to attend AAEEBL’s annual ePortfolio conference in Boston this year.  And wow.  I still am left wondering over a week after the conference concluded how it was possible to learn so much valuable information in just four short days.  While I certainly can’t cover everything I learned, I want to take some time to reflect on some of the most meaningful presentations and experiences I had at AAEEBL this year.

Starting the Week Off Strong–Monday Workshops

Let me begin with the Monday workshops, which are my favorite part of attending the AAEEBL conference.  While these are considered the “pre-conference workshops,” in my mind, they are an integral part of what happens at the AAEEBL conference.  The morning workshops included about half a dozen options to choose from.  I chose to attend “Developing Peer Facilitation Models for Scaling and Sustaining ePortoflio Initiatives,” led by the following wonderful folks from the University of Michigan: Carrie Luke, Amy Homkes-Hayes, and Deb Mexicotte.  And I was not disappointed!

For me, figuring out how to tap into the rich resource of students in our Honors program at Lane is a key component to making ePortfolios a meaningful programmatic experience and also to sustaining this program requirement.  I have tried a variety of peer-facilitation methods for ePortfolios on a small scale in my own Honors course.  Some of them were total failures, but many of the things I tried with peer facilitation had at least some degree of success in my class.  The question for me was how the program could possibly scale the use of peer facilitation, especially given the limited buy-in of our Honors faculty and the sporadic use of ePortfolios in the classes offered within the program.

This workshop offered me many useful things to consider as I pondered this question and also provided some guidance as to how we might implement a more solid, sustainable peer facilitation model within the program.  But what I want to focus on here is what I think the most valuable part of this workshop was for me–gaining language and models to allow me to talk about peer facilitation in a more meaningful, clear, and direct way on my campus and with my students.  The workshop leaders provided us with three well-defined models of peer facilitation that will be of much value to me, both as I continue to try new ways of integrating ePortfolio peer facilitation in my classes and as I try to work with the program to build a potential model of peer facilitation that will help ensure the students in our program find their ePortfolios to be a meaningful and rich experience.

The three models introduced in the workshop are the “In the Moment,” “Just in Time,” and “Fully Prepared” models.  I would classify much of what I’ve done with peer facilitation for ePortfolios in my class as the “Just in Time” model, and the rest as the “In the Moment.”  The “In the Moment” model expects all students to be participants in peer facilitation.  This model provides students with the information, structure, and instructions they need to be a peer facilitator in the moment of the peer facilitation.  This is an excellent model to use for small-scale, in-class peer facilitation activities. It is also a model that empowers all students to be peer facilitators and take on leadership roles they might not otherwise try.

The “Just in Time” model allows you to select certain peers to be facilitators and provides these chosen peer facilitators with the information, structure, and instructions they need just prior to the peer facilitation.  This preparation allows the peer facilitators to have the knowledge they need to help their peers, the opportunity to try whatever it is they will be facilitating for themselves, and the opportunity to ask their trainer any questions they may have before the peer facilitation begins. Because the peer facilitators need to be trained just a few days (or even hours) in advance of the facilitation, this model allows instructors/programs to employ students who are currently enrolled in the course/program, as well as those who have completed the course/program as peer facilitators, offering the biggest selection of peer facilitators to choose from.

The “Fully Prepared” model is something I’d like to see the Honors Program work toward in the future as we work to more deeply embed the ePortfolios into the pedagogy of individual Honors courses as well as into the structure of the program.  In this model, peer facilitators are fully trained well in advance of the peer facilitation.  Peer facilitators in this model are knowledgeable about how the ePortfolio aligns with course/program/general education goals and can help the students they are working with better understand these connections. This model also allows students to achieve high levels of communication and leadership skills before they begin conducting peer facilitation in the classroom/program.  I see this model as something we could work toward incorporating as an option for experiential learning in our Honors Program, and a model that will make the meaningful use of ePortfolios in this program truly sustainable.

In the afternoon, I attended the “Using ePortfolios to Improve Educational Quality” workshop, led by John Sener, of Sener Knowledge, LLC.  In this workshop we talked a lot about what the future of education might look like, using Sener’s “Seven Futures Framework,” and how we might assess quality improvement in education.

What I enjoyed most about this workshop was getting the chance to talk to other participants about how they used ePortfolios in their classes/on their campuses, and how they attempted to measure the success of ePortfolios in enhancing the quality of education their students are receiving.

This conversation very naturally led us to talking about the obstacles that we face on our campuses which we feel prevent us from using ePortfolios to their highest capacity of enhancing the quality of student learning.  In a fun but productive way, Sener had us consider these obstacles in terms of “alligators”–obstacles that are frustrating but can be overcome, and “crocodiles”–obstacles that will eat you alive and are better left untouched.

Sener set this discussion up by showing us the video below, and encouraging us to be like the cat when we have to face our “alligators.”

I found it refreshing to hear that other folks in the room faced some of the same “alligators” and “crocs” that I do on my own campus in terms of implementing and sustaining an ePortfolio initiative.  I also found some of the suggestions on how to deal with “alligators”–which ranged from waiting for particular faculty to be on sabbatical to having students present their ePortfolio work directly to campus administrators–inventive and helpful as I consider our own programmatic and campus “alligators.”

I hope to be able to engage even more deeply with some of the ideas Sener was presenting about improving educational quality as I read his book The Seven Futures of American Education: Improving Learning & Teaching in a Screen-Captured WorldI earned a free copy of the book during his workshop for having the most creative answer to a question he posed–more evidence of the ability of this conference to get one’s pedagogical creative juices flowing!

 Best of Tuesday

The first official day of the conference, Tuesday, had a lot to offer including the opening plenary: “Catalyst for Learning: The Difference ePortfolio Makes,” delivered by Bret Eynon from LaGuardia Community College and Laura Gambino from Guttman Community College.  Eynon and Gambino offered an overview of the Connect to Learning (C2L) Project and spoke to the power of social pedagogy in higher education.

I also attended a variety of sessions throughout the day.  I found two particularly compelling.

The first was Janice Smith‘s  presentation “A Deeper Look at Authenticity,” which was co-authored by Shoji Kajita from Kyoto University, who could not be in attendance.  This presentation engaged the audience in considering a variety of questions about ePortfolio authenticity that I found both important and intriguing.  Some of these questions included:

  • What does authenticity mean?
  • What are the cultural assumptions we make in ePortfolio pedagogy? How are these connected to authentic student production?
  • What is a “digital myself”?  How authentic are “digital my-selves”?
  • What criteria is used to determine authenticity?
  • Can authenticity be measured?
  • Can an “inauthentic learning artifact” represent “authentic learning”?
  • Is authenticity and ideal or a reality?
  • When is authenticity safe?
  • Who is the audience for authenticity?
  • Do prompts offered to students shoot too high/low to produce authentic responses?

The other presentation I attended on Tuesday, which is the one I found most compelling out of the entire conference, was given by Carmen Kynard from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  This presentation was titled “Make it Do What it Do: The Intersection of Culturally Relevant Teaching, Digital Rhetorics, and ePortfolio Design in Freshman Writing.”

And it blew me out of the water!

Using Ray Charles’ quote as an inspiration and framework for the presentation, Kynard demonstrated the ways in which her students, predominantly students of color, used their ePortfolios (along with some very basic coding skills) to create a space in which they could connect the personal, cultural, communal, academic, and familial in a meaningful way that reflected who they were as both individuals and students during their first-year writing courses.  In their ePortfolios, students used digital rhetoric to help ensure that their ePortfolios reflected and made space for their ethnic rhetorics.  This is vital because the traditional academic platforms (including many of the available ePortfolio platforms) have and continue to work to silence the voices, experiences, and presence of people of color in academia by making students conform to mainstream-academic rhetoric in order to successfully use these platforms.  Kynard’s approach to ePortfolios created a space in which students could and did subvert the confines of these academic platforms.

As someone who specializes in minority rhetorics, and has structured one of the Honors classes I teach  around this topic, the insight, resources, and ideas Kynard shared, and the ways in which she challenged my current ePortfolio practices will remain with me for years to come, and hopefully help transform my pedagogical approach to ePortfolios.  More information about her presentation can be found here.

Humpday Highlights

Wednesday began with me giving my own presentation about the use of ePortfolios in my Honors WR122 course, titled “Reflections on a Pedagogical Chrysalis: Incorporating ePortoflios in My Honors Writing Course.”  I’ll talk more about that experience in a later post.

Wednesday’s plenary session, “Cultivating Learning Cultures: Reflective Habits of Mind and the Value of Uncertainty,” was given by Kathy Takayama of Brown University, and was, for me, the highlight of the day.

This plenary gave me much, much food for thought.  Takayama focused largely on the idea of  “living the question” and how this mentality can be cultivated through the “folio thinking” that accompanies the development of ePortfolios.

I really loved the idea of “living the question” rather than “living the answer.”  Takayama so aptly pointed out that our students often think that we, as instructors (especially in her field of science), function by “living the answer”–meaning that we already know the answer to the questions, and it is our job to teach students the answers and the job of students to learn them.

Takayama pointed out how quickly the mentality of “living the answer,” combined with outcomes-focused teaching and assessment can strip the curiosity, uncertainty, and ambiguity from the learning experience.  As instructors, thinkers, and researchers, we all know that it is this very curiosity, uncertainty, and ambiguity that leads to genuine learning and new discoveries. Yet at the same time, we often, inadvertently, strip these things from student experiences and expectations in the classroom, leaving students afraid to feel any of these things and terrified to express them, especially in submitted work.

Takayama gave a complex and frankly rivioting presentation of artifacts from her own students/classes that demonstrated the power of “folio thinking” to encourage curiosity, uncertainty, and ambiguity once she began using ePortfolios to help students move away from trying to “live the answer” to embracing the idea of “living the question.”  Her presentation did an excellent job of driving home the point that uncertainty is a key element of life-long learning, and demonstrating the role ePortfolios can play in fostering and documenting the uncertainties of learning and of living.

Thursday: Where Do We Go From Here or Looking Forward Rather Than Ending

Bryan Alexander came armed with his enthusiasm, humor, and a wonderful array of geeky metaphors to close out the conference by encouraging us to think forward.  Attending the closing plenary, “Teetering on the Edge of the Future: What’s Next in Technology and Education” was kind of like having a Big Bang Theory marathon with folks like Jaron Lanier in attendance.  And yes, it was just as fun!

There is so much I could say about Alexander and his ideas.  But I’m pretty positive that whatever I could say, Alexander would say better (and with more humor).  So instead of my lame summary of his plenary, I’m going to encourage you to become acquainted with his forward-thinking ideas by checking out his website/blog, which includes information about his ideas of future trends in technology and education, access to interviews he’s given, some of his recent publications, and information about how to access his virtual presence, including but certainly not limited to his Twitter Feed. (He was tweeting about the presentation while answering questions!) I also encourage you to watch some of his presentations which have been recorded and shared on YouTube.

All in a Week’s Work

I am so thankful for the opportunity to attend AAEEBL again this year.  As an ePortfolio lead for the Honors Program at Lane, I feel as though AAEEBL has offered me more ideas, strategies, and possible solutions in four days than a year of research on my own could have given me.  I love the ways in which this conference both challenges and enhances my ePortfolio pedagogy, helps me break new barriers in my understanding of the power of “folio thinking,” and in the words of Kathy Takayama, fosters in me, and by extension my students, the motivation to “live the question.”

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