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Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...
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Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching ...

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  • 1. Building and Sharing Electronic Portfolios: Teaching Professional Writing James M. Dubinsky Virginia Tech Electronic portfolios, or what many are now calling ePortfolios, are becoming a topic of interest at many colleges and universities (Batson, 2002). Fueled by a desire to create flexible venues for displaying, reflecting upon, and sharing their work, students, faculty, and institutions are beginning to investigate and experiment with ways to build and display portfolios online. The potential advantages of ePortfolios, particularly for assessment and reflection, are significant, and early evidence indicates that there are sound reasons for pursuing this updated version of a strategy that has worked well in the past (Lankes, 1995; Pullman, 2002). While portfolios have existed for some time, primarily as means to collect and display one’s work, they didn’t begin to gain a foothold in the academy until the early to mid-1980s, when composition teachers such as Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff (1997) adopted them as an alternative assessment strategy, one that could show students’ development (in terms of writing ability) over time and permit students to have a say in the ways in which their work was organized and presented. Since then, according to Vavrus (1990), teachers have continued to use portfolios in systematic ways “to monitor growth of the students' knowledge, skills and attitudes” (qtd. in Cole et al., 1995, p. 9). In the early 1990s, faculty also discovered the value of creating portfolios to document their classroom practice and demonstrate knowledge and skills (Seldin, 1991; Doolittle, 1994). Teaching portfolios became useful for both formative and summative evaluation (Tompkins, 2001). In addition, faculty have adopted them to record their goals, growth, achievement, and professional attributes developed over time and in collaboration with others. In this manner, faculty create professional portfolios: thoughtfully organized collections of artifacts that “illustrate professional status, pedagogical expertise, subject matter knowledge, knowledge of learning processes, and professional and personal attributes that contribute to teaching” (Winsor, 1998). Portfolios have evolved to serve other uses as well. In a symposium at Virginia Tech entitled “The Evaluation of Instruction,” Margaret Miller, a past president of the American Association for Higher Education and the keynote speaker, called for “more flexibility in the ways in which the university supports and assesses teaching.” She highlighted a need she had described earlier (1998): to “treat teaching as a scholarly activity that can be shared, documented, studied, reviewed, rewarded, and continuously improved” (p. v). Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 1
  • 2. One of the most promising ways to assess teaching and address the need Miller (1998) mentions is the course portfolio, which, for some teachers, like William Cerbin, has become the equivalent of a “scholarly manuscript” (Cerbin, qtd. in Miller, p. v). Course portfolios, a concept Cerbin (1996) proposed and developed, have become valuable as a means for teachers to record information about and reflect on their teaching practices. In addition, if teachers open up their portfolios for review by putting them online, they make teaching a rich, collaborative enterprise by meeting the three goals of the scholarship of teaching: it becomes public, is subject to critical evaluation, and is usable by others in the community (Shulman, 1998, p. 6). In this paper, I will provide a brief overview of the concept of course portfolios, describe how I am using one along with student ePortfolios as part of an introductory course in professional writing, and highlight the potential value of this strategy for assessment. My reasons for using portfolios are straightforward: 1) a desire to elevate teaching from a mechanical, practical act or “knack” to what it is, an art; 2) a belief in the transformative power of relationships and the value of mentoring;1 and 3) a sense that we need to focus more explicitly on outcomes—student learning—and reflect on how those outcomes are achieved. Brief Overview Two important issues in our field of professional writing are the link between theory and practice and the need to prepare teachers to understand the intimate connections between what they know and how they teach. Recently I (Dubinsky, 2002a) argued for the centrality of reflective practice as well as the need to prepare teachers at the graduate student level for what Dunne (1993) calls the “rough ground” of their classrooms. If teaching is going to be seen as a form of scholarship, then the practice of teaching must be seen as giving rise to new forms of knowledge. As Hutchings (1998b) indicates, one of the central problems teachers face is “how to generate, exchange, and build on knowledge in order to improve practice” (p. 1). One means for doing so is to gather materials for a course portfolio and share them with colleagues who teach similar courses. The act of gathering and sharing one’s course materials in several successive iterations of a course enacts a vision of teaching as “an extended process that unfolds over time,” one that “embodies at least five elements: vision, design, interactions, outcomes, and analysis” (Shulman, 1998, p. 5). These five elements turn what, for many, is drudgery or repetitive work into a journey of discovery. More importantly, the acts of selecting and reflecting help teachers recognize that their work can actually be represented as scholarship, and as such, as part of their field’s intellectual property. 1 Rymer (2002) highlighted for all of us how mentoring contributes to our development as teachers, scholars, and members of our profession (p. 343); course portfolios help build relationships among faculty based on the work all of us do. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 2
  • 3. What is a Course Portfolio? As I indicated earlier, a course portfolio is an attempt to document one’s teaching practices in a particular course over a period of time. Different from a teaching portfolio, where the emphasis is primarily on the teacher, or a student portfolio, where the emphasis is on the product (and often on reflection about the learning that has occurred), a course portfolio is about process, about evidence relating to teaching, learning, and development. And because it looks to the future (in terms of revisions of the course) as well as to the present and past, it may also be about what “might be” (Hutchings, 1998a, p. 15). As such, each course becomes a sort of “laboratory—not as a truly controlled experiment . . . but as a setting in which [teachers] start out with goals for student learning . . . and collect evidence about effects and impact” (Cerbin 1996, pp. 52-53). One simple reason for gathering this data about teaching, the “evidence about effects and impact” that Cerbin (1996) mentions, is to offer a treatment for what Shulman (1996) has called “pedagogical amnesia” (qtd. in Hutchings, 1998a, p. 17). Shulman’s point is that when we teach, we often make a note of issues, some small and others not so small, that we recognize as needing to be considered and perhaps changed. However, for a number of reasons, most often lack of time or the inability to recall or find key pieces of information, these issues aren’t addressed. According to William Cutler (1998), this strategy of using course portfolios can help to put faculty on a journey with the explicit goal of creating a record of what happened in order to facilitate assessment and change, if necessary. Course portfolios can lead to the creation of a very different environment, one in which faculty “think more carefully about what their students are learning and how that learning relates to the content and methods of instruction” (p. 23). Electronic course portfolios, even though the genre is less than a decade old, are gaining prominence as an effective means of recording and sharing work. Members of American Association for Higher Education’s (AAHE) Course Portfolio Working Group have created and shared examples in a variety of disciplines, including biology, English, and nursing (Hutchings, 1998a). These examples have provided the teachers and their colleagues with opportunities to discuss scholarly and pedagogical dimensions of their teaching. They have provided evidence of the thinking that goes on behind the teaching, and offered what Parker Palmer (1993) calls opportunities for “good talk about good teaching” (p.8). Finally, they have helped to demonstrate the kinds of learning occurring in the classes in question, which, in most instances, created a culture of teaching and learning, both within and across departments and institutions. How Do You Create a Course Portfolio? While there are many variants of course portfolios, most have certain key elements. According to Samford University’s Center for Problem-Based Learning (2003), these elements include Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 3
  • 4. I. Introductory Information II. Course Design A. Rationale B. Reflective essay on course content C. Reflective essay on instructional practice D. Problem-Based learning: context and application III. Student Understanding IV. Reflective Summary of the Course While many course portfolios include all of these components, teachers should consider this list as a guide only. The goal is to gather and select the appropriate materials that document what happens in terms of student learning in their particular class, which may mean that some of these items are not necessary. For example, a teacher may choose not to include an essay on instructional practice, including a daily journal instead. Some teachers have even begun including video clips and digital photos to capture some event in class or even just to document the classroom’s physical space, which may—and probably does—have a bearing on the actual day-to-day interactions in that space. The act of gathering materials is just the first of four key steps, which are often outlined as collect, select, reflect, and connect (Yancey, 2001). Once gathered, these materials need to be culled and organized in some manner and then reflected upon. Through the acts of reflection (on what has happened, is happening, and might happen), teachers can create knowledge and change. According to Posner (1985), “Reflective teaching will allow [teachers] to act in deliberate and intentional ways, to devise new ways of teaching . . . and to interpret new experiences from a fresh perspective” (p. 20). Finally, these materials need to be accessible and available for review. To meet the conditions for research and scholarship, they need to be available for public scrutiny. To make them more usable and help to alleviate what Barkley (2001) calls “the messy complexity” of teaching and learning, the materials must be organized to enable other members of one’s scholarly community to offer critical review, evaluation, and elaboration (Kelly, 2001). Some teachers (myself included) have opened up their portfolios to comment through the use of online discussion forums. Once available, we begin a dialogue that can lead to growth, reform, and education (not only for our students but also for ourselves and our discipline). My Course Portfolio In his groundbreaking work, Scholarship Reconsidered, Ernest Boyer (1990) offered some suggestions to change the way scholarship is defined and rewarded. For example, citing Artistotle’s belief that “Teaching is the highest form of understanding” (qtd. on p. 23), he argued for teaching to be seen as a “scholarly enterprise” (p. 23). However, he recognized that such a redefinition would require clear standards. Thus, according to Boyer, for teaching to be Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 4
  • 5. considered “consequential” (p. 23) and thus a form of scholarship, “pedagogical procedures must be carefully planned, continuously examined, and relate directly to the subject taught” (pp. 23- 24). Boyer’s work laid the foundation for much of the work in the area of the scholarship of teaching, which others, such as Shulman (1998), whose criteria for that scholarship I mentioned earlier, have built upon. To meet the standards and criteria for the scholarship of teaching that Boyer (1990) and Shulman (1998) have outlined, I have begun an electronic course portfolio. The course—English 3104: Introduction to Professional Writing—lays the foundations for the entire professional writing program. In it, students learn both fundamental rhetorical principles and have an opportunity to apply them across a spectrum of genres. To accomplish these goals, I rely on pedagogy built around service-learning, which is ideal in that it focuses on experiential learning and requires a strong focus on reflection (Dubinsky, 2002b). In the portfolio, I include the following items: • a reflective statement • documentation to illustrate how course goals are put into practice, such as student assignments and results • information gathered from assessment techniques • a course journal focusing on reflections • appendices that include forms used for assessment/self-assessment and feedback from students. To document learning, I gather data, ranging from weekly one-minute mini-assessments (using 3x5 cards, in which I ask students to tell me both what questions remain after the week’s lessons and what new information they have learned) to an electronic discussion forum that students can use to share their assignment drafts with other students. I, of course, keep copies of student work, and, if they revise it, request that they provide short memos explaining what they revised and why. During the semester, I also keep a daily journal, in which I present both a record of what happened and a reflection, in which I compare my intentions and the results. In terms of selection and reflection, I include my course materials: syllabus, schedule, and assignments. In addition, I offer an introduction in which I discuss the course goals and my intentions. I add my journal, which includes reflections on a day-to-day or weekly basis; a series of reflections on the various assignments, which also include sample student papers; and a brief summary essay about the course. To display and share these materials, I developed a template that mirrors my course website in that it includes the essential course documents such as the syllabus and schedule (see figure 1). Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 5
  • 6. Figure 1: Home Page of Course Portfolio http://www.english.vt.edu/~dubinsky/Portfolio/3104/index.htm However, unlike the regular course website, the online course portfolio site is enhanced with reflective comments and artifacts that document student performance and learning. The course portfolio consists of an introduction; a section in which I outline and discuss my teaching goals; a list of assignments, with examples of student achievement and reflection about both the assignment and the results; a schedule, to which I added pop-up links (see figure 2) highlighting my thoughts on those days; and a discussion board, which I made available to my colleagues. Figure 2: Schedule with Pop-Up Reflection Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 6
  • 7. What I Learned and Where I’m Heading Next My first semester teaching the course (Fall 2002) was also my first attempt to gather data for my electronic course portfolio. Truly it was an introduction to this method of learning about teaching. In the process, I faced some issues about my course design, particularly the fact that I included too much work, and I didn’t have enough time to help the students acquire a sense of the culture of the local organization they were serving.2 In essence, this method of teaching kept me focused on my teaching—no “pedagogical amnesia” for me, which made me all the more aware of the differences between what I espoused and what this particular group of students and I were enacting, between what I had planned and was able to execute. I learned a lot about the course and about the process of assessment from the act of reflecting on both my own work and that of my students and from the act of sharing it (even though I haven’t had too much feedback yet—at least in terms of colleagues’ comments online). As a writing teacher, I am well aware of the ways in which writing enables learning. Choosing to create this portfolio verified for me the value of writing and reflection. An important lesson that I “relearned” is the need for more writing workshop time in class, for getting the students more invested in editing and commenting on their peers’ papers (we did a lot of this activity out of class). To help build teams (another course goal), I need to designate more class time in which the activities of writing and editing collaboratively can be highlighted. Finally, I learned that this process of building a portfolio requires sufficient prior planning. Having the template in place before the semester would have helped, as would publicizing the site so that it may actually get some feedback from other teachers who teach similar courses. ePortfolios As I approach the second round of teaching this course (Fall 2003), I am aware of a need to do a better job finding public methods of reflecting on student work and of recording the students’ reflections on their own work and that of their classmates’. To accomplish this objective, I am asking my students to create their own portfolios as the semester progresses. As a member of the ePortfolio Working Group at Virginia Tech, I am fortunate to have access to a software package designed at the University of Minnesota called the Open Source Portfolio Initiative (OSPI). While this software is quite flexible in terms of how one represents oneself, it is designed primarily as a vehicle to display products. For example, the categories of personal identification, education, career information, and skills (see figure 3) center on the kinds of information that potential employers and tenure review/promotion committees might want to see. 2 One of my course goals is to ensure that students learn “the culture of a local community-based organization and the population it serves.” Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 7
  • 8. Figure 3: OSPI Portfolio Categories That said, when used in combination with Blackboard and the synchronous/asynchronous features designed for reflection and discussion, I believe that this software will help me obtain a more accurate picture of both the learning that occurs during the course and student impressions about that learning. I also believe that students will use this software willingly. Students are motivated to represent themselves in a positive light to potential employers.3 This software asks students to represent themselves by collecting the kinds of information that potential employers would be interested in seeing and enables them to create specialized “views” of that information, tailoring it to specific audiences. For example, a student who is an engineering major and professional writing minor may have uploaded an engineering design, using Autocad. Should she apply to an engineering or design firm, she may want to display it; should she choose to apply to a nonprofit organization as a technical writer, she may choose to highlight the grant project she writes for my class instead. Most importantly, in terms of my purpose of evaluating the learning that occurs in English 3104, by asking students to create a portfolio and thus engage in a process similar to mine, I believe I will see much more of an explicit emphasis on their learning and on how the products they produce address or meet the course goals. They will be “writing themselves” all term, and as I ask them to step back and share a variety of “views” of themselves with their peers (and perhaps with our service-learning partner), they will have to step back and reflect upon what they decide to share and why, considering how those choices create a personality, complete with documented 3 In my experience, students find the job application assignment one of the most relevant, primarily because it has immediate application, and they can see the advantages of learning how to present or market themselves effectively. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 8
  • 9. skills and talents. As we talk more in class about the explicit goals, we will begin to understand how to think rhetorically, to evaluate our work, and to become more accountable to each other. Conclusion This paper is about a process in which I am engaged and will remain engaged in for some time: the process of learning about how to represent what happens in a classroom and document what students learn. I expect that the process will not end, regardless of how many times I teach the course or record my results in a course portfolio. That said, I am convinced that I have made some significant gains in my understanding of what an introductory course in professional writing can do for students, and I am going to continue working to make the process of learning, what usually is a tacit process, an explicit one. My conclusions are tentative, primarily because the research I am engaged in is young, and I have quite a distance to travel along the road to discovery yet. My hope, however, is that by beginning to make my teaching community property, I have begun the most difficult process of all: opening the door of my classroom to review and conversation, which I believe will shed light on the activities within, and lead to better practice and more learning. With the electronic course portfolio, I enhance or accelerate the process by permitting more interactivity. With ePortfolios, I hope to create a reflective environment for students, giving them greater responsibility for managing their own learning and preparing for aspects of work-based and lifelong learning. Finally, I hope that I am creating a “laboratory” that will teach me and others about what it means to teach professional writing, about what goes into a program, and about how to integrate assessment into everything we do. In essence, my goal is to develop strategies to facilitate assessment of curriculum outcomes that are not easily evaluated by traditional instruments of assessment. Ours is a pedagogical discipline. We focus on ways language can be used to create meaning and effect change. I believe that strategies such as course and student portfolios can help us to become graceful teachers who reflect on / think about our work, which will lead to the teaching of writing being refigured as an "art.” Refigured in this way, we can shift from an instrumental approach to teaching, focusing on forms and genres, and toward an approach that explores how these forms and genres are adapted and appropriated by specific discourse communities to fit specific situations. By so doing, we may recognize not only the complexity of our discipline but also the knowledge-generating element of teaching and the fact that because what teachers do is so intimately tied up with how they do it, they benefit from studying and reflecting on their teaching. References Barkley, E. F. (2001, June). From Bach to Tupac: Using an electronic course portfolio to analyze a curricular transformation. AAHE Bulletin. Retrieved on September 2001 from http://aahebulletin.com/public/archive/bachtotupac.asp Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 9
  • 10. Batson, T. (2002, December). The electronic portfolio boom: What’s it all about? Syllabus 16(5). Retrieved on March 10, 2003 from http://www.syllabus.com/article.asp?id=6984 Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Center for Problem-Based Learning (Samford University). Problem-based learning course portfolios. Retrieved on May 10, 2003 from http://www.samford.edu/pbl/pf_outline.html Cerbin, W. (1996). Inventing a new genre: The course portfolio at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), Making teaching community property: A menu for peer collaboration and peer review (pp. 52-56). Washington, DC: AAHE, 1996. Cole, D. J., Ryan, C. W., Kick, F., & Mathies, B. K. (Eds). (1995). Portfolios across the curriculum and beyond. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Cutler, W. W., II. (1998). Writing a course portfolio for an introductory survey course in American history. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning (pp. 19-24). Washington, DC: AAHE. Doolittle, P. (1994). Teacher portfolio assessment. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED385608). Dubinsky, J. M. (2002a). More than a knack: Techne and teaching technical writing. Technical Communication Quarterly, 11(2), 131-47. Dubinsky, J.M. (2002b). Service-learning as a path to virtue: The ideal orator in professional communication. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 8(2), 61-74. Dunne, J. (1993). Back to the rough ground: Phronesis and techne in modern philosophy and in Aristotle. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame P. Elbow, P., & Belanoff, P. (1997). Reflection on an explosion: Portfolios in the ‘90s and beyond. In K. B. Yancey and I. Weiser (Eds.), Situating portfolios: Four perspectives (pp. 21-33). Logan, UT: Utah State UP. Hutchings, P, (1998a). Defining features and significant functions of the course portfolio. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning (pp. 13-18). Washington, DC: AAHE. Hutchings, P. (1998b). Introduction. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning (pp. 1-4). Washington, DC: AAHE. Kelly, T. M. (2000) The course portfolio. Retrieved on May 10, 2002 from http://www.theaha.org/teaching/aahe/Kelly/Pew/Portfolio/Portfolios.htm Kelly, T.M. (2001). Wired for trouble? Creating a hypermedia course portfolio. In S. Kahn, D. P. Tompkins, and K. B. Yancey (Eds.), electronic portfolios: Emerging practices in student, faculty, and institutional learning (pp. 124-29). Washington: AAHE. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 10
  • 11. Lankes, A. M. (1995). Electronic portfolios: A new idea in assessment. Syracuse, NY: Clearinghouse on Information & Technology. Miller, M.A. (1998). Preface. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning (p. v). Washington, DC: AAHE. Miller, M. A. (2001, October). The scholarship of teaching and learning. Keynote address presented at Virginia Tech faculty symposium on “The evaluation of instruction.” Blacksburg, VA. Palmer, P. (1993). Good talk about good teaching: Improving teaching through conversation and community." Change 25(6), 8-13. Posner, C. (1985). Field experience: A guide to reflective teaching. New York: Longman. Pullman, G. (2002). Electronic portfolios revisited: The efolios project. Computers and Composition, 19(2), 151- 169. Rymer, J. (2002). “Only connect”: Transforming ourselves and our discipline through co-mentoring. The Journal of Business Communication, 39(3), 342-63. Seldin, P. (1991). The teaching portfolio. Boston, MA: Ankar. Shulman, L. S. (1998). Course anatomy: The dissection and analysis of knowledge through teaching.” In P. Hutchings (Ed.), The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning (pp. 5-13). Washington, DC: AAHE. Shulman, L. S., Dunbar, S. R., & Sandefur, G. (1996). Capturing the scholarship in teaching: The course portfolio. Presentation at the AAHE Conference on Faculty Roles & Rewards, 21 January, Atlanta. Tompkins, D. P. (2001). Ambassadors with portfolios: Electronic portfolios and the improvement of teaching. In S. Kahn, D. P. Tompkins, and K. B. Yancey (Eds.), electronic portfolios: Emerging practices in student, faculty, and institutional learning (pp. 91-105). Washington: AAHE. Vavrus, L. (1990). Putting portfolios to the test. Instructor, 100(1), 48-63. Winsor, P. J. T. (1998). A guide to the development of professional portfolios in the faculty of education. Retrieved July 12, 2003 from http://www.edu.uleth.ca/fe/ppd/contents.html Yancey, K. B. (2001). Digitized student portfolios. In S. Kahn, D. P. Tompkins, and K. B. Yancey (Eds.), electronic portfolios: Emerging practices in student, faculty, and institutional learning (pp. 15-30). Washington: AAHE. JAMES M. DUBINSKY directs the Professional Writing program at Virginia Tech (VT) teaching courses in professional writing, the teaching of writing, and visual rhetoric. His research interests include the scholarship of teaching, service-learning, the history of writing pedagogy, and professional communication. In 2000, he was awarded Virginia Tech's Student Leadership Award as the Outstanding Service-Learning Educator. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention Copyright 2003, Association for Business Communication 11

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