Scaling up at Tunxis Community College

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Authors: Amy Feest, George Sebastian-Coleman, Jen Wittke, and Marguerite Yawin

Our Scaling Up Story

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Current Status of Our Project

ePortfolio serves different roles on our campus and has evolved over the years.  The project is most established in the career capstone courses for Business and Office Technology, Computer Information Systems, Business Administration, Engineering, Dental Hygiene, and Early Childhood Education.  There, ePortfolio allows students to integrate and reflect on their college experience by including sections on course abilities, general education abilities, and co-curricular activities.  Capstone ePortfolios function as a student learning tool because they emphasize reflection on growth and experience, and allow students to identify how they have achieved course and program abilities.

The capstone work developed alongside a Title III grant to work on outcomes assessment at the college.  Through students’ capstone experience, we can assess that they have met program and general education abilities using ePortfolio.  The Digication platform allows us to use ePortfolio for outcomes assessment because of its ePortfolio and assessment management capabilities.

Developmental English, Composition, and First Year Experience are the gateway courses for ePortfolio, and a majority of instructors who teach these courses use ePortfolio to some extent in their classes.  Some instructors introduce ePortfolio to students and only have basic requirements, such as create an ePortfolio, complete the welcome page, learn the basic functions of Digication, and upload an assignment.  Other instructors use ePortfolio for course abilities assessment by using both the ePortfolio and Assessment Management features of Digication.  Those who integrate ePortfolio into the course in more depth also use social pedagogy in their instruction through reflective activities or collaborative assignments.

Each year, over 1,000 new student ePortfolios are created.  Between academic years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, we saw the number of courses using ePortfolio double.  Though the numbers are positive and we are excited to see this growth, we do face the challenge of having saturated interested faculty in using ePortfolio.  Our greatest challenge is how to move beyond where we currently are.

Catalyst and Connector

ePortfolio has served as a catalyst for change with our assessment work at the college.  Tunxis received a Title III grant to work on assessment and ePortfolio was folded into the college’s efforts as a way to link abilities, assessments, evidence, and rubrics.  As our Ability-Based Education model became integrated into the college, ePortfolio was used to assess abilities at the course and program level.  ePortfolio became a part of our strategic initiative, so it was further integrated into our institution.  Throughout programs, students are required or choose to upload work to their ePortfolio to demonstrate achievement of general education or program abilities.  Students complete their ePortfolios in their capstone by uploading the remainder of their work and reflecting on their assignments and growth as a student.  Instructors and advisory boards for the programs assess ePortfolios for general education and program outcomes/abilities.

Developmental History

A Faculty Project

One of the key decisions of implementing the ePortfolio initiative on campus was that it was a faculty-led and driven project from the beginning.  This is seen in the early stages, before it was even an established initiative.  Originally, there were a few instructors who were using ePortfolio in their courses.  Carol Mahmood used it in her Student Development Seminar and Sally Terrell in her composition courses.  Laura Gambino then began using it in her practicum course.  At this time, the college had a platform called ePortfolio.org.  After attending a conference, Laura realized that in order to create good ePortfolios, students needed to start early.  The project really began in 2005 with the Title III grant.  When she heard of the grant, she brought in Sally Terrell for Composition, Candace Clark for Business and Technology Department, and Diane Ellis and Diana Himmel for Dental Hygiene.   Bringing the entire Dental Hygiene program on board was a two-year process.  They begin implementing it course by course, then by faculty.  An adjunct in Early Childhood Education began using ePortfolio.  Then the program coordinator, Jaclyn Coyne began using it in the program for key assessments for accreditation.   Overall, this highlights that another early, key decision was to start with key members of programs and expand from there.

In 2008, Marguerite Yawin joined Laura and Sally and the three became a part of the Making Connections Grant, which was a key turning point in the project.  Making Connections elevated the status of the project on campus.  It allowed the opportunity to work with other colleges and share in planning of initiatives.   Planning took place in the summer, away from the home institution, and allowed the team to work with other colleges.

Two significant changes occurred in 2009: the college switched to the Digication platform and began professional development in ePortfolio pedagogy.  The new platform was chosen based on input from a variety of faculty members and support staff.   Students found Digication easier to use than the previous platform because they could customize it more.  More importantly, faculty are able to connect ePortfolio to assessment because of the Assessment Management System available.

The leadership team chose specific faculty members for seminar work: George Sebastian-Coleman, Rafael Fierro, Susan Gentry, Carianne Garside, Barbara Boccaccio, Hendree Milward, and Jen Wittke (an adjunct at the time).  The original cohort consisted of instructors in art, humanities, first-year courses, math, and social sciences, which was strategic as to cover most departments.  George and Rafael replaced Sally and Marguerite on the Making Connections grant for the year.  By diversifying early, the project was able to extend to programs, developmental English, First Year Experience, and composition, eventually becoming solidified in the curriculum.

In 2011, the team, Laura, George, and Marguerite, joined the Connect2Learning Grant.  This allowed for more nationwide connections and for Tunxis to become a nationally recognized campus for its ePorfolio project.

Recognizing Students

Throughout the implementation of the project, students and their work played a key role.  At the end of each year, students are recognized through a student showcase.  They present their final portfolios after the faculty meeting.  This was a strategic move because faculty and staff heard students discuss their ePortfolios, articulate the pedagogy, and reflect on what they learned during the year or program.  The student voice is powerful and it has helped the project grow each year.

The top students from the showcase receive a plaque at the academic awards ceremony.  Faculty nominate students and a small group chooses the best ePortfolios.  The judging group changes each year to include different faculty and leadership team members.  The original categories were for career and first-year ePortfolios.  In order to include ePortfolios in a variety of stages, the awards now go to students who have the Best Overall ePortfolio, Best Visual Presentation, Best Reflective Work, and Best Use of Evidence.  We hope this change will encourage students to use their ePortfolio throughout their time at Tunxis and not just in gateway or capstone courses.

Connections to Core Strategies

Connection to Programs

Early in our history, the Program Coordinators saw the value in ePortfolio as both a student learning tool and assessment tool.  ePortfolio has been able to grow in order to fit into career programs because of the clearly defined outcomes.  By connecting with programs initially, the project was able to spread to other programs and in other areas in the college.  Because they have shown the positive results of the practice, instructors teaching non-program courses have adapted ePortfolio as part of their curriculum.  The key is that the college started small, building a collection of best practices for others to replicate.

We have also received support for the ePortfolio initiative though advisory boards affiliated with certain programs.  They have appreciated what students can showcase in terms of outcomes, extracurricular activities, and personal information.

Developing an Effective Campus ePortfolio Team

The leadership team membership has always had diverse representation from departments and programs.  The team leader also made sure to change or expand team membership every year.  Through these decisions, the ePortfolio initiative was able to expand throughout the campus.  The team members had/have connections with other key players on campus.  For example, they are able to take their work back to their departments and programs or other campus committees.  Committees for groups such as Institutional Effectiveness include administrators, faculty, and support staff.  WOrking with various areas of our college, we have been able to see significant changes, such as ePortfolio becoming a strategic initiative.

The campus team has always met and communicated regularly with each other.  An important part of this communication has been honesty.  For example, when the team initiated a pilot for integrative learning that involved humanities, social sciences, first-year, science, and math there were productive planning meetings and brainstorming.  The instructors discussed how to improve interdisciplinary learning for our students, and saw potential in implementing this approach.  However, the team realized that time constraints due to outside forces prevented this pilot from expanding and decided to table this project.  This reflects the team’s ability to take stock in their current status and make changes as needed.  This has happened consistently through the project.

An important addition to the team was adding Jason Iorio, a computer science adjunct to supervise the ePortfolio lab.  He has been able to train and mentor the student workers, as well as oversee the development of ePortfolio resources for the campus.  Having this dedicated person has allowed our ePortfolio lab to expand its role on campus.

Our Next Steps

As with most other colleges and universities, we face restrictions on financial abilities to move beyond where we currently are.  We have limited funds through grants for professional development, so we are developing ways to strategically expand our work.

Because of this, our main goal for two years is to maintain the robust work within our current established projects.  We will improve and revise practices within those projects, and continue to showcase the successful work being completed.  We are in a good place to reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing well.  Our outcomes project is also gathering assessments at this time, using an ePortfolio to share materials, so we can consider how to effectively integrate the projects.  This is work we can complete in our current situation.

We also hope to continue a grassroots-type improvement of the courses.  After a Business Administration student presented her capstone ePortfolio at a faculty meeting, a Biology instructor approached the leadership team about creating an assignment in her class that could be used for ePortfolio.  As faculty continue to hear student voices and see their work, we hope they are encouraged to build in ePortfolio into their courses. 

Looking forward, we next want to extend to General Studies and Liberal Arts & Sciences.  These majors have begun to develop capstone courses so we will begin working on integrating ePortfolio into those courses.  These majors house a majority of our students and we do not have an established capstone requirement where students can create a final version ePortfolio.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst

Pedagogy

From the beginning, those working on the ePortfolio saw the work as a logical connection to the Ability Based Education initiative on campus (Tunxis’s outcomes assessment work).  ABE focused on integrative pedagogy, allowing students to be exposed to abilities throughout their education, rather than just focus on course completion.  ePortfolio logically is the place where students can integrate and reflect on their work and  participate in social pedagogical activities.

Early in the project, the leadership team was able to convince programs and gateway courses, notably the first year writing courses.  Abilities across the curriculum work in ABE and the ePortfolio work with the Making Connections Grant influenced the evolving project and helped to bring in more people on campus.

However, we were not able to convince everyone, including our initial Abilities Assessment Planner who passionately supported ABE, but was not convinced of the benefits of ePortfolio.  We continue to have pockets on campus that are not convinced of the pedagogical advantages of ePortfolio, and we face the challenge of how to convince more of them.

Professional Development

The professional development cohort series was a 4-part workshop that took place over the course of a semester.  It introduced faculty to ePortfolio pedagogy, emphasizing reflection and assessment.   Most attendance was voluntary, though during one series, the academic dean required new-hired faculty to participate.  In advance of each workshop, participants completed relevant readings.  Each session consisted of group activities, discussion, and time in the ePortfolio lab.  Continuing conversations, or optional meetings, were a way for those who participated in the workshops to share new practices and reflect on their evolving ePortfolio usage.

The professional development with adjuncts in the career programs has allowed for consistency between major courses.  One way the programs have done this is through the use of ePortfolio templates for students.   As our next phase is implementing in General Studies and Liberal Arts & Sciences, we should begin to see greater consistency throughout the college.

Evidence

See our What  We’ve Learned Section for an overview of how ePortfolio has impacted student learning throughout the project.

 

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