Using Technology to Connect Our Learning

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Summary

IMG_7057Guttman Community College uses Digication as its ePortfolio platform.  The operating system enhances student learning and makes evidence of learning visible for multiple audiences – students, their peers, faculty, and the institution.  Digication is more than our ePortfolio platform.  We do not have a learning management system at Guttman; Digication is the platform by which faculty deliver course content to students.  Faculty use Digication for sharing curricular resources, and our peer mentors use the technology to share academic support resources.  It is also the tool to support our outcomes assessment work, which is grounded in the review of student ePortfolios.

Authors

Laura M. Gambino
Tracy Daraviras
Chet Jordan
Nate Mickelson

For a printable, PDF version of Guttman’s Technology Story, Click Here.

Our Technology Story

IMG_7162Our technology story predates the opening of the college.  Planning for the college began in 2008 with the development of the New Community College’s Concept Paper (2008).  In that paper, the authors recommended the pervasive use of ePortfolios across the College to enable holistic and authentic assessment of student progress and achievement.  Following on that, in 2010 a Working Committee comprised of CUNY professors, CUNY administrators, the Vice President of Product Development for Taskstream, and members of the College’s Planning Team, was convened to create an outline for the College’s ePortfolio and Assessment practices. In their report, the Committee recommended using an ePortfolio system as the “core of the assessment system” at the College.  This would ensure that assessment of learning and curricular effectiveness would focus on authentic student work and, more importantly, would make it possible to capture evidence of achievement of higher-order learning outcomes such as the development of critical thinking skills over time. The Committee recommended that students create a mini-portfolio during Summer Bridge, a working portfolio during their first and second years of coursework, and a culminating graduation portfolio, all of which would include self-assessments, scored using faculty-developed rubrics, and that College host regular training workshops for faculty, staff, and students.

While the committee suggested possible organizing structures for the College’s ePortfolio system and assessment rubrics, they were silent on potential platforms. During the summer of 2011, the College convened a task force including faculty and administrators to review and recommend ePortfolio platforms and to draft an overall assessment plan. The College CIO reviewed the task force’s recommendations and, in collaboration with a newly constituted task force on Student Learning Outcomes Assessment, selected Digication as the College’s ePortfolio platform in fall 2011. The key decision point centered in the robustness of the platform’s assessment tools. Other considerations included cost, how much and how easily students would be able to customize their ePortfolios, whether or not ePortfolios and other data were maintained by the College or by the provider, and the degree of responsiveness from the provider’s Helpdesk regarding technical problems and customizations.

Colleagues from LaGuardia Community College and the CEO of Digication introduced the platform to the College community in spring 2012 through in-person and online workshops. Due to delays in Procurement, the system was not available on campus until late Spring 2012 and was not fully configured and tuned until a few weeks before the beginning of Summer Bridge in August 2012.

In August 2012 our faculty with assessment and ePortfolio expertise , Laura Gambino, also began working at Guttman.  Building on her previous ePortfolio work she helped to develop a template fin Digication or students to create their ePortfolios.  She also led several Digication workshops for faculty and staff, providing them the basic skills they would need to begin working with Digication, both as an ePortfolio for student learning and as a content delivery system for courses.

IMG_7155Throughout that first year, the C2L team offered workshops to faculty and staff, deepening our use of ePortfolio technology and pedagogy.  The team used ePortfolio in all of our professional development offerings, modeling reflective, social pedagogy and practice.  From these efforts, we see increased faculty understanding and use of ePortfolio pedagogy.

The Digication platform does support our use of integrative, social, and reflective pedagogy at the college.  Students create a learning ePortfolio during our required Summer Bridge program.  They continue to use that ePortfolio throughout their tenure at Guttman, adding artifacts, reflections and other evidence of learning.

Our first year curriculum places a strong emphasis on experiential learning.  For example, during our Summer Bridge program students investigate and research a specific neighborhood or location in New York City.  They have a designated field research day where they explore their location.  The ability to include images and multimedia from activities such as this enables students to capture their experiential learning and more easily connect it to their classroom learning.

Social pedagogy is also an important part of student learning at Guttman.  Faculty are regularly looking at and commenting on student learning in their ePortfolios.  Many faculty, for example, commented on students’ “Who Am I” portfolio pages before the fall semester began.  Faculty also encourage and have activities where students are looking at and commenting on each other’s ePortfolios.  We know from the C2L Core Survey findings that peer and instructor feedback increases student engagement with ePortfolio; we encourage faculty to incorporate social pedagogy into their teaching and learning activities.  Digication does have a commenting feature which, while limited, does provide a means for social pedagogy.

Reflective pedagogy is central to student learning and connects with faculty and institutional learning.  All students complete a reflection at various benchmarks – the end of the Summer Bridge Program and the end of the Fall I and Spring I semesters.  In addition, many faculty integrate reflection into their curriculum, providing the space for students to reflect on their own learning and growth.  The ePortfolio makes learning visible; students and faculty are able to see “change over time” as they progress through their first year at the college and beyond.

IMG_0283In addition to supporting our use of integrative, social, and reflective pedagogy, the Digication platform is becoming a central part of our institutional learning culture.  We saw innovative and unexpected uses of ePortfolio emerge from the creativity of our faculty, staff, and students.  We used ePortfolio during our two college-wide retreats to disseminate information as well as to capture conversations and comments on our work from members of the Guttman community.  Faculty created curricular ePortfolios for courses in our first year experience.  These ePortfolios serve as dynamic resources for faculty, both full-time and adjunct; they contain sample assignments, supplementary course materials, along with institutional syllabi and learning outcomes. Some faculty are also beginning to develop their own professional ePortfolios for use in the reappointment, promotion, and tenure process.

In addition to faculty and staff, our peer mentors are using ePortfolio to engage and interact with students.  They created an interactive ePortfolio for our common reading which encouraged first-year students to share their thoughts about the book prior to beginning our Summer Bridge program.  Peer mentors also created academic support ePortfolios with resources to help students in various subject areas.

We are still working to identify the ways in which Digication can support our students as they begin their second year of study in the majors.  We envision using ePortolio in connection with virtual learning communities.  Faculty and staff are also helping students develop showcase ePortfolios that can be used for employment and/or transfer.

Because Digication and ePortfolio are critical to so many components of our educational model, the college funds the yearly license through its operating budget.  Digication is administered by Prof. Laura Gambino, the CCE Scholar-in-Residence for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment and Mr. Chet Jordan, Instructor of English.  Both are members of the C2L team.  In addition, the academic technology committee, comprised of faculty and staff, make recommendations to the curriculum committee regarding technology project planning, vision, and implementation.

Our Information Technology departments assists with managing the data extracts from the centralized systems, and incorporating Digication into our on-campus custom single sign on solution.  Digication does not interface with any of our other applications, instead, we load data prior to the start of classes from the central systems. While some may considered this an “interface,” our CIO would not, since “the data is stagnant and updated manually.”

However, from a faculty and SSA perspective, all of these aspects (course management, etc) are available seemlessly through Digication.

Our platform has been integral to our scaling up effort in that it has allowed for the management of our ePortfolios, courses, and assessment efforts. Faculty, staff, and students use ePortfolios on a regular basis.  Faculty and staff are becoming more comfortable with the assessment component of Digication as we continue to grow.

 Overall, we are pleased with the Digication platform.  It allows us to create templates for students and gives students the ability to customize their ePortfolios, which gives them a sense of ownership of their portfolio and their learning.  Digication’s assessment management system provides a mechanism for capturing snapshots of student ePortfolios that can then be used for course, program, or institutional assessment.  Digication’s social features are limited; we hope to see a more robust version of their conversation feature and news feed dashboard available soon.  In the meantime, we are able to use the commenting feature to engage students in social pedagogy-related activities and learning.  In addition, our faculty and staff continue to find innovative ways to use Digication to support and connect to our learning culture.

Connection to the Catalyst

IMG_0267The Digication platform allows students to create, manage, and share ePortfolios that showcase, store, and organize their academic careers in one digital place. In addition, this platform allows students to communicate with their instructors as well as create multiple pages geared toward extracurricular activities, hobbies and/or specific interests. The ownership is enhanced by allowing the students full control over their ePortfolios to make them fully customizable, while being afforded the opportunity to make portions or entire pages of their ePortfolios private or public at any time.

During our initial year, as with any new technology, we had students who were resistant and students who gravitated towards it. While there are still some who only utilize it when they absolutely have to, i.e. to submit academic work, there are others who have grown to benefit and utilize e-portfolio in their personal lives. Many students continue to extend their ePortfolios beyond what is required in the curriculum.

As we began our second year, we learned from the feedback we received from students and faculty and worked to integrate the use of ePortfolio more directly into the Summer Bridge curriculum.  While we are awaiting the results from our C2L Core Survey, the initial feedback from faculty and students to date is positive. Students are more comfortable with the technology and faculty are able to focus more on pedagogy and learning.

We do have peer mentors at Guttman.  While none of our mentors are specifically ePortfolio mentors, they all help to support student use of ePortfolio either one-on-one, in small group sessions, or in the classes they attend with first year students.

Pedagogy

ePortfolio has been considered an integral component of the curriculum at Guttman Community College from the earliest stages. In founding documents, it was framed primarily as a tool for making student learning visible over time for purposes of self-reflection and assessment. Implementing the curriculum, including the ePortfolio component, has been an exhilarating challenge since students arrived in August 2012. The challenge has been twofold. On the one hand, there have been technical glitches and delays with procurement that limited the degree to which faculty and staff were initially able to rely on the consistent use of laptops and the Digication platform in classes. On the other hand, limits of time and staff meant that not all faculty and staff developed expertise in either the technical aspects of the system or the overarching pedagogy that the ePortfolio supports. These challenges were particularly acute during Summer Bridge and the Fall 2012 semester: all students in the inaugural entering class had their own ePortfolios, but most instructors used the system primarily for course management and assessment.

Building on successes in isolated courses during that period and the practical expertise of the College’s ePortfolio (C2L) team, training workshops were delivered in preparation for the Spring semester and a major change was made to one component of the first-year core curriculum. Since the training workshops invited faculty and staff to learn about the ePortfolio by working with the tool, they had an immediate, direct, and positive impact. Though some instructors continue to use the tool for course management, a large number are beginning to integrate ePortfolio into their course in a number of ways.  Instructors present materials through the ePortfolio’s image, video and audio modules and interact with students using the comments feature. Instructors also use the comments feature and embedded Twitter feeds as a means to capture in-class discussion and to encourage out-of-class interaction among students.

09.19.13The curricular change noted above is shifting students’ views of the ePortfolio from an extra requirement of some courses to a tool they can use for thinking and learning. The change, proposed by a Subcommittee of the Curriculum Committee that included two participants of the College’s ePortfolio team, transformed a 1.5 hour/week session focused on group work into a session that uses the ePortfolio as a “place of practice” where students generate and refine personal academic identities. The session, now called Studio, sits within the College’s first-year learning community, City Seminar. Each week, students engage in practical activities related to ongoing assignments in the larger course and reflect on the strategies they are using to complete those assignment while managing the other demands they face as first-year college students. Through participation in Studio, students are beginning to take greater ownership over their ePortfolios, customizing header images and background colors, reorganizing the sections provided on the student template, hiding sections and pages from public view, and drafting introductions and personal and academic biographies.

Since this curricular change and the training workshops are so new, it is too soon to determine their effects on pedagogy and student experience at the College. However, it is clear that perceptions of the ePortfolio among faculty, staff, and students are becoming more favorable and the use of the system is becoming more robust in all areas. We redesigned the Summer Bridge curriculum to more effectively integrate ePortfolio throughout the various components of the program.  We also included a more comprehensive introduction to ePortfolio and ePortfolio pedagogy to our new faculty and staff.

As we continue to grow, cultivating an ePortfolio culture will require consistent efforts on the part of the ePortfolio team.  We will continue to work with our colleagues and the college administration to celebrate successes and consistent effort on the part of faculty and staff to devise curricula and pedagogies that use the system to promote student learning and success.

Professional Development

Our ePortfolio team has designed and implemented several professional development workshops for faculty and staff throughout our inaugural year.  Many of our colleagues joined GCC with only a conceptual understanding of the role ePortfolio plays in the model of the college.  As ePortfolio practitioners, we believe that the role of professional development workshops is to integrate the technology with the pedagogy.  Onboarding faculty and staff using this philosophy allows us to illustrate the principles of Inquiry, Reflection, and Integration by modeling folio thinking rather than isolating the pedagogy and referencing ePortfolio only as a technology or a tool.

Following our Summer Bridge Program in August, we reflected on the successes and challenges faculty and staff faced in preparing to integrate ePortfolio into their courses for the Fall semester.  Prior to the college opening, many faculty members were just beginning work in their new positions.  Our ePortfolio team hadn’t yet been organized.  These factors played a key role in the challenges our newly formed college faced as we began to scale-up our ePortfolio initiative.  In an effort to bring faculty and staff up to speed on the functionality of Digication, Professor Gambino held a tutorial session for all new members of the college community so that classes, grades, attendance rosters, portfolios, and message boards could easily be accessed.  As we began to deepen our professional development focus, we realized that our preparations for onboarding new faculty prior to Summer Bridge this coming year will require an integrated and deliberate approach to introducing ePortfolio to the campus community.  Our experiences this academic year have generated successes that will be used as points of reference as we prepare for the upcoming year.

Becoming a skilled ePortfolio practitioner requires active risk-taking.  Opening up lines of inquiry that are situated in making connections across multiple disciplines, the co-curriculum, and the community outside of the college asks novices to ground their thinking in innovative practice.  On January 8, 2013, we offered instructors of the Arts in New York City course a workshop focused on the integration of ePortfolio into that course.  The workshop opened with a video designed by the team at LaGuardia Community College, showcasing their best practices integrating ePortfolio with arts-centered courses.  Participants were also introduced to a Tunxis student’s ePortfolio who had demonstrated mastery in integrating reflection with his own art.  This tutorial provided participants with a visualization of a successful practice while highlighting some of the major pedagogical themes covered in the professional development workshop.  Participants were asked to provide a reflection in the workshop’s ePortfolio prior to the start of the session.  One member commented that “The LaGuardia video and sample Tunxis portfolio show clearly what a powerful tool ePortfolio can be.”  While this reflection gave faculty teaching the course time to think about some initial thoughts on integrative practice, it also encouraged those less familiar with ePortfolio to begin writing and thinking within the technology.  Throughout the workshop, participants engaged in conversation about both building their own portfolios as well as practices for integrating portfolio design and reflection into their syllabus.  Several faculty members designed assignments for their courses where students were asked to post pieces of art onto their personal portfolios and provide a reflection based on a set of prompts that participants began to generate in the workshop.

IMG_3088On February 15, 2013 our team hosted an ePortfolio Bootcamp for the Graduate Coordinators and Peer Mentors responsible for leading the Studio component of City Seminar.  Studio, as coined by one of our faculty, is a “place of practice” where students can refine the skills they are learning in their first-year courses.  When the team of faculty and staff were tasked with redefining Group Workspace, they felt that ePortfolio would be the centerpiece of the newly conceptualized Studio.  Many of our Graduate Coordinators and Peer Mentors had only a basic understanding of ePortfolio as both a platform and a pedagogy.  The Bootcamp was structured in two three-hour sections, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Participants could choose to attend either section and were asked to view a set of Camtasia-based tutorials prior to the sessions.  These tutorials provided a brief overview of the functionality of Digication and allowed the workshop to begin with a focus on reflective practice.  Throughout the day, Graduate Coordinators and Peer Mentors worked collaboratively to develop reflective prompts that they planned to use to guide students through the skills and lines of inquiry in their Studio sections.  Using the Carol Rodgers article on reflective practice, participants navigated their way through three skill levels that increased in level of depth.  Beginning with the Apprentice level, colleagues were asked to reflect on their own understanding of what Studio should look and feel like each week.  The Journeyman section of the workshop focused on the design of reflective prompts for activities and the Master level asked participants to formulate specific activities that integrated ePortfolio and reflection.  Our ePortfolio team has since been following up with Graduate Coordinators and Peer Mentors to identify areas of success and opportunity with these practices.

At the conclusion of each of our professional development workshops, our team makes itself available to each faculty and staff member to go into classes and assist with the integration of ePortfolio into our courses and co-curriculum.  Our supportive model and our dedication to building a culture of learning gives us the opportunity to work one-on-one with each member of the campus community and provide structured support to new faculty and staff.

One of the biggest challenges we face with our professional development work is time and scheduling.  We are still in the midst of building our college.  Everyone is pressed for time, working on numerous committees and college activities.  In addition, our required first year curriculum necessitates five teaching days.  Unlike most colleges, we do not have consistent blocks of time where faculty are not in the classroom.  This makes it difficult to offer professional development seminars.  We are currently working on developing small communities of practice focusing on specific topics such as ePortfolio pedagogy.  It is our hope that this type of model will allow us to engage faculty and staff in more sustained professional development, deepening their learning and understanding of ePortfolio pedagogy.

Outcomes Assessment

One of the main reasons GCC selected Digication as our ePortfolio platform was its integrated assessment components.  Digication provides the ability to upload our Institutional Student Learning Outccomes and rubrics.  Faculty can create assignments and connect those assignments to particular outcomes.  Students have the ability to either upload work directly to an assignment or to attach a copy of their ePortfolio to an assignment.

There are two options for conducting assessment.  Faculty can either assess the students in their own course or, the committee assessment tool can be used.  With this tool, specific faculty and staff are assigned a random sample of student submissions to assess.  In either case, analysis on the assessment data can be performed.  Reports can be generated within Digication or the raw data can be downloaded for further analysis.

We piloted the use of the assessment by committee tool in June 2013.  Faculty found the tool relatively easy to use and it did meet our needs for assessment of our institutional student learning outcomes.

IMG_3105In June 2012, a team of faculty and administrators from the college attended the AAC&U’s General Education Assessment Institute.  During that institute a plan for assessment of our student learning outcomes (Guttman Learning Outcomes – GLO) was developed.  As part of that plan, snapshots of student ePortfolios will be captured at various benchmark points – the conclusion of Summer Bridge, each of the first year semesters, and at the end of the second year of study.  Digication’s assessment management system will facilitate our use of these ePortfolios for institutional assessment of our GLOs {LINK TO GLO PD}.

For more on our Outcomes Assessment work, please click here.

Connections to other Polished Stories and Practices

Outcomes Assessment Practice

Conclusion

IMG_3085Currently, we are extremely satisfied with the Digication platform and the ways in which it works with our educational model.  Its strengths include its ability to create multiple student templates, the student ownership and customization of his/her ePortfolio, the  ability to control the accessibility of ePortfolios at the section and page level, and the ability to support innovative uses of ePortfolio as part of our institutional learning culture.  The assessment by committee tool is also easy to use and flexible enough to meet our institutional assessment needs.

Digication’s limitations include its lack of social tools; the commenting feature is “clunky” at best.  The course assessment component is also challenging for faculty to navigate.

Looking forward, we are hoping that Digication will keep pace with our needs for incorporating integrative, reflective, and social pedagogy into our curriculum and for connecting students’ experiential activities with the classroom learning.  We also hope is will provide an easy-to-use interface for our ongoing assessment work.

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