ePortfolio Program Design: Engagement Considerations

As I design my ePortfolio modules for pre-professional mass communications undergrads in eLC and think about their engagement, I keep coming back to needing to make participants feel like this work is important. I’ve been surprised at how few students coming in to the university have never created a digital portfolio before. Not only do I need to acquaint learners with what an ePortfolio is, I need to emphasize all the ways creating and maintaining an ePortfolio benefits them on a personal and professional level. Emphasizing its usefulness will be important from the beginning and throughout the program to keep students motivated and to remind them why they are engaging in this activity. I think I might be able to do that by sprinkling throughout the modules examples of exemplary portfolios, quotes or research related to eportfolios and what employers are seeking, articles about the process and value of folio thinking.

I’m hoping that the individual interest part of engagement will naturally exist because the ePortfolio deals directly with my students’ interests in multimedia communication. That said, I do know I will still need to include a lot of support in various ways, including guides for the different project options and presentation modes. I definitely need to include many different project options to increase the likelihood of individual interest, feelings of empowerment, and success.

Another thing I’m really struggling with thinking about is how to infuse caring into this sequence of modules. How can I motivate students by making them feel I and/or their peers care about their progress if instruction is delivered mostly asynchronously? Are once a semester face-to-face checkups enough? Do I respond when students hit various milestones in their progress through the modules? Can the eLC discussion board help me here? Do I create some sort of synchronous in-person or online event(s) where students can showcase and receive feedback on their eportfolio? How can I infuse more of that caring or community element that engages learners without making them feel like I’m making them do something boring or useless?

Initial Thoughts on Instructional Design Project

I’m laying out my next project which will continue my work with e-portfolios as well as function as my main project for my fall Online Teaching and Learning class (EDIT 7520). Expect revisions and further elaboration as the feedback rolls in from my collaborator group.

Instructional Problem/Need: Many pre-professional and other university students have never created an e-portfolio, despite this being an increasingly important professional practice. Internship programs and other advising or mentoring programs have an opportunity to guide students in developing multimedia communication, reflection, and life-long learning skills. This course will introduce young professionals to the valuable practice of folio thinking and the various activities involved in creating an e-portfolio.


The goal of this course is to engage pre-professional undergraduate students in the increasingly essential practice of folio-thinking and e-portfolio creation

Learning Objectives:

Students in this course will be able to:

  • Explain the personal and professional importance of e-portfolios and folio-thinking
  • Analyze different types of e-porfolios
  • Apply multi-media storytelling to reflect on personal experiences
  • Evaluate potential content for a professional e-portfolio
  • Create an e-portfolio documenting your personal, academic and professional growth

Significance to Stakeholders:

  • Students themselves are the primary stakeholders. Participating in the creating learning or professional e-portfolios helps them refine diverse skills that will likely be valuable on the job market and for continued development and satisfaction in their careers.
  • Universities and internship programs that promote e-portfolio creation will benefit from having more reflective, technologically engaged pre-professional graduates. They will be more prepared to enter the job market, especially in creative professions where multimedia performance or presentation are preferred over resumes.
  • Potential employers have authentic evidence of an applicant’s past performance and level of knowledge and skill

Personal significance to learners:

  • Students should be intrinsically motivated to learn folio-thinking because the practice will directly benefit their professional development
  • Many students should also be motivated in order to lessen the anxiety many students feel about not having a job by the time they graduate.
  • Learners may be further motivated by not wanting to be seen as different or behind or lacking in a particular skill or tool as compared to their peers

Possible deliver technology(ies):

  • eLC (UGA’s LMS)
  • Mobile-friendly website

Constructivist Foundations

I’ve been building up my knowledge of constructivist foundations, revisiting the work of Piaget. Piaget adopted the metaphor of learner as creator, constantly  constructing their beliefs and schemes (internal conceptual structures for interpreting and interacting with external reality) for acting in the complex, ever-changing world.

When discrepancies exist between these structures, disequilibrium ensues. For Piaget, disequilibrium created the necessary conditions for learning. As most people grow older, they become less tolerant of situations that cause disequilibrium. This is a fact. But without this experience, we cease to learn. Being a true lifelong learner means embracing some risk and pursuing opportunities and experiences that push us out of our element.

There are three possible reactions to a state of disequilibrium. The first involves assimilating the new experience into our current constellation of schemes. If there are no schemes to which the novel experience belongs, we will need to take the alternate approach of accommodation or creating new schemes through which to understand the external world. Finally, there’s rejection of the new knowledge, the experience. Strive to never choose this path.

Recently, I listened to the remarkable story of Derek Black, the son of prominent white nationalist figures who went on to denounce the white supremacist ideas his family preached. Pursuing higher education played an instrumental role in his transformation. So did faith and kindness and love. Black talks about the consciousness expanding experience of studying at a culturally and racially diverse institution that exposed him to other ideas and interpretations of the world. When the secret of his white nationalist affiliations and activities came out, a Jewish student reached out. He invited him to a Jewish celebration to experience something of the culture and people he demonized. This gesture of compassion opened a door for Black. Through frequent evidence-based debates and increased friendly interaction with diverse others, Black’s schemas about race had to accommodate his new, appreciative understanding of differences.

I hope to always be brave enough to embrace disequilibrium. To take the class that interests and scares me. To take the risk of failure. To reach for a vision and try to make myself better, different. I hope I can be clever enough to engineer disequilibrating experiences for instruction–to help others change and develop into who they hope to be.

Reflections on Information Processing Theory

This week I’ve been reading and viewing and processing information processing theory. Originating in the 1950s, at the dawn of computing technologies, information processing theory proposes that we can understand human cognition, the way the human mind works, by understanding how computers process information. The basic idea is that people take specific information inputs and process them while in short-term memory (STM), or working memory, in such a way that they can be moved and retrieved (output) from long-term memory (LTM) at some later time.

Understanding information processing theory helps me understand the various cognitive difficulties incoming undergrads often face when confronted with university-level work. Many students admit they never had to do much more than memorize facts in order to receive satisfactory grades in high school. Most are familiar with a behaviorist-based instruction model wherein students are conditioned to respond to a familiar question (stimulus) with a “correct” answer (behavior) to produce the A grade (reward).

Knowing more about information processing theory and metacognition helps me understand the various elaboration processes necessary for students to build deeper connections and more lasting knowledge. For example, a student complaining about not doing well in any of her classes would benefit from a conversation about the specific study methods she’s currently using and an introduction to metacognitive strategies (like creating visual note maps or reflecting on how two seemingly unrelated concepts are connected) might enhance her learning.

Thinking about the limitations of information processing theory in working with my advisees, I come back to the fact that they are human beings and not machines. The usefulness of a purely cognitivist approach breaks down when confronted with complex questions like “What should I major in?” or “How can I lead a meaningful life?” These questions require more than retrieving and outputting some information stored in long term memory. Individuals can only solve such complex and personal questions/problems through a dynamic process of reflecting for creating new possibilities, connections, and directions in their particular sociocultural reality.

e-Portfolio Pilot Launch

I need to start writing this down before I begin to forget. Or it becomes a blur. Crystal, my advising partner, and I met with our first e-portfolio pilot students today. In our little breakroom where we haven’t had the time to put up our Christmas lights yet. All three of my students made their 45 minute appointments. One of our worries is that the best students self-selected and that our pilot students are the cream of the crop–over-achievers. We decided we needed more information and threw together this demographic half sheet over the weekend. We didn’t want to ask these questions in the intake survey they all completed to apply for the program.

I still can’t believe we had over sixty students want to give it a try. From that number, we took fifty, mostly based on whether they would stick with us at least a year, and not be ready to apply to Grady College, until next fall. So far, the three students I’ve spoken with have not created an e-portfolio before. This was a new experience for them, and I tried to convey my excitement at the journey they were about to undertake. Enthusiasm is important. I hope I conveyed it.

Mostly this morning, I felt panicked and unready. We decided the week before that we needed our appointments to have more structure, so we envisioned an appointment as coinciding with Gagne’s nine events of instruction.

From their notes and stories, they seem like a diverse lot. I’m interested to see what else the short demographic survey will reveal about the diversity of our sample. I’m also interested to see what kinds of unforeseen glitches we run into along the way. Already, it’s amounted to slightly more email–emails about not getting the original Foliotek emails, for example. Emails to our vendor contact about features we’re just figuring out as we become more familiar with our students’ views. We stumble through. They seem pretty forgiving so far, though. And, dare I say–excited!

We thought the appointments were somewhat awkward. Maybe because we were asking them to do something–to be more engaged in the advising process than we have become accustomed to experiencing with our students. Maybe because we were no longer just giving them information. We were attempting to guide them on a learning journey, some process along which we both hoped the student would emerge changed.

My last appointment of the day happened to be with my most enthusiastic advisee. She was committed to leadership and community service–an exceptional student who founded a charity with her siblings a couple years prior. Any lingering doubts I had about the value of this project faded when this young woman, after initially struggling to remember password and how to log in to Foliotek, said “This is a really good idea.” After she looked at the proposed mandatory self-assessment project and her other project choices, she said: “I’m glad I signed up for this.”

Tomorrow, Crystal and I will reflect on our first appointments and see what needs tweaking. I’ve created a student management spreadsheet to track the portfolio students’ progress through their various milestones: first project, second project, registration cleared. Soon we have to start creating those post-evaluations. I keep putting the whole evaluation plan on hold. All I can think about is how I can’t wait to see their projects.

Setting Goals

A recent training & development course taught me about S.M.A.R.T. goals. I’ve been thinking about sharing with our e-portfolio advisees this semester. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. I’d never evaluated a goal by whether or not it was smart before that class. Part of me thinks it’s a good practice. It’s makes a fine self-management tool. But, it’s so limiting. Realistic goals? Measurable? It seems so limiting, I tend to agree with this guy.

I do want to get to the goals our advisees listed in our intake survey. I feel now that we should leave it really wide open. I think we want to go where I advisees want to lead us. We want to discover something. Dream-drive, Uplifting, Method friendly, Behavior-driven.

Now, I’m thinking of having them watch the Brendon Burchard video and maybe another video, perhaps a TedX talk. Maybe this.