Guest Post

ePortfolios in Theology:Using ePortfolios to Improve Student-Learning and Outcomes Assessment

Bryan Hollon is the director of the graduate program in theological studies at Malone University. He is sharing about his experience so far with ePortfolios in the Theology programs, both undergraduate and graduate, at Malone. Since Bryan wrote this for us in the summer, the Language and Literature department has also begun to utilize the digication system. We look forward to adding their experience with ePortfolios to the campus’ collective knowledge in the future. Take it away Bryan!… 

Introduction

The department of theology has spent a great deal of time, recently, discussing some of the strengths and weaknesses of our academic programs.  Although we are confident that our students enjoy good instruction by well-qualified professors, we realize that an education in biblical and theological studies can sometimes lack cohesion, at least from a student perspective.  That is, the curriculum in bible, theology, and ministry programs can seem, to the student, like a menagerie of introductions to disparate subjects, which employ different methodology towards different ends.

Although faculty members have a deep appreciation for the internal consistency of the various courses offered, these deep connections are not necessarily apparent to the average student. In light of these concerns, we have begun to explore ways to bring increased cohesion to the student learning experience, and we believe that implementing an assessment-driven ePortfolio program will help us achieve this goal.

What is an ePortfolio?

Learning Portfolios are educational tools that students use to collect, highlight, and reflect on course work and other educational experiences acquired while working towards completion of a degree.  An electronic portfolio (ePortfolio) is a digitized version of the learning portfolio that allows students to publish their work on a computer or online and share it with various interested parties such as:

  • Professors – who will evaluate ePortfolio artifacts (documents, videos, etc.) to assess student learning
  • Departments – who will use ePortfolios to track learning outcomes based upon specific program goals and objectives and who may highlight stand-out portfolios in order to promote the department’s degree programs to potential students and other interested parties
  • Friends and Colleagues of the Students – who will consult the portfolios for insight into building their own
  • Relatives – who often have a natural interest in their loved one’s learning for a variety of reasons
  • Prospective employers – who will benefit from having broad and deep exposure to student learning and growth, which an ePortfolio offers

ePortfolios may include evidence (artifacts) of learning such as essays, research papers, reflection papers, journals, etc., but also pictures, videos, PowerPoint presentations, and other forms of media. In short, the ePortfolio provides a space for students to collect, display, reflect upon, and demonstrate learning. If you have not already discovered Malone’s Digication site, click on the hyperlink to the left and have a look. You can use your regular Malone username and password to log-in. The portfolios that you will see were created during the Spring 2012 semester as a part of a pilot program.  These are “course” portfolios rather than “program” portfolios, but they will help you to understand the simplicity of the technology being used.

Assessment and ePortfolios

In the department of theology, we have chosen to implement ePortfolios with assessment in mind. Namely, students develop an ePortfolio in order to, among other things, demonstrate that they have achieved the academic program’s stated learning objectives. In the past, our department’s mission, goals, and objectives were clearly stated in the catalog but not central to teaching and learning. The goals and objectives were really something like “window-dressing.”

Accordingly, the first thing that we did, as a department, was to produce a substantial revision of our departmental mission, goals, and objectives. We asked, very simply, what do we want all of our students to know when they complete a degree in our department? Then, we wrote our new goals and objectives based upon our answers to this question. Our next step was a curriculum-mapping exercise to determine whether our current curriculum offers adequate instruction to enable students to achieve the stated goals and objectives.

In particular, we have begun to consider key assignments in our our courses in order to determine whether these assignments are relevant to program goals and objectives and capable giving our students an opportunity to provide evidence of learning that can be assessed included in an ePortfolio.

Student-Driven Learning

As we implement ePortfolios at the graduate and undergraduate levels, we will continue to make our departmental goals and objectives more central to the learning process. We want students to become so familiar with our goals and objectives that they will be able to state and explain them clearly when asked. Every student will be introduced to the goals and objectives as they enter the program and then required to reflect upon and demonstrate that they have achieved the goals and objectives as they develop their ePortfolio over the course of the program.

The Benefits of Learning Portfolios

While there are many potential benefits to the use of electronic portfolios for various individuals and groups, we believe that the following are especially noteworthy:

  • ePortfolios encourage students to understand the individual pieces of the learning process from  within the context of overall program goals and objectives
  • ePortfolios promote student-ownership of and a learner-centered approach to the entire learning process
  • ePortfolios promote student self-assessment through ongoing reflective activities
  • ePortfolios enable students to display evidence of their learning and growth to interested parties
  • ePortfolios offer teachers and departments an effective means of connecting program goals and objectives to specific courses and assignments and then assessing student achievement of these goals and objectives
  • ePortfolios offer prospective employers, potential students, and other interested parties valuable insight into the learning process promoted by departmental programs

If you are interested in using ePortfolios and would like more information about the work that we have done and continue to do in the department of theology, please send me a message, and I’ll be happy to meet with you or provide more information.

 

-Bryan Hollon

 

Appendices

Bryan’s Kit

  • Log in to the Digication Portfolio system specific for Malone University at:
    http://malone.digication.com – COST is FREE
  • Planning and departmental buy-in.
  • The configuration of a eportfolio template for theology students – Once you have a template portfolio ready, contact the help desk and we can publish your ePortfolio as a template

Additional Resources

Thank you, Brian, for sharing about your experience with ePortfolios thus far. If you are interested in additional information about ePortfolios and their effects on student learning, here are some additional resources that might be useful:

  • Challis, D. (2005). Towards the mature ePortfolio: Some implications for higher education. http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/93/87
  • An argument against (the comments on this blog entry are almost as interesting as his critique). I would also say that the digication system subverts a couple of his complaints in that it is available to our students even after they leave the university and allows them to create multiple ePortfolios (e.g., a long form one for reflection and a short form one for a succinct extension of a resume/C.V.)

Admission or Prohibition of Laptops and Other Technology in the Classroom by Julia Frankland

Welcome to week two of the “Faculty Speak Classroom Geek” series. Dr. Julia Frankland, Chair of the Department of Business and a Professor of Business Administration discusses when she allows and doesn’t allow students to BYOD (bring your own device) into the classroom.

In the web resources I follow about technology and teaching, there is a lot of chatter about whether devices should be allowed or disallowed in the classroom. This is the case not only in higher ed but the whole P-20 education spectrum. I appreciate Julia’s balanced approach to this problem/opportunity. Under Julia’s post you will find additional blogs and scholarly articles which are related to this discussion.

Take it away Julia!


As someone who has embraced the use of audio and video presentations as frequent components of pedagogical methods, I’ve struggled with knowing how much technology the students should have access to during class.

Upperclassmen and Graduate Students

I teach freshmen in the Micro/Macroeconomics sequence, upper division business/econ courses to juniors and seniors and graduate level economics in the MBA.  For graduate courses, I allow students to bring in any technology they wish as long as it is used appropriately.   Classes are 4 hours long, and as long as they are focused on the topic at hand most of the time I find that an occasional glance at a sports score or email helps the commitment to 4 hours in economics to be an easier burden to bear.  Of course if the policy is abused it is changeable mid-term and the students are aware.  Thus far I haven’t had any problems with this group and this policy.

Underclassmen

Things get trickier with undergrads. I would love to believe that if undergrads have access to laptops, iPads and smartphones during class – that they would only use them for appointed purposes (researching the Federal Reserve’s policies and the like). The trouble is that experience has shown me otherwise.

Not all technology is created equal.  Laptops are the worst in my opinion, because not only does the person using them see the screen, so does everyone behind them.  It is too easy to be distracted by a moving image and to be sucked in to whatever is on the screen. In my principles level courses (Econ 202/203) I do not allow laptops at all. We do a LOT of graphs, and they are hard to draw quickly on a laptop and students fall behind trying to get that downward sloping line ‘just so’. For exams and quizzes they will need to draw the pictures themselves, not cut and paste an existing image. Here pencil and paper is most valuable.   I want their full attention all the time, and since these are mostly 18 year-olds every bit of concentration assistance helps.

In upper division business/economics I have allowed laptops to be used in class when there is a legitimate need.  In Public Finance I can throw a website up on the screen and students can access it at their seats as well — same for Money and Banking.  It’s a different learning environment, and with consistent guidance about appropriate use this policy seems to work.

Electronic Textbooks and eReaders, specifically the iPad

In the last year I’ve faced some dilemmas that I’m still working through in terms of technology use, and they come about due to the coolest gadget I’ve seen in years – the iPad.   Clever students are figuring out how to download chapters or whole books onto the iPad and carry it with them everywhere. Knowing that I would never prohibit a textbook being brought to class, how can I prohibit an electronic copy of the textbook?   I’m sure you see the problem.

iPads are delightful in that they allow instant access to email, news and an occasional game of Harbor Master.  There is great temptation to squirrel around with the iPad and not do what we’re supposed to do (yours truly is guilty as well).  How do I find a balance here?  So far, I have allowed an occasional iPad in any class when the student can show me that they have downloaded the text onto the iPad instead of purchasing the book.  Luckily, so far only very good students have brought in iPads, so I’m able to put off the inevitable a bit.  What happens next though when this technology becomes commonplace? I’m not sure.

Summary

I can’t be everywhere in the classroom and I don’t want to be a room-monitor. I just want to be a professor. So I’m working on finding that balance between encouraging appropriate technology use and limiting access to distraction.   I’d love to hear if you agree with the way I’ve done this or if you have suggestions on better ways.

 

Additional Resources

Classroom Backchannel Through Texting: One Use of the iPad in the Classroom by Randi Pahlau

For our first guest, I would like to welcome Randi Pahlau from the Language and Literature Department. Randi is speaking to how she uses the iPad as a method of collecting backchannel communication from her students through texting (SMS).

Backchannel communication refers to communication that takes place OTHER than spoken word. Traditionally this meant non-verbal cues which take place in normal face-to-face communication. The definition has been borrowed and repurposed to chat, sms (texting) or other communication that takes place in the classroom (whether the faculty is aware or not).

Embracing the backchannel is a method for connecting to students.  A more complete definition can be found here.


Welcome! I am an Instructor of English here at Malone and have taught a wide range of classes in the Language and Literature Department, including Principles of Composition, Literature in Society, World literature, and Jane Austen on Film.

As a guest blogger, I want to share one of the ways I have used the iPad in the classroom. For freshmen taking general education courses I have capitalized on our students’ love of texting, trying to channel that interest into classroom discussion by downloading a free texting app, complete with my own phone number. (So students do NOT get my private cell phone number.)

Students Finding their Voice

Students text for different purposes, depending on their personality. Shy students ask questions without having to assert themselves. I see their names, along with the texts, so I can answer their questions directly, trying to gently encourage them to find a voice in the classroom. Texting can be a step towards finding that voice. Class clowns text humorous statements about the literature or our discussion. It is easy to glance at these texts during discussions and I am able to smile or nod at the student to acknowledge their comment without disrupting the class.

Engaged in the Classroom Conversation

Their comments show me that the students are engaged in the conversation. I also encourage students to text comments and questions while watching videos. Because they like to text, I find that they pay more attention to the video rather than less because they are looking for reasons to text. Plus, I am able to address any confusion immediately. Without that texting, some students get confused along the way and then get even more confused as the video continues. If we are watching Ibsen’s A Doll House, I will get questions like, “Did Nora just say she was going to commit suicide?” I can answer yes and the student understands the context of Nora’s comments and can participate in the class discussion knowledgeably. And the class was not disrupted.

Even seemingly unimportant comments like one I got as I was walking into a classroom about how a student likes my belt are important. No, my belt does not pertain to writing or literature, but it is one link in a bond between us that makes it easier for that student to approach me later with questions or problems. I enjoy having that backchannel throughout class time as another avenue for reaching my students.

Do you have thoughts on this kind of backchannel that you would like to share? Please feel free to join the conversation and let me know what you think.

Randi’s kit: