As I’d mentioned before,the 30th Annual Conference on the First Year Experience was my first big-girl academic gathering, and I was a little nervous. After finally securing my registration packet (which included a fancy tote bag, which I’m sure will come in handy for … something, eventually), and attending a few presentations on Sunday and Monday, I felt a little more at ease with the idea of speaking in front of people with my group. On Tuesday morning, our “Uncommon Ideas for Common Reading Programs” presentation went really, really well. We were structured as a sort of “roundtable discussion,” in order for other FYE Conference participants to chime in with their own program ideas, successes and non-successes, and I was glad to get a few specific questions about using technology and social media as a means for students to engage with the common reading program already in place at Agnes Scott. Altogether, I feel our presentation turned out to be exactly the sort of positive, collaborative experience my group aimed for. Plus, we were able to get the word out about Agnes Scott even more, which is a topic I’m going to explore eventually in a post on my other site (i.e., why does Agnes Scott seem to carry such little name recognition for as dynamic of an institution as it is).
So, attending the conference and other presentations. I am terribly grateful to the College , and my department, for funding my conference fees — they’re certainly steep, and I learned a lot by both presenting at and attending. One of the presentations I sat in on, “e-Portfolios and the First Year Experience,” attempted to explain the process of motivating and sustaining e-Portfolio development for students just entering college. This is right up my alley, as it’s one of the main challenges I face in my job. It’s one thing to promote the marketability and intellectual growth factor of creating e-Portfolios to upperclasswomen, and an entirely different can of beans to do so to first years who are dealing with a number of college issues, to say the least declaring (and sticking with) a major. That issue (namely, and for the sake of brevity, “assessment”) seems to be a constant one for institutions, and there is no single solution. While it may not have been the presenters’ goal (in fact, I’m nearly entirely positive it wasn’t), what I got out of their presentation is that last point: e-Portfolio initiatives, on a campus-wide level, are absolutely contingent on the institution and its particular goals.
So while I sat through this presentation (and took notes, obv), and was shown several “example e-Portfolios” which were, quite frankly, indistinguishable from one another, all I could think was that this type of approach would not be successful at Agnes Scott, nor could I imagine it being as much for any liberal arts college. Which is fine, because the presenting institution is not a liberal arts college, and it was clear their e-Portfolio goals were much different than ours. Primarily, that a student would initiate his or her e-Portfolio experience by building a basic website using Google Sites, and uploading various relevant documents, such as a couple of academic papers and a résumé. This is all fine and good from a pre-professional standpoint, if that’s all you want to do with your e-Portfolio. But it doesn’t give a whole lot of insight into the person behind the website. Now, Google Sites does allow for a blog-like function, but if there is no institutional push behind dynamic personal/intellectual growth (as would be evidenced, at least in theory, through promotion of the blog component), no student is really going to care about cultivating his or her e-Portfolio.
Agnes Scott has changed the way in which it encourages students to create and maintain e-Portfolios, and in my ever-demanded opinion, that’s for the better (and I’m not just saying that because it’s my job). e-Portfolios are relatively new ground to cover in terms of higher education, and as these things go, the technology for creating them has become increasingly sophisticated and user-friendly. The point is, of course, that not only are students able to showcase their work and intellect over the course of four years, but they have externally accessible (and easy-to-use) means by which to reflect on that work. So our students are creating sites that aren’t just a headshot, CV, and random papers or projects, they are creating dynamic, virtual representations of themselves that reflect the individual behind the block of text. Which, if you’ve managed to get this far and have also read my three-part series on Why the Liberal Arts Are Important, is a great way for a student to put her liberal arts education to work.
The main idea being: not all e-Portfolios are created equal, because then, what would be the point of making one at all?
And on that note, not all institutional e-Portfolio campaigns are equal, either.