Impactful learning theme of Winter Faculty Institute
Randall Bass of Georgetown University was keynote speaker at the UD Winter Faculty Institute.


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10:14 a.m., Jan. 18, 2011----University of Delaware Provost Tom Apple welcomed participants to the kick-off event of the Winter Faculty Institute on Jan. 6. More than 140 participants from 50 departments within all seven colleges attended the event.

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With a primary focus on UD's approach to e-portfolios as a teaching, learning and assessment tool, participants gained new insights into melding reflection, assessment and technology to create impactful learning experiences for students.

"In large part, the program is delivered by UD faculty, which adds a degree of authenticity to the sessions and hopefully a contagious sense of you can do it too," Paul Hyde, IT Academic Technology Services, said.

During afternoon sessions, participants discussed the pedagogical approaches that enhance faculty/student engagement and increase faculty/student interaction, UD's integrative and reflective programmatic e-portfolio venue with a focus on enhancing and documenting teaching, learning and assessment and the ongoing UD institutional approach to, and support of, student learning assessment.

E-portfolio project at UD

One goal of e-portfolios is to teach students to think deeply about the integrative meaning of their entire educational experience -- to reflect and synthesize what they learn.

"One objective is to get students to go beyond the 'what' to the 'why' all of the time," Karen Stein, faculty director, Center for Teaching and Learning, said.

Typically, e-portfolios are either a scrapbook model for student use or an assessment model for institutional use.

"UD has a hybrid e-portfolio model that consists of teaching, learning and assessment (TLA) -- all three legs are of equal importance and stand upon a foundation anchored in systematic, formative, faculty feedback every year," Stein said.

The UD model is based upon faculty feedback across the curriculum, not just a student's major.

The UD e-portfolio project began as a pilot program consisting of 800 students from 11 undergraduate programs and two graduate programs. The project will continue to grow in the coming year.

Keynote presentation

In his presentation, "The problem of learning in higher education," Randall Bass, keynote speaker, discussed the potential of e-portfolios as evidence-based documents that create rich portraits of impactful learning at the student, program and institutional levels.

Bass is assistant provost for Teaching and Learning Initiatives, executive director of the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, director of the Visible Knowledge Project and professor of English at Georgetown University.

Bass presented three core questions: Where do we find the most meaningful learning and are the conditions?; How might we leverage the most impact out of the curriculum?; and What is the question to which e-portfolios might be the answer -- that is, what is the "problem" of learning we're trying to address?

"On some level there can't be engagement unless you are practicing something. This disparity is one of the problems of learning in higher education today," Bass said.

Where does meaningful learning happen? Based on student assessments, eight activities are high impact practices that lead to meaningful learning:

  • First year seminars and experiences
  • Learning communities
  • Writing intensive courses
  • Collaborative assignments
  • Undergraduate research
  • Global learning/study abroad
  • Internships
  • Capstone courses and projects

"Students identify the most impactful learning as the process of not only gaining skills, knowledge and practical competence, but that it must feel personal, social and affective," Bass said.

According to Bass, the conditions for meaningful learning must have real-world relevance, ill-defined problems, diversity of outcomes and the opportunity to reflect, all seamlessly integrated with assessment.

These conditions are created, in part, by the participatory culture of Web 2.0 technology that allow people to build things together that are important to them (e.g., gaming communities, fan sites, grassroots in nature).

"On the one hand you have a growing body of evidence that the most meaningful learning is happening in the high impact activities, and the other hand, a culture that is a participatory culture," Bass said.

Given these findings, "Can we continue to operate on the assumption that the formal curriculum is the center of the undergraduate experience?" Bass asked.

How do we make classroom learning more like a participatory culture that offers high impact practices?

E-portfolios may be one part of the answer. "College-based e-portfolios are a space for creating an identity that links the experiences of the traditional or formal curriculum with the pedagogical and co-curricular experiences that engage and transform learners," Bass said.

Bass believes that e-portfolios should be thought of as social pedagogies that help bring together the entire learning experience of a student.

"The promise of the e-portfolio should be that students will start to see this as a way to tell a story about their own development for other audiences," he said.

"E-portfolios are a way valuing the process of learning as well as the product, understanding what it means to get feedback from multiple perspectives, of identifying yourself and linking academic learning with your structured experience and with your lived experiences," Bass said.

A recording of Randy Bass's keynote presentation and selected other sessions are available at the IT-ATS website.

The event was sponsored by the Office of the Provost, IT Academic Technology Services, Office of Educational Assessment, Center for Teaching and Learning and IT Client Support & Services.