Archive forJuly 22, 2010

“Fostering Integrative Learning in a Senior Capstone Seminar”

Presentation by Susan Kahn and Karen Johnson

After Joe’s session, I walked to the opposite side of the Plaza level to hear nationally recognized ePortfolio professionals Susan Kahn and Karen Johnson from IUPUI, who are on the opposite end of the spectrum from Joe and Macaulay.  I would have just as gladly made a trip halfway across the country – one size does not fit all and these two bank on years of experience with rubrics and ePortfolios.  It’s not so much that the creative students can just take care of themselves.  But, as my colleague Rebecca Mlynarczyk often notes:  We can’t teach the students we wish we had; we have to teach the students we have.  Whether they come straight from the farm, a small town in Indiana, or from an immigrant neighborhood in NYC, first generation college students provide us with the most numerous and most challenging teaching and learning problems.

People do not walk on the grass at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis – pronounced oo-wee poo-wee).  This gorgeous downtown campus with 20+ schools serves 30,000+ students who are first generation college students.  Most students are professionally oriented, living in a “red state” – and one with low levels of educational attainment.  Part of the orientation to city life in Indianapolis means learning to live with others and to respect public and personal property.  Susan and Karen provide genuine assistance and expertise in this context, helping students adapt and adjust to the realities in what is perhaps best identified as Type I on Darren’s four-fold cell structure.

Susan and Karen represent the IUPUI English Department, with six tracks in the major.  The Senior Capstone, E450, serves all six tracks.  Desired outcomes for students include integrative learning and the articulation of this learning in terms that are meaningful to employers and other audiences.  The capstone seminar has two components:  Career/professional development and English in the world.  And, it prescribes two major tools:  the matrix and the web-folio.  The two components require students to take different views of course themes from the four-year experience.

In the Career component, students create a resume and a career reflection.  The latter consists of a reflection essay and samples of past work – the samples provide a focus for the reflection.  For the English in the World component, students create a reflection essay using samples of past work – the focus of the reflection essay – plus their senior project and an annotated bibliography.

I found their comments on “Preparing for Reflection” to be the most useful in the session.  This is a problem thematic that has recurred throughout the Making Connections seminar over the past three years at LaGuardia. What is a reflection?  Why reflect?  English at IUPUI uses a rubric to help students in the development of reflective thinking:  the ability to self-assess, awareness of how one learns (meta-cognition), and the development of lifelong learning skills.  The tools are somewhat familiar to everyone engaged in teaching first-generation college students in the paper world:  evaluating and responding to sample reflections, written and oral peer reviews of rough drafts and then, a final reflection that can be shared.  A key outcome of reflection is matrix thinking – becoming aware of the competencies and where one is in the matrix.  The web-folio intends to take students beyond matrix thinking.  It provides both students and site visitors with individualized, engaging, and visually exciting representations of student achievements.

Susan and Karen are authentic educators – they provided in this session real insight into their pedagogical innovations and struggles, fully cognizant of the inherent problems and challenges:  balancing the needs of stronger and weaker students, especially in terms of instructions and prompts; modifying concepts appropriate for traditional students so that non-traditional students see the value of their non-academic experience; and maintaining first-generation students’ pride in their educational accomplishments while helping them form realistic expectations for employment.  Practical suggestions in the presentation included having students begin the web site construction in the first two weeks; writing short reflections on individual artifacts before writing the final component; helping students understand the realities of the job market; providing support as students face confusion and fear; and increasing coherence through disciplinary learning.

E450, as Susan and Karen so openly acknowledge, is a work in progress.   Their work with students may sound much more pedantic (yawn) and far less sexy than Macaulay’s student guide on the side.  Yet, in my opinion, it’s reassuring to know that if an IUPUI graduate decides to get on a bus to NYC, chances are that when arriving at Penn Station, he or she will know:  which subway to take, the address of their local destination, what KSA will be required for the job to which they will be reporting; what to wear; and how to get there thirty minutes early.  This will be coupled with that old-fashioned Hoosier commitment to a work ethic – plus the memories of these two faculty members who cared enough to about them to teach them what they need to know to succeed in the new economy in one of the most vibrant cities in the world.  And, after all, the last two NYC mayors have been “reds.” The IUPUI student should arrive in the city that never sleeps with a high enough skill level to join or defect from the economic mainstream – perhaps even competing successfully with Macaulay alums in the “creative class” in cool neighborhoods.

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“Open Source and Open Directions: The Macaulay Honors College ePortfolios”

Presentation by Joseph Ugoretz

Three sessions today, taken together, provided at least a moment of clarity on the various tensions inherent in the ePortfolio process and most especially mapping onto this process the eternal dilemma of “student-centered” versus “standards centered” orientations.  The first was by CUNY Online Baccalaureate colleague Joe Ugoretz, who provides maximum flexibility to  CUNY Honors students.  My favorite slide was one in which he shows a campus with folks literally creating paths in the landscape, a “controlling metaphor” for ePortfolios at Macaulay and their commitment to seeing where the students are going and then building digital structures – creating paths – that help them.  Joe views the ePortfolio less as a filing cabinet and more as a curio – not just a compilation of assignments, but something the student creates.  The student, in this model, is the “guide on the side.”

Another slide with the world’s largest Swiss Army knife reminded me of the old adage in medicine:  If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  Joe uses the impractical giant army knife as a metaphor for the need to provide creative students with lots of different tools that can be used in lots of different ways.  That’s the rationale behind their choice of WordPress – a rationale that may work better in the context of a Macaulay than a community college populated mostly by developmental students.  Nonetheless, I emerged from the session convinced that the expressive potential of the most creative and advanced students need not be – and probably shouldn’t be – constrained by structures designed to help less advanced students navigate through a basic skills matrix.

Joe’s vernacular speech is vivid and memorable. WordPress is free and open source:  free like free speech, not like free beer – free like a free puppy, not like free beer.  You have to take care of it, but this care takes place within the context of a creative WordPress Multi-User community with lots of able and willing volunteers for plug-ins.  There are now 10,000 such developers.

Examples ranged from student’s “active museums” to experiments with course sites, such as “Where Students Hold the Government Accountable for the Environment.”  The professor (maybe Joe will comment and fill in the name) for the site now runs it much like the CUNY Virtual Enterprise, where students take over a virtual company, with the work of the last cohort intact.  This sounds like real life, right after an election…  But I emerged from the session feeling much like a pianist who at last sees on the horizon a chance to play some jazz – maybe even a little rock ‘n roll – after years of struggle mastering technique through the thousands of Bach exercises that everyone who has ever played the piano has heard played badly a zillion times.

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