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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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