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“Creating her Sense of Self: Feminist Advising, ePortfolio, and Integrative Learning”

Presentation by Rebecca Reynolds and Abigail Lewis

This was a fascinating presentation (a good example of how great content can overcome not-so-great PowerPoint). Douglass Residential College is a women’s college with a long history that has recently been made a part of Rutgers. The women live together and have advising and support, but their classes and faculty all come from Rutgers–from the wider Rutgers community. Of course I saw analogies to Macaulay here–the challenge of being a separate program within a larger university and having students with dual identities.

There are also some specifics that they have been working out at Douglass, particular to the situation of being a women’s college, and this is where I saw some really unique and powerful intellectual analysis of the eportfolio activity–as something that has precise echoes in feminist and gender theory and feminist pedagogy. As the Douglass students navigate their particular roles and develop their ambitions and progress in eportfolios, the work of doing that documentation (and presenting it) gives them opportunities to think about the conflicts and implications of gender in the world of higher education and beyond. The Douglass team uses these eportfolios to help with advising and counseling their students. But more importantly, the students have the opportunity to use the eportfolios themselves, as they progress, to integrate their personal growth and their academic growth.

Again, lots of parallels to what is happening at Macaulay, and I very much want to connect more with the Douglass folks.

(One take-away tidbit that I found especially thought-provoking: Douglass students have written in their eportfolios about the problematics of the idea of a mirror or the concept of reflection. For young women in particular, these may not be transparent terms or ideas, as they bring up connections to issues of body image and appearance which can have strong emotional and social resonances. This is not to say that those terms should not be used–but that we should be conscious of, and help students to articulate, the tensions in those terms. This is not something I had ever thought about–but something that I will think about from here on.)

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“How ePortfolio Transformed Our Students, Faculty and Program: The BC SEEK ‘Benchmarks for Success’

Presentation by Martha Bell, Sharona Levy, and Longfeng Gao

This was a session focused much more on ideas and strategies (and successful ones!) than on technologies. Martha Bell, Sharona Levy, and Longfeng Gao of Brooklyn College explained how they are using a very specific eportfolio program that they call “Benchmarks for Success” to work with their SEEK students (who are admitted to Brooklyn College, but without the kinds of academic preparation that most Brooklyn College students have).

The program, which started with paper portfolios and has now switched to “e,” has been phenomenally successful–some key indicators–not all attributable to the eportfolios, but they have certainly played a role in all of these.

  • 100% of SEEK students pass the CPE (this is amazing–a figure that, Sharona was kind to point out ;), even the Macaulay students at Brooklyn can not equal).
  • Huge increases in retention and graduation rates.

    All members of the program (including office staff-who are often overlooked) participate in developing and evaluating the benchmarks.

  • Focus on specific benchmarks (success in early accomplishment of the speech assessment, financial aid expertise) that the program needs to know about but which may not be precisely academic.
  • Clarity on program goals and ideas about outcomes.
  • Students see the task as effort, and it is difficult, but they also (sometimes later on) see the value.
  • Graduates of the program work to do evaluation.
  • Even the Middle States evaluators (!!) mentioned the program in very positive terms.

The program works with very specific benchmarks or goals for the students–a whole wide range of goals–things like decorum and appropriate address, using a syllabus, seeing the importance of tutoring, pre-writing and drafting, reading and annotating–a large collections of essential skills they want students to achieve. And they’re all spelled out clearly for students, and then students, in their eportfolios, provide a written response and a piece of evidence for each of these benchmarks.

It’s all required, and all evaluated (by those graduate students).

The session was excellent–very interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First is that at Macaulay, our eportfolios are not as goal-driven or structured. These eportfolios at BC SEEK are like a contract–every student sees exactly what they have to do, and they must fulfill that contract. Ours allow students to set their own goals and determine their own purposes. It was good to see the contrast, and to think about the different needs of different groups of students. I wonder if SEEK students could also benefit from more of the creativity and open-ended approach we promote, and if our students could benefit from more of the direction and distinct structures of the Benchmarks for Success.

I was also interested to see that the Benchmarks, in the way they’re set up and in the types of evidence that students provide, also include a good deal of what I’ve seen as so exciting and inspiring in Sharona Levy’s work in the past–the idea of annotation as a way to think (particularly in reading) more deeply and critically.

These eportfolios focus on “transportable skills”–which students need to succeed in all their classes.

A fascinating session and I think there are models here that should definitely be shared with other SEEK (or similar) programs–as well as programs of different types.

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