Faculty Development Offered with a lot of “TLC”

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Our professional development approach is best characterized by our centerpiece program, Teaching and Learning Circles (TLCs). The acronym “TLC” not only conveys a message of nurturing that we feel our faculty deserves, but also our commitment to modeling the kinds of collaborative and reflective learning experiences we hope to promote, both for ourselves and our students.

For two decades, Manhattanville College offered no significant on-campus opportunities for faculty development. When given the opportunity to partner with LaGuardia community college–internationally recognized for their expertise in the use of ePortfolios—we jumped in with both feet and set out on a journey to develop and implement a project that would facilitate the transformation our 40-year-old Portfolio System from paper to a“21st century” electronic platform. In the process, we helped to launch a comprehensive Faculty Development effort that led to the establishment of a Center for Teaching and Learning.

Author(s): Sherie McClam

Our Professional Development Story

Taking advantage of an opportunity to do more than simply convert paper to pixels, our faculty voted to modify the Manhattanville Portfolio System’s learning objectives such that they would emphasize reflection, integration and more closely align with our college mission: To educate students to be ethical and socially-responsible leaders in a global community. We recognized that if we wanted students to be able to engage in reflection, self-assessment and integrative thinking, we needed explicit teaching and learning practices that would model, develop and promote these skills. With this in mind, the transition from paper to electronic portfolios became the focus of a transformational faculty development initiative on our campus.

Peer to peer (faculty and staff) engagement is the foundation of our professional development programming. This creates invaluable opportunities for collaboratively exploring the pedagogy of “portfolio thinking.” Our signature professional development format is the Teaching and Learning Circle (see Professional Development Practice). To date, more than 120 faculty and staff members have voluntarily participated in TLCs, and within a few short years, the “TLC culture” has become a critical catalyst for faculty development across our campus.

In the summer of 2011, six inspired TLC graduates accepted small stipends to design workshops focusing on advanced ePortfolio applications and concepts. Consistent with our TLC sensibilities, these workshops were designed to be low stakes, informal interactions between faculty members in which everyone involved could bring their teaching experiences, philosophies and questions to the table as they collaboratively explored new ideas in portfolio thinking.

Wanting to build on the successes of the TLC culture and encourage our colleagues to take even deeper plunges into ePortfolio teaching and learning, in the fall of 2011 we put out a call for proposals for small departmental grants. We asked interested departments/programs to commit to working in partnership with the ePortfolio team to design, implement, assess, and sustain a reflective teaching, learning and assessment ePortfolio with the goal of it becoming a part of their majors’ undergraduate experience. Three funded teams participated in three curriculum development workshops—“jams”—that were held in the evenings with good food and drink. These teams began implementing their ePortfolio plans in the fall of 2012, and in December, they began sharing lessons learned with a new departmental team that was funded through a second call for proposals. In Fall 2012, we put out a second call and added a fourth department.

Our biggest challenges have been in the area of sustained faculty engagement. We feel as though our efforts to recruit faculty and staff have been very effective, though cohorts have become smaller after the initial introduction of the program. Disappointingly, we also feel as though we lose more participants than we would like within specific professional development programs and fewer faculty than we would like are actually implementing ePortfolio into their teaching and learning practices. Those who stay claim to get a lot out of our professional development offerings, and yet we do not see as much “on the ground” implementation as we would like. We are targeting the First-Year Program instructors in an effort to have them introduce “portfolio” to new freshmen on Day One, but progress, while steady, has been incremental.

In Fall 2013, in an effort to incentivize ePortfolio implementation, we put out a call for faculty interested in participating in a year-long TLC, where, upon implementation of ePortfolio, each faculty would be compensated for their time and work.  Surprisingly, all of the responses to the call were from people who had already been working with ePortfolio.  We quickly revised our plans and have developed an ePortfolio Fellows program for advanced ePortfolio users on our campus.

Professional Development Philosophy and Conceptual Framework

When we began to conceptualize our Teaching and Learning Circle (TLC) approach to professional development, we were guided by Dewey (1933) and Rogers’ (2002) theories on the power of reflection and Lewis and Fornier’s (2009) conceptions of institutional transformation. In our TLC design we set out to create safe and nurturing professional development spaces where our colleagues could work together to critically reflect on the principles that motivated their instructional design decisions and the ways in which ePortfolio practices might help them meet their pedagogical goals. The power of this approach is clearly evident when faculty and staff who walk into TLCs thinking they will simply learn about the technical aspects of using Digication to create ePortfolios find themselves gratefully walking away with a whole new set of tools for thinking about teaching and learning.  For example, in response to a short survey we ask our faculty to complete following their participation, one participant wrote: “E-port is not only NOT a warehouse…it is a tool with endless possibilities for extending learning into cognitive domains not possible with conventional instruction.” One hundred percent of the Fall 2012 TLC participants who responded to the survey stated that they planned to use ePortfolio in a class.

Inspired by the capacity of ePortfolio to be a “Catalyst without a Mandate” (Lewis & Fornier), we have purposefully constructed professional development activities that include faculty and staff from different disciplines and constituencies across our campus. Driven by an inquiry oriented curriculum and instructional design process, we ask colleagues to participate in a needs assessment process in which they are first asked to identify their instructional/programmatic goals and outcomes. With these goals and outcomes in place, participants go on to assess the degree to which their current instructional and programming practices are working to meet those goals. Identifying gaps between where they want to be and where they are, sets up an inquiry process in which they can ask genuine questions about the ways in which ePortfolio can be used as a pedagogical tool to help them bridge that gap or to transform ineffective strategies/practices. In this way, ePortfolio is being used as a catalyst for thinking about and meeting their specific needs without becoming a mandated solution to all problems.

As we reflect on our TLC approach to ePortfolio professional development, we have found ourselves looking for additional—or perhaps overarching—theoretical frames to help us understand the successes and challenges we have experienced with this approach. Lev Vygotsky’s theory of socio-cultural learning (1987, 1978) and Lave & Wagner’s theory of communities of practice (1991, 1998) have been very helpful in framing and explicating the effects of our professional development program (see Carson, McClam, Frank & Hannum, under review). With these theoretical lenses in mind, our use of peer to peer engagement can be positioned within Vygotsky’s conceptions of socio-linguistically mediated learning and the social construction of knowledge. We design and organized our TLCs, advanced workshops and our departmental grant jams such that colleagues who have “more” experience work collaboratively with “less” experienced colleagues to assess the use and integration of portfolio thinking into their pedagogical practices. This type of collaboration and development fits within Vygotsky’s conceptions of “zones of proximal development” as well as Lave and Wagner’s theorizing about the ways in which interactions between “newcomers” and “oldtimers” simultaneously serve to bring newcomers into and to promote growth within particular communities of practice. We are actively creating an ePortfolio community of practice on our campus in and through which personal and institutional transformation is occurring.

Professional Development for Scaling Up

The open and integrated nature of our professional development approach has been instrumental in the Scaling Up process on our campus. In all of our professional development programs, we actively recruit faculty and staff from across the disciplinary and programmatic spectrum. We work hard to disrupt “one size fits all” conceptions of ePortfolio by asking these diverse groups to collaboratively investigate the ways in which ePortfolios can meet their individual and collective goals for teaching, learning, programming and professionalism. In this way, ePortfolio professional development has become a catalyst for bringing faculty and staff who perform vastly different functions across our campus together to build an understanding of ePortfolio as a tool and way of thinking that can serve a complex web of interconnected goals and objectives.

As these diverse faculty and staff identify and describe their individual, departmental and divisional aspirations for Manhattanville students, our professional development programs become spaces where a sense of interdependence and shared responsibility can emerge. This is consistent with Randy Bass’s suggestion that ePortfolio can promote and deepen collaboration amongst different parts of campus and advance a “network of connections that are responsive to the ecosystemic nature of “higher education institutions” (C2L Scaling Up Jam, 2012).

Through a participatory process of identifying and articulating goals that are unique within and shared between departments and divisions, our professional development participants can see the “ecosystemic” nature of our campus in ways that they never have. These participants regularly share their appreciation for the spaces that we create where they can learn about and truly appreciate the critical functions that their colleagues play. The mutability of ePortfolio as an instructional technology and portfolio as way of thinking allows it to become a thread that weaves together and illuminates a vital ecosystem that must work together if their complex web of interconnected goals and objectives are to be met.


We have worked hard to develop an inclusive professional development experience, engaging full and part-time faculty and staff.  Since we began our professional development TLC series in Fall 2010, we have included 118 faculty and staff.  In this group, 74 fulltime faculty have participated.  This accounts for 71.8% of our fulltime faculty.  Of that 76, 41 (54%) have implemented ePortfolio into a class. Five out of 15 part-time faculty (33%) are using ePortfolio.  A number of staff have also participated examining ways to use ePortfolio in their offices.  21 staff members from campus offices such as Center for Career Development, the Library, School of Education offices, and Academic Advising. Of those staff members, 9 (42.8%) now use ePortfolio either in their office or in a class.

We have also been working to grow our use of ePortfolio in the First Year Program.  All Academic Writing Instructors are using ePortfolio, to varying degrees.  In addition, we have increased our use of ePortfolio to 43.75% of sections seminar instructions.  Clearly, this is an area in which we could improve.

Documenting effectiveness of professional development is a particularly hard thing to do.  We have worked to document the perceptions and experiences of faculty in our professional development workshops via surveys.  These surveys show that faculty have a good experience in the TLCs, enjoying the discussion with other faculty the most.  The next step is to connect this positive professional development experience with student learning in the classroom.

Beyond the individual numbers, the re-emergence of faculty development on our campus has had a significant effect.  We feel strongly that the benefits of the professional development, which were the first on our campus after a long period of no professional development, had much to do with the institutional support for a Center for Teaching and Learning, which came to fruition in the Spring of 2012.  As a result of our TLCs, the conversation around teaching and learning is changing.  It has been a culture shift, which has only increased in speed with Sherie McClam as the founding director of the CTL.

Connections to other Sections of the Catalyst Site

We have modeled our TLC activity and our extended “grant” groups around developing reflection and integration. We emphasize pedagogy and include short readings in the introductory TLCs, including Lewis and Fornier’s “Catalyst without a Mandate” and “Designing Learning Activities” from Electronic Portfolios and Student Success: Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Learning. In the more advanced departmental grant groups, we’ve worked with Rogers and Dewey (on reflection) and Bass and Elmendorf (on social pedagogy).

Scaling Up
I think it is safe to say that our ePortfolio TLCs played a role in helping to launch our College’s Center for Teaching and Learning, inaugurated in January 2012. TLCs now meet in the CTL, and the Director (author of this essay) is on the ePortfolio leadership team.  The TLC model is being expanded to be the development model for other pedagogical instruction and support within the CTL, and our “grant” group is being expanded into a Fellows Program, again as a model for the Center going forward. This semester, for example, an ePortfolio TLC is being offered on preparing a portfolio for reappointment, promotion and tenure. Another is being offered on maximizing what is available to faculty through our Learning Management System.

Outcomes Assessment
At this time, we have not connected our ePortfolio professional development with outcome assessment practices on campus.

We certainly strive for a balance in our TLCs between pedagogical discussion and learning the basics of Digication. We always lead off with pedagogy, though, and while we help our colleagues learn how to upload videos and use the comment function, these really are secondary to learning how to foster “folio thinking.”

The one area where we have not done much, and need to, is in the “courses” and “assessment” functions of Digication. We are beginning to use them ourselves but have not yet offered workshops for faculty in these areas.  In part, this was a conscious decision to emphasize the ePortfolio as a learning tool rather than as one for assessment; however, it was also partly due to the fact that none of us was especially adept at the assessment functions yet.

Attachments and Supporting Documents

Here is the link to our TLC ePortfolio:


At Manhattanville, the ePortfolio projects supported by Making Connections and, especially Connect to Learning, provided both the impetus and model to launch an entire faculty development initiative that culminated in our CTL. Thus, the synergy between the two has been fundamental to both.

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