The Manhattanville Portfolio System: Using Inquiry and Reflection to Support Integration across a Student’s College Career

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Manhattanville College has a 40-year-old paper Portfolio System, successful completion of which is a graduation requirement for all undergraduates.  The Connecting to the Liberal Arts essay is a narrative examination of the importance of the liberal arts to the student’s education, both inside and outside of the classroom. This essay provides the opportunity to explore the courses that have been taken, what students have gained from these courses, how they have helped a student to identify a major and minor area of study, and how they will shape the student’s remaining time at Manhattanville. This essay provides an opportunity for the student to analyze her/his intellectual goals and growth, and to reflect on how the chosen program of courses relates to his/her goals. The rubric is attached to the essay.  This essay must be signed by the student’s advisor, and is reviewed by two members of the Board on Academic Standards (BOAS), an elected committee of nine faculty members.  The essay is evaluated on the basis of its breadth and depth; an adapted VALUE rubric forms the basis of its assessment.

The Examining the Mission Essay asks students to explore how their curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities together have helped them to better understand and engage with Manhattanville’s mission. A critical examination of one’s self and his or her relationship to the mission of the institution is expected.  The rubric (also adapted from AAC&U VALUE rubrics) is attached to the essay. This essay must also be signed by the student’s advisor and is evaluated by the Board on Academic Standards.

Alison Carson, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair, Board on Academic Standards and Gillian Greenhill Hannum, PhD, Professor of Art History and Faculty Coordinator, First-Year Program

The Portfolio is a curricular requirement for all undergraduates; its goal is to encourage students to plan and reflect upon their educations, both in terms of the classroom experience and co-curricular learning, and to pull the various threads into an integrated whole. In this sense, it is truly reflective and integrative, and it also represents the only piece of core curriculum that asks the student to do this.

As this is a College-wide requirement, members of the Board on Academic Standards are reviewing approximately 800 portfolios a year, with most Senior portfolios submitted at the end of Fall semester and Sophomore portfolios submitted at the end of Spring term.

High Impact Practices:
Currently, the Portfolio is not attached to a high impact practice.

Helping Students Advance Their Learning 

Reflection as a form of Connection (Integrative Learning) –  Students’ ePortfolio help them with the transfer of knowledge from multiple contexts and consider the relationships between classroom and outside the class learning.

○     Make connections across courses and semesters

○     Make connections across disciplines

○     Make connections among academic experiences, co-curricular & lived experiences

Reflection as Systematic and Disciplined (Inquiry) – Students’ ePortfolio reflections processes embody…

○     A structured and scaffolded process

○     Connecting their learning to Gen Ed or programmatic competencies

Reflection as Social Pedagogy – students’ use ePortfolio to share/peer review/discuss/collaborate/connecting around course work, reflections, plans, goals, stories etc.

○     Sharing their ePortfolio w/ and getting comments from faculty

○     Sharing their eP & getting comments from external groups

Reflection as a Process of Personal Change  – Students use ePortfolio for inquiring into their educational and career development, integrative identity formation, etc., by…

○     Articulating their educational and career goals

○     Considering their evolving personal relationship to learning and education

○     Completing/revising a plan of study


I: Practice Step-by-step

Students are introduced to the Portfolio System upon arrival at the College. All freshmen now receive ePortfolio accounts upon enrollment, and during the first few weeks of semester, they attend an ePortfolio workshop and download the Manhattanville Portfolio System template. In this workshop, they are encouraged to complete the “About Me” section of their ePortfolio, which will ultimately help their First-Year Program instructors (who also serve as their freshman advisors) get to know them better. At the end of the two-semester First-Year Program sequence, students are required to upload and submit the Freshman Essay to their Portfolios. This is the first required submission in the Portfolio System.

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First Review
Second semester of Sophomore year is when the First Portfolio Review is submitted to BOAS. Several elements are required: a General Study Plan, Major/Minor Checklist, and the General Education Worksheet, which includes evidence of meeting the Global Awareness requirement. In addition to the Connecting to the Liberal Arts Essay and the Examining the Mission Essay, students are also asked to submit work that they have completed, of which they are most proud. The sample may be a paper, a photograph, a video of a dance or music recital, a piece of creative writing, or a mathematical proof, to name some examples. Along with the submission of the piece of work, students are asked to write a reflection about why they are proud of this piece of work and how and in what ways they have grown through its completion. Click here for instructions. All of these forms and essays are developed for the most part independently by the student and then are reviewed by the student’s faculty advisor.  At this time, the advisor can ask for revisions or simply approve each element of the Portfolio.  There is a fair bit of variation in terms of how much input advisors offer in the essay drafting process.  All Portfolio submissions must be electronically approved by the student’s advisor as well as Major and Minor chairpersons.

Following the electronic submission of the Portfolio, using the Digication Assessment Management System, the ePortfolios are distributed among the nine faculty BOAS members for review and evaluation. A student will either “pass” the Portfolio, or be asked to revise and resubmit.  If the submitted forms or essays do not meet the necessary standards, members of the BOAS will provide comments to the student giving guidance to the revision process.  A letter regarding the status of the student’s Portfolio submission is sent to each student following the review.  Much of this kind of Portfolio administration is performed by staff in the Office of Academic Advising.  Because all Sophomores receive individual letters regarding their Portfolio submissions, the feedback on individual essays is limited.  Typically, if a student has not passed a particular part of the Portfolio submission, he or she is referred to a BOAS member for further information.

There are a number of avenues of support for students, in addition to their advisors, as they develop their Portfolio submissions.  Peer mentors are a part of this process.  We have eTerns available to support any technological needs of students and we also have Peer Portfolio Advisors.  These are students who received Distinction on their First Portfolio Review and then invited to apply for this position.  These students hold “office hours” and are trained to provide information and support to students as they develop their Portfolio submissions.  In addition to Peer Portfolio Advisors, workshops are held and BOAS members also hold “office hours” in the Office of Academic Advising to be available for students needing help with their submission or resubmission.


Final Review
In addition to the First Review, students also are required to submit a final review, which is submitted at the end of the semester prior to the semester of graduation.  For the Final Review, an integrated and more robust essay combining and expanding the focus of these two essays is expected.  The Association of American Colleges and Universities defines a “liberal education as a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of value, ethics, and civic engagement” ( Beyond this goal of a liberal arts education, Manhattanville College also aims to “educate students to be ethical and socially-responsible leaders in a global community.”  With these ideas in mind, students are asked to explore how their liberal arts education at Manhattanville College has enabled them to develop a sense of value, ethics, and civic engagement. In the essay, they are asked to integrate examples from across their learning experiences (academic, co-curricular, and extracurricular). This essay is an exploration of growth and change and a statement of who the student is and where he or she will go as a result of the time spent at Manhattanville. Click here for prompts to this essay.

In addition to this final essay, students are asked to reread their Freshman Essay and reflect on the essay. This is an opportunity to realize and articulate the growth and development that has occurred over the past three years with regard to skills (e.g., writing), knowledge, critical analysis, and perspective. In this essay, students should write a reflective essay examining the ways in which they have changed and perhaps how they might have approached their essay differently. This essay must be signed by your advisor. Last but not least, students are again asked to submit a completed piece of work of which they are most proud and reflect on the learning gained as a function of completing the work.

The Role of Reflection in Advancing Student Learning

The Manhattanville Portfolio as a whole, and the Connecting to the Liberal Arts Essay and the Examining the Mission Essay specifically, provide the structure to support a process of inquiry around the student’s learning experiences and how these experiences have affected not only what they know, but more fundamentally, how their thinking about themselves and the world around them has changed and developed.  As mentioned above, there is wide variation in the role of the advisor in supporting and engaging the students in this dialogue, but at its best, the development of the Portfolio is a process involving inquiry, discussion, written reflection, revision and integration of new ideas.  At its worst, it is the independent and isolated work of a student who is not fully aware or interested in the value of the process and therefore does not fully engage and an advisor who gives automatic approval at the end.  We are currently in deep discussions about revising our core curriculum to include 1-credit practica developed to support students as they develop their Portfolio submissions.

Inquiry is supported by prompts developed by the Board on Academic Standards.  Advisors are asked to support the drafting process of the essays and engage in a process of inquiry with the students around the prompts, resulting in more thoughtful and significant essays.  The essays, at their heart, are reflective on the student’s choices and experiences, asking student to think about the choices they made, the results of those choices, assessment of the results and use of the information to make better choices in the future.  We are asking student to engage in “closing the loop” inquiry and reflection on their own educational experiences.

Carol Rodgers and Dewey identifies 4 modes of reflection:

1) Reflection as a meaning-making process

2) Reflection as systematic and disciplined

3) Reflection as community

4) Reflection and personal development

The Portfolio process engages with a number of these modes.  It is, at its core, a meaning-making process, asking students to make meaning of their learning experiences and use their understanding of this meaning to guide further development and learning.  Here Rodgers (and Dewey) emphasize that this form of meaning making supports drawing connections across different experiences leading to a more cohesive, coherent and integrated educational experience.  Rodgers (2002) writes “The creation of meaning out of experience is at the very heart of what it means to be human. It is what enables us to make sense of and attribute value to the events of our lives” (p. 848).

This process is engaged in with an advisor, who is equipped to support the meaning-making process that reflection entails.  The advisor, for the purposes of the reflective process, serves as an audience, providing affirmation of the learning experiences, an “outsider’s view” and a fresh perspective on the events being reflected on, thereby supporting deeper inquiry and different interpretations of the student’s experiences (Rodgers, 2002, p. 857).

The end result of the Portfolio process, specifically the Connecting to the Liberal Arts Essay and the Examining the Mission Essay, should be personal growth.  Through increased awareness of self as a function of the reflection process, students should be able to take what they have learned about themselves and use that information to make better, more thoughtful, more insightful plans and goals for themselves.

Analysis of Practice

Over the last 4 years, we have had two significant changes.  First, in Fall 2009, the Manhattanville Portfolio requirements were changed to what has been described in this practice.  Spring 2010 was the first time Sophomores developed Portfolio submissions using these new guidelines.  Second, in Spring 1013, we moved from a paper Portfolio System to an ePortfolio system.  Below are statistics associated with the First Portfolio Submission for Spring 2010-Spring 2013:


Semester of Review % passed on first evaluation
Spring 2010 33%
Spring 2011 47.6%
Spring 2012 43.9%
Spring 2013 21.5%


These data show quite a range from year-to-year with regard to the pass rates upon the first evaluation by the BOAS; regardless, more than half require revision and resubmission.  Students will not pass the Portfolio for a variety or reasons: lack of faculty approvals, poor essays, or incorrect or incomplete forms.  The most recent reading for Spring 2013 and was the first time the portfolio was completed on ePortfolio.  Lack of faculty approval was a significant issue.  It should also be pointed out that BOAS sees the Sophomore review as an important opportunity to impress upon students the standards of work that we expect, and are therefore quite conservative in their evaluations of student work.  No matter how you slice it, these pass rates are low.  Based on statistics from the review of Senior Portfolios in January 2011 (May 2011 graduates), only 50% of the submissions were passed.  The remaining 50% were asked to resubmit at least one part of their Portfolio submission.  Statistics from Senior Portfolios evaluated in January 2012 are even more compelling.  Only 98 of the 314 Portfolios were passed (31%).

Feedback from students has suggested that the process of developing a Portfolio submission can be frustrating and students do not see the value in the Portfolio.  Based on a student survey conducted in Fall 2009 with 258 respondents, when presented with the statement that the Portfolio is a valuable piece of their academic experience, 64% disagreed or strongly disagreed. 72.5% stated that they mostly consulted with peers when developing their Portfolio Submission.  73.3% of students stated that they would have benefited from more guidance during the Portfolio submission process.

In addition to this student perspective, faculty also feel that more support could be provided to both students and advisors during the Portfolio submission process.  In a Fall 2011 BOAS Advising survey, it was found that while 70% of faculty responded that they somewhat agreed or agreed that the Portfolio is an important piece of a Manhattanville student’s education, only 19% of faculty somewhat agreed or agreed that students are engaged when putting together their Portfolio submissions. Only 9% of faculty somewhat agreed or agreed that students put adequate time toward the preparation of the Portfolio submission. Only 46% of faculty somewhat agreed or agreed that students are provided with adequate support when preparing their Portfolio submissions.  80% of faculty agreed or somewhat agreed that they would like more support when advising students on their Portfolios, suggesting a lack of confidence in the Portfolio requirements and expectations.

As a result of these Portfolio review statistics as well as the survey results, we are working to better integrate the Portfolio System into the center of our core curriculum.  We are in the final stages of a revised core curriculum and there is strong support for developing 1-credit “practica” which are designed to support students as they develop their Portfolio submissions, giving faculty and students the information and support they need while also emphasizing the develop of the skill of reflection.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst

Professional Development:
There is no tradition of professional development for faculty advisors around the Portfolio.  More recently, BOAS has begun to offer advising workshops, providing more information and insight into the portfolio review process for advisors hoping to be more transparent with regard to the expectations for the student submissions.  Now that our Portfolio System is on ePortfolio, we do provide professional development opportunities around the use of ePortfolio.

Outcomes Assessment:
Interestingly, the Portfolio System, while originally intended as institutional assessment of students, is not integrated into the General Education or institutional assessment processes of Manhattanville.  The assessment of Portfolios exists on its own, understood primarily as a measure of individual student growth, rather than a measurement of expected outcomes.  With the revised core curriculum, the Portfolio will be leveraged for its full assessment potential examining artifacts submitted to the Portfolio as evidence of the development of 4 core Manhattanville Identities: Investigator, Creator, Citizen, and Integrator.

While the Manhattanville Portfolio System has migrated to a digital platform, the actual Portfolio requirements have not yet caught up with the potential for social pedagogy that the technology offers.  One area which seems ripe for change is the use of peer review, asking students to review the Portfolios of other students and provide feedback.  Additionally, the technology also affords a different strategy of Portfolio assessment; there is an opportunity to have the whole campus involved in the assessment of Portfolios, not just the 9 member BOAS.  This could have a significant impact on the ownership of the Portfolio System.

Scaling Up:
The switch from a paper Portfolio to an ePortfolio was the primary impetus for implementing ePortfolio on our campus and has driven our scaling up process.  Please click here for the Scaling Up story.

Attachments and Supporting Documents:

Link to Manhattanville Portfolio website

This link provides all requirements, forms, prompts and rubrics provided to students to develop their portfolio submissions.

Example Manhattanville Portfolios

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Our 40-year long portfolio tradition has changed over the decades, most recently being transitioned to ePortfolio.  It is core, it remains a process of engaging students in reflection of their educational experiences, drawing connections across their experiences and integrating the experiences in a way that helps them to understand their own growth and development.  Thus reflection and integration are skills being developed through engagement with this practice.

We have learned, however, that such skills do not develop without intentionality.  Portfolio statistics show that students have trouble meeting the expectations of the portfolio and surveys show that faculty and students alike wish for more support.

To that end, embedded in a core curriculum revision, the Manhattanville Portfolio System will brought front and center, given credit, and embedded within 4 required 1-credit practica designed to develop over time the skills of reflection and integration in our Manhattanville graduates.










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