Our Technology Story

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quote_tech01We were initially propelled to explore ePortfolios by a strong faculty sentiment to transition our longstanding paper portfolio tradition to an electronic platform. Additionally, we hoped to increase student engagement with our Portfolio System through the use of technology. We began our exploration of ePortfolios as both technology and pedagogy in Spring 2010 with participation in the Making Connections seminar through LaGuardia Community College. During this time, we were exposed to various platforms, both proprietary and open source, and also were able to talk with campuses who had already implemented both kinds of platforms. Knowledge of our IT infrastructure, including its capabilities and limitations, was integral to our decision-making process. Additionally, prioritizing the needs and desires of our faculty and students were equally important as we decided what vendors to bring onto our campus. Ultimately, we selected Digication as our platform of choice for our Manhattanville Portfolio System.

Authors: Alison Carson, Jim Frank, Gillian Hannum, Sherie McClam

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We chose Digication because, of the various platforms available at the time, Digication was the only proprietary vendor who shared the same priorities that we did: a user-friendly focus on the learning/presentation portfolio. Strengths of Digication include a clean, finished visual layout, ease of use, potential for visual customization by individual users, inclusion of a large variety of file formats, multimedia capabilities, a “Comments” feature allowing for collaborative and social pedagogies, student and faculty support, and support with regard to the customization of assessment modules. We have had a very positive and collaborative experience with them developing specific assessment modules for our needs. As a company, we have found Digication to care about its customers; they provide quick and personal support and show a willingness to use customers’ feedback as a source for product development.

In terms of weaknesses, while overall we have been very pleased with Digication, the assessment capabilities in the Courses module is a little clunky. We have not spent time sharing this functionality with our faculty yet as we have been focusing initially on the pedagogy and technology using the Portfolio functionality. There was some concern that the Courses function may, in fact, turn faculty away from the Portfolio module. To be specific, the building of assignments within Courses is at times redundant and not intuitive. Additionally, while we have explored introducing faculty to this module as a way of organizing their student portfolios, this use is not particularly effective. The lack of organizational structure of portfolios on the homepage is a big weakness. Many faculty use ePortfolios in multiple classes. ALL portfolios that one owns or is simply a viewer of appear on the homepage. There is no way currently to organize those portfolios. The ability to organize into folders, or hide particular ePortfolios, would be a big improvement. While a large video uploader is currently being beta-tested, the 20MB limit of other files has been a problem. Additionally, while we are very happy with regard to the ease of use, advanced students in computer graphics or computer science have been frustrated with the limited options for customizing their ePortfolios.

Platform Selection – as a Process

The process of choosing an ePortfolio platform was an important one. This process was directed entirely by our ePortfolio team at the time, which included one faculty member, one technology librarian, and one instructional technologist. While certain stakeholders were included in the process (e.g., IT), the ePortfolio team were the drivers of the process.

We recognized that once we moved down the road of implementation, changing the platform midstream could potentially undo the hard work already done. We learned this vicariously through some programs involved in the Making Connections seminar. Additionally, we wanted to be inclusive of faculty in the decision-making process.

First we began by developing a matrix of features that we thought were important and examined these features in the products of a number of different vendors. These features included: ability to support accreditation reporting, ADA compliance, cost and cost structure, compatibility with our Student Information System and existing LMS (Blackboard), assessment capabilities including rubrics and reports, ease of use, flexibility in the interface, portability capabilities, social networking/media integration, storage allotment, training and support for faculty and students, the visual look and feel of the interface, and file management and organization capabilities. We then prioritized these features for Manhattanville.

Very Important Features survey results

Our primary motivation for moving in the direction of ePortfolio was the transition of our paper Portfolio to an electronic format, thus ease of use, the ability to visually present various modes of student work, and potential to engage students were top priorities for us. In addition, we also identified areas of our own campus that could affect effective implementation. Specifically, we knew that our IT department as it was currently structured could not support an open source platform. While budget is always a concern, it was not a primary concern. We also recognized that while open source software itself was free, there was significant cost involved in the customization, maintenance and support of the software.

With a clear understanding of our own priorities, we invited five ePortfolio vendors to campus to present an overview of their products and to demonstrate their use (each presentation occurred at two different times to allow for more participation): LiveText, Epsilen, Digication, TaskStream, and Remote-Learner, a service provider for Mahara, an open source platform. The on-campus visits were advertized heavily, particularly among faculty and staff. Following the presentations, we circulated a comparison chart of all of the platforms and how each addressed specific issues of importance to faculty and staff, and followed up with a survey soliciting feedback about the various platforms as well as how faculty saw the use of ePortfolios in their teaching. Additionally, some of the vendors provided us with trial accounts to preview and practice with the product. Thirty-five faculty and staff participated in the survey. The results indicated that Digication was clearly the preferred vendor. Based on this feedback, with which the ePortfolio team members concurred, we negotiated with Digication for a one semester “pilot” license. We had considered the idea of piloting two platforms. We thought the ability to compare features of two platforms would be useful, but in the end, the work to pilot a single platform, much less two (two sets for faculty development workshops, two sets of assessments, etc.) led us to focus on piloting a single platform. (Had we decided to pilot two, the runner up would have been Epsilen.)

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Following a one semester pilot of Digication, we conducted a follow-up survey with the faculty and students using the product. Using these data, working with the Faculty Technology Committee, we submitted a proposal to the Administrative Technology Committee and the Provost requesting that Digication be adopted as our campus ePortfolio solution. This recommendation was accepted and a contract was drawn up. Participation in the Making Connections seminar was essential to the process of choosing a vendor, as well as to the implementation process, as it fostered communication with other campuses using ePortfolio and allowed us to learn directly about the pros and cons of various ePortfolio platforms. It also allowed us to understand and prioritize for our campus the features of an ePortfolio platform that would be most important. The structure and support given to us throughout our participation in Making Connections was invaluable.

Overall, we are very happy with the process we used.  It was an open and transparent process including multiple stakeholders on campus.  We could have included students in this process more.  The process was also perceived as being open and transparent as is was used as a model for the process for choosing a learning management system just last year.  There remain a number of proponents on campus for open source.  While open source certainly has its advantages, we used our priorities to guide us as well as our local resources, and we are very happy with our decision.

Engaging Students

The Digication platform allows students to fully participate in the design of their ePortfolios – the plural is stressed here as many of our students have created several ePortfolios for specific audiences, which they have personalized through adding graphics, color, as well as creating a hierarchy of visual communication to a viewer. A wonderful example comes from one of our eTerns who has created ePortfolios for various classes, and has created what could be seen as an exit ePortfolio possibly to be used for applying to graduate school or for employment opportunities.

maggie

https://mville.digication.com/maggie.mai/About
Many of the students who were the early adopters of ePortfolio were part of our original small pilot program, in the class Computer Graphics 1, a Studio Art class that counts towards Manhattanville’s General Education Technology competency. This class helped serve, and still does, as an introduction to learning about creating visual content and applying that knowledge to customizing ePortfolios along with sharing their work with their instructor and peers.

We believe our students are generally happy with Digication, though some of the students who are more advanced with digital media, HTML coding and Graphic Design tend to find it a bit limiting. We have used anonymous surveys to collect data on how students and faculty view the Digication platform. Below is a link to our student survey; results are shown in the graph. The results below are from a sample of n=65 students surveyed, with 51 or 78.5% undergraduate and 14 or 21.5% graduate students, and indicate an average satisfaction ranking of 2.68-3.00 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest score.

In one of our initial presentations to the faculty in 2010, we included “begin ePortfolio eTern training” as one of our goals. Since then, student workers, or eTerns, have become an invaluable part of our efforts in developing an ePortfolio community and culture at Manhattanville. From the very start, we recognized from seminars, discussions, conferences and student ePortolio showcases how important student voices would be in the process. We were fortunate to participate with colleagues in the Making Connections seminars where we were exposed to the value of student voices in developing an ePortfolio culture. We saw wonderful examples of student work at LaGuardia Community College and Stony Brook University student showcases where the excitement and the energy from the students presenting their work was contagious.

Initially, eTerns were recommended by faculty who had the students in an ePortfolio class.  However, as the number of students proficient in ePortfolio grew, we have increased the number of eTerns.  Currently, we have about 10 eTerns working in the Center for Teaching and Learning (which is located directly next to the ePortfolio Lab) around the clock.  An eTern is on duty in the eTern office from 9am to 9pm Monday through Friday and from 3pm-9pm on Sundays.  These students are college employees paid for their time and are available to work with students and faculty on a walk-in basis, or pre-arranged one-on-one training using the Digication platform.  As our applicant pool increased and our understanding of how to best use the eTerns grew, we came to understand that while knowledge of Digication is an obvious requirements, the ability to confidently communicate this knowledge to both students and faculty was equally important.  We also employ a student eTern Supervisor (Head eTern).  Our Instructional Technologist is the staff supervisor of the eTerns and does the hiring (and firing).  Our student eTern Supervisor serves as the liaison between the Instructional Technologist and the rest of the eTerns and helps with scheduling, designing workshops, determining needs and priorities, etc.  Together, the Instructional Designer and the student eTern Supervisor design and implement eTern training at the beginning of each semester.  A number of our eTerns are featured in our Student Voices video. Here are some examples of the workshops that have been designed and implemented by our eTerns:

Submitting Your Freshman Essay and Your About Me Section
Wrapping Up Your First Year Experience in ePortfolio
Submitting Your Sophomore ePortfolio
Multimedia, Graphics, and Video
Uploading Different Kinds of Presentations
CSS and Advanced Customization

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eTerns also have become an integral part of our Faculty Teaching and Learning Circles (TLCs) offered in our new Center for Teaching and Learning. One eTern is assigned to each TLC cohort as the contact person for follow up support during the TLC and after it has been completed.

Pedagogy

One of the benefits we have observed by using ePortfolio in the classroom, in our TLCs and across the campus is the ability to collaborate and develop the idea of communities (classes or small groups of students, faculty and alumni) aimed at peer-to-peer learning. The ease with which people learn how to use Digication is very beneficial in bringing “outsiders” into our learning communities. For example, one of our School of Education faculty members is using our ePortfolio platform to facilitate a “virtual” Socratic seminar in which her graduate students and 5 Manhattanville alumnae are collaboratively exploring and interrogating one of the texts in her course. The “e” in ePortfolio is extremely important for some of the faculty in the arts who have embraced ePortfolio as a pedagogy. Digital technology allows faculty to utilize multi-modal content for teaching, learning and expression while encouraging students to customize and present their work to a social audience of any desired number, and, to any target audience.

One example we present is from Professor Geoff Kidde in the Music Department at Manhattanville. Professor Kidde “makes learning visible,” while fully recognizing and utilizing the power of digital content, and states on his personal ePortfolio in a section that highlights student work:

“These two movies are exercises in adding audio to short videos. The assignment was to replace all the sound in the movie, including dialog (ADR), sounds coming from actors (Foley), and background music. In the dialog replacement, the voice you hear is not the actual actor’s voice, but added by someone else. The story was not important–all boils down to an exercise in editing audio.”

The ability to share and celebrate one’s personal work with colleagues, students and a much larger audience is clearly presented in Professor Kidde’s ePortfolio, something that would be nearly impossible to achieve in a paper format.
https://mville.digication.com/geoffrey_kidde_composer/SomeTunes

Professor Frank has been using  ePortfolios in his Computer Graphics 1 class since we began our pilot in 2010. All students download a template with built in architecture and scaffolding, as well as reflective prompts. Students can more or less customize the appearance of their course ePortfolio, while maintaining the core information needed for “grading.” Students set permissions for their ePortfolios so Professor Frank – and all of their peers in the class – have viewing and commenting capabilities.

One example of an assignment that is perfectly suited to ePortfolio and current technology is situated in this class. About halfway through the semester, when students are comfortable with adding content to their ePortfolios, they are asked to embed a video they find online that covers any specific aspect of one of the applications that is being used in class (Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign) in which they want to gain more understanding. Students are asked to write a brief reflection on why they chose the video they did, and also are asked to view at least 4 videos posted by their peers and comment on those videos. The role of the “teacher” is almost entirely removed, as students become peer researchers and teachers to each other.

Professional Development and Training

Link to Professional Development

Our primary Professional Development and Training program is our Teaching and Learning Circle (TLC). This four-session workshop involves a total of six hours of work with the facilitators and also includes work to be done at home in between sessions. While the focus of each TLC is on ePortfolio pedagogy, and especially on the role of reflection, we do use the four sessions to also provide basic instruction in Digication. Each agenda in the first three weeks introduces various skills needed to use the technology, and these are reviewed at the follow-up session the next week.

In addition to the TLCs, we offer other ePortfolio workshops through the Center for Teaching and Learning, including a basic “ABCs of eP” and specialized sessions in how to use ePortfolio for advising, for tenure and promotion, etc. We would like to offer more advanced workshops as well, particularly featuring the “courses” and “assessment” features of Digication, but we simply have not yet had the time or manpower to do so.

We have a few online tutorials, and this is an area we would like to develop further as we recognize that not all faculty will be able to commit the time needed to attend a TLC. However, we feel that the online tutorials are technical in nature and lack the exposure to pedagogy that the TLC provides.

One of our main concerns is that a number of people take a TLC but then do not seem to move forward by using ePortfolio in a class. We need to examine more deeply why this is happening. It may, in part, be lingering technological insecurity, but more likely it may be the need to entirely re-think a class and syllabus in order to integrate ePortfolio effectively into the course.

Outcomes Assessment

So far, the bulk of our outcomes assessment utilizing ePortfolio has been pilot groups of our Portfolio System reviews. In the Spring of 2013, we embarked on our first full review, with the entire sophomore class going through the process electronically. We provided faculty and student support through workshops and eTerns. We used the “Comment” function for advisors and department chairs to “approve” student ePortfolios. In addition, several departments and programs are asking students to create ePortfolios at various phases of their academic progress. These were discussed in more detail in our Outcomes Assessment story. Examples include the Castle Scholars Honors Program and the Department of Art History, to name just two. At present, these ePortfolios are assessed holistically by faculty teams reviewing them in their entirety.

Otherwise, our use of Digication for assessment remains limited. Several of us have experimented with assessing specific assignments within the “course” mode and have found it to work satisfactorily, if not fully intuitively. Admittedly, we are not fully up-to-speed on the functions available here. The “work flow” diagram that lets instructors know which students have submitted work and which have not, and which also indicates what has been scored, is excellent, but the setting up of the rubric and assignment is a bit cumbersome. Once set up, though, it is easy to use and the scoring system allows for fractions, etc. We definitely want to learn more about this feature and take better advantage of it.

We have worked closely with Digication to create a customized assessment module in the Digication Assessment Management System for the Manhattanville Portfolio submissions.  Additionally, we have used this system for program assessment of the First Year Program.  This system has great potential, although we have not synced it with our student information system, so there is currently no linkage between the Registrar’s office on our campus and Digication at this time.

Support and Collaboration

The budget for our Digication contract falls within the IT department, which falls under the umbrella budget of Academic Affairs. In general, the ePortfolio Leadership Team, in consultation with IT, is responsible for the ePortfolio project planning, vision and implementation. Our team leader actively liaises with Digication with regard to managing technological issues that arise and developing new functionality to meet our needs. When we first selected our platform, there was a member of the IT department on the ePortfolio team. This is no longer the case, but the current eP team works to integrate IT in technology project planning and problem solving in every way possible. The new Instructional Technologist, who reports to the Center for Teaching and Learning rather than to IT, has also become an active member of our Leadership Team.

At this writing, our ePortfolio platform stands alone with no connectivity to any of our other college applications. This lack of connection and coordination has been a significant issue for us. For example, because our college data management system (Colleague) does not currently interface with Digication, student ePortfolio account management has been a nightmare fraught with human errors that have led to inconsistent login protocols and account duplications. Another area in which the lack of connection between Colleague and Digication is a substantial problem (or will be a problem) has to do with degree auditing.

We selected Digication as our ePortfolio platform because it was easy to use and visually appealing, and we believe that these things have had a substantial effect on our capacity for scaling up. Both of these virtues are inviting when it comes to people just having a go and trying it out. Because Digication is so easy to learn and use, we can spend far more time in our Teaching and Learning Circles engaging faculty in fabulous conversations about integrative learning and social pedagogies, because we do not have to spend much time on learning how to use the tool. The visual appeal and multimedia functionality draw newcomers in and invite them to experiment with ways of getting students to take full advantage of this functionality. This, in turn, often leads to innovative pedagogy. In this way, the tool can be a catalyst for pedagogical change.

Looking Forward — Conclusion

Given that we are generally happy with Digication, we are feeling positive about continued use of our platform. The things that we would like to do more effectively fall into two categories. The first has to do with outcomes assessment. As we mentioned above, we have found the Course function within Digication that is capable of supporting course-based outcomes assessment to be “clunky” and difficult to use. To date, instructors who have been using ePortfolios in their classes are assessing individual student ePortfolios, but they have not yet learned—in part because we are reticent to show them how—to create courses in which students can upload common assignments that can then be assessed as a group. The second area for improvement has to do with integrating social media with Digication. At this writing, there are a number of our faculty members who are intrigued by the notion of using ePortfolios as a form of “academic” social media within their classes. They are, however, limited by the functionality available on Digication. For example, asking students to engage with the content that their classmates post through the comments function is awkward and very limited in its appeal. Rather than trying to recreate social media functionality on Digication, we would like to find ways to integrate student ePorfolios with other social media such that they can more seamlessly engage their broader social communities with and in their academic work. One of our faculty members designed a “social media for social change project” for her First-Year Seminar in which she imagined that students would create ePortfolios on Digication that presented cases for social change with regard to sustainability and creating a future that we can live with. Once given the assignment, her students instantly said they wanted to connect their ePortfolios with Facebook because this would be the best way to get their message out to and solicit input from their social groups. Having a seamless interface between Digication and other social media would have made this project much more appealing and productive for her students.

Because Digication has been so responsive (at least in words) to our requests for functional modifications, we are confident that as members of our faculty continue to develop and practice innovative pedagogies that need to be supported, they will rise to the occasion. For example, as mentioned above, we have a faculty member who is trying to facilitate an alumni book club in one of her graduate courses. We have the opportunity to learn from her attempts to facilitate this book club on ePortfolio and to take those lessons directly to Digication. We feel like our relationship with them is one in which they will get excited about and want to support the pedagogical innovations that we are trying to accomplish. Therefore, we feel that the selection process we went through led us to the right outcome for our needs, and we look forward to continuing the partnership with Digication as we explore other possible uses of ePortfolio as a learning tool.

 

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