Faculty Development and Investment in Eportfolios
Georgia Rhoades, WAC Director, Appalachian State University
For our work at Appalachian in the Writing Across the Curriculum Program (WAC), digital portfolios are a crucial tool in assessment. In forming our program in 2008, I called on the university to adopt a platform for eportfolios to support the practice of a vertical writing curriculum (see wac.appstate.edu), which we were including in our reform of General Education. Our program, along with the University Writing Center (UWC), directed by Beth Carroll, and the Rhetoric and Composition (RC) Program, were awarded the Certificate of Excellence in 2011, largely because of this curriculum.
For WAC to successfully assess writing in this curriculum, we first began faculty development in portfolio practice, leading to adoption of portfolios for all courses in the RC curriculum by Kim Gunter, the RC director. In WAC, we began work with RC and Writing in the Discipline (WID) faculty on portfolio to eportfolio teaching, stressing the advantages to students in learning through reflection and selection and the applications for portfolios and eportfolios for career and further education. Some disciplines, particularly Geography and Planning and most areas of Education, were already practicing portfolio and eportfolio collection, and we collaborated with them and General Education in discussion groups. We brought to campus several scholars who could help us develop a plan toward this shift in teaching and assessment: Nedra Reynolds, John Zubizarreta, Kathy Yancey, Barbara Walvoord, and Nancy Sommers. We also aided in investigating eportfolio platforms and supported the university plan to create an office to support digital portfolios and adopt Digication. This office, directed by Elaine Gray, offers a wide range of support for faculty and students: https://aportfolio.appstate.edu/.
With the transition to eportfolios and in-program support by RC for Composition faculty, in summer of 2016 WAC launched preparation for a longitudinal study of student writing made possible by the collection and archiving of artifacts over students’ careers through Digication. WAC had begun assessment of reflective and documentation practice in RC students’ portfolios under the direction of Sherry Alusow Hart in 2009, a practice that had grown and expanded to the assessment of the Gen Ed goals and outcomes. (Rhoades had also created a WID metarubric and Alusow Hart had successfully explained the need for local rubrics as relevant to our practice in ways that the AAC&U values rubrics were not.)
Collaborating with the UWC, Institutional Research, and WAC consultants, Alusow Hart drew 100 eportfolios from RC students in the first two courses in Composition (the bases for the vertical writing curriculum) and developed a rubric for reflection to conduct a reading and develop further faculty development. We chose reflection as the element to assess because of our strong emphasis in faculty development toward that goal and our belief that reflection benefits student learning, supported by RC scholarship. Based on the vertical writing curriculum, Gen Ed had included reflection as a common element throughout the four levels of writing courses in RC and the disciplines.
Having reported on the first phase of the study, with interview and survey support conducted by WAC consultant Dennis Bohr, Alusow Hart is in the process of drawing reflective writing from those students in their WID and capstone courses to enable the longitudinal assessment committee to reach conclusions about student reflective practice and faculty classroom practice over four years. Without eportfolios and a strong grounding in their pedagogy, our program would be far less prepared to investigate student writing and reflective practice, which has been a focus of our support. Using the information we gather from this study about reflective practice, WAC will strengthen and develop consultations and workshops for faculty across the university, which will benefit students in all disciplines.