Next Steps

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nextsteps_622x415Institutions of higher learning inevitably change. The pace of change varies, depending on leadership and on a variety of political and fiscal contexts. Change can be disturbingly slow, disturbingly fast, exhilarating, or anxiety-inducing. LaGuardia’s institutional ethos has never shied from change or experimentation, and for most LaGuardians a fast-paced, constantly evolving environment is something like a natural condition. So as we conclude the Connect to Learning project, outlining “next steps” for LaGuardia requires thinking through the lessons learned through observing and sharing C2L’s activities across 24 campuses, while at the same time placing several important and large-scale current campus initiatives within that project context.

How can we conceptualize our next steps in light of C2L project insights? Three years of discussion, collaboration, and constant work has framed three principles—Inquiry, Reflection, and Integration—as the key concepts that drive strong ePortfolio projects. Those principles, in turn, are refracted and magnified through the interlocking sectors of campus activity on which ePortfolio sheds light and exerts influence: Professional Development, Outcomes Assessment, Technology, Integrative Social Pedagogy, and Scaling Up. We have outlined our thinking about the sectors elsewhere in our portfolio, and we would argue that the principles—Inquiry, Reflection, Integration—are seeded throughout that thinking and in many of our campus practices. This is not to say that they are sufficient, or sufficiently pervasive. They clearly are not. But their presence is palpable and evident, and they have clearly informed the campus initiatives now underway. And our C2L work has clearly underscored their importance while giving us a language with which to move forward.

change exitAt the deepest level, that language turns on the possibility of thoroughgoing institutional change articulated by Randy Bass in his essay “Scaling ePortfolio: Designing for the Recentered Curriculum”. It’s encapsulated both in the “catalyst” metaphor and, perhaps more meaningfully, in the ePortfolio-based “network of connections” Bass envisions as the driver toward a truly learning-centered environment. We see that network emerging at LaGuardia in the key initiatives we are now building.

At the heart of these is an ambitious integrative project: joining or, in the language of our campus, “aligning” the Student Affairs and Academic Affairs divisions of the college. Organizationally, this meant the creation of a new Provost-level position (filled by Dr. Paul Arcario). Practically, it has catalyzed two major initiatives: a revised academic advisement model, and a redesigned first-year program featuring a new discipline-focused, credit-bearing first-year seminar. Conceptually, it has begun to move LaGuardia toward a more concrete, programmatic understanding of what it means to educate the “whole student”.

The new advisement model has been designed, and the faculty and staff who will implement it have begun to learn about it in professional development activities.  Fundamentally, the model depends upon collaboration between faculty and staff, who are grouped into advisement teams with shared advisement responsibilities. Click here to see the guidebook  prepared by LaGuardia’s Business and Technology Department, which summarizes those responsibilities: to help the student

  • ·         Explore your major
  • ·         Select introductory and advanced courses
  • ·         Connect you with campus support services
  • ·         Prepare an educational and career plan

The last point is perhaps the most significant. The LaGuardia model looks to promote and systematize a deeper notion of advisement, one that includes standard course selection activity but also looks beyond that and strives to help students examine and reflect on their skills and goals, help them formulate a thoughtful approach to a plan of study, and clarify their professional aspirations. To advise “in depth” in this way requires time and focus. Its reflective dimension is uniquely suited to ePortfolio practice. We have begun to cultivate the skills to do this through the Art of Advisement professional development seminar, where faculty and staff explore and practice techniques which will leverage ePortfolio reflective pedagogy and turn it toward strengthening advisement. Click here to read more about this seminar. A good example of how this method can integrate into academic course work has been written about by LaGuardia faculty, whose participation in professional development led to the application of social pedagogies to learning and to advisement. Click here for a link to the article. As our advisement model matures, the technology sector also comes into play. LaGuardia, and the City University of New York, host multiple systems for academic and student support. Our model will integrate three of these into advisement practice: our Digication ePortfolio system, a robust and home-grown “eCareer” platform, and the university’s “Degree Audit” advisement platform. These promising examples, and the professional development work now underway, suggest the direction we hope to develop across the campus. As we write, however, the overall model is still embryonic in practice, and the number of academic departments and programs now prepared to utilize it is still relatively small.

Alongside the new advisement model, a redesigned first-year seminar is now poised to begin making a difference in the prospects of LaGuardia’s entering students. First-year seminars are widely accepted as an effective “high-impact practice”. At LaGuardia, a year-long engagement with the Foundations of Excellence program during the 2012-13 academic year led to a comprehensive set of recommendations for revamping the college’s approach to first-year students. The plan includes as its centerpiece a credit-bearing, discipline-based seminar, which will intentionally target the “whole student,” both the cognitive and affective dimensions of learning. Organized as a team-based initiative, engaging faculty, advisement and co-curricular staff, and peer mentors (in effect, enacting the implementation of our Academic Affairs/Student Affairs alignment), the seminar incorporates ePortfolio pedagogy as a fundamental design principle. Student work in the seminar will meet (and be assessed) on three learning outcomes: Inquiry, Problem-Solving, and Integration. As the course design process unfolds, teams of departmental faculty are finding ways to create a truly integrative structure: combining an introduction to discipline-based learning and thinking with “College 101” skills and dispositions–from time management to self-efficacy and persistence, to the careful construction of a multi-semester educational plan. The first iteration of the seminar will begin in Spring 2014; our hope is that within a year the great majority of entering students in our most heavily-subscribed majors will be enrolled. We fully expect the seminar to increase the likelihood of students sustaining and completing their studies at LaGuardia.

The first-year seminar competencies are a close variant of new college-wide General Education competencies. LaGuardia emerged from its most recent accreditation self-study in 2012 with high marks from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The Middle States report especially praised LaGuardia’s comprehensive, campus-wide assessment processes. At the same time, the Commission mandated that the college shift its General Education competencies in two directions: first, to reflect a stronger digital literacyemphasis on “values, ethics, and diverse perspectives”; and second, to strengthen assessment of our students’ technological literacy competency. As described in our Outcomes Assessment Story, this recommendation led to a campus-wide discussion about redesigning General Education goals, and ultimately to the selection of Inquiry/Problem-Solving, Global Learning, and Integrative Learning as new competencies. These have been thoroughly vetted and approved by all campus constituencies, and as of Spring 2014 the work of rethinking course syllabi, devising rubrics, and mapping the competencies to courses and degree programs is about to begin in earnest. To help address the Middle States mandate for technology literacy, creation of competency-based learning activities will include a “digital communication” option seeded throughout LaGuardia’s programs. The possible applications of ePortfolio pedagogy to this mode of demonstrating the competencies are many and varied; our faculty are eager to begin creating these opportunities for students.

In the deepest sense, all of our “next steps” are aspirational. We are striving to build an organization in which all participants are dedicated to learning. So we look at outcomes assessment, for example, as an opportunity to reflect and to improve, to systematically examine what works and what can be made better. We recognize, of course, the mandates of accreditation and accountability expectations, but we do not frame our work from that perspective. For precisely that reason, our revisioning of General Education deliberately aimed high. We want our new competencies to lift our thinking, our instructional design, and our students’ performance, toward greater sophistication in both knowledge and skills. And for precisely that reason, we have built, and will sustain, a robust professional development structure.

Our contributions to Connect to Learning have reinforced the best in our institutional culture. Finding inspiration and guidance from colleagues across the network and from the conceptual framework this project has articulated, we are well positioned to take our next steps toward building a true learning organization. Indisputably, ePortfolio stands at the center of this work.

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