Growth and Change at LaGuardia: Our Scaling Up Story

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LaGuardia’s ePortfolio program dates back to 2002, the early years of ePortfolio in higher education. Over the past decade, the college has grown, refined, and changed its program. Here, you will learn more about how the college has grown its ePortfolio program from 800 ePortfolios to over 80,000 and the ways in which ePortfolios at LaGuardia are a central part of our identity as a learning college where integration, inquiry, and reflection are successful components of our educational mission.

Current Status of Our Project

scalingup_3_editFrom just over 800 ePortfolios in its pilot year (2002) to approximately 68,000 in Fall 2011, and  over 80,000 as of Fall 2012, LaGuardia Community College’s ePortfolio initiative is strong.  First introduced by Dean (now Provost) Paul Arcario to the College, our portfolio (now ePortfolio) initiative has emerged as an adhesive to connect and catapult the ways students, faculty, and staff think about and support teaching and learning in our technologically motivating society.

LaGuardia Community College’s most recent (Spring 2012) Middle States Accreditation report, singled out the College’s ePortfolio culture as exemplary. The progress of our ePortfolio initiative is a result of our efforts to use this pedagogical tool as a network of connections and as a catalyst for change.  In Scaling Strategies and ePortfolio as a Catalyst for change, Randy Bass notes, “Both of these dimensions — in their broadening and deepening effects — are critical for ePortfolio leadership teams to consider as they seek to scale and institutionalize ePortfolio on their campuses.”

With support from LaGuardia Community College’s top-level administration, Dr. Gail O. Mellow, President, Dr. Paul Arcario, Provost, and Dr. Bret Eynon, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, and Founding Director of the Making Connections National Resource Center, the College’s ePortfolio initiative has advanced an important and timely conversation on teaching and learning in the 21st century — with particular emphasis on student engagement via new media technologies, professional development, and outcomes assessment.  Across the disciplines, majors, courses, etc., our scaling up success is defined by the necessary steps we are taking to educate faculty and staff about ePortfolio best practices, continuously measure students’ progress, and confront new challenges and opportunities.

Leading LaGuardia Community College’s efforts to educate and engage faculty and staff in conversations about best ePortfolio pedagogical practices is our robust ePortfolio Leadership Team.  The ePortfolio Leadership Team is a cross-campus collaboration between faculty and staff that convenes on a monthly basis to discuss the current state of the College’s ePortfolio practices and to go beyond the fundamentals to share deeper levels of insight that help guide, promote, and sustain the College’s ePortfolio initiative.

Building connections with faculty and staff is central to the work of the ePortfolio Leadership Team.  Professional development seminars such as Connected Learning: ePortfolio and Integrative PedagogyStrengthening Core Learning: Competencies, Integration and Student Success, and The Art of Advising: Learning and Implementing Holistic Advisement Skills are amongst the projects that are endorsed by this committee to advance ePortfolio as a catalyst for change at the College.  These professional development seminars bring together faculty and staff from across the College and encourage them to look across the disciplines, majors, courses, etc., and think deeply about how we can integrate the value of ePortfolio practices into the daily curricula — in an effort to help students connect their diverse experiences, bridge the gap between curricular and co-curricular activities, explore learning-centered advisement, etc.  Faculty and staff in these seminars create ePortfolios to document their professional growth, learning through this hands-on process and discovering new ways of implementing ePortfolio meaningfully and effectively with their students.  The focus is on building connections — between students and their classmates, between students and faculty, and between students and audiences outside of the classroom — made visible through the ePortfolio. As it relates to using ePortfolio as a network for connections, this aspect of the College’s scaling up efforts is exhibited by the work that has been and will be done by specific academic programs, particularly the professional majors (e.g., Accounting, Business, Nursing, Engineering, Education, Physical Therapy Assistant, etc.).  For example, ePortfolio pedagogy has become a fixture in the work of accounting and business faculty and staff to address the needs of our students.  The following demonstrate a few of the steps the Business and Technology Department has taken to integrate ePortfolio as a pedagogical tool to facilitate the daily teaching and learning experience:

  • Recognizing that a majority of students taking accounting and business related courses are required to register for the course titled Introduction to Business, this course is targeted as a venue to (a) introduce students to ePortfolio; (b) provide students with the opportunity to develop objectives and goals; (c) help students start the process of archiving pieces of their work; and (d) allow students the prospect of reflecting on their learning.
  • Specific courses that many students register for in the various programs, the department offers, have been selected as a way to help students effectively work on and develop specific skill set.  For example, all students completing Business Law I are required to develop their proficiency in oral communication by completing various related assignments in this course.  All students completing Principles of Accounting II are required to strengthen their proficiency in quantitative literacy and technology, specifically as it relates to using Excel, by completing an Excel based computerized accounting project.
  • An employer focus group was conducted where students presented their ePortfolios to industry professionals, and faculty, staff, and, students received valuable feedback about the strengths of the department’s ePortfolio practices, areas needing to be further examined or reexamined, etc.

How do we measure progress?  The significant work that the College has been doing around outcomes assessment is another example that reveals our scaling up efforts for using ePortfolio as a network for connections.   We continue to make strategic, ongoing developmental progress as it relates to institutional assessment and assessment in the program/major.  Recently, the first Benchmark Assessment teams were brought together to read student work across six of the College’s seven core competencies.  Teams of faculty were trained on the rubric for the competency it was assessing and then read materials deposited into the assessment segment of student ePortfolios (in some cases, additional samples were pulled from the legacy ePortfolios in the Concord system).  The goal was to enrich the assessment data by looking at general education competencies outside of the major.  This benchmark assessment reading was developed to augment the findings from Periodic Program Reviews.  The Periodic Program Review process allows departments to design studies to assess student progress within a program/major. This is a rich source of assessment data for the College.  However, it does not provide a comprehensive overview of general education.  The benchmark assessment process was designed to look at student work deposited at 25 credits and under and over 45 credits.  Part II: Developmental History of our scaling up story provides more details on the College’s assessment efforts to collect a rich array of data to illustrate the impact of ePortfolios on student learning.  This work and the results have been critical in solidifying support from the College’s top-level administration.

Looking at our progress, there are significant challenges to LaGuardia Community College’s ePortfolio initiative.  Amongst the challenges we face at this time are the following:

  • The basic challenge of evaluating full ePortfolios is still ahead of us.  The College has long studied basic elements such as retention, comparison data between ePortfolio and non-ePortfolio courses (in key areas such as student engagement, critical thinking, writing, technological literacy).  However, it seems that the time to assess the ePortfolio in totality is rapidly approaching.
  • Having an ePortfolio platform that is versatile enough to support 21st century media savvy learners is a issue that warrant continuous attention.
  • As is the case on many campus, buy-in is an issue.  The work of the College’s ePortfolio Leadership Team and professional development activities will continue to be a gateway to introduce and support those who are skeptical about the value of ePortfolio practices.

Recognizing these and other challenges present important opportunities to expand the scope of LaGuardia Community College’s ePortfolio practices.  As part of the College’s vision to use ePortfolio as a catalyst and connector for broader institutional change, we recognize that the following areas, amongst others, hold great potential for further ePortfolio exploration and integration:

  • Advisement – academic, transfer, and career.
  • Teaching Hybrid/Online courses.
  • Academic assessment (programmatic and institutional) and accreditation.
  • Reflective or social pedagogy practices.
  • First-Year Experience practices.

Developmental History

Though the twelve-year history of ePortfolio at LaGuardia is relatively short by historical standards, it represents a remarkable evolution of both technology and practice at the college that is too extensive and complex to convey in detail here (see, however, historical documents below that chart some of that growth and change). For our purposes, then, we will focus our “scaling-up” narrative on  key decisions that most significantly shaped the program as it exists today:

1. To allow LaGuardia faculty to shape the course of ePortfolio at the college

From its inception in 2001, LaGuardia’s ePortfolio initiative has been faculty-driven. Following the college’s receipt of a cooperative Title V grant with New York City College of Technology, LaGuardia launched a preliminary research year during which a team of faculty traveled the country studying ePortfolio efforts at other colleges and drafting a formal report of its findings (see below).  In the following year, twenty-two faculty from across the disciplines helped to pilot LaGuardia’s first ePortfolio platform, a homegrown FTP system, experimenting with ePortfolio pedagogy in the classroom and sharing their experiences.  The seeding of ePortfolio continued via attachment to First-Year Academies, learning communities for basic skills students, whose faculty honed their approaches through participation in a year-long professional development seminar.

2. To utilize student peer mentors as a resource for students and faculty

In 2003-04, to help facilitate the transition to its first commercial ePortfolio platform, LaGuardia introduced a non-credit Studio Hour facilitated by student peer mentors.  Called ePortfolio Consultants, these peer mentors provided critical tutorial support for students as they learned how to build their ePortfolios, guided cohorts of nominated ePortfolio Scholars through an advanced portfolio development process, and helped to host the first college-wide Student ePortfolio Showcase. The ePortfolio Consultants have been and continue to be instrumental to the success of ePortfolio at LaGuardia.

3.  To learn from our mistakes and our failures

The college spent five years focused on situating ePortfolios in the First Year Experience at LaGuardia. A vision of bringing together Student and Academic Affairs, basic skills learning communities, and a scaffolded first year experience shared across four coordinated courses and two semesters, the First Year Academies were a bold proposition for rethinking the first year experience at a community college. Despite well-documented student gains, the First Year Academies did not ultimately take root in the college’s institutional culture. The college received the 2007 Bellwether Award from the Community College Futures Assembly for its work with the First Year Academies. Ultimately, however, the changing nature of basic skills education within CUNY, institutional changes in cooperative education and counseling, the fact that the First Year Academies didn’t reach the entire first year cohort, and structural issues such as registration made the First Year Academies an unsustainable model.

The First Year Academies, however, provided early lessons in integration and thinking about how to stage student learning across time, highlighted in the ePortfolio, lessons that would be revisited and expanded in the college’s Rethinking the Capstone Experience seminar. It also provided significant experimentation with ePortfolio pedagogy and curriculum that still resonates in classes across the college today.

4. To be willing to shift our priorities over time, as ePortfolio evolves

LaGuardia’s ePortfolio project has a long trajectory. Initially, during the first 5 or so years of the project, the college placed a strong priority on pedagogy and student learning, over and above outcomes assessment. While today, ePortfolios are often recognized as key evidence in outcomes assessment work, initially, LaGuardia focused on professional development and ePortfolio in order to deepen our integrative pedagogy.  And that, as a result, we were able to actually make a difference in terms of student learning through our intentional development of an ePortfolio community of practitioners and learners.

More recently, LaGuardia has added to its dual integrative pedagogy and student learning foci an emphasis on outcomes assessment and the ways in which ePortfolios can serve as authentic artifacts of student learning. The success of the Studio Hour model in the First-Year Academies led to its subsequent adoption by the Co-operative Education Department in a required college-wide course for students in their second-semester called Fundamentals of Professional Advancement, whose much larger enrollment pool afforded new opportunities for collecting and measuring outcomes data on a larger scale. LaGuardia had already begun to attract national attention for the visual richness of its student ePortfolios; now, it had a sizeable collection of data to illustrate the impact of those ePortfolios on student learning.  In the years since, LaGuardia has routinized its data collection around ePortfolio to include student engagement surveys (comparable with college-wide and national scores on the CCSSE) and course completion, course pass, and next-semester retention rates (comparable with non-ePortfolio sections of the same courses, where available). This data has proven invaluable for performing formative assessment, consolidating support from institutional stakeholders, and attracting external funding.

5. To explore social pedagogies using ePortfolio

LaGuardia had the opportunity to join other campuses in the  AAC&U/Carnegie Foundation’s national Integrative Learning Project. This project allowed the college to examine ePortfolio and the possibilities for integrative learning in the ePortfolio over a period of three years. Foundational to LaGuardia’s thinking and success, the ILP project allowed the college to study, experiment with, and assess varying approaches to integrative learning and social pedagogies. LaGuardia’s second Title V-funded project infused ePortfolio into capstone and other key second-year courses and deepened our focus on social pedagogies and the connective potential of ePortfolio.  Faculty participated in professional development aimed at using ePortfolio as a vehicle for integrative learning in the classroom and for helping students to make deeper, more meaningful connections in their educations.

On a larger scale, the college formalized its longstanding leadership in the ePortfolio field by founding the Making Connections National Resource Center on Inquiry, Reflection and Integrative Education; running a three year program (2008-10) to support 40 colleges in the NYC region in launching and advancing  their own campus ePortfolio programs; initiating the Making Transfer Connections program to use ePortfolio to facilitate transfer between senior and community colleges within the CUNY system; and leading the now-25 campus Connect to Learning network.  Each of these ventures signifies in a different way the new reality that learning through ePortfolio is not a solitary exercise, but a profoundly social one.

Connections to Core Strategies

Advancing Through Professional Development

To go from the about 800 ePortfolios to over 80,000 in 10 years, faculty had to have played a fundamental role in LaGuardia’s ePortfolio initiative. At the heart of this expansion are the professional development activities afforded to faculty and staff through LaGuardia’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). LaGuardia’s CTL offers a wide range of year-long seminars for faculty and staff to explore ePortfolio-related pedagogy and support student success. Participation in these seminars enhances faculty buy-in for a broad change.  A few seminars offered by CTL are described below to illustrate the role of professional development in deepening our ePortfolio initiative.

Connected Learning:  In this year-long seminar faculty learn about the pedagogical applications of ePortfolio by doing: the seminar invites faculty to construct their own professional ePortfolios for documenting and reflecting upon their ongoing course revision, modeling a classroom environment in which everyone shares with and learns from one another. Specific areas of emphasis include using ePortfolio to help students overcome fragmentation in their learning; actively and meaningfully connect with faculty, peers, and external audiences; integrate their diverse learning experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom; and, envision and plan their educational futures, including graduation and transfer. Learn more about the Connected Learning seminar here.

Cultivating and Expanding Hybrid/Online Teaching and Learning:  This is a year-long professional development seminar in which faculty actively explore the distinction between hybrid/online teaching and teaching in a traditional classroom. Participants are asked to contemplate on what logistical and pedagogical issues are needed to consider when transitioning from a face-to-face to a hybrid (partially online, partially face-to-face) or fully online environment, which tools can help engage students in their learning, how might ePortfolio fit into an online course, and how will the assessment of student learning be different.

New Faculty Colloquium:  This is a year-long professional development seminar for newly hired faculty.  The colloquium focuses on issues of pedagogy and classroom practice, emphasizes sharing among instructors and student-centered classrooms, introduces new faculty to a range of teaching issues and helps them as they develop effective strategies for LaGuardia classrooms.  The colloquium also provides new faculty with an overview of LaGuardia’s key faculty development programs, such as teaching-with-technology initiatives.

In the aforementioned year-long seminars, a seminar ePortfolio is created that houses seminar-related material and a space for participants to post reflections and individual work.  Participants also create their own ePortfolios as well. Past seminar participants and faculty/staff actively engaged in using ePortfolio in their classes are invited to present to current participants on how ePortfolio has impacted their current pedagogy.  During 2012-2013, the Cultivating and Expanding Hybrid/Online Teaching and Learning Seminar deepened its exploration of how to use ePortfolio from a more pedagogical point-of-view.  The role of ePortfolio is also being integrated more systematically in The New Faculty Colloquium. For example, at the full day orientation institute, new faculty were introduced to the technical aspects of ePortfolio, started to create their own personal ePortfolios with a focus on tenure and promotion, and viewed student ePortfolios to get a more enriched view of LaGuardia’s student body.  Throughout the New Faculty Colloquium this year faculty will explore ePortfolio in connection with the pedagogical principles mentioned in How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.

Connecting to Programs

One major outcome from LaGuardia’s rich offerings of professional development activities and seminars is the programmatic use of ePortfolios.  The seminars involve individual faculty from a various departments developing ePortfolio as a pedagogy that catalyzes student reflection and integrative learning.  This burgeons into multiple faculty using ePortfolio in a department and eventually a department utilizing ePortfolios in programs and in the periodic program review process.  To help facilitate both faculty buy-in and initiate implementation programmatic use of ePortfolios, the CTL offers ePortfolio mini-grants, small grants to faculty to integrate ePortfolio across their curricula. These grants can be used to support program or department–led efforts, including faculty development and curriculum integration processes, addressing the programmatic implementation of LaGuardia’s ePortfolio system.

Several programs now utilized program specific ePortfolio templates and require all students in that program to create ePortfolios.  Please click on the following program names to view the ePortfolio templates utilized by that program- educationphysical therapist assistant, and nursing.  In addition, another growing trend at LaGuardia is the use for ePortfolios student organizations and there is even a student club ePortfolio template.  Even the Anatomy and Physiology Study Hall has created an ePortfolio as an educational resource for students.

LaGuardia has strong professional development program for faculty and staff as evidenced by these select examples.  Through this professional development, faculty deepen their understanding of not only what an ePortfolio is but its pedagogical impact.  The strength of LaGuardia’s professional development stems from the hands-on approach of learning by doing.  If faculty are comfortable with both the pedagogy and the technology driving the pedagogy then they will relay that to their students and colleagues, and ultimately build that crucial buy-in for a broad change.  From our advancement through professional development has risen the connection to programs.  Both strategies have synergistically impacted LaGuardia’s ePortfolio initiative and helped establish ePortfolio as a network of connections as well as a catalyst for change on our campus.

Our Next Steps

Though there certainly exists a firmly established ePortfolio culture at LaGuardia, we will continue to expand and develop in order to scale up (even) more broadly across the college.  Our key next steps include integrating eP into several burgeoning programs campus-wide, to ensure that ePortfolio practices are most meaningfully incorporated into new architectures as they are being built, rather than coming to exist as “add-ons” after the programs are piloted.  We anticipate eP to continue operating as a “connector” and a “catalyst,” and trust that the current strength of our eP initiative will do well to support/enhance several of LaGCC’s new endeavors and ensure their success.  These include expanding our catalogue of hybrid/online course offerings,  enriching our faculty development seminars with an increased focus on social pedagogy, LaGuardia’s intense college-wide concentration on improving advisement practices, redesigning a freshman year experience (FYE) for entering students, and moving toward a portfolio-based holistic assessment process.

Our plans best align with items 3, 5, and 6 in “Ten Core Strategies for Scaling Up”:

    • advancing through professional development
    • connecting to high-impact practices, and
    • building strategic connections to outcomes assessment.

Advancing through professional development: While many face-to-face courses at LaGCC are “web-enhanced” with eP, ePortfolio pedagogy will play a significant role with the Cultivating and Expanding Hybrid/Online Teaching and Learning faculty development seminar; participants will build seminar ePs, read eP-specific SoTL, and be challenged with designing a hybrid or online eP-enhanced course.  As the college seeks to enhance students’ experiences online, the 2012 – 13 cohort of the Art of Advising faculty development seminar explored how digital portfolios may be best exploited for advising and transfer planning.  In both our Connected Learning: ePortfolio & Integrative Pedagogy seminar and in our New Faculty Colloquium, there will be a concentrated focus on building professional faculty ePortfolios—in addition to facilitating student-to-student connections with peer exchanges through eP.  Our aim is to better encourage student-to-faculty and faculty-to-student connections with faculty ePs also serving as models for student portfolios, offering pragmatic evidence of the practice of lifelong learning.

Connecting to high impact practices: Planning teams for a revised first-year experience have designed a new kind of learning opportunity for entering students, a discipline-based, credit-bearing First-Year Seminar which includes integration of the ePortfolio at the beginning of their LaGuardia studies. Among the program’s benefits will be, potentially, helping to address the problem of sometimes sporadically populated or capstone-only student portfolios.

Building strategic connections to outcomes assessment: As the college plans for its next “benchmark assessment” readings, we plan to test rubrics developed by faculty in our CTL seminars as we experiment with a plan to move toward a practice of holistic evaluation of students using ePortfolios.

A large part of our plan targets faculty development, an area where we have had a great deal of success in the past.  LaG’s assessment methods are evolving and our FYE practices are new, so we expect connections between eP and these efforts to be mutually beneficial.  One additional challenge we are experiencing is that our eP platform struggles to keep pace with the many new creative approaches to ePortfolio and integrative learning initiated by faculty, staff, and students.  Our campus will continue working with Digication to pilot new web 2.0 features oriented toward social pedagogy.

Historical Documents Tracing the Evolution of LaGuardia’s ePortfolio Project

Initial Evaluation Tool for Researching ePortfolios (2001/2002): Evaluation Tool

Initial Research Team’s Working Paper (2001/2002) on ePortfolios: Working Paper

First College-Wide Presentation on ePortfolios (2002): ePortfolio_Research_Team

Sample Presentations 

History and Development (College-Wide Presentation)

Changing Lives in the Global City (2004 AAHE Presentation)

AAC&U January Talk jec 7 pm edits (2010 AAC&U ePortfolio Keynote Presentation)

eP for March 2011 Instructional Staff BE-JEC Final (2011 College-Wide Presentation)

AACU From the Ground Up (2012 AAC&U Presentation)

Bellwether 2012 ePortfolio-Based Outcomes Assessmentrevmk,be, 1.18.12 (2012 Bellwether Presentation)

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