I’ve just returned from a good few days at the AAEEBL Conference in Boston (with lots of CUNY colleagues). There are some good write-ups of some of the sessions on the eportfolios blog here at the Commons, and while of course there were ups and downs, as there are at any conference, I think it was generally a productive experience (maybe most of all because of a terrific, if too-short, breakfast discussion I had with Randy Bass. More products of that to come later, I hope.)
One thing that kept striking me through the conference was the giant diversity of ideas about what we mean when we say “eportfolio” (hell, we can’t even agree on how to spell it! Myself, I hate the camel-case “ePortfolio,” and don’t want to use it, but AAEEBL actually tried via a pre-conference email to get us all to standardize on that orthography. Perhaps stubbornly, I did not comply). I think that diversity is probably a good thing (at Macaulay, we have that very wide range of diversity within our own single system!).
I also got the chance to reflect a bit on the difference between a system like ours at Macaulay, which is student-directed, and other systems which are more rigorously structured and mandatory for the students. I think there is a bit of a disconnect, sometimes, between what we want students to learn and where students want their learning to go. The conflict is between the university’s function as an institution in the business of awarding credentials and its function as a suite of opportunities for self-directed learning and expansion. I’m not saying that either of these functions has to be abandoned.
I sometimes detect that I’m being accused of a kind of elitism–“oh, that free-ranging stuff is fine for your honors students. They can afford the luxury of being cool and sexy and creative. But our students need real support and structure and job skills. We can’t afford to give that kind of freedom.” There probably is some justice in that accusation, but I also think there’s a false dichotomy there. I think all students need support and structure, and all students need freedom and creativity. And I don’t think that we have a world anymore where we can successfully predict what jobs will be or what skills will be. What we can give students is opportunities to develop habits of mind, real engagement, comfort with the unfamiliar and different perspectives, practice in collaboration and seeing problems from all angles and working within a wider community beyond the classroom. I spent enough years (decades) working with community college students to know that this kind of approach (with sufficient support and scaffolding!) builds excitement and commitment…and growth and success…for students with weak academic preparation just as it does for academically strong students.
But that’s a subject for another longer post some time. For anyone who missed the conference but wants to get some idea of the many presentations, do check the eportfolio blog.
And if anyone is interested in a condensed, trimmed version of my own presentation, let’s go to the YouTube! 🙂