At Macaulay, for a wide range of reasons (some of which I described back when we first got started), our eportfolio system has always been what I like to think of as “organically” growing. Our students build eportfolios because they want to, and develop them when they feel the need to, and (except for the class sites, which are a different kind of animal, usually), they aren’t really required to do anything in particular with them. We try to support and encourage and recognize–maybe gently guide–with an approach of “opportunity, not obligation,” (or my own favorite metaphor of letting students make their own curving and self-directed paths across campus, rather than paving straight diagonals for them to follow).
This gives us a collection, we’ve found, that is long on quality (in many cases), but not necessarily so long on quantity across the system overall. We have some very strong individual examples, but choosing any random eportfolio, it’s never very predictable what you will get. Something just beginning? Something with a potentially great idea, not developed yet? Some great blog-like reflections, without an overall pattern or structure? A pattern or structure without much content in it? Or a fully-developed (but still quirky or individual) eportfolio? In a system that grows organically, any of these are possible, and all of them are “success,” because it’s really about process, more than product. An eportfolio that is almost empty today, with just a few default posts, is no more a “failure” than a freshly plowed field might be, before anything has been planted or sprouted.
But this year I wanted to think more about the “gently guiding” part of our obligation to support these projects. Not to force or restrict or compel, but to illustrate and exemplify and honor. I thought that by featuring, showcasing, some examples of the many approaches and processes that were happening with the eportfolios, we could achieve some goals that I felt were good for our students, for the project, and for the college (and maybe broader audiences, too).
Those goals were these:
- I wanted to recognize the diversity of eportfolio approaches
- I wanted (through peer pressure and positive reinforcement) to encourage students to spend some time and effort developing their eportfolios, no matter what the different approach they chose
- I wanted to draw some internal (among our students) attention (“buzz”) to the eportfolio system and its uses
- I wanted to do the same for external audiences
- I wanted to push students to reach out for help to push their eportfolios to do things (in terms of design, in terms of content, in terms of features) that they didn’t know how to do.
So, in other words, I thought we would have an “Eportfolio Expo.” This was not, by any means, a new idea. Just about every eportfolio program I know of does some kind of “expo,” or “showcase,” or “festival.” But my thought here, in this pilot event, was that we would solicit nominees–asking students to nominate their own or others’ as exemplary eportfolios in a wide variety of categories. And we would have some prizes, too. And I would be happy if we achieved even one or two of those goals, even partially.
So over the past weeks, we solicited nominations. And we got fifteen solid ones–and they are fifteen diverse ones, too. You can see all the nominees–with small screenshots and descriptions, and links (the title of each eportfolio is a link) to view the eportfolios themselves–on the gallery page that I set up (Next-Gen Gallery plugin FTW).
We did promise prizes (pretty nifty ones!) for the Judges’ Choice and the People’s Choice (more about that below), but one thing that really came out from the event on April 13, when the nominees presented their eportfolios, was that the evening, the nomination, the event, was about so much more than a prize. The commitment, the dedication, the genuine interest in sharing and recognizing and learning from each other, and the real joy in the diversity of approaches, was just inspiring. One of the Instructional Technology Fellows who was present even got a little teary-eyed at one point, and I have to admit to some of the same emotion myself.
It was a weeknight, a little before spring break (still during midterms for many students) but we still got about half of the nominees to attend, and several brought friends. Even students from Queens College and the College of Staten Island (our most “far-flung” campuses) were there. The students presented their work, we talked about eportfolios generally, we shared ideas about how to improve the ones we saw, we talked about plugins and class work and academic and professional work, and socializing and humor and movies and food. And we ate Magnolia cupcakes and drank coffee. Everybody got very jazzed and excited, and every one of them will be continuing to develop their eportfolios. And the friends who came (five Queens College freshmen in particular) will almost certainly be building and submitting their own for next year. The evening was promised to end by 8 PM, but we kept going until a bit past 9 PM–there was so much to show and learn.
While it was very much an informal and insiders event, I can’t say enough about how good the feeling and buzz was…even though none of the students who were there was the winner of the Judges Choice award (Maisha Lopa, the winner of the award, had to do a presentation for CUNY BA and couldn’t join us). It was real feeling of pioneering, getting started, planning and being on the ground floor–exactly what a pilot should be. Much of the talk was about how these eportfolios could and would continue to grow and change–how as nominees they were really snapshots of one single point in time of a picture that would never really be “finished” or set. Just the kind of emphasis on process that I was hoping to promote! Students even had updated their sites on that same day, in some cases making some fairly substantive changes and additions, even though the judging was over. And that same process, the same degree of ongoing change and looking back and looking ahead, has been going on even now that the event is over, too.
And now the event continues–because the voting for the “People’s Choice” award is still ongoing. This is open internet voting, and I definitely encourage anyone reading this post to visit the gallery, check out all the eportfolios, and then vote yourself! As of now, there are well over a thousand votes. And (the best part of that) the nominated students are telling me that they are getting comments and suggestions and appreciation of their work and their ideas and their efforts from people who had never seen their eportfolios before–from family members in other countries, from employers and faculty, and from fellow students–inside and outside of Macaulay and CUNY.
The judges also decided, after the event on Wednesday night, that one single Judges’ Choice was not enough. So there will be more Judges’ Awards, in more categories, after spring break when the People’s Choice voting closes. Those, of course, will also be announced on the gallery page.
This was a pilot, a first annual event. We’re getting great suggestions from students already about how to make it bigger and better next year, and I can really see this becoming a signature event–reinforcing something that is at the core of the eportfolio project–at Macaulay and everywhere. Sharing, presenting, reflecting, interacting…it’s all part of seeing the bigger picture of the “Museum of Me” that an eportfolio can be.