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Professional Development: A Committee Bears Unexpected Fruit

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Summary

This practice brings together a group of already-committed campus ePortfolio practitioners to develop a conceptual framework focused on student intellectual and affective development to guide teaching, learning, and assessment practices associated with the electronic Personal Development Plan (ePDP). Working toward this common purpose, members have engaged in extensive reading and rich discussion, resulting in a powerful professional development experience that we believe can serve as a model for future activities within our ePortfolio Initiative as well as beyond it.

Author

Susan Kahn
Director, ePortfolio Initiative, and Director, Office of Institutional Effectiveness

Description

Overview and Setting

We have made a somewhat unorthodox choice of practice to highlight, in that the practice we describe was not undertaken and is not proceeding with faculty development as an explicit or primary purpose. Rather, the practice brings together a group of committee faculty members, administrators, advisors, and other professionals over a period of time for extended consideration of how best to use ePortfolio–specifically, in this case, the electronic Personal Development Plan that is the focus of our C2L project–to support student growth and development. Professional development of direct participants has been an unexpected, but powerful, additional benefit for those involved.

Early pilots of the ePDP focused on its use in the First-Year Seminar, with anticipated learning outcomes closely aligned with overall outcomes for this particular course. These include self-assessment, major and career exploration, goal-setting, and planning and evaluation. While these are all processes that continue across an undergraduate education (and across a lifetime), the First-Year Seminar is intended as an intensive introduction to practices of reflection and self-evaluation that provides students with some initial direction as they continue into the second year and their academic major.

Over the past two years, as use of the ePDP has expanded into academic majors, a multi-disciplinary internship program, and a co-curricular support program, we have found ourselves asking broader questions about what we’re hoping that students will accomplish by continuing to work on their ePDPs and about how we can support these accomplishments. For example, how can we articulate the course-specific objectives of the ePDP in the First-Year Seminar with the overall goals of the initiative? Is the portfolio designed to foster intellectual development, affective development, or both? What do we know about student development and learning that should guide all implementations of the ePDP? What best practices should we embrace as common to all uses of the ePDP?

The literature associated with ePortfolios and student development and learning, while informative, did not offer us a clear, unified framework applicable to our implementation of the ePDP across the college experience. It became apparent to us that to purposefully extend use of the portfolio throughout the college experience and educational settings, we needed to establish our own common conceptual framework, inspired and informed by multiple disciplines and perspectives.

Practice Step by Step

To address this need, the ePDP director (also co-director of our C2L project) convened ten participants from multiple disciplines and roles (faculty, administrators, advisors, and other professionals) to study relevant literature and develop a conceptual model for the ePDP at IUPUI. We began by identifying key bodies of literature for consideration. In addition to the growing ePortfolio literature, these included:

  • Student Development (cognitive and affective)
  • Identity Development
  • Self-Authorship
  • Reflection
  • Meaning-Making
  • Integrative Learning
  • Experiential Learning
  • Life-Long and Life-Wide Learning
  • Transformative Learning
  • Hope Theory

In each body of literature, a seminal article was chosen and distributed to the group. In 2012-13, the group met biweekly and continues monthly in 2013-14, following a semi-structured discussion format in which we discuss our reactions to the work as well as its applications to intended outcomes of the ePDP and IUPUI student development and learning. These discussions have created a highly engaging community of practice, providing what those of us in the group have agreed is a powerful intellectual and professional development experience for us as participants, although we did not initially undertake the project for these purposes.

There are precedents, both at IUPUI and within the campus ePortfolio Initiative, for professional development impact resulting from an activity undertaken to support student success and development. For example, some years ago, an initiative focused on improving student outcomes in large-enrollment introductory courses with high rates of failure and attrition (“Gateway” courses, in campus parlance) resulted in a range of new teaching approaches and other interventions designed to help students succeed, as well as subsequent professional development programming. As noted above and in our Professional Development Story, a number of academic programs that have incorporated ePortfolio into their curricula have brought faculty members together for extended consideration of effective integration and use of ePortfolio for authentic assessment–with professional development benefits for those involved and, in some cases, formal professional development programming as well.

ePDP conceptual modelWe expect similar outcomes from this activity. The framework that is emerging from our discussions will inform the larger outcomes we articulate for development of an ePDP across an undergraduate career at IUPUI. It will shape the ways in which we assess the effectiveness of the ePDP in supporting student achievement as well as our assessment of ePDPs as authentic evidence of student learning of general education and discipline-specific skills. Most relevant here, the framework will be an essential tool for planning future faculty development programming around the ePDP–and it will likely be relevant to all ePortfolio professional development at IUPUI.

Finally, while our experience is, as noted above, not unique either at IUPUI or elsewhere, we believe that the Conceptual Model Committee establishes a useful precedent as we think about future faculty development efforts. Bringing educators together for a common purpose that goes beyond their own development and speaks directly to student success and educational effectiveness is powerful. Some of us may decide that we’re too busy to attend a workshop or do the reading for a faculty development seminar. We’re less likely to make that decision when we feel that the stakes are higher than our own learning and when we feel a sense of responsibility to one another for accomplishing an important task.

The Role of Inquiry, Reflection, and Integration

The work of the committee–both as administrative pursuit and as professional development substance–embodies the Catalyst framework nicely. We began with Inquiry: a set of questions that had emerged over the first two years of planning and piloting the ePDP for which we wanted answers. As with any academic research, we then constructed a reading list intended to help us refine our questions and arrive at some answers (Inquiry). A graduate assistant and members of the group suggested many of the readings, with others chosen by the convener. We added new material as further questions arose from our discussion. We met biweekly to discuss one or more readings and how they might contribute to our thinking about the model we wanted to develop (Reflection). By late spring of 2013 we were at the point where common themes and the skeleton of a conceptual model began to emerge (Integration). The synthesis became our first model, which we refined as we began testing it with other groups. In 2013-14 we have cycled back into Inquiry and Reflection modes as we continue to read some relevant new publications, reflect together on their implications, and integrate our earlier work with new goals of structuring faculty development around the model and guiding program implementations.

Evidence of Impact

Since this practice was not intended as professional development, we have conducted no evaluation, and there is no long-term means of identifying changed instructional approaches by participants. Informally, however, one form of evidence lies in the voluntary and enthusiastic continuation of a group whose work was expected to conclude in Spring 2013. Another type of positive evidence comes from the encouraging reception garnered by presentations about the model both on campus and in wider forums such as the AAEEBL conference in July 2013 and the IUPUI Assessment Institute in October 2013. The committee has shared its resources widely: most material identified in the “Literature Review” section of the ePDP web site (link below) grew out of the reading and discussion list for the committee.

Supporting Documents

A literature review at the ePDP web site includes extensive resources drawn from the committee’s work.

Conclusion

We have come to feel a sense of responsibility for the task and to fellow members of the group. We feel that more is at stake than our own personal development. The level of discussion has been so high that members look forward to meetings and engage deeply with the readings assigned. Members frequently comment about the impact of the discussions on their thinking. One member summed it well: “This is why we work in higher education!”