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Social Pedagogy: Working Together to Develop Metacognition and Professional Identity

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The developing senior capstone seminar in art history at IUPUI uses integrative social pedagogy for two main purposes: to help students integrate their learning in the major, and to enable them to develop higher levels of metacognition about their learning and their emerging professional identities. The latter focuses on the primary product of the course: a senior capstone paper or research project. The course was developed in 2010-11 to provide a curricular locus for writing the capstone paper, with ePortfolio envisioned as a platform for engaging students in reflection and peer feedback related to the goals of integration and metacognition. Since first offering the course in Spring 2011, the course instructor has each year refined the reflection prompts and structure for learning how to provide professional-level peer review. Program faculty members have welcomed students’ descriptions of their experience of the major and what they believe they have learned, and the instructor has  noted improvements each spring in the depth of peer reviews and students’ responses to those reviews. The department is now seriously considering introducing ePortfolio upon entry to the program to offer students more frequent opportunities to make connections across their undergraduate learning.


This module is based on a November 2012 interview with and supplemental materials provided by R. Patrick Kinsman, Ph.D., Lecturer in Art History, Herron School of Art and Design, IUPUI. The interview was conducted as part of an IUPUI research project for Cohort VI of the Inter/National Coalition for Electronic Portfolio Research. The text of the practice description was authored by Susan Kahn, Ph.D., ePortfolio Director and Director, Office of Institutional Effectiveness, and Susan Scott, ePortfolio Coordinator and Assistant Director, Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

Practice Identifiers


This practice is used in the art history deparment of Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI. Though some introductory-level art history courses will be options to meet the new state-level general education distribution requirements, the capstone is by definition focused on the major and on the learning outcomes established for the major. At IUPUI, program and course learning outcomes are also mapped to IUPUI’s essential learning outcomes, called the Principles of Undergraduate Learning, but that assessment is distinct from this practice.


The example of social pedagogy described here is applied within a single course; since that course is a capstone seminar, it draws on an helps students integrate learning across the art history baccalaureate program.

High Impact Practices

This practice merges three High Impact Practices: capstone experiences, writing intensive courses, and undergraduate research in the form of capstone art history scholarship. Each practice functions individually to foster the key student behaviors associated with High Impact Practices, including:

  • investing time and effort,
  • interacting with faculty and peers about substantive matters,
  • experiencing diversity,
  • responding to frequent feedback,
  • reflecting and integrating learning, and
  • discovering relevance of learning through real-world application.

We believe that ePortfolio pedagogy itself constitutes a High Impact Practice, largely because learning and developmental portfolios also elicit the same key student behaviors. In the case of this capstone, research, writing-intensive practice, the ePortfolio intensifies the impact of the other practices and provides a space where much of the reflection, peer feedback, and interaction can continue to reside and remain available for further reflection and integration. Examples of some of these responses appear in descriptions below of faculty/peer interaction, feedback, and reflection in the context of forming professional identity as an art historian.

Description: The Art History Capstone at IUPUI

Part I: Practice Step by Step

The B.A. in art history is offered at IUPUI by the Herron School of Art and Design, the only professional, accredited school of art in Indiana. Art history majors fulfill a range of general education distribution requirements; a foreign language requirement; a six-hour studio art requirement; three required 100-level introductory courses in art history and contemporary art; various art history general electives in 300- and 400-level courses; advanced electives in 300/400-level courses from liberal arts, science, or Herron studio art; and a senior capstone experience. It’s important to note here that, in contrast to studio art majors, who learn to be makers of art, art history majors learn to be writers about art. The capstone experience thus consists of a substantial research paper or focused research project. Currently, the capstone requirement is most often fulfilled in the 400-level capstone seminar, but it may also be undertaken as mentored independent study.

art class photoIn 2010, the department decided to create a capstone seminar where capstone writers could reflect on their careers as art history students and help faculty ensure that program learning outcomes were being achieved. Capstone papers were being written for no credit, so the department had to rely on encouragement and on students’ intellectual curiosity to assure completion; the new seminar was intended to provide a credit-bearing supportive framework for the writing process. The original goals for the course have since evolved to include: developing metacognition focused specifically on the art history major and integrating learning from prior courses and experiences; developing complementary professional personas as “reviewed academic researcher” and “peer reviewer of academic writing”; and deepening learners’ understanding of writing as a way of thinking.

In this developing capstone, student learning around these goals is expressed and further developed in two fairly distinct contexts. First, students are asked to reflect on their learning of the eight outcomes identified for the art history major (see Art History Goals and Learning Outcomes attached below). These reflections are written mainly for the instructor (and the department), but there is some class discussion about the outcomes. After reviewing the students’ reflections (typically a paragraph or so about each outcome), the professor talks with the class about general findings. (“We expected this but most of you said something else.”) The reflection is primarily individual rather than socially constructed. The reflective essay goes into the Sakai learning matrix, and results are later discussed by department faculty to identify possible curricular improvements.

Initially, students’ responses to this assignment were brief and fairly superficial. When told that department faculty would use their narratives to improve the curriculum–when given an authentic audience for the essay–they participated both more thoughtfully and more enthusiastically. The faculty were also interested in  learning about the moments when students claimed the major as “their own.” They began to see narratives where a level of metacognition emerged, where students had discovered things about themselves and their learning. The course instructor and creater, Dr. Patrick Kinsman, explains that he views the first hallmark of successful capstone reflection as the ability to look beyond the capstone seminar: “Criterion one is ‘Did you actually go back to sophomore year? Congratulations, you get some points. Now go back in time, find the writer personality, and show me how the writer personality showed up. Show me the classes it showed up in.'”

The second context for deepening students’ understanding of the writing context occurs in the ePortfolio learning matrix, which serves as a locus for students to provide and respond to peer feedback about the capstone project. Students are asked to select and further develop a paper already written and evaluated in a previous course. They are encouraged to select a piece they felt excited about and invested in, even if the paper didn’t garner the highest grade. Reflection is inherently part of this selection process, which may be guided by the instructor if students are struggling with their choice. Once selected, the paper is posted to the ePortfolio learning matrix, and students invite as many class members as desired to read the paper. Instructions given to the reviewers are: “Read what you see, and comment at the *least* on BOTH the thesis (where it is, how it is, and perhaps how promising or not it is) AND the structure (how the paper develops, if it does, if the argument outlined in the thesis is guiding the paper and how well).” This peer review appears in the assignment form where both the student and the instructor can review it; students can reflect (in another box) on the process of learning or commenting.

Since, in the professor’s nutshell description, “art history majors largely write papers,” this use of the ePortfolio represents a type of metacognitive learning involved with developing identity as a writer. The social pedagogy of peer feedback and subsequent discussion thus serves an important purposes of the course: strengthening students’ professional identities by helping them learn to be peer reviewers of others’ writing about art. The other students in the course constitute an authentic (albeit “practice”) audience for efforts aimed at professional- or graduate school-level writing.

art class in museumThe instructor introduces the peer feedback activity with oral presentation and discussion about the nature of effective and constructive review, encouraging students to use the feedback to understand their own writing processes and help the authors better understand their own writing processes. Several students volunteer their papers for use in practice. The class then takes the papers apart as a group, saying “This is what I expect based on this thesis. This is how I would think the evidence falls out.” The writers tell the group how much evidence there was, how much evidence about each specific argument there was, where the ideas fit in the professional conversation.

The ePortfolio here serves as a communication platform to allow students to communicate with one another about each paper outside the classroom. Dr. Kinsman observes that “Actually, some of them sent multiple drafts. There were little mini conversations that broke out, and I think I’m going to encourage that in the future. Now I’m starting to see that those people got to know each other’s work quite well. It had an actual interpersonal effect in the classroom.” An important final exploration then becomes “‘what would it be to rewrite this thesis?’ Because then there’s actually a nice metacognitive development there. I’m hoping that the metacognition involved with identity as an author will feed into progress as an art history major. It might involve questions like ‘where was the first paper that you actually owned, where  you felt “I am writing this,” instead of “I have to write five pages before 11:00″? If you don’t love this paper, where is the paper that you did love? Why aren’t you rewriting it here?'”

According to Dr. Kinsman, “a key developmental task beyond the peer review is to integrate, and later to group-brainstorm, commentary into writing, to ‘workshop’ a paper with academic peers. This is infrequently done outside of co-authored papers, and it has an element of tangential thinking which extends beyond strict thesis development. To do peer review here is to begin to understand a singular paper as part of a wider research possibility, and that is to begin to understand research as a way of thinking rather than as a page and word limit.” Reflection on the peer review comments occurs in class or in the ePortfolio matrix, usually both. Kinsman notes “It is common, during class rime, for reviewing to turn into actual conversation.” He adds, “The rationale for doing this online is that it is visible to all invited reviewers in the class and to me, so that the development of both . . . personas can be seen by you and by me, and looked back on later (reflected upon) toward the course’s end.”

Students did not like the ePortfolio on first contact. (The department currently uses the learning matrix in the Sakai ePortfolio, but not the presentation tool.) They were accustomed to simply handing a draft to someone next to them, who then provided feedback. They complained “Couldn’t we just trade?” At that point, Kinsman and his colleagues recognized that the ePortfolio would be much more useful if students had developed it over four years, rather than over only one semester as they get ready to graduate. Students’ attitudes did improve noticeably when they were told that they were a test case and that if ePortfolio seemed useful, the faculty might use it in other coursework. In fact, the faculty are considering moving the ePortfolio in stages down to the first-year Foundations courses.

Part II: Role of Social Pedagogy in Advancing Student Learning

The art history capstone embodies, in a developing trajectory, Bass and Elmendorf’s description of social pedagogies as “design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with . . . an ‘authentic audience’ . . . where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course” and that “strive to build a sense of intellectual community.” They also point out that effective application of social pedagogies requires valuing them centrally for assessment, as well as for other learning purposes. In this practice, the ePortfolio matrix functions as a vehicle for the social pedagogy around metacognition and professional-identity development. The trajectory of the course’s development over the past three years, however, indicates that these two purposes are drawing closer, linked as they are by the common use of social pedagogy within the course and by the focus on metacognition, on awareness and ownership of one’s learning.

Part III: Relationship of Design Principles to This Practice

Several sections of this practice description explain the ways in which Inquiry, Reflection, and Integration are directly and specifically part of students’ work in the course. Here, we focus on the design principles as applied to the work of the instructor.

Inquiry: Two faculty interests unite in this practice. The art history faculty had wanted to understand how their students experienced the program curriculum in a more holistic way than could be teased out of course-by-course student course evaluations or from student responses to the campus-level student surveys. Each school receives survey responses broken out for their students, but responses aggregated at the program level are typically too small to be valid.  At the same time, the faculty responsible for capstone research projects had no common way to address integrative and metacognitive learning goals from the discrete research papers required as the program’s culminating experience. General exposure of two art history faculty members caused them to consider that ePortfolios might be a means to address both interests. As Dr. Kinsman’s experiment has generated promising results, discussed among program faculty, he has reflected on ways to improve the learning process and adjusted his approach in an effective scholarly inquiry.

Reflection: In addition to improvements to student learning in the course, program faculty have reflected on students’ perceptions of their learning in the program. As noted, one lesson has been that capstone reflection may be deepened if students begin their reflection earlier in the program. So Dr. Kinsman has introducted reflection in some of his 300-level courses, and faculty have considered what other opportunities may exist to introduce ePortfolio even earlier.

Integration: Since all Herron undergraduates take a first-year Foundation Studies curriculum and submit a portfolio for “Sophomore Advancement” before proceeding to the junior year and intensive study in the major, Art History faculty have discussed their learning with colleagues in other Herron programs. One possibility under consideration is to embed ePortfolio in Foundation Studies, from the outset of undergraduate study; another is to introduce it in the sophomore year to shift the required portfolio to an electronic version. At the same time, University College and the ePortfolio Initiative are working to expand awareness and understanding of the electronic Personal Development Plan (ePDP) as a potential broad-based ePortfolio applicable to all undergraduate majors. Herron’s school-level inquiry and reflection may help other IUPUI schools understand opportunities that ePortfolios provide to support program review and student learning.

Part IV: Evidence of Impact on Student Learning

This practice has evolved gradually over the past three years from initial concept in 2010 through the third offering in Spring 2013. Part of that evolution has included experimentation with how best to assess the particular kinds of student learning fostered in the capstone. The emphasis is certainly on qualitative rather than quantitative evidence, though student narratives about program learning outcomes can be simplified for numeric description. (For example, some 75 percent of students dodged responding to the learning outcome about understanding the ethical choices made by artists, because they confused “ethics” with “morality.”) Though direct assessment is still limited, the instructor continues to wrestle with the question of how to develop a formalized rubric for the peer review and for the outcomes narratives. Nonetheless, the eight full-time faculty in this small department regularly discuss and value the insights they are gaining into student perceptions of their learning in the major. Prior to implementing the capstone in Spring 2011, the department had no means of program-level assessment. Because students have said that they wished they had begun the reflective process much earlier, the instructor now includes summative reflection in his 300-level courses, and the department is considering adoption of an ePortfolio, perhaps including a presentation component, throughout the major.

Helping Students Advance Their Learning

Reflection occurs both in the students’ narratives about the art history major and learning outcomes and in their responses to peer feedback about their work and their developing professional identity as writers. In both cases, the reflection meets all four elements of the Rodgers/Dewey framework:

Reflection as a Form of Connection (Integrative Learning)

The reflection makes connections among prior learning activities (in this case, primarily curricular, but some co-curricular or life experiences).

Reflection as Systematic and Disciplined (Inquiry)

The reflection is systematic and disciplined (or has become more so as the professor has worked with students to make their narratives and feedback more specific, concrete, imaginative, and constructive).

Reflection as Social Pedagogy

The reflection, at least around the research paper, is prompted in social contexts of class discussion, written peer feedback, and subsequent response/conversation.

Reflection as a Process of Personal Change

The reflection is intended to elicit personal (or at least professional) growth through enhanced metacognition.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst

Professional Development

As he became interested in the potential of ePortfolios, Dr. Kinsman participated in one of the introductory ePortfolio workshops and consulted with an instructional technology specialist for help in setting up the course matrix. Otherwise, he has worked independently to address issues of how to foster peer review and solicit student feedback about the program in a field that thrives on the tension between ineffable creativity and rigorous aesthetic critique. He has shared his experience as a peer presenter at recent ePortfolio workshops on assessment and capstone pedagogies.

Outcomes Assessment

Though not directly related to campus-wide outcomes assessment procedures for the Principles of Undergraduate Learning, the informal and discursive student feedback on program experience elicited through the art history capstone ePortfolio has been well received by program faculty. We find it particularly interesting that students initially responded somewhat grudgingly to this aspect of requested feedback but, once they understood that faculty would actually be paying attention and taking their comments seriously, became more enthusiastic and more thoughtful in providing helpful observations.


Though IUPUI’s Sakai-based ePortfolio is not the only platform that enables reflection, peer feedback, and reflection on the feedback, that capability is essential to the success of this particular social pedagogy practice. Also worth underscoring is the way in which use of the technology enhanced classroom discussion dynamics.

Scaling Up

As noted above in Professional Development connections, the ePortfolio team has asked Dr. Kinsman to share his experiences with others across campus. Hearing from him and other peers in similar fields is gradually helping others in arts and humanities disciplines to see that ePortfolios can be valuable for purposes other than specialized accreditation or career development and to envision “humanities-friendly” ways of conducting assessment. The art history experience is also generating interest and discussion across Herron, including some of the studio arts programs. For the campus initiative, an important part of our approach to scaling up adoption of ePortfolios continues to be targeting cross-disciplinary practices such as capstones, service learning, undergraduate research, study abroad, and other High Impact Practices.

Attachments and Supporting Documents

Art History Goals and Learning Outcomes

Rodgers, C. (2002) “Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking.” Teachers College Record, Volume 104, Number 4, pp. 842-866. Teachers College, Columbia University: New York, NY.

Conclusion: Next Steps

art class critiqueThough quantitative data about impact are absent, the results of student narratives and the perceived value of peer feedback opportunities have led art history faculty to consider adopting ePortfolio from entry into the major through graduation. (In fact, Herron as a school has also begun considering how all or at least several other of its programs might use the ePortfolio.) Because of the thoughtfulness and careful development of this capstone approach, we invited Dr. Kinsman to serve as a presenter at two of our professional development events in Spring 2013: a January workshop on ePortfolio Assessment and an April ePortfolio Symposium panel session on ePortfolios in capstone courses. We believe other IUPUI ePortfolio projects, especially those in humanities disciplines not subject to specialized accreditation or other “external” incentives, can benefit from the lessons being learned by this reflective, carefully paced approach that emphasizes metacognition and uses familiar social pedagogies.

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