Learning communities—they’re not just for students!

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Summary:

A core element of the Metro Academies Initiative (Metro) is the faculty learning community. This community is comprised of faculty members in various undergraduate programs at both SF State and City College of San Francisco. The community works together throughout the year to link their courses, develop pedagogy and curriculum, share best practices, and integrate ePortfolios into their classrooms. Although the instructors are asked to do a lot in their classrooms and in their programs, many instructors have been leaders in the ePortfolio initiative and really helped integrate them into the program.

Authors: Savita Malik and Alycia Shada

Metro’s linked courses, taught by instructors who work together in a faculty learning community:

Long Duration Learning Comm

Overview of ePortfolio-related Professional Development on our campus

Our Professional Development Story

An important part of the Metro Academies Initiative is a faculty learning community (FLC). The FLC meets once a month, cross-campus and cross-discipline to explore issues related to pedagogy, classroom content and teaching practice. Our faculty members teach Metro core classes in the departments of health education, child and adolescent development, science, technology, engineering and math, and ethnic studies. We also have faculty members who teach general education courses in English, math, oral communication, and critical thinking. Our instructors teach at both City College of San Francisco (community college) and San Francisco State University (a four-year university). We began with only 14 faculty and have grown to serving almost 70.

As part of the Metro Academies Initiative, the FLC supports a range of professional development and focuses some of its work on ePortfolio training for faculty. We are still working hard to integrate the ePorfolio more meaningfully into our program and until now, we have done minimal development with the entire faculty. The faculty members who teach the core Metro courses are very well versed in using the ePortfolio technology and it helps that they also represent leadership in our faculty development program. Some of the biggest challenges have been still getting all faculty members to buy into the use of ePortfolios. There is a myriad of interests in the technology, which sometimes conflict. Many of us are focused on program level outcomes and in the process, neglect the power of the individual course outcomes that can be evaluated through the ePortfolio. We also still have a few faculty members who are reluctant to try something new. While they are great classroom teachers, they may not be as willing to work with the ePortfolio in their own space. We have made many efforts to place the burden of portfolio development on the coordinators and invested faculty in the Metro program. This leaves other faculty, though, struggling to see the relevance of its use. We are working on breaking through some of these barriers and hope to develop a Metro program portfolio, where faculty can develop their own pages. This may increase buy-in and give the faculty a sense of how useful the ePortfolio can be.

SFSU Metro Staff (FR)

Our Professional Development Philosophy and Conceptual Framework

The FLC is based on principles of critical pedagogy. We believe firmly that faculty must first unlearn inherent biases and beliefs about students and their own teaching, before they can become truly effective educators. Our mission is:

We wish to empower learners to assert their own narrative and to value the communities they came from. We take an asset-based approach to students and commit to processes of reflection and improvement in our classrooms and overall teaching practice. We look to give learners a clear understanding of structural factors that influence communities, the knowledge and skills to work against the systems that perpetuate inequity and ownership over their own education.

Inherent in this mission are principles of critical pedagogy, engaged teaching and critical self-reflection. We work with faculty to make sure that they are examining their own world, their practices and assumptions they bring to their work. It intersects with the C2L vision of professional development as faculty engage in inquiry and reflective processes both in community and individually about their teaching practice. Yet we ask faculty to go a step further in creating culturally relevant content that accounts for our students’ contexts. We have themes of social justice running through the Metro curriculum, which ensure that we must address these themes of inequity and resiliency in our faculty development spaces.

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Professional Development for Scaling Up

Building Connections

Our professional development brings faculty from a variety of disciplines together. We ask faculty from health education, child development, math, science, English and communications to get together and talk about how students are doing. The ePortfolio is a great focal point by which faculty come together, talk, share student outcomes and discuss curriculum structures to implement for improved learning. These ePortfolio-related professional development activities help build a network of connections throughout our campus.

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Technology & Outcomes Assessment

The ePortfolio-related Professional Development on our campus is primarily focused on pedagogy. To date, it has not had a strong link to outcomes assessment. However, small programs are beginning to explore ePortfolios for outcomes assessment. There is preliminary talk about using ePortfolios in general education on our campus, and programs such as Metro and Liberal Studies are being seen as potential pilots for tracking GE outcomes. Both of these programs currently require students to upload GE sample work to their portfolios.

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Evidence

With staff and faculty interviews and reflections, we have been able to continuously assess the effectiveness of our ePortfolio-related Professional Development on campus.

Many faculty members are enthusiastic about ePortfolios. Overall, faculty need more training time on the use of the technology as there is still a lot of hesitation around it. For the most part, faculty seem excited to use ePortfolio, but there are structural barriers (such as lab space availability) that are limiting their ability to really use them.

Faculty members are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about participating in a learning community. The faculty members who are more involved with ePortfolios appreciate training, lab sessions, and ongoing workgroup activities to reflect and build on the integration. As we grow, we may look into more formal ways to evaluate our efforts.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst

Pedagogy 

ePortfolios have really helped equip our instructors to incorporate reflection into the coursework. The ePortfolio is a natural place for reflections to live and helps give the students a reason to reflect. We plan to do more work around integrative learning and ePortfolios. Our curriculum and pedagogy is poised for students to engage in integrative learning, but how ePortfolios are a part of this process could be improved.

Having student work and their ability to show their academic and creative selves through their ePortfolios has made it easy for students to share this with one another. It has also made it easy for instructors to look at student work together at the end of each year.

Scaling Up

Because our professional development occurs within a cross-disciplinary and cross-campus learning community, our network helps build and strengthen connections between faculty members and departments throughout the university and the community college. Our professional development has been primarily funded by grants; however we are currently becoming an institutionalized program with state funding. ePortfolio-related professional development is part of a larger program and learning community. Instructors are often interested in becoming a part of this supportive community, and they often receive stipends for their participation.

Outcomes Assessment

In Metro, ePortfolio is linked to our program-level outcomes assessment. At the end of each year, a group of faculty members assesses a sample of student work that has been posted to their ePortfolios and we assess it against program-level rubrics (adapted from AAC&U Value rubrics). This work is growing in scope—we have piloted the process with two program-level student learning outcomes and are expanding to cover all five program outcomes. The ePortfolio has been a key piece in integrative learning across courses and semesters, and has been the ‘home’ for student reflection.

Technology

Our ePortfolio platform is eFolio. It is relatively easy to use, affordable, and accessible. Access to computer labs has been a prohibitive barrier at the community college. Access to computer labs at SF State is much better, though resources are tight and lab sessions need to be scheduled well in advance. Some instructors are more enthused than others about integrating the technology into their own work and classroom.

Conclusion

ePortfolios have been an important part of our curriculum, pedagogy, and faculty learning community. We do, however, face the same obstacles that many campuses face—limited time and resources, a range in instructors’ comfort level with technology. ePortfolios can be an excellent medium for reflection, integrative learning, and outcomes assessment and we are constantly striving for greater integration in our work.

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