Existing Structures and Capitol
Considering the existing administrative structure of the university is akin to hearkening, once again, Parker's (1967) claim that "To live intellectually in one's own time is as provincial and misleading as to live in one's own culture" (p. 339). Perhaps the technology branches of our campus administration were tacked on as they developed; perhaps that is why the California State University, Los Angeles (2008) Information Technology Services Strategic Plan 2008-2013 proposes significant enhancements to classroom technology and less fragmented integration of information technology and classroom technology on our campus.
While our campus, for example, has a Vice President for Information Technology Services and Chief Technology Officer, who oversees a campus technology committee, those who administer information technology fall under a different administrative group than those who administer classroom technology; the two groups converge at the vice-president level. This fragmentation is exemplified by Harris’s experiences. While he was part of the 2010-2011 Moodle pre Pilot, he did not interact with the personnel who fall under the Information Technology Services umbrella. Rather, in his work, he reported to the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, who then coordinated efforts with Information Technology Services. Often, a member of the Academic Information Resources Committee informed him about discussions of what he has been doing with Moodle and eportfolios. For reasons such as these, the Technology Services Strategic Plan asks that the university establish "collaborative relationships between ITS and other campus constituents becomes more imperative as technology, once housed exclusively in protected computer centers, is now located campus‐wide" (p. 10).
Identifying parallel technology projects is an important task. While faculty on the academic side of the institution were piloting Moodle, clicker technology, TaskStream, Google Sites, and the like, the information technology arm of the university was in the process of rolling out a new campus internet portal, MyCSULA. The software bundle for MyCSULA includes a blog, a public wall, social utilities, information sharing utilities and an eportfolio. While the eportfolio and the other plug-ins come as standard components of the software, they help to identify a communication gap that could have been addressed. If few faculty use courseware, then what kind of eportfolio platform might suit them best? Could the eportfolio component in MyCSULA provide the necessary platform for our campus, or would faculty and students want something more complex? More portable?
Thus, just as Faigley (1995) asserts that “Asking students to write about the culture in which they participate is one way of allowing them to explore agency and locate themselves within their culture” (p. 218), Harris makes sense of his experience as an eportfolio pilot administrator working within the university culture. Now, often is the case that we argue for programmatic eportfolios because they help students to place their studies within the larger scope of departmental and university missions, learning outcomes and assessment frameworks. They offer a reflective and reflexive environment in which they can make sense of their studies, which are often seemingly fragmented, disjointed, cobbled together shanty towns. In essence, the eportfolio can work against the postmodern narrative of specialized discourses, departmentalization and localized knowledges by creating a sort of agency that might turn the educational environment, itself, into “networks of discourses that combat the entropy of the overall system by constantly innovating,” wherein students are nodes capable of simultaneously operating as “sender, addressee, or referent” (Faigley, p. 218) rather than mere receivers. Those shanty towns transform into greener pastures. On the other hand, without a cohesive project and without a unified campus, vision, eportfolio platforms could exist as competing shanty towns across campus, with a dispersed proletariat unable to unify. TaskStream, Google Sites, Computer Science Network Services, and MyCSULA become warring tribes.
The issue, then, is finding a solution to effectively empower students by giving them a platform to showcase their educational achievements while simultaneously providing the institution with an effective program assessment tool. Moodle comes back into play here, as 1.x versions integrated with the Mahara eportfolio (2.x versions no longer integrate with Mahara), Google Docs, Tumblr, Box.net and a host of other eportfolio and social software. Moodle also has a database feature that can be used as an eportfolio, with some tweaking.
The search for a solution brings to light a paucity of the communication challenges that occurred during the pilot which, once again, ran concurrently with a host of other technology pilots. Perhaps since Moodle and Mahara begin with the letter M or perhaps because campus faculty and administrators are not wholly familiar with educational technology, eportfolio and Learning Management System became synonymous to some involved either directly or indirectly with the project. From time to time, then, Harris would begin meetings and discussions by explaining the differences between eportfolios and learning management systems. During Honors College faculty briefings, Harris would take time to explain the difference between the two types of software, which both most likely seem alien to faculty who still solely rely on paper.
Before the eportfolio pilot that Harris began in the Honors College, and other than the university portal eportfolio software, the campus had a pair of working eportfolio options.
• The Computer Science department has its own Learning Management System, CS Network Services, which has a web portfolio feature in development. Computer Science majors tweak and improve the LMS and often assist in administering courses. The LMS portal's wiki contains a white paper that favors use of CS Network Services over use of Blackboard (Comparison to Blackboard 2011).
• The Charter College of Education and College of Business and Economics use TaskStream.
The first-year writing program and English department employ a pair of paper portfolio options, though the first in the list is not a career eportfolio.
• First-year writing portfolios are used for collaborative, holistic grading of developmental writing courses and trend-based scoring of stretch composition courses.
• Single-subject credential option portfolios that substitute for the California Subject Exams for Teachers (Modern Languages, English, Art, etc.).
The Single-Subject portfolios are actually prime learning tools for conversion into eportfolios, as they focus on key eportfolio principles such as collect, reflect and showcase (Barrett, Helen, 2011). In the English single-subject credential portfolios, for example, students must
- Draft a summary of the program and how it helped them to meet the four learning outcomes: Literature; Language Linguistics & Literacy; Composition and Rhetoric; Oral Communications.
- Reflect on each upper-level course, explaining what they learned and what they might value as a future teacher.
- Provide evidence that shows how students have met learning outcomes.
A. Essays that evidence mastery of the four outcomes
B. Teaching observation reflections. (Certifying 2011)
While the single subject option portfolio requirements meet the basic needs of an eportfolio, one that provides students with a venue for showcasing their best work while simultaneously providing evidence for programmatic assessment, faculty may not yet be ready to work with electronic portfolios.
Faculty willingness to use technology and existing structures clearly plays a major role that should establish relays for campus eportfolios. In Harris’s case, the director of the Honors College was asking for an eportfolio pilot while the credential portfolio coordinators were reluctant to move to eportfolios. While it may have made more sense to move, say, English Education single-subject credential portfolios online because there already existed a procedure and guidelines, there was no institutional or administrative support for such a move. However, if the Honors College pilot does generate the administrative support needed to succeed, so will an implementation model that credential options can follow.
The next section, First Steps, will discuss how the pilot was shaped to work for students and faculty.