CIRCLe: Capture, Integrate, Reflect and Connect Learning with ePortfolios 2018 Conference

May 1st, 2018 @ UBC

CIRCLe 2018 was a one-day conference hosted by UBC Faculty of Arts, partnering with the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT), that explores the role of e-portfolios in higher education and professional practices. We will inquire into how e-portfolios might be used to create a bridge between academic learning and professional identity and how educators can cultivate an e-portfolio culture in disciplines where this does not exist. Sessions consist of presentations by faculty and students from all disciplines, and employers, on topics including reflective and collaborative processes, digital literacy and online ethics, distinguishing between personal and professional identities.

I assisted on the organization committee throughout the year towards the event day, as well as facilitation on the day.  I presented on a panel in the second session, and acted as a moderator for discussion sessions and break out groups in the category of Pedagogy & Instruction, for those particularly interested in the symposium sub-theme integrate; issues of student engagement, technology and media possibilities, and merging portfolios with curriculum.

CIRCLe symposium web-site:

CIRCle 2018 Panel Presentation Notes & Select Visuals

Online Learning Portfolios:  From Products to Progress
By:  Christine D’Onofrio

This presentation can be viewed here.

Portfolios in Visual Art have a long history, from analogue beginnings to current digital formats, they have been used to showcase work for centuries.  The portfolio has also influenced what is now becoming a relevant structure to career trajectories of many industries, the so-called “portfolio career” a curated variety of freelance roles wherein you combine several interests and skills.

I teach a foundation digital visual art class in the Media Studies stream of the Coordinated Arts program, which is also home to first year Bachelor of Media Studies students.  This was an ideal place to examine ways in which a portfolio can be utilized to the goals of:

  • transformative learning, wherein individual students activate a cognitive restructuring and integration of experiences, actions, artifacts and structured reflection (Mezirow, 1990, 2000)
  • distinguishing disciplinary methods, overlaps and differences, and how to best utilize these viewpoints in the interdisciplinary subject (and program) of media studies (Middendorf, Pace, 2004) An online portfolio allows one to showcase work using a variety of media, such as moving and still image, text and sound, as well as using various media to showcase many dimensions of a particular work. Further, this can be used to prove understanding of medium specificity and disciplinary ways of thinking, while utilizing the tools students also effectively critique.
  • cultivate student mindfulness of online self-representation and personal agency, both as enacting critical course content of media literacy and dissection, but also generative/productive ways one can occupy and even subvert how we’ve come to know and use online spaces

My first instinct was to use the online learning portfolio for students to engage in a reflective process about your work.  But upon further consideration, the personality traits of media studies students would have a hard time with this and so decisions on tools, and curriculum were created in collaboration with Letitia Henville, Educational Programmer of the UBC Arts ePortfolio project, starting in 2016.  And the decided focus would target:

  • digital and media literacy and formal dissection of the online portfolio format
  • start of an overall archive to showcase their work
  • still hoping it would give students an opportunity to make connections and distinguish learning, while also critically assessing what certain decisions impose on personal agency, and apply that knowledge in constructing their own spaces

The online portfolio addition to the curriculum was delivered in the January term of 2017, and survey assessments, instructor meetings, student inquiries and my own personal teaching reflection led to revisions in the curriculum for the January-April 2018 rendition of the course.

Most notable from the first year evaluation results and an assessment of the online portfolio by the students was that particular targets motivating the inclusion of a portfolio in the class were not being met.  In particular, the strength of an online portfolio is its ability to create personal revision habits of archiving, assessment, analyzing and reflection of personal learning processes.  But there were noticeable distractions, they were:

  • Students used and indicated a desire to use external platforms because they thought it brought individuality, yet the slick and gimmicky interface design templates of external services (namely wix) became preset substitutes, instead of students figuring out how to do reveal processes of thoughtful and meaningfully articulated content.  The result was attention to the graphic work on the part of the external providers (mostly wix) but not very well developed considerations on behalf of the students’ learning through artifacts.  While the manicured effects of wix templates seemed attractive to the students, it prevented them from finding this individuality themselves.  For example, there was an abundance of stock images from the templates not replaced by their own work, logos, formatting presets, unnecessarily stylistic fonts, unimaginative headings and lack of descriptions or personalized keywords. As a result, process and reflection of learning was limited, and the templates revealed themselves as lacking uniqueness.   Students uploaded a large quantity of work that resembled the kind of images found on Instagram, without contextualizing the reason why they were showcasing it or when and what learning occurred in the process of making.  There was a particular distraction of surface elements of online design rather than a focus on substance or well developed delivery or communication on what they accomplished in their learning, what measures have been used to account for their learning, how it has made a difference to their life or how they wish to continue learning.
  • Portrayal of ‘self’ online was not deconstructed, instead perpetuated a surface level delivery of representation. I need to focus on a critical dissection of what this portrayal means and how to do it, but this can be hard to do when the purpose of the project is to create an online portfolio to “display” themselves.

And I can see why…. The generation we are teaching in first year are of the contentiously named “digital natives” and social media is one of the most cumbersome realities of their existence.  For example, this article in the Huffington Post “11 Things we Fake in our Social Media Lives” names everything from Relationships to “Coolness” and lands on “Perfection” –the only way to be online!

It feels like nowadays, unless it is posted, (and gets a validation and approvals) –it didn’t happen.  How can I push students past “representation for representation-sake” but instead focus on the importance of the process of how one gets to the image, the object, the proposition, the event, the provocation, etc…

I pride myself in teaching students how to engage in artistic practice as a research methodology, towards accessing knowledge and activating new knowledges.  How one negotiates materials, time, form, process, concepts, ideas and even affect, are all a part of the creative art making practice.  It is called a ‘practice’ for a reason, because it is an iterative process of continual growth that happens in experimentation, exploration, action and consequences, chance, play, transformation, communication, abstraction, social interaction and most notably, failure.  How can I motivate students to see the significance of process, and all its faults, towards progress, as more insightful than any of their best products?

I decided to integrate strategies of learning portfolio curriculum into other parts of the course, in hoping to connect (Jones-Woodham, 2009)

  • the maker – practitioner, learner, maker, reflecting
  • to the making – learning, communicating, process and conceptual frameworks
  • and the made – evidence, artifacts, demonstrations

One addition to the projects in the class was to have students come up with research questions in order to place their perspectives towards why they study media arts in the class.   The other revision was to one of the learning portfolio in-class workshops where students, in 4 groups of 5, view a selection of portfolios that all work very differently.  The students would each tackle a particular guiding component to dissect the decisions the author made when conceiving of their portfolio.  These were; aesthetic and formal, how they self-represented, headings and semantics to describe, structure of the site, and content.  To address more consideration in how artifacts are described and communicated to the viewer, I added in an “artifact critique” and bundled structure and headings into one component called “organization”.   In light of the work and evaluation results, these are small changes to the curriculum that I wished to redirect focus of students, and to value substance over style.