Discovering the power of good questions
If I want to wander around through ideas and feelings and thoughts, with no concern for a context such as my vocation, avocation, or state as a student, then using a free-form web page or living the mind of my life in twitter posts makes sense. In this case, structure may be a barrier (although each has a form so is its own structure). If I want to contextualize my wandering (in my vocation, avocation, or state as a student) – then the need for structure, and yes, a container, will be of benefit.
In thinking about reflection, for example, I believe that if its organic, emergent nature is not honored, reflection will never happen. But I also believe that structure can make it easier to reflect. And an embedded structure for reflection can transform a college – it allows learning to overflow out of (and into) the arbitrary conceptualization of the appropriate “unit of learning,” the course. Structures for reflection can also nurture the practice of teaching as helping learners make new connections that are meaningful to them.
Learning flows, and an artifact (paper, video, picture, discussion post) is an arbitrary unit of learning, a snapshot of a point in the process, nothing more. But we put our learning in containers all the time – a sentence or phrase, an image, a conversation, a concept or idea we describe in a blog post or tweet, and yes, (although not always), a paper. So an assignment can be a snapshot of a learning experience (if that’s what the assignment was designed to promote), especially if reflection is embedded in the assignment. However, we need to stay sensitive to the fact that sometimes the integration and synthesis doesn’t happen in that moment, but may come later as part of a longer trajectory of learning.
Given that, it is important to me as a learner to have a “place” to put my work and organize it in ways that are meaningful to me. Later I will be able to find a particular artifact that has suddenly taken on more meaning for me, because I am making new connections (learning). This is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for a successful ePortfolio implementation – a place to put “stuff.” One option is for students who have a .edu email account to store their work on their Google drive. And one more thing to think about when thinking about ePortfolio tools – the use of a Google template can help students get started quickly, provide a structure that is at least loosely mapped to program assessment, and yet is still sufficiently customizable for students to organize their presentation in different ways, for different audiences.
Google apps are just one set of approaches for addressing collection, organization, presentation, and program assessment, but they are certainly worth considering.