We had a variety of thought-provoking sessions on NAPP (the New Academic Practitioners Programme at UCT) today. Jeff Jawitz started off the full-day workshop by mapping out some of the dimensions of diversity present in our classrooms and encouraged us to think through how we might address these challenges. I enjoyed reading various lecturers’ comments about their experiences of dealing with diversity in their own disciplinary contexts, some very different to my own. I found the table below to be a useful framework for thinking about what we do as reflective practitioners and how diversity plays a role across these levels.
The next session was about many a student’s worst nightmare: group work. We looked at the how and why of group work and various learning outcomes lecturers may want to achieve through group work and how we validate it as an assessment practice. Next we got into our teaching clusters and discussed our teaching practices, identifying some of the challenges, etc.
After lunch Alan Cliff closed off the day with getting us to consider issues around curriculum alignment. While I have done the LTHE (Learning and Teaching in Higher Education) course and am currently doing AEHE (Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education) and the discussion is not new to me, I found Alan’s basic explanations to be helpful in getting NAPPers on the same page and aiding us in applying these ideas to learning outcomes in our own course contexts.
In addition to our expert co-ordinators from CILT (Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching), one of the strengths of NAPP is definitely the participants – colleagues from a range of faculties are a guarantee of rich discussion and insight into teaching and learning happening across campus. There’s no napping on NAPP, that’s for sure.
Another aspect worthy of mention is our teaching projects. The clusters range from assessment, increasing classroom engagement to teaching with technology. My project is supporting new academics (and fellow NAPPers) in developing their own ePortfolios. Chatting to some of them today made me rethink my project and some of the things I’ve been doing, such as preparing an online course site to guide the process.
Ian Schroeder, facilitator of the teaching cluster I’m in, reminded me to look at recent literature. In relation to their work on supporting early academics to develop their own ePortfolios at Oxford University, Trevitt et al. (2014) identified the lack of collaboration to be one of the drawbacks. They supported individuals who went about their ePortfolios on their own rather than discussing what counts as evidence in their discipline, etc. This made me realise that for my project, my aim is not that everyone has an ePortfolio in two months’ time, but rather that I have created a community who are experimenting with or thinking about their own ePortfolios and collaborating on what it means in our contexts. Like Trevitt et al. found, time is one of the limitations, as early career academics are very busy.
ePortfolios have many benefits for new academics. Findings from Kirby and Collins at the University of Canberra in Australia confirm this potential:
“Findings from this study included academics’ higher self efficacy and agency to their careers and their institution. Using ePortfolios as a strategic tool to manage an academic’s multi-dimensional work enables academics to understand who they are in relation to the fields in which they operate, as well as their own institutional contexts. Future work will involve other faculties as they develop their own templates to tell their own professional stories.” (Full abstract here)
My aim for the next few weeks will be as a peer facilitator, engaging with the keenest NAPPers who want to create their own ePortfolios. Putting together a nice Vula site and thinking ‘if I create it they will come’ is not the right approach. I will need to work on my social relationships with individuals and perhaps later, through their examples, the rest of the group will be motivated too. Many believe it’s important to have an ePortfolio for professional development and promotion purposes in their academic careers later on, but it’s not high on the priorities list right now which I totally understand. Through talking to some of the NAPPers I realise some want an online presence that does not require constant maintenance. They want something that allows some of the affordances of an ePortfolio but less demanding in terms of time and technical skill.
My advice is that the process of developing an ePortfolio starts with being purposeful, knowing what you want to achieve in terms of purpose, audience and message. Planning your ePortfolio will help you spend less time on setting it up, etc. Updating is also a personal choice, sometimes you may want to post something once a week and other times you may be too busy and only able to do it once a month. However, it is a good idea to be able to document your development regularly as well as taking time out for some critical reflection. Write that reportback on a conference, document your experiences of trying out a new technology in your classroom, ideas you had for your teaching following conversations with colleagues, etc. Like NAPP, there’s no napping and you’ve got to be awake, thinking about how you can turn your activities into different kinds of evidence. This is a skill on it’s own, knowing what to collect and showcase is as important as developing a navigable ePortfolio. It’s also important to model creation in an online space for students. Graduate attributes include helping students to become digital citizens who are able to create content in a critical way, not just consume it. When we are active and motivated, our students pick up on this behaviour and we inspire them. Let’s lead by example – create an ePortfolio and share your professional story with the world:)