QEP Action Project Final Report
Project Title: “Communication ePortfolio: An Online Writing Portfolio Initiative to Enhance Disciplinary Student Writing”
Lead Faculty: Gary A. Beck, PhD
Asst. Professor of Communication
Department of Communication & Theatre Arts
Partner Faculty: Alison Lietzenmayer, MA
Department of Communication & Theatre Arts
Carla Harrell, MA
Department of Communication & Theatre Arts
Shyla Lefever, PhD
Adjunct Instructional Faculty
Department of Communication & Theatre Arts
Completed: July 12, 2016
To read more about QEP Action Projects at Old Dominion University, please see: Quality Enhancement Plan: Improving Disciplinary Writing
This report is meant to summarize the activities related to the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Action Grant, “Communication ePortfolio: An Online Writing Portfolio Initiative to Enhance Disciplinary Student Writing.” This project took place over the academic year 2015-2016.
This QEP Action Grant proposed to improve communication students writing by: 1) Emphasizing the creation of an online ePortfolio by upper-division undergraduate students starting their junior year; 2) Aligning writing assignments across courses towards Problem-solving strategies and analytical writing standards in the process; 3) Providing additional training and collaborative opportunities to additional communication faculty to implement suitable writing assignments in their classes.
Overall this grant was a successful experience for the whole of the department: Partner faculty, faculty with burgeoning interest, and most importantly the students involved. We were able to meet our goals for course implementation, develop associated instructional materials, and collect student artifacts that represent the variety of submissions we’ve received. The impact of project has been a hallmark of its success, reaching over 750 students in the 2015-2016 academic year.
To summarize this grant, the following report is organized into four subsections: Proposed Goals & Deliverables, Project summary, Aligning action project with IDW SLOs, and Final reflection & lessons.
Proposed Goals & Deliverables:
Communication students are increasingly sought after for employment in STEM businesses and careers after graduation, necessitating advanced writing and presentation skills. Central to preparation for these occupations is aligning analytical and critical thinking skills to explore contemporary and research-intensive real world problems. To this point, a recent job reports article in the magazine of the National Communication Association highlighted the importance of a “career ready candidate,” evidenced by skills that “enable workers to use their knowledge effectively in the workplace.” (spectra, May 2016, 26) Students need evidence of such skills including abilities to plan, organize and prioritize work, obtain and process information, and analyze quantitative data.
Enhancing writing opportunities in communication courses provide a viable means to address this need. In particular, student and professional use of ePortfolios serve as content-management systems of their writing and multimedia projects (Fitch, Peet, Reed, & Tolman, 2013). Given that communication students are expected to have these hard and soft skill competences in order to fulfill modern professional expectations, developing an organized way to convey writing and general communication abilities is an important part of staying competitive (Ward & Moser, 2008). Collections of writing samples and creative works can serve as “assets” to students as they transition from academic to occupational settings, generating student-centered reflection and learning practices, becoming additional boons to student confidence, sense of professional purpose, and satisfaction with their educational experiences and training (Chau & Chang, 2010; Young, 2002). By showcasing work in an ePortfolio, ODU communication students can not only set themselves apart from communication students at peer institutions, also exhibit writing assignments in line with modern professional standards for critical thinking and analytical application.
More specifically, our primary goal in the grant proposal was to propose an ePortfolio initiative that would provide a structure through which communication courses would adopt a five part process that could be modified to fit most classes. These five parts included: Part 1 – Create/Curate, Part 2 – Problem Posing, Part 3 – Problem Solving, Part 4 – Peer Persuasion, and Part 5 – Reflection. This structure would enable engaging students in an active process of writing for multiple audiences and in different genres, consistent with the six student learning objectives provided in the QEP SLO rubric.
Associated with the above goals, the proposal identified deliverables. These materials detailed in the original proposal called for the following upon completion of the grant period:
8 ePortfolio Project Structure Templates, 1 for each of the 5 main Communication Major Concentrations, as well as Theatre, Dance, & Film Studies (Rationale, SLO-inspired objectives, Sample course outline with the ePortfolio as a part)
50 Additional Sample Suggested ePortfolio Writing Assignments (resources to aid faculty adoption of ePortfolio writing exercises; can include informal writing as well)
20 Sample Student ePortfolios (Completed, Representing a variety of communication career interests, with writing assignments and teaching notes for samples to future faculty evaluations
Student Assignment Sample Bank: Assignment Descriptions, QEP/SLO inspired rubrics, and Example Student Submissions for the 5 Aspects of Problem Solving ePortfolio format (Create/Curate, Problem Solving, Problem Posing, Public Presentation, and Reflection).
Faculty Support Materials Bank (Introducing the ePortfolio to students, audio files, .pdf and screen-captured tutorials)
Recruitment Agenda and Program Plan (Implementation plan for integrating up to three new faculty per year, with courses that add value and variety to the ePortfolio program and writing opportunities)
These can be found in the links below, which doubles as a resource repository for future departmental ePortfolio related activities and recruitment. Clarification about these deliverables, with specific examples can be found in the following subsections.
Consistent with the Action Project proposal itinerary, the lead and partner faculty met during the summer to coordinate Fall 2015 coursework, expectations, and develop personal ePortfolio pages. Partner faculty were instructed to add the lead faculty and lead partner faculty to their courses as “informal TAs” to help transfer existing ePortfolio guides and tutorials.
Seven courses were involved in grant during the Fall 2015 semester, involving four faculty members in the Communication and Theatre Arts department. Throughout the Fall 2015 semester, involved faculty met twice via Adobe Connect to discuss progress and challenges. In particular students having excessive difficulty or complicated questions were directed to the lead or lead partner faculty. This included a few persistent questions about developing multiple ePortfolios across courses, privacy concerns, and a minimal amount of students with lingering disinterest in the ePortfolio process. This considered, the overwhelming response was positive, creative and relatively trouble-free.
Given that the faculty gained experience from the fall, the following semester was relatively event free. Seven courses were involved in grant during the Spring 2016 semester, again involving the same four faculty members in the Communication and Theatre Arts department. Faculty members, feeling more confident about the functionality of the Wix.com, felt more autonomous in addressing student concerns. The two meetings held this semester were mainly used to remind faculty of what would be due for the final QEP report.
Across both semesters, students were provided information regarding writing assignments, rubrics, and ePortfolio instructions through Blackboard, the online PLE, and email notifications. Due to the forethought and planning in the summer, most of the assignment materials were provided to students upfront or well in advance of assignment due dates. Almost all faculty members asked students to complete the initial ePortfolio set up (“create”) or update (for those with an already developed ePortfolio, “curate”) during the first few weeks of the semester.
Students also worked with each other in their writing assignments via the ePortfolios. This was achieved through peer editing processes, peer ePortfolio critiques, and writing responses. One faculty member created a space in their Blackboard discussion board to peer critique two classmates’ ePortfolios, assuming the role of potential employers. By asking students to step outside of a “student” or “class work” frame, this role-play exercise allowed them to provide each other with more professional and forward thinking feedback. The writing produced in this exercise also took on a more serious tone as a result. The student then receiving the critique often responded in the discussion board to the feedback, adding to the collaborative environment in a often criticized disconnected online class experience.
In a related effort additionally funded by Chair Stephen Pullen, Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, the lead partner faculty member, Prof. Alison Lietzenmayer hosted a training session for communication faculty in late March 2016. The other grant faculty members assisted throughout the day. The goal was to reach out to interested or “essential” communication faculty to introduce them to ePortfolios, our successes with the Pilot and the QEP, as well as provide an opportunity for a guided “build your own ePortfolio” computer lab session. Ten Communication faculty members, Provost Fellow Dr. Fred Dobbs, and guest speaker Dr. Scott Sechrist attended the event. All feedback was positive, with many faculty members actively seeking out more information about adding ePortfolio components their courses.
Aligning Action Project with IDW Student Learning Outcomes:
In each course included in this QEP Action Grant, professors met during the summer of 2016 to align course goals, objectives and assignments to the IDW Student Learning Outcomes. Some classes naturally featured the six IDW SLOs in their design while others needed to shift course objectives or emphasize one or more in course planning.
The ePortfolio emphasis of this Action Grant created a structure through which the IDW SLOs could be curated, revised, and then showcased for ongoing professionalism. All professors built in grade incentives into their courses to encourage students to upload writing assignments to their ePortfolios (either in the form of deductions, as a requirement for receiving a grade on the writing assignment, or as an easy bonus.
For easy summary, each individual course has an associated QEP IDW rubric shared below that clarifies how each of the six aspects were attended to in the course design.
Sample Project Writing Assignments/Materials Used and Developed:
As listed above, part of the individual assignment for all partner faculty and the lead grant coordinator were the development of materials to support the goals of the grant.
By scrolling to the bottom of the page, there will be multiple examples of writing assignment descriptions, rubrics, and completed assignments. In particular, and consistent with the primary focus of the grant, there are numerous examples of ePortfolios developed by the students to showcase their writing experiences, in the form of formal and informal writing assignments, videos, and blogs posts.
Action Project Data Assessment and Findings
The action project data comes primarily in the form of the programmatic impact, pedagogical artifacts, student artifacts, and conclusions based on all of the above.
For the Fall 2015-2016 period seven different courses taught by four instructional faculty members were modified according to IDW standards with attention to an ePortfolio emphasis. This impact reached over 750 students, primarily communication and theatre arts majors in their junior and senior years.
The following can be found linked below in the QEP ePortfolio:
Curriculum Matrixes, representing transformed classes to IDW standards
Sample ePortfolio Assignments
Learning Objectives for a potential 11 courses implementing ePortfolios
Transformed Syllabi as a result of the QEP Action Grant
Links to Student ePortfolio Artifacts produced form course work
Extensive feedback about course learning objectives can be seen in the QEP ePortfolio section. Students overwhelmingly responded with positivity regarding the ease of the selected ePortfolio platform, Wix.com. Additionally the majority articulated clear plans in their reflections to use their ePortfolio in the future to continue to develop and curate writing throughout their education and early career.
Lastly, the ePortfolio contains a “Recruitment Plan” for reaching out to additional faculty and course offerings, with the intention of ramping this up to the majority of required core courses and common offerings across all concentrations with the major in the next 3-4 years. Our conviction to do so is bolstered by not only this action grant but the continued encouragement and financial support of our department chair.
Overall, in comparison with the goals and deliverables established in the proposal, this project was an unmitigated success. Attention to formal and informal writing experiences, ultimately uploaded onto each student’s ePortfolio platform fundamentally transformed the very nature of communication student writing.
This happened in two ways. First, students were asked to consider a broader audience (with greater implications) for their writing. Individual writing experiences were no longer intended for merely a professor’s evaluation, but instead a much larger and professionally oriented audience (e.g., internships, interviewers, establishing professional identity). As a result, more than one partner faculty noted that projects tended to reflect topics with relevance to emerging career interests, and were of higher quality than past semesters (i.e., “more people will see this, therefore maybe I should care more”).
Second, students were asked to engage in process of reflection, in two distinct ways. First, feedback from professors on writing assignments contributed to edits, comments, and suggestions that could be incorporated into final ePortfolio versions. Some professors made this process a part of the grade, while others implied it and relied on students to do this on their own. Finally, the fifth part of the ePortfolio structure asked for reflective writing about the course and projecting out in their career. That type of thinking, encouraged by the writing itself, is something missing from previous course offerings. Most students seemed to treat it in a genuine manner.
In terms of an overall, programmatic grant process reflection, this experience was a largely positive one. The main contributor to this impression was well-vetted partner faculty, whom each were incredibly gracious and open-minded when it came to embracing the novel ideas associated with this project. Regular Skype meetings for check-ins and feedback helped fine-tune the challenges of scaling the ePortfolio up to a broader set of classes with different topics and objectives. The main partner faculty member, Prof. Alison Lietzenmayer deserves special mention here for her exemplary organizational sense of project management and timing, as well an engaged personality that both faculty and students responded positively to. Dr. Shyla Lefever and Professor Carla Harrell were also integral to the completion of the grant, and should both be commended for their open-minded nature, enthusiasm with Wix.com and it’s potential, and invaluable feedback along the way. Please also see the Aug 10, 2016 blog post about lessons learned and teaching notes for adopting faculty.
Finally, the communication chair, Prof. Steven Pullen has been an incredible supporter as well as part contributor to the QEP Action Grant budget. His belief in the project and the faculty involved continues to be a vital part of the ePortfolio program moving forward, towards broad implementation across the major.