In the earlier posts in our Pedagogy Before Portfolios series, Part One and Part Two, we read how Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) Access Programs have embraced folio thinking in a planned and intentional manner and in doing so aim to move beyond outdated functional-skills-practice programing for students with learning challenges.
By Christina Cederlof, associate teaching professor and education and skills training coordinator, Thompson Rivers University
In the Education and Skills Training Career Exploration program at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), one similar to KPU’s Access Programs, we have made a similar shift but in a slightly different way. In our program the move to provide innovative online learning was without a doubt the result of the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, the Education and Skills Training program had a longstanding practice of building professional portfolios with, essentially, paper in binders. The thinking behind how to effectively use professional portfolios to capture and showcase learning was already embedded in the use of these portfolios. The dramatic shift to online in 2020–2021 forced the need to change the means we use to create portfolios. And this meant learning and improving technology skills, in some cases just ahead of or in step with students. This is where members of the Learning Technology and Innovations team, as well as a coordinator in learning and faculty development at the Centre for Learning and Teaching, were essential to help facilitate the growth needed.
TRU’s Centre for Excellence Learning and Teaching provided a just-in-time Facilitating Learning in Moodle (FLIM 1000) course to all TRU faculty who needed to rethink their delivery with the shift to online.
Using backward design and a community of inquiry framework, I wanted the Facilitating Learning in Moodle course to model for faculty a learning experience they could create for students in a short period of time without previous training in online learning, and I wanted to provide them with the opportunity to see and experience what their students might see and experience. Christina took full advantage of this by working through the four-week course twice and building her course activities around the community of inquiry framework.— Carolyn Ives, coordinator, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, TRU
In addition, Brenna Clarke Gray, coordinator, Educational Technologies for Learning Technology and Innovations, offered a digital teaching summer camp, and former education technologies coordinator Matthew Stranach offered the opportunity to meet one-to-one to support the shift to online and later have regular workshops with the Education and Skills Training Career Exploration students.
We spent the summer months of 2020 thinking through how to use the technology effectively, what scaffolding would be necessary, and what online resources might be assets to the curriculum.
Paramount was student privacy, students learning how to learn online, and being safe online, which led to a provincial collaboration, as described in A Digital Citizenship Collaboration – Inclusion in Action!
Fast-forward to the 2021–2022 academic year, and Educations and Skills Training Career Exploration students have been building e-portfolios for two years. We continue to embed the learners’ development in e-portfolios using TRU’s TRUbox sites (WordPress) and to receive ongoing support from the Learning Technology and Innovation team.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with Christina and the Education and Skills Training students since fall 2020. WordPress Wednesdays were very much a highlight of my weeks. I’ve been deeply impressed with students’ interest and collective tech savvy as shown in their projects. I am grateful to have been able to help them realize success in their program with this work.— Matthew Stranach, former TRU education technologies coordinator
We now offer an Education and Skills Training WordPress e-portfolio template and videotaped recordings of the how-to steps, which, once you know how to do them, aren’t very difficult. Ah, but let’s not get too confident, here. Error messages pop up, or documents come in sideways, and we’re back to calling a Learning Technology and Innovations team member for help! They are really our unsung heroes here at TRU. We are so fortunate they are always willing to jump in to give us a hand and nudge our tech skills forward.
This period has been so difficult for so many people, but at Learning Technology and Innovations we’ve been offered a unique opportunity to share the possibilities of participatory technologies with our community. There was suddenly an urgency to learn and adapt for both faculty and students, and it has really been a privilege to be part of this journey for so many folks. This has been particularly powerful in student populations who for many reasons have not been seen as needing or able to develop these skills.— Brenna Clarke Gray, coordinator, Educational Technologies
This experience of learning alongside my learners has made me think: Why haven’t we been affording these learners this degree of discovery before? Perhaps because discovery as a learning/teaching methodology is often left out when providing training for a particular job. This is a short-sighted approach. In a world where information is so accessible yet needs to be filtered in a thoughtful manner, we need to be showing/learning how to learn, not telling students what they need to know. This is, in the truest sense, lifelong learning.
Typically, discovery-based learning has been reserved for students perceived as needing “enrichment,” whereas students with exceptionalities are often offered only direct instruction. Christina has really turned a lot of assumptions on their head with this work. It’s been a joy to see that unfold— Brenna Carke Gray, coordinator, Educational Technologies
Another way this is happening in Education and Skill Training Career Exploration is a weekly class with university librarian Melissa Svendsen. This is not so unusual, you might think, except the Career Exploration program is offered in Kamloops, and Melissa works at the Williams Lake campus (with almost 300 kilometres in between). The Career Exploration class and I meet with Melissa over video conference to explore information readily available — mostly web searches. Through our searches we discuss what credible sources are and the underlying agenda of the people or organizations that made the information available.
Information literacy is fundamentally about assessing sources critically, and that’s what I focus on with this class. What’s the agenda? Who is publishing this information and why?— Melissa Svendsen, TRU librarian, Williams Lake campus
We absolutely go in with a plan and objective, but I am most often amazed by the twists and turns and how personalized the instruction is to the students and their interests, leading me to agree with Noam Chomsky: “It doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what you discover.”
With 2021–2022’s return to face-to-face delivery while still embracing the strengths of online learning, Education and Skills Training Career Exploration students are now successfully achieving certificates from packaged programming often used by employers to ensure their employees have WHMIS 2015 training, workplace violence and harassment awareness, and customer service. The students’ comfort and confidence grow daily as they navigate in different learning management systems, troubleshoot, and ask for help when needed.
The result is that students’ e-portfolios capture their online certificates and the presentations they created to capture their learning. Through this process of digital learning, they have become more confident learners and more ready to enter a workforce filled with the need to access information, use it, and adjust to technological change.
Although we went about career exploration in a different way at TRU, I fully agree with KPU’s takeaways, and I’d like to add a few more:
- Find out what participatory learning technology your institution supports.
- Who has expertise around that technology or resource at your institution?
- What other experts or supports can bring into your classroom?
- Of course, keep your students’ safety top of mind. No compromises.
- While keeping your learning objectives in focus, leave room for exploration and discovery. This will make the learning for even more personal, targeted, and engaging.
Finally, consider what Albert Einstein said of teaching: “Most teachers waste their time by asking questions which are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning has for its purpose to discover what the pupil knows or is capable of knowing.”
© 2022 Christina Cederlof