"[Chaos theory] says that complex and chaotic systems—which means most of the systems we encounter in nature and society—cannot be accurately predicted or exclusively controlled. Neither can the rigid systems be easily budged. However, there’s a loophole. What if we acted through the myriad tiny feedback loops that hold a society together? Chaos tells us that each of us has an unrecognized but enormous influence on these loops. Chaos suggests that although we may not have the power of the controller in the traditional sense, we all possess the 'butterfly power' of subtle influence" (John Briggs and F. David Peat in Seven Life Lessons of Chaos, Harper Collins, 1999).
Becoming a member of the Integrative Knowledge Collaborative this past fall, and meeting together in San Francisco at the AAC&U Annual Conference and ePortfolio forum, reminds me of the “butterfly power” so eloquently described in this statement about chaos theory. It gives me pause to reflect on our own personal powers to affect change.
Electronic portfolios have been around for a long time. I started building my own tool in the early 90s when I had a project-based learning communications studio class at Simmons College called “Studio 5.” I started Studio 5 so undergraduate communications majors could get some real world experience while still in school. At the time, it was a radical idea barely accepted by my colleagues, mostly because they thought it could not work. Students as learners, in their view at the time, could not work at that professional level. Now it has become a stellar curricular feature of the Department of Communications at Simmons, and a model for how professional practice is fostered in undergraduates. I built my first electronic folios with students back then which required extensive reflection on their work—process, production and teamwork—in order to get academic credit. It was the culminating experience of applying theory to practice to solve a communications problem, and it was the beginnings of my engagement with authentic assessment tools for teaching and learning. And the students did do professional-level, award-winning work.
Later, in San Jose, California, I set up another portfolio process with students in the Journalism program at San Jose City College. The artifacts demonstrated their growth over time in the Journalism program and served to document their learning to enable self-reflection as well as assessment by prospective internship sponsors, admissions counselors for future study and journalism contest judges.
The tools I used lacked the sophistication of what the ePortfolio vendors of today offer. There were no built in rubrics, standards or design interfaces. There were no chat features or direct feedback response interfaces for students. That had to be done by e-mail or in person. It was folders on a volume on a server that I built myself with my tech guy and web sites which were daunting for students to build. Today’s tools make it so much easier.
So why has it taken so long for ePortfolio to gain traction? There is certainly resistance to technology solutions by many higher education faculty, but we all know it goes beyond that. ePortfolios require us to change the way we teach. So exploring them requires an inclination toward change, the ability to find loopholes in rigid systemic and institutional structures, and the belief that one’s actions can make a difference. It is a belief in the “butterfly power” of the collective as espoused in chaos theory, and what Melissa Peet called in her keynote on Jan. 29—“holarchical power.” This is what has been so amazing about the faculty learning communities at Mercy College. That small group of committed faculty and staff reached a “tipping point” of belief in “holarchical” power creating a vision statement and strategic goals that they have shared across a larger learning community that grows in numbers daily. People who are willing to take a look at this idea and open themselves up to reflective practice and transformation.
An inclusive community of student, faculty and staff who engage in practice and dialogue around transformative learning, teaching and assessment.
(Vision Statement adopted by the MePort Faculty Learning Community, August 2010).
- Continue and grow MePort's vibrant faculty learning community.
- Continue and expand external outreach and recognition in the higher education community for innovative implementation, staying at the epicenter of national and international ePortfolio community.
- Engage students in transformative, intrinsically-motivated learning.
- Launch the collection of evidence of transformative teaching, learning and assessment practice with qualitative data drawn from participant reflection and outcomes
- Continue to manage logistics with a productive and coherent team of staff and faculty to provide strategic direction and support the implementation of MePort.
The faculty learning communities at Mercy are not governance-ordained infrastructures. They are faculty initiatives that foster their community of reflective practice and action as change agents. They are the faculty link to the external scholarship community, giving them an access for which they have not always had a pathway.
In my reflection statement here, I would like to share some of the faculty-written reflections of the Mercy College MePort community as their voices speak volumes and I want to include a few of the Mercy faculty written reflections in our collaborative’s portfolio as they are responsible for their remarkable work:
“I came & asked and ...the community responded and nurtured.
Simple words but an on-going experience of great personal depth.”
“Brainstorming with colleagues from different schools and programs always sparks creativity in me. You'll see how far I've come. Thank you all for being the catalyst for me.”
“. . .today (was) a gathering of people who wanted to be together. (My faculty colleague) said that we turned her life around. She explained that she found everything so cold and would come and teach and then go home. Now she wants to be at Mercy within these communities we have created, with people who talk to & with her :)”
“I entered into this with skepticism. Weren’t faculty learning communities really just a means of getting faculty to commit to training in areas that the Administration was interested in supporting?
… As it turns out, I was wrong, and my skepticism has turned into enthusiasm for a process that is, indeed, faculty-driven and administratively supported.”
“Learning communities foster camaraderie and intellectual interaction among participants.
They promote learning of faculty and enhance learning of students, both essential for the global educational environment of today.”
“I didn't know what to expect when I joined the faculty learning community, but I was quickly drawn into the spirited and challenging discussions that are always in store on meeting nights and now look forward to every gathering. Everyone is involved and supportive and has a similar goal: to do the best possible job to promote student learning and student success. It's a pleasure to be a part of this.”
“The FLC has influenced how I conduct my courses, and what type of teacher I would like to be. The seminars, guest speakers, and the faculty interaction have sent me on my way to becoming a better teacher. I suggest all faculty and administrators who are committed to continuous learning participate in a learning community. Wow, what a difference a year has made!"
“I have worked for Mercy College for approximately 25 years and this is the first opportunity that I know of where the faculty have had such easy access to form collegial networks.”
“(At first), I was a bit confused because there was really no 'formal agenda' and things seemed quite haphazard. This forced us to create our own agenda and to structure each meeting according to our own needs as they developed. This was the development of a truly collegial network and was a breath of fresh air compared to 'administrative' and formal department meetings."
“I found my individuality in the collaboration of the faculty learning community."
“Last summer we were single pieces. Now we are a completed jigsaw whose pieces fit perfectly: the camaraderie, the collaborative spirit, the continued dedication—has been an extremely rewarding experience.”