Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below looks at the many uses of a course (not teaching) portfolio. It is from Chapter 1, Making Teaching and Learning Visible in the book by the same name written by Daniel Bernstein, University of Kansas amd Amy Nelson Burnett, Amy Goodburn, and Paul Savory, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Anker Publishing Company, Inc., 563 Main Street, P.O. Box 249, Bolton, MA 01740-0249 USA. [www.ankerpub.com]. Copyright ? 2006 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. ISBN 1-882982-96-7
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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The Value of Writing a Course Portfolio
For most teachers, starting to explore students' learning can be a bit daunting. You ask yourself some tough questions: Are my students truly learning what I think I am teaching them? Am I meeting my course goals? Are my course goals right for this course? Is the work that students do having my impact on their learning? Do the materials I have chosen build connections and perspective?
Where do you look for the answers to these questions? You might turn on your computer, collect all of your course notes on your desk, and grab a stack of student papers that you have just finished grading. But you would probably find yourself wondering how to get started. Even though over the years you have given much thought to your course, this is probably the first time you have ever tried to create a written document that makes visible the intellectual effort you put into designing it and measuring its impact on student learning.
You are not along. A professor of art and art history found herself in a similar predicament:
I am a new teacher and an untenured faculty member. I teach intuitively. I go by how the class feels to me, and the overall atmosphere, and the general level of student response. I have a plan for each class day and I always vary it to respond to what arises in the studio. I used to feel strongly that the methods I used in a given situation were effective, but I never articulated why. I never voluntarily used the word "pedagogy" and was quite sure I would. I was insecure about the intellectual underpinnings of my teaching and fearful I wouldn't be able to justify how I teach if necessary.
After developing a course portfolio, she wrote, "I found to my enormous relief that many of the methods I had chosen intuitively are used by other teachers and that they even have a pedagogical basis, which I am beginning to be able to articulate."
The course portfolio provides a framework within which you think about your course design, ask yourself if your classroom practices are working, and assess the level and range of student learning that goes on in your classroom. Unlike a teaching portfolio, which might summarize all of the courses that you teach, a course portfolio is focused on a single course. More importantly, a course portfolio seeks to minimize the wheelbarrow effect of simply collecting all of your homework, handouts, and examinations into one unexamined pile. Creating a portfolio for a single course can often be more valuable than a broad teaching portfolio since it is a concise and reflective document that can be shared with peers for their review of what student learning looks like in your particular course. For example, if you were to write portfolios on different courses, the insights that you gained in your analysis of each course could form the basis of the teaching statement that is the core of the more substantial teaching portfolio.
What constitutes a course portfolio is as individual as the instructor doing the teaching and the course being taught. Hutchings (1995) describes three common elements of a course portfolio: 1) explanation of the course design, 2) description of the enactment or implementation of the design, and 3) analysis of student learning resulting from the first two dimensions. Our model of a portfolio is similar and consists of the following essential parts:
* A reflective discussion of the content and goals of your course
* A description of your plans to accomplish key objectives in student learning
* Evidence, assessment, and evaluation of student achievement of these goals
* A reflective narrative on the relation among the above three elements
The raw material for the course portfolio is a set of three memos that you write about your course and that you then draw from to create a finished course portfolio that summarizes and analyzes student learning. The course portfolio emerges through the aggregation of the three memos about goals, methods, and learning. The faculty member's reflection on the relations among those elements is the connecting material that holds the portfolio together.
In this book we present models for two types of course portfolios: a benchmark course portfolio and an inquiry course portfolio. Each of these portfolio models offers a structure for exploring, reflecting on, and documenting a course. A benchmark portfolio presents a snapshot of your students' learning that occurs in one of your courses. This portfolio enables you to document your current teaching practices and to generate questions about your teaching that you would like to investigate further. An inquiry portfolio is useful for documenting improvement in teaching your course over time and for assessing the long-term impact of teaching changes, the success of teaching approaches, and the improvement in student learning. This inquiry process often moves teachers toward scholarship-of-teaching questions in their disciplines. In general, most instructors find it valuable to begin making their teaching visible through writing a benchmark portfolio. In subsequent offerings of the course, you might document the results of course changes with an inquiry portfolio.
You might be thinking, "Generate questions for further investigation? Document improvement over time? Looking at long-term impact of teaching changes? I don't want to become an educational researcher. I simply want to see if my students are learning what I think they are learning." This concern is common. But our model for course portfolios has been used by hundreds of teachers from numerous disciplines to provide a foundation on which to explore student learning. While these teachers had different teaching objectives and valued different forms of teaching, all of them found this process useful for thinking about their students' learning in a structured and systematic way. For example, a professor of English observes:
Having a structure for reflecting on my course has been very useful for me. I have found that
ordinarily after I finish a class I might have some thoughts about it-what happened and what I
could do better in presenting the materials. Ideally after every semester I'd write these down,
though in reality only occasionally have I ever taken the extra effort. The course portfolio
framework has allowed me to think more systematically about my course and the activities that
were happening in the classroom. Having to write about it and then share my writing with peers
really forced me to look very closely at the things I was doing.
According to a professor of political science,
Writing a portfolio required me to be very conscious about how I was designing a syllabus, how I was evaluating students, and how I was approaching my teaching. It serves as a foundation on which my colleagues and I often start discussions about teaching and learning.
A professor of agronomy and horticulture emphasizes the variety of ways that a portfolio can be useful:
As I was describing the purpose and activities of the portfolio development profession to a colleague, I related that the process can serve many purposes, e.g., the creation of a course portfolio, documentation of teaching activities for promotion and tenure, a troubleshooting tool to assist in retooling an older or troubled course, but to me, it principally is a vehicle for an instructor to assess whether they are really teaching what they think they are teaching. I see it as more of a process than a product.
As these three teachers suggest, the process of creating a portfolio is often as valuable-or even more valuable-than the actual "product" generated in the end. While we agree that not all teachers need to be educational researchers, we do believe that if we want our students to be engaged in their learning, we ourselves need to be systematically and continually engaged in our teaching. Writing a course portfolio will help you become a better teacher, enhancing the classroom experience for current and future student learners not only in the course you are profiling but in all your courses.