A Rambling Post about Birthdays, Thursdays, and Music

I can smell this picture. It smells good. (Some rights reserved by ~K~ on Flickr)

Yesterday’s Daily Create:

Using your voice as the only instrument, create a recording of a verse and/or chorus from your favorite song.

At some point yesterday afternoon, Tim bowed out for a few minutes and came back and shared his version of this assignment. (Go listen to that NOW!) I thought that was the coolest thing ever, so at the end of the day I asked him to show me how he’d done it. I knew I wanted to give it a go. Continue reading A Rambling Post about Birthdays, Thursdays, and Music


For some reason I thought I should find an image called "Robot Love" to illustrate this post. Here it is. (Some rights reserved by Aaron Webb on Flickr)

The topic this week in di202 (ably led by Lindsay) was about deception online, particularly with how it relates to digital identity and the formation of relationships online.

Here’s what I find fascinating about this topic: I have a sense that our formation of relationships online is fundamentally different than our formation of relationships IRL because of the vast differences between those two contexts. Okay, after re-reading that, I realize it doesn’t sound like a very bold statement. Let’s see if I can dig deeper. . . Continue reading Sprung

Don’t Mind Me. I’m Just Picking a Conference Theme.

It’s that time of year again. We’re gearing up for Faculty Academy 2012. This year we’re ahead on getting some stuff done (speakers lined up, some logistics planned), and behind on picking a conference theme. Mostly, the theme is just important so that we (and this year that means Tim!) can design publicity. We brainstormed for a bit in the office today, and came up with a list. Now we want your opinion. Continue reading Don’t Mind Me. I’m Just Picking a Conference Theme.


I’m spending this weekend all alone, and taking advantage of the peace and quiet to explore some new assignments.

Here’s my fantasy TED talk:

I can’t explain it, but I went through a period in my mid-20’s when I was totally addicted to the Teletubbies. I found the show fascinating — and watching it was a way of completely zoning out. And I was always intrigued by the damn baby sun. What the hell was it?!

DI202, 6 Days and Counting

Well, it’s officially less than one week until classes start, and I’m a little further with preparing for #DI202 (That’s my chosen hashtag for AMST202: Identity and Citizenship in the Digital Age which I’ll be teaching this spring.) Here’s where things stand:

  • I’m holding firm at a whopping SIX students right now. I was up to ten last week which I was pretty excited about, but a with the semester starting up I guess there’s a lot of schedule juggling going on. Maybe I’ll gain a few more before next Tuesday. Hopefully, I won’t lose anymore!
  • I’ve decided to scale back the number of topics for the class. More on this below. Continue reading DI202, 6 Days and Counting

Welcoming 2012, in which I stress out a little and beg for help (a lot)

by LukasO on Flickr.

In typical Martha-fashion, a new semester is about to start and I feel only about 20% prepared. Not only do I have a number of large DTLT projects underway (including the ePortfolio and online learning initiative — both of which I need to write updates about), I’m embarking on teaching a new course in the American studies program at UMW this spring. The class is a sophomore seminar on “Identity and Citizenship in the Digital Age.” I am equally parts excited and terrified. I’m neither a sociologist nor a psychologist nor a political scientist, so I’ve been struggling with the best way to approach the topics of “identity” and “citizenship” while staying honest. In the end, I’ll approach it like I do most everything in my life: like a hack. 🙂 Continue reading Welcoming 2012, in which I stress out a little and beg for help (a lot)

The ePortfolio Jungle

Tangled Up

For the last six months or so, I’ve been working with a committee here at UMW that is charged with researching ePortfolio systems. The push for this system comes on a number of fronts:

  1. An interest in a system for tracking institutional assessment learning outcomes (on program-, departmental-, and the University-level) and reporting on these otucomes.
  2. A space for meta-cognitive reflection by students on their learning, perhaps as part of a larger look at how we advise students.
  3. A desire to provide students with a “leg-up” by giving them a robust platform for showcasing their intellectual and professional work and development.
  4. A need (specifically in the College of Education) to track student outcomes BEYOND graduation. New laws are requiring us to demonstrate the effectiveness of our students as teachers after they’ve graduated (for a indeterminate amount of time)

It’s worth mentioning that another possibility with a system like this would be to have the ePortfolio become a transcendent presence throughout a student’s time at UMW — a place where they store work, track and share their learning progress, reflect upon their ideas and experiences, and, ultimately, build an online identity for themselves that represents their intellectual self. However, I believe that to do this really effectively we need some kind of programmatic commitment. The ePortfolio would have to be “baked in” to the way we teach from first year seminars to senior thesis. That kind of programming would, potentially, require a much bigger conversation about our curriculum, requirements, and teaching methodologies. I’m not sure that’s going to happen anytime soon here, so, for now, the four needs outlined above are guiding our process more specifically.

I will admit that the first goal (institutional assessment) is incredibly murky for me. I’m lucky in my position to be fairly removed from conversations about academic assessment. I say “lucky” because, frankly, whenever I am in conversations about this topic it feels like the cart is driving the horse. Rather that starting with a conversation about students and what we want them to experience and how we want them to change during their time here, we start at the top — what are our reporting needs and how to we build down from there? The entire institutional assessment process, for me, is sort of a black hole and I can never seem to have a conversation with anyone that sheds any light on it.

The second goal (a space for student reflection) is, by far, the piece of this that intrigues me most. It’s really the starting place for a conversation that could result in programmatic change, and, to me, that’s interesting.

The third goal (a professional online space for post-graduation) is sort of the practical flip side to the second. Theoretically if we do #2 right, I think #3 should happen naturally.

The fourth goal (a space for post-graduation tracking) is the newest for me, and pretty interesting. I didn’t know until a few weeks ago that the College of Education had this requirement. I’m not entirely sure how they’re supposed to realistically achieve it, and I worry if we can build or buy a system that can really answer this need.

Complicating the landscape for this project is our current existing systems which, in some cases, are already meeting some of these needs:

  • UMW Blogs, our open source WordPress-based publishing platform, allows any student to create a site, upload content, and, generally, do whatever they want. Students have already started to use it as place to host online portfolios on their own, and some faculty have had students doing ePortfolio-like things in this space.
  • Canvas, our new CMS (which also went open source earlier this year), is the space where students and faculty do your standard online course managementy types of activity: submitting assignments (or “artifacts as the ePortfolio crowd seems to like to say”) and grading said assignments. Canvas allows us to create institutional learning outcomes and rubrics which can be used at the course level, but it’s not clear that we can use it to actually do the kind of data gathering and assessment we need.
  • TracDat is our institutional data tool into which faculty can submit assessment data and results.

Last spring, three faculty members at UMW (Steve Greenlaw, Anand Rao, and Krystyn Moon) all piloted WordPress as a space for doing different kinds of ePortfolios. Steve used them as a space for freshman advising. Anand had his students build personal portfolios based on their work in a visual rhetoric class. Krystyn and I worked on integrating a Google spreadsheet into a WordPress template to do online assessment of student work.

The projects were as much to understand the questions that we needed to answer as they were to provide the final solution.

This year, we’re hoping to pilot a few systems (both open source and commercial) to see if we can find one that meets our needs (or most of them?). However, we’re running into some challenges:

  • Among the systems that are out there, many seems to do one piece of what we’re trying to do well. On the other requirements, they either don’t do it as well or don’t do it at all.
  • Many of the systems seem to duplicate the functionality we already have in existing platforms.
  • It’s difficult to imagine how yet another system would fit into this landscape. If faculty and students are already happy using UMW Blogs and Canvas to teach and learn, why are we going to thrust yet another system on them (that duplicates some of what UMW Blogs and Canvas already do)? I can imagine many of them just balking at the notion and not using the new system at all.

We’re beginning to wonder if there is another way forward. Is it worth trying to develop something on top of what we already have? Or, is it possible to build something on top of a new system we buy that would gracefully integrate them into what we already have?

I’m interested in talking to people at other institutions about this project. In my mind, we’re not the only ones facing these questions or looking for these solutions. We should be working together to share information about what systems work well (and work well together) and/or what we could build together.

I’d love to hear from people about their ideas. Specifically, here are a few questions I have:

  • Do the four goals I outlined above align with any of your institution’s goals? What have I left off that is driving your own interest or research?
  • Do you think it’s even possible for one system to meet all of these goals?
  • If you’re already implementing a system for ePortfolios how are you handling integration with your existing systems (on both a technical and cultural level)?
  • Would you be interested in talking with a group of others about collaborating on this research (and potentially, development)?
  • What have I not mentioned here that I should be thinking about?

tales of swimming upstream