While the paperwork is yet to be complete, the last assignment was passed this past weekend. I’m, for all intents and purposes, done my MLIS! It feels great, and a little sad, to have finished this significant step in my life of learning. I won’t miss assignment deadlines and, albeit the occasional, hoop jumping, but I will miss the constant challenge to my thinking and assignment deadlines to motivate me to get things done. I will also miss seeing the education equation through the eyes of a student.
The last stage of my Masters was an ePortfolio document that had us aligning our coursework and work experience with 15 competency statements in order to provide evidence of our mastery and learning. I’d heard all sorts of horror stories, mostly from the student backchat channels but some from faculty and I was more than a bit apprehensive heading in to the process. I have to say though, at the end of it all, the ePortfolio wasn’t a bad way of wrapping up the Masters. Yes, I did freak out on a couple of occasions. I did put off one competency until the very end simply because I was convinced that I didn’t have the evidence to support it. But I also spent a lot of time thinking about what I’d learned over three years and making connections between ideas that were simply too far apart for me to see while in the heat of the battle.
I am thinking that all learning experiences need to have, what David Loertscher would call a Big Think. And this would not simply be at the end of a lesson or unit, but what if we had a Big Think reflection piece at the end of each course, or each grade pulling together ideas across courses? Perhaps a Grade 12 graduation Big Think pulling together ideas built over the High School grades? What connections would learners make when connecting what they’d learned in Social Studies with what they’d learned in Science? How would they answer the questions of “So What?” and “What Next?” when thinking across disciplines and across complete years or multiple years? I suspect that they would uncover concepts that were hidden to them. I suspect that they would learn important things about themselves.
The portfolio process needs to begin very early in a student’s career. In the SJSU MLIS programme, we were told on day one that we needed to collect everything for evidence for the ePortfolio. Of course, that project was so far down the road that that statement was meaningless. Besides, I was convinced at the time that I was going to do a “real” Masters and write a Thesis. I did collect everything “just in case,” but I didn’t know if or how I would need it. I put off actually thinking about it until very late in the programme. There needs to be some mileposts along the way in a portfolio process. Perhaps mid-point reflections that draw on these archived items. Besides providing motivation to actually build the portfolio, the process would allow students to make connections early and be able to act on their self-learning and act on the answers to “So What?” and “What Next?” Let’s face it, graduation is a pretty final feeling and “What Next?” is a pretty daunting question when you are heading out the door to University for the first time!
I’ve heard talk of Portfolios in educational circles for some time, but didn’t truly get it until I’d done one of my own. I think that they are powerful tools as long as they aren’t simply a container that items are thrown in to be forgotten about. If there is some process that accompanies the portfolio that encourages (mandates?) reflection and the pulling together of ideas, then they can be very powerful learning tools. I would love to see what schools could do with this time of connection and meaning making, especially now that technology makes the archiving process and the remixing process so much easier.