Monday, March 8, 2010

5.3.3: Teaching ePortfolios and emotion

Article: FitzPatrick, M.A., & Spiller, D. (2010). The teaching portfolio: Institutional imperative or teacher's personal journey? Higher Education Research & Development 29(2), 167-178.

FitzPatrick & Spiller (2010) interviewed faculty who completed a teaching ePortfolio as part of a PG Cert in Tertiary Teaching at a New Zealand university (Waikato - my BMS alma mater!) What prompted their investigation was the discovery that preparing the ePortfolio was a highly charged emotional experience for some of their students.

The ePortfolio task required participants to prepare
a single document in which they were asked to present both summative information about their teaching achievements and reflections on their experiences and development as teachers. After they had finished their teaching portfolios, these participants wrote personal narratives about their experiences of compiling a teaching portfolio (2010, p.172).
The difficulties had by participants were twofold:
  1. Reflecting on one's abilities and experiences as a teacher is inevitably an emotional process, and
  2. The ePortfolio task was designed to result in both an outcome suitable as a professional folio and a space for personal reflection.
While most participants reported satisfaction at having completed the ePortfolio task (my favourite participant quote - "My portfolio somehow defused my worst mistakes - they lost their sting and instead became merely parts of a bigger picture", p.176) there was some confusion over who its audience was. Preparing a professional CV-type portfolio is a very different task to keeping a reflective journal. As a result of this feedback, the ePortfolio task has been adapted.

The two difficulties participants had are probably not surprising. I recently finished King's The handbook of the evolving research of transformative learning based on the Learning Activities Survey and was surprised to find in it a model relating to professional development for online learning. 'Fear and uncertainty' for staff is the first step in King's transformative model. If the professional development relates to one's identity as a teacher, an emotional response is to be expected (and FitzPatrick & Spiller draw on some very interesting literature in their discusion relating to this). The second difficulty, that of intended audience and scope of the ePortfolio, is worth storing away as an important lesson. While some ePortfolio applications permit multiple views that mean different views can be created for different audiences (yes, Mahara is one of them...), others permit only a single presentation of information. In the latter case, the end audience is a vital determinant of what is appropriate... your intimate reflections on the lessons you learned from your most recent teaching disaster may not impress a potential employer as much as the half-million dollar research grant you were awarded. Both are important to an educating professional of course, but one is more private. To close with the words of FitzPatrick & Spiller (2010, p.177):
While the emotions aroused in the compilation of the teaching portfolio were mixed, there were some recurrent themes. These related themes can be broadly categorised as uncertainty generated by the multiple purposes of the portfolio task and emotional destabilisation experienced in the process of taking stock of oneself as a teacher. Generally, the period of emotion accompanying 'strong commotion of mind' (Geisel & Meijers, 2005, p. 425) culminated in a sense of reaffirmation of the self as teacher. Some of the participants' ways of managing the stock-taking process, such as using metaphor, can be seen as strategies of self-protection in the light of the fact that the portfolio could also be a public record of achievement. As Kelchtermans (2005) argues, the presence of intense emotions signals that something of vital importance is at stake; in this instance it appears to be about traversing the jagged and uneven terrain of the path towards self-knowledge and growth as a teacher. We argue that this journey should be allowed to be a private one undertaken only with the support of invited companions and a trusted guide. It is not a story that should be recounted for official scrutiny.

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