Instructors gear up for launch of the Learning Portfolio

Boot camp participants (from left) Kate Whalen, Sally McKay and Judy Major-Girardin listen to a presentation on ways for instructors to incorporate the Learning Portfolio into their courses.

Boot camp participants (from left) Kate Whalen, Sally McKay and Judy Major-Girardin listen to a presentation on ways for instructors to incorporate the Learning Portfolio into their courses.

McMaster is one step closer to launching the Learning Portfolio, a major university-wide initiative aimed at redefining the student experience.

About 30 instructors from across campus attended the Learning Portfolio Boot Camp, a day of training meant to help instructors learn to use the Learning Portfolio and explore ways to incorporate the portfolio into their courses starting this fall.

Accessible through Avenue to Learn, the Learning Portfolio is an online platform that allows students to plan, record and reflect on a range of educational experiences both inside and outside the classroom.

The Learning Portfolio was among the top recommendations to emerge from the Student Experience Task Force and is a key priority of Forward with Integrity.

“The portfolio is intended to encourage learning in the broadest sense. It recognizes the value of co-curricular experiences and emphasizes reflection as a means of fostering deep and active student learning,” says Laura Harrington, project director for Forward with Integrity and co-organizer of the boot camp. “When used as part of a course, the Learning Portfolio has the potential to be a powerful platform for instructors to engage students and encourage them to actively seek out experiential opportunities that will enhance their learning in-class and beyond.”

Enhancing Student Learning

Instructors who attended the boot camp will be among the first at McMaster to incorporate the Learning Portfolio into their courses.

Philippa Carter, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies says, “One of the things the McMaster Learning Portfolio is going to focus on is helping students to develop their own leaning goals. That’s what we’ll be working on in the course that I’ll be running.  Students will develop individual learning goals and work towards achieving them, or modifying them. It will be holistic in that it will incorporate their academic learning, but also other interests that they have outside of the classroom, even outside of the university.”

Catherine Graham, an associate professor in the School of the Arts, says she plans to use the Learning Portfolio to promote cross-disciplinary learning.

“The course I’m teaching this year will have theater and film studies students working with students from different faculties across campus.  I would like to have the students in other disciplines write reflections on the story gathering process they’ve gone through and the Learning Portfolio will allow that to happen.”

Learning to use the Portfolio

Katherine Lithgow from the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence and Tracy Penny Light, Director of Women's Studies at the University of Waterloo, spoke at the boot camp about their experiences using eportfolios and outlined best practices for integrating the Learning Portfolio into courses at McMaster.

The boot camp also included a hands-on technical workshop on the use of the Learning Portfolio. Jon Kruithof from the newly minted McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning (formerly the Centre for Leadership in Learning) ran the session and has compiled a number of resources for faculty interested in using the Learning Portfolio.

“It’s very important to us that instructors feel comfortable using this technology and are familiar with what it can do,” says Kruithof. “The Learning Portfolio is a very flexible tool, we want instructors to have a sense of the possibilities this platform presents. We’re more than happy to provide technical training, to lead workshops, or to sit down one-on-one with individual instructors to talk through the many ways the Learning Portfolio can be used to enhance student learning.”

The Learning Portfolio will be introduced in 20 courses this academic year. About 5000 students will create portfolios as part of their course work.