ePortfolios with WordPress

ePortfolios are a wonderful way for students to reflect on academic performance over time and summarize learning in a personalized, electronic space. Not only are ePortfolios an interesting new media with which students can demonstrate academic, technological and creative skills during their tenure in college, they may also serve as a wonderful marketing tool that may be of benefit to students upon graduation. Students entering the work force or applying to grad school will have acquired a beneficial skill that may carry over into new job responsibilities or booster creative expression in meaningful ways after their time as students. ePortfolios promote a culture of lifetime learning and help students become better problem solvers, critical thinkers who are more attuned with the meta-cognitive factors that will enable them to be lifetime learners.

Faculty may also benefit from the adoption of ePortfolios through the accessibility of data on student learning outcomes necessary for program improvement and WASC, not to mention the importance of staying current and competitive in this ever increasingly digital world that we inhabit. Digital media provide incredibly powerful tools that may be used for promoting innovation and education across the vastness of culture, socio-economic status and belief system. The manner in which these tools have become integrated into our daily life is a significant shift that we must not take for granted.  Faculty should feel comfortable with stepping in, at least momentarily to these electronic spaces that now define the world that our students will soon be asked to manage.

Not to mention the more immediate problem of filling rooms with massive paper binders that waste resources and take up large quantities of space. This current reality is no longer an inevitability as electronic portfolios offer an intelligent solution while also offering students greater creative flexibility as well as a personal learning space that they can continue to build upon as they pursue other ventures in life.

There are many programs at Saint Mary’s College that are already using ePortfolios for assessment and intellectual growth. The Art Department was naturally  the first department  to dive into ePortfolios and started with the Carnegie Foundation’s “Keep” system which has since ceased to offer services after their research on ePortfolios completed.  Next, the SMC Honors Program decided to incorporate ePortfolios with encouragement from Mary Volmer who helped pave the way in finding the best system for their program in Fall 2009. Mary and her students’ pilot tested various electronic portfolio systems during the 2009-10 academic year, and after problems with Campus Pack Fusion a wiki feature available inside Blackboard, found that WordPress was simple to learn, stable and slick. Soon after Mary’s lead, other programs also expressed interest including the Liberal and Civic Studies Program and the Ed.D Program in Educational Leadership. Last Spring, Monica Fitzgerald helped pave the way for her departments decision to move forward with ePortfolios by creating an assignment on environmental awareness using WordPress as the presentation method. You can see examples of this project here:

Sam Alberto http://sja5.wordpress.com/2010/05/02/24/
Katelyn LaRussa http://klaruss13.wordpress.com/about/
Stefanie Garcia http://smgarcia137.wordpress.com/home/

L and CS has been wanting to move toward and electronic version of their portfolios requirement and looked into a number of systems including Taskstream and but had not found a system that worked, until now!  Thank you Monica Fitzgerald and Mary Volmner for leading the way and helping other faculty see how WordPress can be a simple, elegant solution to the need for e-Portfolios.

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Transitioning From Blackboard to Moodle

Software is a rapidly transforming beast. No matter which type of software you learn and come to appreciate, inevitably you are going to need to update your skills and adapt even when the upgrades seem difficult at first. We don’t always like it but we know that in order to remain competitive in the academic world this is a reality.

A related truth is that when our learning management system, Blackboard creates a new version, aspects of the system that we come to know and love, change, such as how the discussion boards or the grade center functions. Sometimes the changes are wonderful, they save time and they make life easier for us. Other times they create havoc.

Lo and behold, it’s that time again and the latest version of Blackboard, Blackboard 9 has changed significantly though we have decided not to upgrade. Saint Mary’s College has instead moved forward with a transition to a new open source learning management system called Moodle. For now we are referring to this new system as “GaelLearn” until one of our campus literary types can come up with a better name.

Ironically, the latest version of Blackboard looks and feels more like Moodle. Blackboard feels the burn that open source is making on it’s potential revenue streams as more educational institutions are riding the wave of on-line learning therefore, Blackboard is making a last minute ditch to adapt before open source systems become too popular.

Rather than force our community to learn this new version of Blackboard while also footing a hefty price tag increase, we’ve decided to opt with Moodle, a flexible system that has received many outstanding reports from other campuses. Two case studies that you can refer to for information on the process of transitioning to open source learning management and specifically from Blackboard to Moodle, are San Francisco State University and Louisiana State which have recently made smooth transitions to Moodle.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term open source, in brief, it is free software distributed openly while allowing users to manipulate the underlying source code to suit their individual needs. See a more detailed definition here: http://www.opensource.org/osd.html. Open source has become very important to higher education as many campuses participate in the open education community by contributing code and educational resources that allow for individuals to alter works to their own specific academic needs. Academics are also working together to create options free open source textbooks available on the internet. Some examples include: Open Educational Resources, http://www.oercommons.org/ and Wiki Books, http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page offer free alternatives to expensive textbooks.

We are no longer dependent on proprietary companies to decide what is best for us. Just as the music industry and the publishing world have shifted their reliance on big publishing companies to disseminate work, the creators of software have also followed suit; or rather they have taken it upon themselves to design their own suit … from scratch. We want you to help us design a learning management system that is specific to you and your students needs. Moodle will allow us this possibility. It’s easy to learn and it’s powerful.

Although there are differences between Blackboard and Moodle, you will see that the functionality is the same and even better in many cases. Although the interface may not appear as slick, you can still upload documents, provide links to web sites and video, build assignments to be turned in electronically, produce grades and create wikis, blogs and podcasts.

Our goal is to completely transition to Moodle over the next two years so don’t be left behind. During this transition, the two systems, Blackboard and GaelLearn (Moodle), will run side-by-side allowing plenty of time for migrating course materials and to receive proper training. The Instructional Technology Team is here to support you during this transition. Please feel free to contact us at anytime should you wish to learn more or to receive hands-on training in Moodle. We look forward to working with you and want to assure you that we are here to help you!

Please note – We would like to invite additional faculty members to join the faculty advisory committee on Moodle. Please contact Carmel at 925-631-8003 if you are interested in joining. We will meet twice each semester to help with the process of rolling out the new system and shaping the look and feel of Moodle to meet the specific needs of our campus.

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