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Finding the Momentum: An E-Portfolio Implementation Success Story

A Q&A with Chattanooga State Community College E-Portfolio Director Amanda Hyberger

When Chattanooga State Community College entertained an e-portfolio implementation on campus, their plan, like so many other institutions, was to target students first. And, like so many other institutions, campus leadership didn't feel ready, expecting a long, slow road to success. But those charged with the new program had an exceptional gift: the ability to identify pockets of interest on campus and turn them into a driving force.

Here, Amanda Hyberger, the college's e-portfolio director and associate professor of music, describes the discovery that on her campus, faculty tenure portfolios were key to sparking a personal enthusiasm in faculty that would translate to a great model for students in the classroom. After a modest, one-year pilot of 200 users, campus leaders watched a full, campus wide implementation grow to 2,300 student, faculty, and staff e-portfolios in its first year.

Mary Grush: For your college's e-portfolio implementation, was your strategy to start with faculty first?

Amanda Hyberger: In fact, our initial thought wasn't to do that. It more or less happened along the way, during the first year — it was more of an organic happening. It really started with a few faculty — working within ten major academic areas — who moved student e-portfolios forward.

Given this faculty interest in e-portfolios, we do have at this point many faculty e-portfolios that are higher functioning than most student e-portfolios. But by the numbers, we have a much larger amount of student portfolios as a result of faculty's use of e-portfolios for instruction.

When we saw the momentum being set by faculty, we switched our strategic plan to focus more on faculty training, rather than pursuing the student side as fully as we had planned. E-portfolio is now so widespread within the faculty, that it's taking root in a truly organic manner, campus wide, in pockets that are dissimilar, each using e-portfolios in a different way.

Grush: How did you approach your introduction of e-portfolios to the campus?

Hyberger: I attended an AAC&U annual conference, including the e-portfolio forum. I soaked up all that information and returned to campus to present to every division. From there, we formed the pilot team, made up of both faculty and staff, and created our first portfolios.

Grush: And how did you finally get into using e-portfolios for faculty tenure reviews?

Hyberger: As faculty were being introduced to the technology, they asked us if e-portfolios could be used to replace the old paper-based processes of tenure review.

When we introduced e-portfolios around campus, our goal was to see how the technology could benefit different populations. So we listened, and from faculty we began to hear a lot of questions about the potential to do tenure review electronically.

And the old, paper-based system was archaic, cumbersome, tedious, and even wasteful: Since we've been doing e-portfolio-based tenure reviews with all 180 faculty in the process, we estimate we've saved about 40k sheets of paper. And we've archived, digitally, materials that were taking up huge amounts of space in file cabinets. This came at a great time for human resources, which had been asked to downsize its paper storage space.

Faculty are enjoying working digitally on their portfolios, rather than lugging binders around. We're a mobile society, and there's no need not to make our portfolios mobile as well. And no reason for faculty to remain in the dark ages.

These were all things faculty had really not thought of until they started using e-portfolios.

And of course, faculty will pass all this personal experience on to the students — something that's invaluable in getting students going with e-portfolios.

Grush: Are faculty tenure e-portfolios open for others to see, and/or be used in campus reporting processes?

Hyberger: Good question. That's an area that's changing. Our old paper-based tenure documents were fairly closed and private ... as I believe they are on most campuses. As a result, faculty end up in effect double reporting: first, filling out their forms for tenure; second, contributing to evidence for accreditation and other campus-based reports.

However, in the future, if faculty are willing to make their portfolios public, they can be used for accreditation and institutional reporting.

Grush: What advice would you want to offer others planning an e-portfolio implementation?

Hyberger: I had received many bits of advice before starting our e-portfolio project ... such as, it needs to begin in your education department. Or, that older faculty are more resistant to change. Neither of these things — or many other gems of cookie-cutter advice — turned out to be true.

Still, I would say, allow people time: time to get to know the e-portfolio system, time to explore ... and time to make mistakes. We've got a lot of really bad portfolios in our initial attempts. And we are just as proud of them, because that was part of our learning process. We didn't get discouraged when our first portfolios didn't look like what we had imagined.

But the best advice I could pass on to others planning an e-portfolio implementation, is that it needs to be organic, out of your own campus culture. I don't think what we've done would necessarily be a perfect fit for most other schools. I think what we've done well, though, is to listen to where the momentum is — and not assume where it might be.

[Editor's note: For more examples of e-portfolio implementation, visit the AAEEBL site at aaeebl.org. See AAEEBL's Campus Conversations and check out the AAEEBL annual conference, co-located again this year with Campus Technology in Boston, July 28-31.]
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