Mosaic: Composing a Picture of Student Experience

One can define a portfolio as either a case or folder into which one puts documents or the collection of documents itself. Either way, the metaphor—a cache of one’s work—expresses the intent of those who teach using a portfolio system.

Using portfolios in teaching is not a new idea. Composition instructors have incorporated them into their courses for some time. The highly flexible tool works with just about any teaching approach. However, only recently have universities come to view the portfolio as a way for students to develop a body of work that encompasses not just the accomplishments of a single course in a single semester, but the accumulated achievements of an entire college career. At the same time, portfolios have moved from the print environment to the electronic world. Hence, the creation of what is now known as the ePortfolio.

An ePortfolio has many advantages over a paper portfolio. The materials within them can be instantly copied and shared with those who need them. There are no storage issues, the material d'esn’t degrade over time, and the content can be customized for a particular reader. What’s more, a good ePortfolio allows one to enter new information only one time knowing that all necessary components of the portfolio will simultaneously be updated.

The Open Source Portfolio Initiative (www.theospi.org) is a collaboration of several universities to build, maintain, and continuously improve an open source portfolio that is available free of charge to any user. The project originally began at campuses of the University of Minnesota. The school donated the code that launched the open source project. Since then, many other institutions, including The University of Delaware, University of Rhode Island, University of Michigan, Indiana University, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the r-smart group have joined OSPI’s efforts.

In July 2003, the consortium released OSPI code. In August, the r-smart group (www.rsmart.com) released Mosaic, an enhanced version of the Open Source Portfolio software. The software is available free of charge to users who join the r-smart network. Network members pay r-smart for comprehensive service and support, including training and installation if desired. In other words, a campus can download OSPI for free or Mosaic for a cost. The difference is support: r-smart offers guaranteed support, as opposed to the informal support one would get from joining OSPI alone.
The r-smart group is a commercial operation, but it works with institutions to support an open source portfolio. Along with the other member institutions r-smart contributes its software engineering expertise to develop and improve the product.

“When a school selects Mosaic it gets expert support. They still get the freedom to use the software, modify it, and share it again without restriction, but they get the assurance that we’re there to support it,” says Chris Coppola, the r-smart group’s president. He adds, “Our aim as a company is to fill a void supporting open source software in higher education.”

How d'es an ePortfolio work? An ePortfolio works effectively as a classroom tool. An instructor might assign students to collect, share, and assess their work within the portfolio software. In Mosaic, students navigate using the devices enter, share, and view. Mosaic allows students to gather their work into the portfolio, reflect and learn from it, choose particular elements, and collaborate with others for feedback and guidance. Instructors can comment on the work within the portfolio.

Although an ePortfolio has obvious classroom applications, one could also use Mosaic as a resource for an entire college career. According to Janice Smith, Education Consultant for the r-smart group, the visionaries behind the original open source portfolio project created a tool that would help guide students through a review of their personal data, strengths, skills, experience, and achievements. As Smith says, students are “required to manage their identities virtually. Students who create an ePortfolio build self-esteem by learning to present themselves to the world.”

Mosaic is designed to provide internal rewards, as it helps students build a portfolio of milestones and successes. It also serves as a means of internal feedback; students can access their records in the student information system as part of the portfolio package. Furthermore, used as an orientation tool, it encourages students to gather all of their personal information into one place, including high school records, academic data, and extra-curricular activities. It is easy to imagine the ePortfolio serving as a resource for resume building, career planning, and the job search. After graduation, students can take the portfolio data with them. One way to do this would be to simply capture snapshots of the data in a fixed and unchangeable form. Students might also download the application itself (no charge) or access their data by entering the application through a university account.

Another application of ePortfolios may be degree programs. Students within a degree program may use the portfolio system to communicate with advisors and introduce work from introductory courses into more advanced courses that may rely upon the fundamental knowledge previously gained.

“A program-level ePortfolio can be particularly helpful when an academic field is required to apply disciplinary, state, or national standards to student work in order to facilitate professional degree certification,” says Smith.

An ePortfolio system may also serve as the basis for institutional assessment. With everyone’s permission, the data gleaned from the samples and evaluations therein could serve as “a storehouse of evidence that the institution is achieving its goals,” states Smith. This storehouse will come in handy as the institution prepares for accreditation, funding, or applying for grants.

Over 1,100 people have signed up to view the demonstration version of the Open Source Portfolio on (www.theospi. org). Most interested institutions have been universities; although over 60 have been community colleges.

“Schools that use Mosaic become part of an international community of users who not only directly benefit from the software but also contribute to improving it continuously,” says Coppola.

Contact: r-smart group, Ph'enix, AZ; (602) 840-7300; www.rsmart.com.

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