A MAGICAL EXPERIENCE
I am not sure about you, but I have attended a lot of conferences that did not quite elicit the 'magical experience' feeling! However, I can't say that of this year's AAEEBL Annual Conference - Making the Case for Authentic, Experiential & Evidence-Based Learning and I, for one, was definitely picking up on a magical vibe.
AAEEBL 2017 - A MAGICAL EXPERIENCE
The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) is dedicated to supporting educational leaders who are committed to transformational and 21st-century teaching practices. AAEEBL gatherings are uniquely appreciated for facilitating informed conversations, and for the generous sharing of experiences that provide attendees with accessible and readily applicable teaching strategies. The environment is very much one of comradery and forward progress. And it's this kind of unique environment which can transform a conference into a magical experience. In this blog, I highlight a few of the key sessions that resulted in me (and I'm sure other AAEEBL attendees) leaving with a sense of having experienced something special.
THE PURSUIT OF BEST PRACTICE
In his opening address, Empowering students to tell their story, Tom Black, Stanford’s Associate Vice Provost & University Registrar encouraged each of us to evaluate our stakeholder needs in higher education, and then to ask ourselves the big question, “If we started over today what would we do differently?". It is this type of big-picture thinking that may keep us from building on crumbling or ineffective educational practices. He further asked that we not rest in the pursuit of the ultimate learning experience for our students, saying “by the time you become a best practice you are obsolete”, illuminating the need for experiential and evidence-based exchanges of teaching and learning to continue to grow high impact practices in education.
EMPLOYABILITY IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Directly following Tom Black’s keynote, I joined him along with Brian Janssen, Shane Sutherland (PebblePad CEO), and Ingrid Anderson, in an employability panel facilitated by Dr. Tracy Penny Light.
The value of reflective practice was front and center, along with an important secondary question: Can reflection in a panopticon really be authentic? As noted in the article The Panopticism of Cyberculture: Could privacy-invasive social media stifle innovation?, “Knowing you might be constantly monitored affects far more than just behavior. Some individuals will quickly subject themselves to self-censoring. Such a system fosters conformity rather than creative thinking and intellectual risk-taking, both so vital for an emerging economy based on innovation”. We asked ourselves how offering students spaces to reflect that are monitored and subjected to full inspection of their thoughts, allows for less self-censoring and more self-exploration, with the end result being clearer self-knowledge. The answer to that question came about in commentary on the current lack of private space to formulate creative thinking and participate in self-editing. In a recent Guardian article, The death of privacy, the writer asks us, “what is the personal and psychological impact of this loss of privacy?” Yet, as the audience at AAEEBL pointed out, many of our scholars who are digital natives rarely recognize their right to privacy. The Guardian article further offers comments on why we need private lives, “Privacy, precisely because it ensures we're never fully known to others or to ourselves, provides a shelter for imaginative freedom, curiosity, and self-reflection."
What also emerged as an employability theme, is that our learners need help in making connections across their academic, professional and personal experiences. Dr. Tracy Penny Light prompted us to comment on the layers of our lives as an analogy to garden composting processes. In terms of employability, these life-layers can create a comprehensive story of a person’s skills and competencies, but the “composting”, or sense-making, and turning the layers into a cohesive whole happens through the permeating practice of reflection. This makes reflection the “oxygen” required to generate cohesive and organic outcomes in our learners’ lives.
THE DEVELOPING SELF - DIGITAL IDENTITY AND AUTHENTICITY
Given that Digital Dossiers (Cheney) are now widely available, the ability to effectively negotiate an authentic digital identity can contribute substantially to being “highly employable” in the 21st century. Authentic identity development and self-knowledge through self-exploration, along with critical feedback, are key in understanding employability. Much like dating, knowing who you are and what skills you bring along with you is the foundation of a solid match with an employer.
In Cheney’s article, he remarks that “Parents observe that digital natives’ connectivity to the web or cell phones goes beyond obsession, it is an extension of their existence”. This raises the question of how as educators we support the meaningful application of the omnipresent digital connections to provide a benefit to the learner and support authentic identity and skills development. Realistic engagement includes meeting our learners in the digital spaces they inhabit, helping students capture learning as (and wherever) it occurs, and offering high value, highly secure, and carefully guided digital practices.
Educators like Dr. Jeanne Enders, who presented a session entitled Self and Identity Theory from the early 20th Century: A selective Literature Review for ePortfolio enthusiast remind us all that at the very heart of reflective and folio thinking practices we are all participating in critical self-identity development. When you couple private online space with well-scaffolded educational practices that are rooted in excellent theory, the results can be jaw-dropping.
IN WHOSE SERVICE?
The number of institutions moving from free platforms to more dynamic and robust solutions for reporting and scholarly activities is on the rise. As a new member of the PebblePad team, I was approached by many attendees to discuss what type of difference a platform can make. Aside from the immense benefit to reflective practice in relation to the privacy and security of PebblePad’s personal learning environment, I was reminded of a recent Campus Technology article by Leila Meyer (2016) entitled 'How to select the right eportfolio platform'. In the article, there is discussion on the transition from low-commitment free software to more permanent and tailored platform solutions. A commenter on this article makes the following notes: "There needs to be an extreme overhaul in the way universities choose technology that their students will like to use and find value from. Typically, ePortfolios were only for the benefit of the universities to track SLOs disguised as benefit for students in "reflection" . . . Most of the platforms mentioned have capacity limits, are not free after graduation, only tied to the university's LMS and therefore aren't portable, and quite frankly useless to employers".
This type of cynicism can stem from institution-serving portfolio processes, and the long-standing debate on whether or not students can experience value from participating in portfolio processes. Recent practices, promoted and disseminated through AAEEBL, and their affiliate partners such as the International Journal of ePortfolio, have brought ePortfolios a long way from the simple repositories and crude templates of past years. These enhanced practices are leading many higher ed institutions to look at more sophisticated platform solutions that can rise up to meet new and experiential pedagogy. There are now numerous case studies of radical forward-thinking future ready practices beyond portfolio-style guided learning experiences, such as fully mobile classrooms and study abroad or service learning experiences using PebblePocket and, perhaps one of the most compelling student applications of PebblePad, Ian Pirie’s Student Led Independently Created Courses (SLICC’s).
RAISING THE BAR
This year’s conference – that magical experience – attested to the ascension of effective pedagogical portfolio practice. Whether exploring the psychological and emotional development of our learners, the emerging impacts of international convergence in educational practice, or multi-modal and visual depictions of learning, AAEEBL has once again raised the bar for those of us interested in outrunning the static and obsolete ideas of days gone by and applying a little magic to our practice.
If you'd like to learn more about future-thinking practice to develop future ready learners then you should absolutely download a free copy of our conference case studies.
The author's noteworthy AAEEBL 2017 presentations
The forward-thinking and logistically-inspiring Ignite presentation: Creating a Meta Portfolio Collaboratively by Julie Ambrose, Kelly Delaney-Klinger, Kristina Hoeppner, Leanne Ngo and Patsie Polly.
Sarah Brown’s: A methodology for introducing students to attendant images as a first step towards integrating more meaning-making images in their digital portfolios, offered critical and well thought out suggestions for enhancements to our current curricula around multimedia development through the use of attendant images.