by Connie Janiga-Perkins and Chris Coleman
Spanish Conversation (SP 353) is a course that asks students to manage a broad spectrum of content, build vocabulary, work on pronunciation and fluency, and open themselves to cross-cultural communication, understanding, and self-growth. In short, Spanish Conversation is at once a collective and a very individual experience.
Students find themselves learning and applying their knowledge across a variety of contexts. This aspect of the course is characteristic of the curriculum at the Department of Modern Languages and Classics.
One pedagogical challenge for this course is to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of all students have learned. The ePortfolio is a perfect tool for students to process the experience of such a course. Reflection is a key component of most portfolios since they are created through processes where students curate their work in order to document and showcase their knowledge, skills, and abilities. In other words, this is a means for students to convey how their learning has grown over time.
Here is how George Kuh (Director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment) explains the usefulness of ePortfolios:
The ePortfolio template I created for SP 353 contains three sections, a structure which accommodates the major components of the course: Debate I, Debate II, and Final Reflection. In several sections of SP 353, students create ePortfolios in lieu of a final exam or another content-based final project. I want to thank Dr. Paul Renigar for an earlier version of this course, upon which the current SP 353 is based. The course is organized around biweekly (Tuesdays and Thursdays) debates on controversial topics from our textbook, Conversación y controversia. Some examples are science versus religion, politics, immigration, abortion, Spanglish, terrorism, and education reform. With the help of Dr. Chris Coleman, SP 353 is using Taskstream LAT software to create and publish their portfolios, thereby strengthening the student end-of-course experience.
Student Feedback on this project has been positive:
“The ePortfolio was a lot of work, but when I was done with it, I understood why we did it. I could really see what I had learned, “I can put my ePortfolio link in my job cover letter or on my cv to certify my ability to use Spanish in diverse situations,” “I would have never looked back over the course and thought about how much I actually learned without doing the ePortfolio.”
As the instructor of the course, I did not expect the depth of introspection that many students presented in their ePortfolios. While most students did reflect on their course experience and come to an understanding of several controversial issues within the global cultural context, a small but significant number of students conducted a self-study whereby they tracked their knowledge about our topics from before and after completing the course. They traced how their opinions had changed, or, in some cases, had strengthened because of how we debated. Several students stated that they had never discussed these topics prior to the class, not in their families, nor among friends, nor in school or church. The course and the ePortfolio presented these students with an opportunity to track personal growth and thinking in a second language. For this, I am grateful to The University of Alabama and Taskstream.
As The Department of Modern Languages and Classics begins our eight-year review, these ePortfolios provide us with authentic assessments of student L2 acquisition and promote and document deep, complex learning for all students. The data from these ePortfolios provide our faculty with the ability to reflect upon curriculum and to plan for improvement. They also help us make connections among disparate parts of the curriculum, gain insights leading to improvement, and develop identities as learners or as facilitators of learning (Miller & Morgaine, 2009).
Are you interested to develop an ePortfolio element in your teaching? UA has several resources to help teachers develop an ePortfolio element for their teaching. Some information is public. Other materials may be accessed with your University of Alabama login credentials.
Dr. Connie Janiga-Perkins is a Spanish professor and the undergraduate advisor for the Department of Modern Languages and Classics. Dr. Chris Coleman is the Associate Director of Institutional Effectiveness in the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment.