Connecting a Student’s Academic Career with Learning Portfolio

Storing an Organizing a College Career’s Worth of Work

By Madeline Friedman

learning1By the end of their time at NYU, students will undoubtedly have a proliferation of projects, papers, and accomplishments scattered across a variety of mediums and stored in a variety of ways. Additionally, they may have spent time in Manhattan, in Brooklyn, or in one or more of the University’s thirteen global locations. Assembling the work from of all those years into a cohesive record can be a daunting task, especially when the work is spread over multiple applications, multiple platforms, and multiple continents and time zones.

As part of an ongoing effort to provide a more manageable, consistent experience for NYU students and faculty around the world, the University has recently launched an initiative called Global Arch. The effort currently includes three projects aimed at supporting student and faculty activities across the University’s many campuses. Among these projects is the Learning Portfolio, a service that will help students store and access their academic materials at anytime, from anywhere, so that they later can be presented to prospective employers or graduate programs. It is currently being piloted among select schools and departments.

A Digital Portfolio of Student Accomplishments

The Learning Portfolio is a cloud-based tool; students can upload a variety of material reflective of their academic work at NYU, which can then be shared with potential employers or academic advisors, professors, and admissions officers.

Currently, approximately 1500 people at NYU are using Google Drive as a Learning Portfolio. This number is expected to grow during the spring and fall. Google Drive presents an easy solution for departments to use for several reasons: all students already have a Google account linked to their NetID, they can configure file and folder permissions, and the tool is already actively used by a large portion of the NYU community. For those who want a basic portfolio to share their documents, as well as links to other documents, NYU’s Google Drive is a resource that they can easily use.

At the same time, a number of different NYU schools and departments, such as the School of Medicine, have specialized student digital portfolios that perform functions unique to their needs, such as external accreditation. Other sites and programs have begun to identify individual tasks that they would like the portfolio to perform that are beyond the capability of Google Drive. These include: automatically extracting data from individual portfolios for preservation, performing various analytics, user experience for communication outside the University, and optimization for incorporating content in a variety of media.

Given these additional needs, a Learning Portfolio Working Group is exploring third party tools. “NYU Abu Dhabi saw this as something that was important for continuity and progress as their students move from global site to global site. Other departments began to see the value as well,” said Associate Vice President of IT Heather Stewart. “The goal is to develop a common, centrally supported solution to promote continuity where possible.”

Global Liberal Studies (GLS) and Liberal Studies Core departments took part in a pilot three years ago of an application called ATLAS. Participants were able to store and share assignments, categorize projects, and integrate into their portfolio information and course material from professors. The new Learning Portfolio portion of Global Arch will build upon the experiences and lessons learned from the ATLAS pilot.

Benefits for Students, Faculty, & Administration

The Learning Portfolio has the added value of allowing students and faculty to reflect on and assess personal academic growth throughout a college career. “This is a new concept of tracking the student as a career develops, such that the student’s intellectual trajectory can be seen through the portfolio,” said GLS professor Michael Rechtenwald. “Their particular interests from one course to another and what they have appropriated for their intellectual development can be tracked that way.” He added that GLS students will be asked to keep a running bibliography of their work from all classes in the Learning Portfolio in order to further narrate that history.

The Learning Portfolio working group, which has been charged with refining and evolving the service, hopes the ability for a student to share a portfolio with a professor will help foster more personalized lessons. Professor Susanna Horng, for the Global Liberal Studies junior independent research seminar she teaches, has been using Learning Portfolio in just this way. “I use each student’s Learning Portfolio and ask them to put in their primary and secondary research, an annotated bibliography, and their project ideas. Over the summer the senior advisor looks at those and helps tailor the senior capstone [thesis] project to the student’s expertise,” she said.

The Learning Portfolio is also beneficial to administrators, especially in the area of assessment. “Administrators see it as a valuable source for evaluating the learning objectives tied to degree and certificate courses,” NYU Director of Assessment and Evaluation Diana Karafin said. “It offers direct evidence of learning because it is based on student projects. This helps track student progress and learning.”

The Learning Portfolio delivers benefits for students in a variety of ways, including:

  • Creating a secure, digital environment to store and archive student work
  • Allowing for easy sharing, reviewing, and commenting between students and professors, and students and their peers
  • Building an academic resume that can be used when transitioning to the job market or to an advanced degree program
  • Facilitating organization of saved work across multiple classes, multiple projects, and multiple years of study
  • Comparing academic progress over a semester, a year, or an entire academic career.

Horng explains what she thinks the value of the Learning Portfolio is: “Students will be able to make the connection between freshman and senior years and even graduate work.” She added, “The documentation aspect is important, because students often aren’t aware of the connections they’re making. Those small nuances matter, and having all the information in one place allows them to make that kind of comparative analysis.”

For more information about the pilot as it progresses, and to see examples of Learning Portfolios, visit the Learning Portfolio project site.