Gallatin Students Document and Showcase Their Academic Careers
By Bridgette Austin
For students looking to invest in a self-directed approach to learning, the Gallatin School of Individualized Study offers learners a unique NYU education steeped in individualized, interdisciplinary study. At Gallatin, students with diverse academic and artistic interests design their own academic program by taking Gallatin’s core requirements alongside courses in other NYU schools, while participating in internships, independent studies, and private lessons outside the University.
The ePortfolio program at Gallatin, which is wrapping up the first year of a two-year pilot, allows students to document and digitally showcase their Gallatin-related work and experiences and prepare for their senior colloquium. Jenny Kijowski, the Educational Technologist at Gallatin, along with Gallatin’s Chief Information & Operations Officer Nick Likos, headed the technical side of the project. Jenny spoke with Connect about the rationale behind ePortfolios and the program’s role in helping students synthesize their educational trajectory from freshman year through graduation.
Searching for a Web Solution That Scaffolds the NYU Gallatin Experience
For Gallatin, the search for a technology platform that would enable students to develop and reflect upon their academic experience over time goes back several years. “This is actually our third attempt at developing a successful ePortfolio at Gallatin,” said Jenny. “The previous two projects didn’t succeed due to factors including cost, low participation from students and faculty, and a lack of success metrics.”
When Gallatin’s Education Technology team revisited resurrecting ePortfolios, they first examined NYU IT’s Learning Portfolios service as a possible option. Although the team found Learning Portfolios useful for common course standards, they decided it was better geared towards academic assessment. Gallatin was also looking for a solution that offered customizable and flexible web features that supported a reflective, online learning environment.
“We saw that students were struggling to articulate their concentration in a way that allowed them to weave various areas of their learning into a single, coherent narrative. Also, faculty and advisors wanted to give students the ability to communicate those experiences during their advising sessions,” said Jenny.
Ultimately, Gallatin envisioned an online space where students could create a digital scrapbook of their academic and professional activities and achievements. “We wanted to give students a tool that helped them demonstrate to advisors what they had learned over the past year and plan for their academic career at NYU.”
Using NYU Web Publishing to Create a Reflective, Online Learning Environment
After evaluating Learning Portfolios as a possible solution, Gallatin decided to use the NYU Web Publishing service, the University’s custom WordPress environment, to implement the third iteration of its ePortfolio program. In addition to offering a collaborative space where students can create and publish content online, Web Publishing provides users with a built-in suite of blogging features, as well as NYU IT support and training resources.
For the Gallatin Educational Technology team, designing a standard web template that allowed them to seamlessly create ePortfolio sites for each student was critical to the success of their ePortfolio project.
Jenny stated, “The Web Publishing team at the Digital Studio accommodated our request to develop a custom template that could easily generate and deploy ePortfolios as needed. Also, being able to use Google Analytics to gather metrics was handy since that gave us insight into the different types of activity happening across the ePortfolio site,”.
“Once we rolled out the program, we found the ePortfolio platform and template to be very stable and solid,”said Jenny.
Building an ePortfolio Program That Encourages Student and Faculty Engagement
Prior to rolling out the ePortfolio program to first-year and transfer students, Gallatin tested a mini pilot with eight students during the Spring 2016 semester. Though limited to a small test group, the phase one pilot revealed that the project would be most beneficial to first-year students.
“The eight students who participated in the initial pilot thought ePortfolios were a great idea, but wished a similar platform had been available during their freshman year. That feedback was encouraging and gave us direction on how to move forward with the larger pilot later that year.”
Phase two of the Gallatin ePortfolio program kicked off at the start of the Fall 2016 semester with approximately 330 freshman and transfer students. To build awareness around the program, Gallatin hosted an informational session during Welcome Week to introduce the project to students.
“The session’s goal was to provide students with a foundation of knowledge so they could understand the purpose of an ePortfolio and why they were being asked to create one,” said Jenny. “We really brainstormed about the different types of ePortfolio content students should add and how they should add it, and created support materials to facilitate that process.”
Some of those support materials include a Resources page that contains bio writing tips, links to Web Publishing and coding tutorials, and citation style guides. Students can also view short instructional videos, such as the one below, which feature consumer-friendly snippets on creating and displaying content on the ePortfolio platform.
Eventually, the ePortfolio directory will link to all digital portfolios and feature a tag cloud to help students find each other on the site.
“Today’s students are used to curating shareable moments of their lives on social media. They’re also finding and networking with each other online and offline,” said Jenny. “Students wanted to be able to do something like that in their academic lives, so it made sense to incorporate that social element into ePortfolios.”
Transforming Past Lessons into a Formula for Future Success
Lessons learned from past projects helped steer Gallatin’s current goals and vision for ePortfolios: to build and maintain a solution that is centered on reflective content. Still, getting faculty buy-in and increasing student adoption remain constant challenges in a program that is voluntary, yet holds promise for adding long-term value to students’ Gallatin experience at NYU and beyond.
“This spring semester, we did a better job communicating to faculty about the ePortfolio program. Consequently, those efforts have paid off with more faculty buy-in this semester compared to the fall.” She continued, “We’re also focused on getting students the help they need and looking to partner with the LaGuardia Co-op to offer live ePortfolio training.”
Although there’s still room for increasing student engagement—students cited lack of time, motivation, and understanding as obstacles to participation in a recent Gallatin survey—over 80% of respondents in the same survey saw one or more benefits to using ePortfolios.
Jenny also points to cross-collaboration with other NYU schools that have launched similar ePortfolio programs and the Instructional Technologists Subcommittee as valuable sources for exchanging strategies to overcome common challenges. Recently, she co-presented a panel with NYU community members from NYU Liberal Studies, NYU Steinhardt, and NYU Wagner at the 2017 Re-Bundling Higher Education Conference in New York City.
“The Subcommittee has really become a community of sharing. As a result, we’re much more aware of what’s happening in education technology and instructional technology across the different schools. Swapping ideas, resources, and stories helps prevent those communication silos from happening at the University level.”
As Gallatin continues to onboard students to the program, the school hopes to collect enough data to determine if ePortfolios will prove useful to future participants. “It’s important we equip students with basic knowledge in web design and UX so they can create their own personal or professional website. These are all empowering skills that are crucial in a highly digitized world,” Jenny said. “Whether students are doing an internship, private tutorial, or fashion line, we want those experiences to not only be captured in each student’s ePortfolio, but to also become interwoven into the Gallatin experience itself.”
Visit the Gallatin ePortfolios directory to see Gallatin students’ work and NYU Web Publishing in action. You can also read this in-depth case study about Gallatin’s journey towards designing an ePortfolio program tailored to the school’s individualized approach to education.
For more information about NYU Web Publishing, including how to request the service, visit www.nyu.edu/it/wp.