Transformational learning

Trent Batson’s blog post (The Edinburgh Challenge) earlier this summer on the rhetoric of ePortfolio – that it is a transformative, disruptive (popular buzzwords these days) – got me thinking about this idea of transformational learning. Namely, what is it I want (need?) to transform in my courses (particularly Writing for the Web, since that class is dealing with the main thing considered both transformative and disruptive in much of popular discourse these days, digital media/technology. And also part of the larger question about ePortfolio that Batson engages with in this post:

if it’s not about the technology, what is it about? And what is “it”?

Part of what needs to be transformed seems to be what Batson is talking about in his discussion of “authenticity” (another popular buzzword!) in learning and we’re certainly in the thick of that transformation here at UGA with the new Experiential Learning requirement. But there are clearly things to be concerned about with the emphasis on “real world” learning experiences. Why are classrooms not part of the “real world”? They are. But, I admit, that they aren’t in certain ways either and that is good. They are – and should be – a space “apart” in which we are free to experiment, fail, take risks.

I think that is what needs to be transformed and what I have been working on in the last few semesters in my experiments with approaches to assessment. The goal is to open up that “safe space” of the classroom to risk. To give students more permission to fail by taking the pressure off. The pressure, in my estimation, comes largely from grades and what David Brooks recently called “GPA culture” in this Op-Ed column for the times.

But, when I make a culminating ePortfolio, which will be graded, 50% of the course’s final grade, am I just shifting the stakes rather than lowering them? As a proponent of ePortfolio as both a tool and a method, I do think that ePortfolio is the most effective approach to writing assessment and, even when one counts for a high percentage of a course grade, it should still allow for the kind of risk-taking and experimentation throughout the semester that I want to see from developing writers. Yes, it does mean that they have to step to the plate at the end of the term and perform, as it were. But I hope that, by that time, students will have failed and messed up in all the ways that will allow for the emergence of new understanding and realizations about what makes for effective writing for the Web.

I guess the right people to ask about this are the students in my class! I hope to develop a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning instrument (a nice survey?) with the new Director of SoTL at our Center for Teaching and Learning. I need some feedback and the only ones who can tell me if this approach is doing what I hope are the folks in my class.



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