Jill Tomasson Goodwin, Department of Drama and Speech Communication
Katherine Lithgow, Centre for Teaching Excellence
(Project timeline: October 2014-December 2015)
We wanted to test whether students who receive feedback to specific, guided, and focused reflections in an eportfolio about the learning associated with their course project work are better prepared to articulate their professional skills and competencies, i.e., communication, teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving, and leadership, to next-stage career stakeholders such as graduate schools and employers.
We compared the responses to an online survey administered to two cohorts (W2014 and W2015) of one project-driven undergraduate Arts course six months after course completion. Specifically, we tested whether the W2015 course cohort - which was assigned an eportfolio reflection activity tied to specific course project activities - could better retain, articulate learning, and report instances of knowledge transfer outside the classroom than the W2014 cohort, which was not assigned the reflection activity. We found that the W2015 cohort (with the ePortfolio reflection activity) was better able to do so (p < 0.05).
Goal: To have Winter 2015 students create a Reflection ePortfolio that refers to their coursework and focuses on their learning reflections. Doing so will help students:
- demonstrate how they have developed communication ‘soft skills’ while completing course work;
- practice identifying and articulating the communication ‘soft skills’ they developed during the process of completing course work so they are better prepared to share this in a meaningful way to different audiences outside the classroom (employers, graduate school interviews).
Research Question: Will the integration of structured, graded reflections increase students’ ability to articulate soft skill competencies (tacitly acquired while completing coursework)?
We compared the responses to an online survey administered to two cohorts (Winter 2014 and Winter 2015) of one project-driven undergraduate Arts course six months after course completion. Specifically, we tested whether the W2015 course cohort - which was assigned an eportfolio reflection activity tied to specific course project activities - could better retain, articulate learning, and report instances of knowledge transfer outside the classroom than the W2014 cohort, which was not assigned the reflection activity.
We evaluated the open-ended responses by looking at students’ ability to
- Name the skill that they developed as a result of the project completed during the course (‘Sharpen’)
- Describe how they were able to develop a professional skill or competency during the course, and how they used that skill during the course (‘Deepen’)
- Provide evidence of their ability to transfer learning or ‘bridge’ between their coursework and their ability to communicate about their professional competencies by providing an example of how they have used the professional skill developed during completion of the course project in a different setting or describe how they can envision using that skill in a new situation (‘Bridge’).
For ‘sharpen’ and ‘deepen,’ there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups of students’ responses. However, we did find a statistically significant difference between the two groups when we evaluated the responses based on respondents’ ability to bridge between their coursework and environments outside the classroom. We found that those students in the W2015 (i.e., those in the course using the eportfolio reflection activity where they were given the structured opportunities to reflect on their learning and receive feedback during the course) were better able to provide evidence of retention, articulate learning, and transfer of learning (p < .05). The survey evidence was the student reporting opportunities where they articulated the development of these skills to others, or reported opportunities to transfer what they’d learned to new, work-related situations.
Of particular note is the composition of the two groups: the W2014 (non-eportfolio reflection) respondent group, of whom 80% were in 4B and 60% were co-op, were less able to provide evidence of bridging their learning from classroom to non-academic environments than the W2015 (eportfolio reflection) group, of whom only 28.5% were in 4B and 53.1% were in co-op. These findings suggest that the structured eportfolio reflection activity helped co-op and non-co-op students in all years better articulate the professional skills they developed while completing course project work, even 6 months after course completion.
We recognize that our study was limited to a small number of students from one course, in one faculty involving one instructor. Next steps would be integrate the eportfolio reflective activity into more courses, with larger class sizes from all Faculties.
Dissemination and Impact
- OND conference session (2015)
- Blog post
- Integrative and Experiential Learning session
- Resource on CTE website
- Proposal submission to the Society of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education annual conference in 2016
Impact of the Project
- Students in the w2015 cohort reported being more aware of the skills they were developing, many acknowledging that they hadn’t considered the implicit skills developed while completing the course project.
- The principal investigator is now collaborating with 3 colleagues to implement the ePortfolio reflective activity into 3 separate courses within her department. She is refining the grading rubric, making the assignment a permanent course feature, and extending the assignment requirements so that students combine the reflection piece with associated artefacts from project coursework to create a ‘career and competency’ eportfolio.
Project reference list (PDF)