Beata Jones & Daxton Stewart, Texas Christian University
Structuring a course and a major assignment around a conference, and capturing all of the learning experiences in an ePortfolio, led to positive learning outcomes for students.
“A teacher’s job is to lead forth the powers that lie asleep within her students.” ~ William Deresiewicz
We conducted a semester-long project in a course that created a socially networked class experience that bridged the classroom with life outside of it. We offered an interdisciplinary, immersive, inquiry-based learning environment around the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference in Austin, TX, culminating with student research projects and a TED-like event back on campus. The title of the course was “SXSW Interactive TCU: Learning to Change the World through Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship.” The SXSW Interactive conference brings 30,000+ attendees and start-ups in the technology, social media, business, and communications fields for five days each spring, providing participants with a chance to see technology innovation and entrepreneurship in action as new companies are announced and new products are launched. We adopted the Digication ePortfolio platform for the course, which allowed us to effectively structure and capture student learning.
We asked students to embrace distinct themes of SXSW Interactive and, in addition, pose a research question based on their passions so that each student had a unique, inspiring, and highly relevant experience. Students researched their select themes within the framework of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship contexts, heard from virtual and in-class speakers prior to the conference, attended an opportunity recognition competition with entrepreneurship students on campus, planned their conference attendance, attended SXSW sessions all day during the festival in Austin, networked with attendees and completed structured interviews, wrote about their experiences using Twitter and Blogs, and organized a TED-like event back on campus with presentations to faculty and fellow students about the ideas that inspired them. Uniquely designed Digication ePortfolios captured all the elements of students’ experiences and the themes embraced by them: Medtech & Science, Global Impact, Fashion & Wearables (see below), Marketing & Branding, Gaming, Entertainment & Immersion, Social & Privacy, Food & Experiential Dining, Content & Distribution, Sports, Work & Career, and Start-ups. The portfolios told 12 distinct technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship stories. All of the student portfolios included the final learning reflection and synthesis and were built from an ePortfolio template (presented above) with all the assignment prompts for the course.
Additional Systems & Platforms
In addition to the Digication ePortfolio platform, we used a closed Facebook group for informal communications among faculty and students. Facebook and Twitter were also used to promote the TED-like event on campus organized by the students, which was attended by over 100 students and faculty. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Email correspondence were used for networking prior to the conference. TCU Entrepreneurship Daily Emails provided up-to-date Entrepreneurship news to students. We used Skype to connect virtually with some of our course speakers, YouTube to upload all the presentation videos, and students used smartphones at SXSW to tweet, capture moments in photos, and connect with attendees.
We performed learning outcomes evaluation by carefully assessing the student portfolio work and their presentations. The students were provided with a rubric for the portfolio and the presentation, which captured the learning objectives. Based on the students’ performance, we can unequivocally state that all the students achieved the course learning outcomes, earning an average grade of 93% on the presentation and 95% on the portfolio. In their reflections, students described several important learning outcomes, including synthesizing ideas across disciplines, the importance of networking, essentials of entrepreneurship, and conducting practical research.
The specific course objectives included the following: “By the end of the course, students have, by oral and written means:
- Inquired creatively to complete a research project:
- Developed a creative process of inquiry that added to the understanding of the topics studied: technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship
- Used broad, in-depth analysis of evidence to make decisions and communicate beliefs clearly and effectively.
- Synthesized ideas across disciplines:
- Explained ideas from multiple disciplines in context and evaluated relevance.”
Additional outcomes included:
- Learning about innovative, technology-based startup businesses and how to plan for them.
- Learning about planning for, presenting in, and attending a professional-level, international conference.
- Enhancing written and oral communication skills, including 21st century communication skills
- Networking with professionals attending SXSW Interactive in their chosen fields.
The students received the initiative overwhelmingly well. The twelve students’ ePortfolio final reflections included the following testimonials:
- “An incredible experience that has been a defining aspect of my time here at TCU.”
- “I want to tell everyone that this class is the best experience I have had at TCU thus far.”
- “SXSW was an extremely rewarding and empowering experience and I cannot wait to go again next year.”
- “By networking (…), I learned more about myself in those five days than I have in my entire life.”
- “SXSW taught me how to communicate, innovate, and connect in more ways than I have ever known before. This class allowed me to make connections not only with people in Austin, but also with people around the world.”
- “SXSW was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. From the people to the ideas to the time it took to compile a Ted Talk for the class, my experience was incredibly valuable to me.”
- “This learning experience happened before, during, and after the conference and will continue to serve me throughout the rest of my college and work career.”
The TCU community also enthusiastically embraced the course, highlighting it in the student newspaper, business school magazine, honors college website, and university magazine. The course was a finalist at the 2nd Innovation & Entrepreneurship Teaching Excellence Awards at the 2016 European Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Our experience structuring a course and a major assignment around a conference, and capturing all of the learning experiences in an ePortfolio, challenged conventional course design practices. To our surprise, students not only fully embraced the approach, but they exceeded our expectations for learning, as presented in their portfolio stories. We are sharing our success story, so others might be inspired and structure similar interdisciplinary, immersive, inquire-based learning environments that bridge the classroom with life outside of it and in the process transform not only their student learning, but also the students.
The authors thank the Coleman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and the John V. Roach Honors College for their generous support provided for the course. The funding paid for 10 students’ registration at SXSW Interactive.
Beata Jones, Ph.D., (email@example.com ) is an Honors Faculty Fellow at the John V. Roach Honors College and a Professor of Business Information Systems Practice at the Neeley School of Business, Texas Christian University.
Daxton Stewart, Ph.D., J.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Associate Dean and Associate Professor in the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University.