Tagged reflection


Learning and Reflecting with ISUComm ePortfolios: Exploring Technological and Curricular Places


EPortfolios are acknowledged as a high-impact practice in a student’s university experience (Kahn 2014; AAEEBL 2016). For our multimodal, place-based curriculum (Blakely and Pagnac 2012), we envision ePortfolios as an environment of discovery, exploration, and research, and a place to create connections. While David Hailey (2014) discusses problems with the place metaphor and how it makes it more difficult to evaluate websites as texts, we find the reverse is helpful. Seeking to better teach electronic communication in this context, we developed an ePortfolio platform using open-source software, a platform that promotes the place metaphor as it affords students the ability to guide audiences through its architectural features and its unique configuration of pages and links. Enhanced by our pedagogy, which teaches a scaffolded process of research, critical inquiry, composition, and reflection, students use our platform to define themselves as growing scholars and professionals in an online place.

Our approach to the implementation of an ePortfolio system in our foundational communication program is one where—as characterized by Michael Day (2009)—multiple perspectives and strengths are appreciated and utilized to accomplish important programmatic goals. In this article we describe 1) our ISUComm ePortfolios as an environment for student learning in our large Foundation Courses program, 2) the challenge of developing the technology and support structure needed to enhance our pedagogy, and 3) how we more fully integrated reflection throughout the semester and emphasized the crucial role it plays in student learning. As a result of this iterative process, we describe how pedagogy and technology can and should mediate each other in ePortfolio development and implementation. We then conclude by describing how we are scaling up to further develop our platform and its various subsystems.



EPortfolios are widely acknowledged as a high-impact practice in a student’s university experience (Kahn 2014; AAEEBL 2016). In this article we theorize our ISUComm ePortfolios as part of an environment for student learning, within which students explore themselves as university students on a particular campus. Students are challenged to become reflective communicators who recognize the transfer potential of their communication learning, including the affordances of the web, through their multimodal work in our program. Indeed, the concept of place has emerged as integral to our thinking about the interaction between technology and pedagogy in our program: learning occurs in deliberately designed environments that encourage exploration, growth, and reflection on that growth. Blakely and Pagnac (2012) note that

[t]he transition to being a successful university student is seen as a movement toward more generative and adaptive ways of understanding and being in the world, a process that happens on many levels and through many means [ . . . ] The transition to and subsequent experience at the university is not just a time of limbo or a four-year layover on the road to the ‘real world.’ (17)

As this suggests, providing students an effective curriculum is important to student transition, identity formation, and a sense of responsibility as learners. Such a curriculum must allow students to explore questions most new college students are implicitly asking: “Who am I?” “Where am I?” and “What do I do?” (Thayer, 2003, qtd in Blakely and Pagnac 19).

In this article, we describe how our ISUComm Foundation Courses Program’s threshold practices and curriculum undergird our pedagogy and how substantive technological development and support work together to enhance our pedagogy. We demonstrate how pedagogy and technology can and should mediate each other in ePortfolio development and implementation. We offer this while recognizing that our own experience is still evolving; what began with a small group within ISUComm Foundation Courses will, in Spring 2017, involve the entire program. Through workshops, our growth is extending to the larger Department of English and potentially the university as a whole. So while some of our decisions are contingent and context-dependent, we believe that sharing important decisions from our journey in implementing an effective ePortfolio platform for our program can be beneficial to any institution working to develop or improve one at their own institution. We feel these insights further the discourse about how ePortfolios are integral to multimodal programs and student learning.

Our approach to the implemention of an ePortfolio system in our foundational communication program, as well as our approach to writing this piece, is one where—as characterized by Michael Day (2009)—multiple perspectives and strengths are appreciated and utilized to accomplish important programmatic goals.[1] Our project began with our program goals in our multimodal, WOVE pedagogy, which focuses on written, oral, visual, and electronic modes of communication; we wanted to develop a stronger electronic component as a means to better develop the E in WOVE. This goal challenged us to transcend technological and pedagogical boundaries. We found that our pedagogy drove technological innovations just as our developing technology drove our pedagogy, particularly with respect to reflection. Therefore, the work described here is the dialogic result of the interactive forces exerted by our technological development and our pedagogical decisions and implementations.

Over three years, the ePortfolio has become a vital component of our ISUComm Foundation Communication (ISUComm) courses program (http://www.engl.iastate.edu/isucomm/). Our Online Learning Team (OLT), comprised of graduate students, both supports the customized ISUComm ePortfolio sites our students create, and also administers our department’s own LMS (built with Moodle) and WordPress installations. In the process of bolstering the technological components of our multimodal curriculum, we were in turn motivated to develop new pedagogies to encourage students to take full advantage of the reflective thinking that can make any portfolio a deep learning experience (Jenson 2011). At the same time, the graduate students who developed the open-source website platform had to consider the technical, pedagogical, and, importantly, the security and maintenance needs of our administration. In all of these developments, our thinking about learning in place resonates with that of Anne Wysocki and Michael Day: “as educators, technorhetoricians can and should respond to or resist large-scale, commercial community-building by forming and maintaining smaller-scale intentional communities of practice that fit with local contexts of value and belief” (Day 2009, 143).

Through our multiple voices—a writing program administrator (WPA) and three PhD students who have all contributed to the ePortfolio system in Iowa State University’s ISUComm Foundation Courses—we show that incorporating ISUComm ePortfolios into our students’ learning has not been a linear, straightforward process, but rather a ground-up, collaborative, and iterative undertaking. Our writing challenge has been to accurately present a process where technology and pedagogy informed each other in an iterative process.

Theorized Curriculum: Place, Thresholds, and Liminality

The curriculum for our very large program (7,500 students/year), ISUComm Foundation Courses, is firmly based in the guidance of our primary professional organizations—the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Council of Writing Program Administration (CWPA). As our detailed programmatic website elaborates (http://www.engl.iastate.edu/isucomm/), one goal of the program is to foster students’ development of rhetorical knowledge and practices in the context of a particular habit of mind, one the ePortfolio literature calls “folio thinking.” This process of learning allows students to “integrate discrete learning experiences, enhance their self-understanding, promote taking responsibility for their own learning, and support them in developing an intellectual identity” (Penny Light, Chen, and Ittelson 2011, 86). This habit of mind, we argue, is tightly coordinated with and complementary to the work we ask our students to undertake in our campus place-based curriculum. The curriculum used in the first of our two-course program centers on student discovery, exploration of, and research into the campus where they move and learn everyday. They are encouraged to see themselves within a process of transitioning, placing themselves within a trajectory, seeing or creating connections, and finding or developing identities as learners in a university campus (detailed in Blakely and Pagnac 2012).

Likewise, folio thinking is a process of exploring, establishing touchstones (artifacts, experiences), and extrapolating into one’s future based on past and present experiences. As Gourlay (2009) and others (Meyer and Land 2005; Adler-Kassner, Majewski, and Koshnick 2012; Robertson, Taczak, and Yancey 2012) assert, central to these transitional processes is liminality, an experience of being “betwixt spaces” (Palmer, O’Kane, and Owens 2009) and grappling with “troublesome knowledge” (Adler-Kassner et al, 2012). As students continue to navigate and learn from these liminal spaces, they experience a transition essential to the university experience.

The ISUComm Foundation Courses campus-as-place curriculum creates a “material-discursive where” (Mauk 2003, 379) from which work in ISUComm Foundation Communication classes connects students to their university experience deliberately and reflectively as a series of increasingly intensive opportunities to explore their present even as they imagine and prepare for their futures. (See Blakely and Pagnac, “Pausing in the Whirlwind,” 2012, for a full theoretical and curricular description.) ISUComm ePortfolios provide a significant complementary and parallel “material-discursive where” within which students have the opportunity to work in this “enabling ground” (Buell 22)—or what D.W. Winnicott (qtd in Ellsworth 2005) refers to as a “transition space”—a deliberately designed, interrelated learning place that fosters transformation.

As Gourlay (2009) asserts, “writing plays a role in student identity formation”; we agree that threshold concepts and practices can become the site of learning, sometimes as “troublesome points of struggle which may also lead the individual to a fuller sense of being a student and belonging at university” (181), and we argue that ePortfolios are thus an important threshold practice. By practicing folio thinking within the context of our place-based curriculum, students are able to productively transition to the university environment while also reflecting on their past experiences as communicators and learners. We have found that the ePortfolio (folio thinking and its metacognitive centerpiece, reflection) must therefore be introduced at the outset of students’ experience at the university—in our case, at the beginning of their first ISUComm Foundation Course. The ISUComm ePortfolio thus becomes the enveloping, shaping environment, the material-discursive where, the enabling ground, the transition space (e.g., Mauk 2003; Buell 2001; Ellsworth 2005), in which the student is encountering, working, exploring, and making connections among threshold concepts. They explore these concepts in tandem with the place-based work they are doing; both are environments in and through which they are readying themselves for future learning and accomplishing future goals.

Reflection as a Threshold Practice

These conclusions are the result of a threshold concept we learned as we navigated the liminal experience of incorporating ePortfolios into our program. ISUComm ePortfolios afforded better options for our students to display their multimodal work than the paper portfolios we had been asking them to produce. Indeed, when we began examining ISUComm ePortfolios for programmatic assessment, we were pleased with the multimodal products students showcased. Students incorporated photographs, videos, and screenshots as examples of their work in the course. They were doing a good job of collecting artifacts and displaying them in a digital environment, which is the first step to folio thinking. However, we found that many did not display the larger connections that indicate deep learning and reflective habits of mind (Yancey; Jensen). In fact, in response to a reflection prompt asking about their growth as communicators in an electronic medium, we found some students dutifully “reflecting” that their best example of electronic work during the semester was a PowerPoint presentation. They were in the process of creating an ISUComm ePortfolio whose very communicative mode was unacknowledged and seemingly invisible to them! Simply creating these spaces for students to work within was not enough to facilitate the habits of mind that ePortfolios have the potential to develop as a high-impact practice. As well, the way we were teaching reflection was not necessarily affording students the metacognitive experiences they needed in order to “see” the spaces they were filling with artifacts and better understand the affordances that environment gives them as the architects of those spaces.

We are now building a consistent programmatic pedagogy that more fully realizes the potential of the ISUComm ePortfolio, its attendant reflections, and (we hope, as a result) student learning. As we have scaled up ISUComm ePortfolios and encouraged more instructors to use the system, we have also spent considerable time contemplating and articulating how the print portfolio model need not simply be translated into the digital environment, but may need to be abandoned altogether in favor of a born-digital model. Critical reflection about how to encourage students’ reflective thinking made us realize that their reflection was in many instances constrained by the somewhat generic prompts we offered. As part of this effort, we developed an updated assignment sheet and rubric for the portfolio that asks students to think critically about what the electronic mode affords. The new assignment sheet calls for a web-centric approach that asks the students to conceptualize the ePortfolio in terms of web pages, menus, and digital content. We directly ask students to create an About Me page to introduce themselves and their ISUComm ePortfolios, which allows them a space to begin articulating their ethos and explore their identities as university students and communicators. In the LMS (Moodle) course template and lesson plans that we offer beginning instructors, we situate ISUComm ePortfolio construction near the beginning of the semester in order to encourage the creation of a living, dynamic document throughout the term.

But seeing electronic affordances was not the only metacognitive vision we found the students lacking. What was often absent in student reflections was evidence of deep learning and recognition that they are architects who make conscious choices about their own work. We have discovered, in alignment with what Peggy O’Neill (2002) suggests, that it is important to encourage instructors to pass over the liminal threshold and recognize how integral reflection ought to be throughout the composing process. In a large program like ours, change happens slowly. Previous versions of the place-based assignments consistent across all sections included reflection as a final step in the writing process. So, besides changing the Moodle course template for beginning instructors, we have begun providing departmental workshops that encourage instructors to work formal and informal reflective activities into their curriculum at various stages of projects rather than just at the end of major papers. As more instructors incorporate ISUComm ePortfolios we have an opportunity to stress this in their training. We also created better prompts for reflections throughout the semester and more specific and simple ways of evaluating them (based on research by Jenson 2011; Rickards, et al. 2008). For the final semester reflections associated with the ISUComm ePortfolio, we encourage teachers to treat the reflection as an important genre in itself rather than just something for students to check off the to-do list: to this end, we suggest that teachers devote class time to peer review for these final reflection pieces.

We also recognized the necessity of differentiating between reflection for assessment and reflective activities as opportunities to express weakness and growth. As most composition teachers know, students, knowing that reflections will be formally assessed, often write what they think will most impress their teachers. Our new emphasis on reflective activities throughout the composing process is designed to address this concern: some reflections or reflective activities are private spaces where expressing vulnerability does not impact grades; more formal reflections like those associated with the final ISUComm ePortfolio are public spaces. Our explicit attention to reflection as a process helps students develop reflective habits while also producing opportunities for teachers and students to interact in ways where vulnerabilities are not liabilities, but rather steps in the learning process. In fact, as Riedinger (2009) suggests, we ask students to “mine” the reflections they produce during the semester in order to more fully describe their learning (90). Thus students’ formal, final ISUComm ePortfolio reflections analyze their informal reflections as well as provide hyperlinks to notes, feedback, and drafts from other projects throughout the semester. At this point we hope that students recognize the similarities in the reflective process even as they recognize that their formal reflections are different from their informal ones.

This need for more fully integrated reflection throughout the semester has forced us to reconceptualize the role the ISUComm ePortfolio should play in the Foundation Courses as well. Since such a significant portion of the ISUComm ePortfolio assignment includes reflection, the student’s site thus provides a generative environment in which students can reflect on their work throughout the semester while using it as an interactive repository for their work. This may look like a blog in some classes, akin to a weekly journal. Other classes do reflective work in other ways, but they still begin ISUComm ePortfolios early in the semester by asking students to learn how to manipulate the platform and make informed rhetorical decisions as they set up their menus and pages. This is a distinct change from the paper portfolio process instructors used before, where the portfolio assignment was not introduced until the end of the semester. Regardless of what the actual end product looks like, as a result of our new pedagogical emphasis, we expect students to make conscious decisions as digital authors throughout the semester and, as a natural part of the process, reflect upon the affordances the digital environment offers.

We turn now to some of the growing pains we experienced as we developed our technical system. We hope these experiences will be enlightening, and we offer the pedagogical considerations highlighted above as a backdrop for considering how best to theorize such a system. There is a reciprocal relationship between technology and pedagogy. As exemplified above, we continue to restructure our pedagogy to reflect what we have learned as a result of our experience with the technology, and we continue to develop the technology to better match the pedagogy.

Developing the Platform as an Online Environment

Our fully functioning ePortfolio platform is a WordPress multisite installation called ISUComm Sites (hosted at sites.isucomm.iastate.edu). This means that a single installation was customized to create a network of ePortfolios that share the same themes and plugins and that can be managed by a small team of site administrators.

We chose WordPress because it is a well-supported, open-source platform that is easier for novices to learn. Using open-source tools like WordPress for ePortfolios is a practice endorsed by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), because it affords us the ability to “contribute to the development of open-source software and standards that support e-portfolio implementation and maintenance.” The advantages of a multisite installation are numerous: first, site administrators have the sole ability to create new ISUComm ePortfolio sites on the network; second, the site admins can simultaneously upgrade all sites and their related themes and plugins; third, the site admins can access the dashboard of any ISUComm ePortfolio site, which means they can assist instructors and students within the context of their own ISUComm ePortfolio sites; fourth, the same network hosts both a support site for new users and an online repository of materials for instructors teaching with the ISUComm ePortfolio, thus interweaving our support structure within the very environment that our students are working in.

The permissions architecture is adapted to foster folio thinking as a habit of mind by foregrounding that students have control over their own sites, which they retain throughout their college career and for up to four years after graduation. This process begins when instructors request sites for their students as part of their enrollment in English 150 and 250. When ISUComm ePortfolios are generated, both the instructor and the students have administrative control over their sites (minus access to themes and plugins, or the ability to add new users). This is so the instructor can assist students as well as assess their work. Our platform works through ISU’s authentication system, which has already assigned each user a unique Net-ID. To foreground that the site belongs to individual students, as opposed to their instructor, students’ Net-IDs become part of the URLs for their respective ISUComm ePortfolios (http://sites.isucomm.iastate.edu/[Net-ID]). Assigning students primary ownership over their individual sites is not without its problems. For example, our URL protocol confounds group-authorship as an option for ISUComm ePortfolio sites. But the advantage is that students’ ISUComm ePortfolios are unique to them, and can be accessed and developed throughout their college careers and beyond.

Our goal is that students will be able to use the reflective habits they develop in our foundation courses to interrogate their learning as they progress throughout their educational experience and use their ISUComm ePortfolios for new purposes. Following these first semesters, a script will remove the original instructor from the administrative role since the instructor is no longer commissioned to assist or assess the student’s work. Subsequently, the student brings their ISUComm ePortfolios to other communication courses, which allows them to continue developing folio thinking. The student later retains their ISUComm ePortfolio to purpose and repurpose as they choose. Another instructor might be given administrative access at any time, but only if the instructor has the student during a subsequent course, or if the student wishes to grant access to a mentor of their choosing. Having a network of ISUComm ePortfolio sites that authenticates through Iowa State’s system means that only current Iowa State students and staff have access to ISUComm ePortfolios within the network. This does not mean that our ISUComm ePortfolios cannot be public: this just means they are secured until the site can be properly developed by students before they appear on the World Wide Web.

The platform outlined above was the product of a three-year, iterative process. An early account of this negotiation has been published with the Association of Computing Machinery as an Experience Report with the Special Interest Group on Design and Organizational Communication (see Lutz, et al.). For the purposes of this article, it is worthy to address how we negotiated the security and permissions of our system before discussing our pedagogy.

Our first meeting to develop our ISUComm ePortfolio platform ended in failure because we could not find agreement with our IT technicians on how our ePortfolio platform would work. We understand this disagreement as a set of “boundaries,” or “sociocultural difference leading to discontinuity in action or interaction” (Akkerman and Bakker 2011, 133). In the simplest terms, we wanted an easy-to-use platform that was as open as it could be in terms of access and use; however, the lead technician was not confident that a group of graduate students knew enough about server-side administration and development to successfully create and maintain a WordPress installation. The technician wanted to know: would the sites be available on the WWW? What security would be in place? Who would have administrative privileges on the server? Who would have access to the directories and to the database? How much storage would be needed? Who would have access to the back end of the WordPress network? And on the individual students’ sites? At this point, we did not understand the technician’s expectations and, apart from our imaginations, we were not quite sure of our own. But just as students learn and grow from “troublesome knowledge” (Adler-Kassner, et al 2012, 2) that does not fit easily with pre-existing understandings or projections, this ostensible “failure” became the enabling ground on which we were able to move forward with a new plan.

We built a heuristic framework to understand how we might reconcile expectations and transcend boundaries in order to build the best platform possible, as shown in Table 1.

Questions for Platform Development Our Solutions

What kind of server environment is needed?

Who can provide a Uniform Resource Identifier? What should it be?

Virtual Machines hosted by the university and managed by their staff. The platform is accessible through Shibboleth, ISU’s centralized authentication system. The WordPress technician has access to the directories. The graduate students have access to the code through GitHub.

Who has access to the directories?

Who has access to the back-end of each site?

Custom roles created in a WordPress multisite installation: super admin, instructor, and student. The WordPress technician and the OLT are super admins, who have sitewide control over sites, themes, and plugins; the instructors have administrative control over their own ePortfolio site and the sites of their students, but cannot access themes or plugins; the students have administrative control over their own ePortfolio site, again without access to themes or plugins.

Who are the primary contacts?

Virtual support, or support in person?

How many hours can be dedicated to support?

The email address sites@iastate.edu was set up through the university. The WordPress technician, the OLT, and the Director of Composition are included in this list. There is a dedicated staff of five graduate students with 10 hours per week devoted to Sites and other online platforms; 30 hours of available in-person support; 2 hours of invited co-working space each week.
Development? The Jetpack™ plugin manager that expands the affordances of the platform to include custom fonts, styles, embedded documents, embedding Prezi and Youtube, and custom CSS for individual sites. A Github repository is used for theme development.

Table 1. Heuristic framework for the platform’s beta.


It was not feasible to give students their own WordPress installations and access to both the server and its directories. To amend this, a WordPress multisite installation was created on ISU’s servers. Their support staff assisted our graduate students with the development of the server and the database, while the graduate students retained a super-admin role that gave them full access the dashboard of the multisite network. To create a server environment to these specifications, the OLT aligned themselves as “boundary brokers” within the department, or individuals with “boundary experiences” that informed how we could foster productive conversations about “real differences and common ground” (Wenger 2000, 233). Their involvement with ISU’s Information Technology Services resulted in the security architecture described in Table 1.

Table 1 also describes the affordances of the environment. Since the boundary brokers had full control of the platform, they worked with a WordPress technician to install themes and plugins that would foster folio thinking, as connected to class learning outcomes and larger learning outcomes. To support multimodality (written, oral, visual, and electronic communication), these plugins allowed students to embed images and video, as well as word documents, PowerPoint files, and Prezi presentations. The plugins also expanded options for changing fonts, colors, and styles to allow for creating visual hierarchies with increased usability in mind. Themes were also chosen as a means to encourage folio thinking by helping students theorize potential future applications during their time in college. For example, the boundary brokers chose themes that encouraged a clever visual layout that design majors could use for their professional development, while other themes were chosen to foreground embedded documents in ways useful to students majoring in business or engineering. This architecture enabled students to demonstrate the affordances of the four modes in Foundation Courses and reflect on how they can make informed choices about how to use them with audience and purpose in mind, now and in the future.

To complement these affordances, the boundary brokers worked with the ISUComm Foundation Courses Director to develop ISUComm ePortfolios as an environment of discovery, exploration, and research, a place to create connections and develop identity (Blakely and Pagnac 2012). The metaphor of place works well as a way to encourage students to view their ISUComm ePortfolios, like the museums and buildings they research, as a space to curate, showcase, and contextualize their work. By working through a scaffolded process of research, critical inquiry, and composition, students can define themselves as growing scholars and professionals in an online place that frames their presence on ISU’s campus. The artifacts they choose to demonstrate their best communication work are, by virtue of the place-based curriculum, artifacts that bring the physical spaces of the campus into their ISUComm ePortfolios and thus into their metacognitive processes. They use the various modes of our program—written, oral, visual, and electronic—to speak to the significance of place in shaping their learning. Here it is important to note that David Hailey (2014) discusses problems with the place metaphor and how it creates filters that make it more difficult for usability experts to evaluate websites as texts. We find the reverse of this situation is helpful in the context of Foundation Communication: as students have worked with documents all semester, the ISUComm ePortfolio platform promotes the place metaphor more strongly as it affords students the ability to guide audiences through their place—its architectural features and its unique configuration of pages and links.

Our working prototype reflected a collaborative effort, where expectations were envisioned, negotiated, and finally developed into software that met the shared vision of ISUComm. Now in 2016, we are scaling up. We now have a dedicated homepage (Figure 1) for our platform, which explains the vision of ISUComm and the purpose of the ISUComm ePortfolio. Our dedicated homepage is a way to solicit students’ consent for using their ISUComm ePortfolios as examples for other students or for the meetings we have with stakeholders across our campus. With this infrastructure in place, we have moved beyond the pilot stage and are actively working to integrate our ISUComm ePortfolio into the curriculum for ISUComm Foundation courses.

This image shows the homepage of ISUComm Sites. Tabs in the menu include “Home, News, About, Examples, Resources, Requests, and Support.” The Resources tab has been expanded in the image, displaying “Quick Start, WordPress, Video Training, Pedagogy, and Authorization and Release Form” as options.

Figure 1. ISUComm Sites homepage


Looking to the Future: Recursivity, Revision, Reiteration

We are scaling up to further develop our multisite installation and its various subsystems. The system is old enough now that we have students asking us questions similar to the situation mentioned above, including, “What should I do if my English 250 instructor isn’t using ISUComm ePortfolios, but I want to continue using the site I created in English 150?” (a problem that is lessening as we make ISUComm Sites the standard practice across both courses in the ISUComm Foundation Courses program), or “I want to make my website public so others can see it. How do I enable that?” Instructors are also coming to us with various needs that they have identified, such as wanting to use ISUComm Sites for group projects. Because sites.isucomm.iastate.edu is set up for individual students’ ISUComm ePortfolios associated with their individual Net-IDs as outlined above, the platform doesn’t translate well into group-based projects for team-based learning environments, such as those described by Michaelsen, Knight, and Fink (2002). During this upcoming year we will develop a new subdomain where we can host sites on which multiple students can collaborate to support these projects. To address the desire to make our ePortfolios public for outward-facing, employment-seeking websites, we will also develop a separate subdomain to allow students to create professional ePortfolios. Another incentive for developing this subdomain is to allow new graduate teaching assistants to develop their own teaching ePortfolios during our training proseminar. Instructors need to have experience with creating a site before they can direct students to create one. Additionally, if instructors use their own site to show students how to set up their ISUComm ePortfolios, one system alone is not enough to support these two needs: a site cannot be both a professional teaching ePortfolio and an example semester project for students at the same time. Thus, we have identified a real need for multiple subdomains on our system, each with its own permissions, plugins, themes, and user bases. While we’ve been at it, we have decided to make a name change to ISUComm Sites, largely due to the unfortunate grammatical construction of having a “Sites site.”

All told, Table 2 discusses the various systems that the OLT administers (or will soon administer).

System Name Purpose Audience
ISUComm Courses (Moodle) Learning Management System (LMS) for all Foundation Communication and other English department courses Instructors who prefer Moodle to Blackboard; students
ISUComm Sites Original ePortfolio platform for ISUComm ePortfolios (and beyond) Instructors; students; programmatic assessment
ISUComm ePortfolios ePortfolio platform for ISUComm ePortfolios (will eventually replace ISUComm Sites) Instructors; students; programmatic assessment
ISUComm Support Support site for all ISUComm platforms All ISUComm participants
DRAW (Digital Repository for Academic Writing) A repository of lesson plans and other pedagogical resources Instructors
ISUComm eProfiles Web portfolio platform for student employment-seeking websites Instructors (particularly TAs); students
ISUComm eProjects Team-based learning platform for group project websites Instructors; students

Table 2. Platforms managed by the Online Learning Team (OLT).


Going forward, our future goals also include implementing ISUComm ePortfolios more consistently in advanced writing classes as well as across the university. Our Associate Dean has, kairotically, become our advocate with others in the university. When we showed him what we developed, he immediately saw the vision of what ISUComm ePortfolios can do for other programs. He encouraged and facilitated our reaching out to other departments on campus (to our learning community partners, for instance, and to the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching) to see how the ePortfolios students develop in their ISUComm Foundation Courses can truly provide a foundation for the work they do in their majors. For example, ISUComm ePortfolios have the potential to add an important element to projects in the disciplines where students can share not only their projects but also the steps they take to produce the projects, enabling others to replicate and/or improve upon their steps. We expect to negotiate entirely new boundaries as we work with various departments across campus to tailor the spaces of ISUComm ePortfolios to their needs.

As a result of our journey with implementing ISUComm ePortfolios, we have undergone transitional experiences which, as threshold concept experiences, will never allow us to approach our ISUComm Foundation Courses in quite the same way again. One such change is a better understanding of security concerns with regard to requiring students to use this technology. Another threshold we crossed has opened up a space for us to see reflection with new eyes. We cannot expect deep learning and folio thinking without fostering those habits of mind with explicit attention and frequent practice. While students need to explore their university as a place and their identities as university students, they also need to critically explore their 21st-century composing processes and products. The space and capabilities ISUComm ePortfolios offer have great potential to enable deep learning for students in those exploratory, or liminal, learning opportunities. They encounter new knowledge in relation to the old, not in the way that Robertson, Taczak, and Yancey (2012) call assemblage, or “grafting of isolated bits of new knowledge onto a continuing schema of old knowledge” (6-7), but as remix, in which students revise and incorporate what they see as different from their former communication learning.

However, to inspire that learning, the design of both the pedagogy and the technology must be considered carefully and recursively. Similarly, professional development about pedagogical uses of technology for a diverse cadre of faculty (including GTAs, adjuncts, and tenured and tenure-eligible faculty) must continue to be appropriate, mindful of the ineffectiveness of one-size-fits-all approaches to what are complex individual needs and concerns among such a large and diverse faculty. Blakely (2015) notes that “[f]or all groups of faculty, we must continue to work to provide professional development that allows both for the growth and maintenance of successful and purposeful identities” (152). Our new attitude as boundary brokers with regard to technical roadblocks will continue to be crucial to achieving our goals. As we have described, both the challenge and the strength of our project has been its recursive and multi-voiced nature; the same has been true of writing this article. We acknowledge that every institution has different resources, administrative support, and other contextual realities, but we feel that the overarching concepts we have here described have broad application and potential for usefulness in any program.


[1] There is no lead author. Instead, the authors wrote from their respective areas of expertise, and collaborated to develop the article as a cohesive whole. Listed first is Bryan Lutz ABD, who was one of the senior developers of the Alpha and Beta platforms and who has substantially contributed to the pedagogy and support materials for the technology component of the project. Listed second is Dr. Barbara Blakely, whose vision as director of ISUComm Foundation Courses, whose development of the campus place-based curriculum, extensive research into pedagogical uses of technology in foundation courses, and whose influence within the university established the context that made the project and its continued growth possible. Listed third is Kathy Rose ABD, assistant to Dr. Blakely who bravely piloted the Alpha and Beta versions in her courses and whose expertise in pedagogy, particularly writing as a reflective act, was pivotal for revising course materials to encourage more folio thinking and deep learning. Listed fourth is Tom Ballard, senior member of the OLT, who has substantially contributed to the pedagogy and support materials and whose leadership within the OLT has secured the continued growth of the project.


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The authors would like to thank Dr. Eric York as a pioneer and senior developer of the Alpha and Beta platforms; Dr. Erin Zimmerman, who piloted the Alpha and Beta versions in her courses; Mr. Brent Moore, for his insight and support of the platform; Mr. Kevin Wickham, who is our WordPress technician and whose total contributions are impossible to cover in a short article; Dr. Arne Hallam, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, for his enthusiastic and ongoing support of the platform; Dr. Ann Marie VanDerZanden, for helping us promote the platform beyond the English department; Dr. Kathie Gossett, whose insights and support were essential to developing the platform; Ms. Rebecca O’Connell, for her expertise and support in the pilot stage of the project; Mr. Joe Geluso and Dr. Hyejin Yang for their development of ISUComm Support; and Mr. Hiro Iino, for his leadership and support as the manager of the Online Learning Team.

About the Authors

Bryan Lutz is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Professional Communication at Iowa State University. His dissertation examines how Millennials use multimodal composition to resist myths placed upon them by older generations in professional and academic contexts. His research examines how activist organizations develop and use technology to construct an identity, compose, and advocate for a non-violent, ethical solution to a problem—and ways to both maximize that potential and to teach it in composition. Bryan’s published scholarship appears in Computers and Composition Online and SIGDOC. bryanalutz@gmail.com.

Dr. Barbara Blakely, faculty in the Iowa State University Department of English Rhetoric and Professional Communication Program, has been the writing program administrator of Iowa State University’s Foundation Communication program for ten years. Her scholarship, spanning sixteen years, appears in the Journal of Writing Program Administration, Computers and Composition, College Teaching, and Pedagogy, among other journals. She teaches courses in composition theory, pedagogy, and research and co-teaches a writing program administration course. blakely@iastate.edu.

Kathy Rose is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Professional Communication and co-assistant WPA at Iowa State University. With an emphasis in writing pedagogy, her research has included studies of online peer response, writing center tutor interactions, ePortfolio reflections, and transfer. Her dissertation work explores the experiences of students who take Advanced Placement or dual credit English classes in high school and how their training transfers to their writing experiences in the university. She has a forthcoming chapter in Next Steps, a multi-voiced book of discussions about Writing About Writing (WAW) pedagogy. krose213@gmail.com.

Tom Ballard is a PhD student in Rhetoric and Professional Communication at Iowa State University. His research involves digital media, technical communication, and rhetoric. Specifically, he seeks to better understand and define how digital media genres influence communication experiences. His dissertation project will investigate Internet memes as such a genre and how it can help multimodal writing students transfer between modes and ingratiate themselves into discourse communities. He has an article in The Rocky Mountain Review and shorter pieces in Intercom and Technical Communication. tommcballard@gmail.com.

Anderson and Shepherd – "I Lit: An E-Poetry, E-Portfolio Exhibit"

I Lit: An E-Poetry, E-Portfolio Exhibit

Editors’ Note

Daniel Anderson and Emily Shepherd have created an ePortfolio to curate student examples within a framework of theory and context. This submission provides an example of the kind of scholarship we hope to see more of at JITP, i.e. scholarship that leverages the affordances of technology to present its theses, analyses and evidences more effectively. After exploring options, we found the iframe to be the best way to render this work on our site. We recognize that an iframe may not render the contents of the piece correctly on all devices and apologize for any inconvenience; for a full-screen experience, please see http://ilit.altscholarship.com/.

About the Authors

Daniel Anderson is Professor of English, Director of the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, and Director of the Studio for Instructional Technology and English Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He studies digital rhetoric, teaching with technology, and alternative approaches to scholarship. His books on teaching include Connections: A Guide to Online Writing, Writing About Literature in the Media Age, and Beyond Words: Reading and Writing in a Digital Age. He also creates new media performance art and scholarship using the computer screen as a composing space. A full biography and more information can be found at http://iamdananderson.net/.

Emily Shepherd is an undergraduate student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She studies History, English, and Education. She wants to become a middle school teacher and is interested in literacy and working with English Language Learners. She is particularly interested in incorporating multimedia composition in the classroom, which can be an effective method of engaging ELL students.

Figure 2: An image of a student sitting in front of a camera with hands clasped together in front of her face.

Reflecting on Reflections: Using Video in Learning Reflection to Enhance Authenticity

Emma J. Rose, University of Washington Tacoma
Jarek Sierschynski, University of Washington Tacoma
Elin A. Björling, University of Washington Tacoma


Reflection is commonly used in the classroom to encourage students to think about and articulate what they have learned. However, when students produce reflections they typically create a written text for the instructor, outside of the classroom and as a summative retrospective account of learning. In this paper, we present the details of how we implemented Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR), a video enabled reflection within the classroom environment to help students assess their perceptions of self and learning across time. In this paper, we recount how we implemented EMR in an informal learning environment and provide our own assessment of its effectiveness. We argue that using video makes the reflection experience more authentic and meaningful for both student and teacher.


Reflection is commonly used in the classroom to encourage students to articulate what they have learned and to aid them in thinking about how they have learned. Traditionally, students reflect on their learning process through the act of writing. According to Yancey, written reflections benefit students by helping them remember details of how they completed an assignment, as a generative process to create meaning for future writing, and as a way to develop authority and expertise (Yancey 1998). While written reflection has its strengths, it also has some inherent limitations. Written reflection is typically geared toward oneself and is often produced as a text for the audience of the instructor — perhaps limiting the student’s authenticity.

Moreover, writing is a form of culturally constructed expression with its own peculiarities (see, Chafe 1991; Chafe & Tannen 1987) that simultaneously differentiate and distance written texts from more direct or immediate forms of communication such as speech, sign or gesture. Even though texts are a profound means of representing human thought and introspection, the process of writing a text can become an impediment to self expression. For example, when writing skills are underdeveloped, not available, or stymied by other factors, writing can be limiting rather than productive. Additionally, much of the writing process relies on drafting and revising, a reiterative process aimed at clarifying expression and distancing the writer from the initially captured “raw” and momentary expression. At the same time, it can be argued that the strength of writing as a reflective tool lies precisely in a symbolic and temporal chasm between the individual and experience that nurtures reflection.

Given the benefits of the reflection process, and the inherent downsides of written expression, we wanted to explore a mode of reflection that could be incorporated authentically into the context of science learning in an informal setting, in this case during a summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) camp for teens. We ground our use of the term, authenticity, in Buxton’s (2006) framework for authenticity in science education. He conceptualizes a youth-centered model that focused on the lives and learning of underserved and marginalized youth and thus on equity and social justice (see Medin & Bang 2014; Barron, Mertl & Martin 2014; Barton 1998; Barton & Young 2000; Nasir & Cooks 2009). These youth-centered models view authentic science learning and knowledge as a sociocultural process situated in lived experiences, such as cultures, identities, communities, homes, and the wide range of informal environments where learning occurs. Implementing a reflection method that leverages the experience of the community and captures reflection in context was synergistic to the authentic, youth-centered model of learning at the heart of the summer STEM summer camp experience we were investigating.

To create an integrated and authentic notion of reflection in the learning environment, we introduced an exercise that asked students to record a series of videos. Adding video to the reflection process helped students see that their thoughts about themselves and the STEM subjects have changed. This activity also layered an additional element of a shared and community based reflection to the learning experience. Furthermore, the video reflections provided instructors and program directors with an authentic representation of the students’ struggles and triumphs throughout the duration of the camp. These factors helped students see their own learning and helped instructors in getting feedback on the course to inform future improvements of the camp.

In this article, we provide our own reflection on the process of introducing a new method of reflection into a learning environment. The aim of this article is to introduce the concept of Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR) and to recount its effective use in an informal STEM learning environment. We propose that the addition of momentary, that is in the moment, video to capture real-time student reflections in the classroom provides an authentic reflective practice leading to valuable insights for both learner and instructor. First, we articulate the context of the learning environment where we implemented EMR. Second, we define reflection as a pedagogical practice and how it is used in writing and how video can support reflection on practice. Third, we provide details of how we implemented video reflection in the summer camp, a method we are calling Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR), and invite educators and researchers to consider this method of reflection in their own teaching environments.

Context: Informal Learning in a STEM Summer Camp

Every summer at a Pacific Northwest University, middle and high school students come together for a summer camp that is focused on learning about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The STEM camp mission is to encourage and increase diversity in STEM fields by providing informal learning experiences for students (grades 7-12) that remain underrepresented in the sciences. Underrepresented groups included low-income, minority, female and potential first-generation college students, among others. The campers who attend the STEM Camp tell us they are drawn to it year after year because it is fun, and ‘you get to do things’. Participants build robots, design video games, wade out into the muddy banks of our local waterways to collect water samples, and more. It is a break from school and existing social pressures; it is a safe place. Students make new friends and deepen existing relationships as they interact with their peers, some who return each year.

Informal learning is a broad concept that refers to any learning that occurs outside of the formal realm of school (Dierking et al. 2003). Informal learning includes people engaging with their environment in a variety of contexts and settings. Learning experiences that are designed for broad audiences (i.e., museums, summer camps, etc.) are considered types of informal learning both inside and outside of the STEM disciplines. In these settings, informal learning tends to be momentary, unplanned, problem-based, learner-centered, driven by individual interests (National Research Council 2009). Many STEM summer camps can be categorized as informal learning environments in that they promote experiential learning and exist outside of the realm of formal schooling. The camp instructors include current college students or professionals such as educators or scientists from the local community. The authors of this article were involved with the STEM camp in the roles of faculty mentors to the instructors.

It is within this informal learning setting that we implemented EMR as both a pedagogical tool and a research method aimed to enable students to reflect on their changing identities as well as their relationship to STEM subjects. In the Summer of 2015, we conducted an IRB approved research study where we used EMR with 9th grade participants in the STEM camp. The students spent three weeks designing a video game using Kodu, a visual programming language. In this paper, we focus on the promise of EMR for use as a pedagogical tool in the classroom.

Reflection as a Pedagogical Practice

Reflection is a common pedagogical practice where students are asked to think about and articulate what they have learned. Reflection has long been viewed as synonymous with thinking and learning (Dewey 1933). Moreover, reflection is considered a core element of metacognition. Metacognition, a multifaceted term connected with reflection, refers to knowledge about, and the regulation of, cognitive processes such as self-regulated learning (Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, and Campione 1983; Flavell 1979; Zimmerman 2002). In other words, metacognition is a student’s awareness of how to learn and also an awareness of herself as a learner. Metacognition is also connected to students’ ability to transfer their learning across contexts (Bransford, Brown & Cocking 2000). In K-12 settings, both elements of metacognition, knowledge of strategies associated with specific academic tasks (such as reading, writing or math) and self-regulatory strategies (such as self-monitoring or self-evaluation) are commonly used in teaching and learning tasks. There is a rich variety of established pedagogical approaches that apply metacognitive strategies for learning. For instance, in writing, students use think-aloud and self-questioning strategies (Scardamalia, Bereiter & Steinbach 1984). In reading, students self-monitor to check for comprehension through questioning, summarizing or making predictions about a text (Palincsar & Brown 1984). In math, students can use self-assessment to evaluate their own mathematical capabilities (Schunk 1996). These strategies have been associated with increased achievement and also with higher self-efficacy (see Schunk 1996). Furthermore, reflection often occurs as an important process in the development of expertise. Looking at how expert practitioners engage in their work, Schön observes: “Reflection tends to focus interactively on the outcomes of action, the action itself, and the intuitive knowing implicit in the action.” (Schön 1982, 56).

According to Yauncey (1998), reflection is both a process and product and the product that is created is available to the world and is therefore a social act. She states, “because it works both inside and outside, reflection-in-presentation is personal, but it’s social as well” (Yancey 1998, 94). However, in the writing classroom, a reflection tends to be a written text, constructed by a student for the instructor and often disregards this social aspect referred to by Yauncey. When produced for the sole audience of the teacher, written reflections can pressure students to attempt to perform the type of writing expected by the teacher: demonstrating what they should have learned rather than reporting on what they actually learned (Jenson 2010).

Ecological Momentary Reflection

Our goal in implementing video enabled reflection in the classroom was twofold. We wanted to see how students’ ideas about and in relation to STEM were impacted by their experience in the STEM camp. But we also wanted students to see how their perceptions and attitudes may have changed over time. We wanted the reflections to be as natural, immediate and embedded as possible within the practices of the camp. We wanted the reflections to be as close to the learning experience as possible, both in terms of the timing of the reflections and where the reflection would take place. In other words, we wanted them to be momentary (i.e. quick and timely) and also ecologically valid (i.e. within the environment where learning is taking place). This rationale for this embedded aspect of the reflections was driven both by our research focus but also by past experience.

The design of our reflection method is drawn from an approach used in behavioral health, medicine and psychology known as Ecological Momentary Assessment or EMA (LaCaille et al. 2013). In EMA, research participants provide feedback on symptoms, feelings, or other measures in real time and these assessments are often repeated over time. This real time reporting is enabled by a variety of technologies, such as mobile phones. As proponents of EMA report, its strength is in the authentic context where the research takes place and the ability to capture data as it happens (Shiffman, Stone, and Hufford 2008). Additionally, EMA has been proven an effective method to capture change within individuals and avoids the “pitfalls and limitations of reliance on autobiographical memory” (Shiffman, et al. 2008, 7).

Based on our previous experience in the STEM camp, we had limited success with interview methods with students. Although we had seen the students’ progress in a variety of ways, their own assessment of their experience did not include an expression of awareness of these changes. We also felt that the interview environment seemed superficial and separate from the classroom activities, likely influencing the authenticity of the students’ responses.

As a result, we designed our methodology to be informed by the concept of reflection and also containing the ecological and momentary characteristics of EMA. Because of our use of video to capture student reflections in the moment we named this method Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR).

Implementing EMR in the Classroom

In the summer of 2015, we worked closely with the 9th grade cohort of the STEM camp program and their instructors to implement the EMR method. We explained to students that they were creating the videos for themselves but also for each other as a way to reflect on their learning and to capture their experiences at summer camp. Therefore, students were aware there was a larger audience for the reflections. Students were also told that highlights of the reflections would be compiled and they would watch this highlight compilation together on the last day of the camp. They were given digital copies of their personal reflections, their group videos and a copy of the final edited compilation to take home with them as a keepsake from their camp experience.

Students created three video reflections during the three-week summer camp: an introduction, mid-point, and final reflection. For the first reflection, students created an introductory video. They were asked to introduce themselves, talked about their hobbies or interests, and reflect on how they felt about STEM and about themselves. In the second video reflection, students were given two photographs of themselves from previous days at camp that captured them engaging in one of the main STEM camp practices, in this case coding a video game on a computer. Students were asked to reflect upon what they were doing in the photo, how they felt looking at themself and what the photographs reflected about them as individuals. In their final reflection, which took place at the beginning of the third week of the camp, the procedure was slightly different. Students watched the previous two reflection videos and were then asked to respond via video to the experience of watching themselves and how they changed over the course of the summer camp. The specific wording of the prompts is shown in Table 1 below.

Topic and timing Prompts
Video reflection 1: Introduction (Day 1)


Introduction reflection

1.     Who are you:
What do you like to do? What makes you special?

2.     You and technology:
Do you think of yourself as a technical or computer person? Why or why not?
Do you think other people in your life (friends or family) see you as a technical or computer person? Why or why not?

3.     Complete this sentence: By the end of STEM camp this summer I expect….

Video reflection 2: Photo reflection
(Day 8)
Photo reflection

During one of the early days when students start coding they will photographed while they are working. The photograph will serve as part of the prompt:

1.     How would you describe what you are doing in the photographs? How does this fit into the rest of your life?

2.     Can you talk a little about what you feel and think when you look at these photographs?

3.     What do these photos reflect about who you are?

4.     What can somebody looking at these photos learn about you?

5.     CHALLENGE—Come up with your own prompt (question for self) related to the photos and try to answer it.

3. Video reflection 3: Wrap up (Day 14_) Final reflection:

After watching the video of yourself from the start of the program, answer these questions:

1.     What do you think after watching that video?

2.     Do you see yourself any differently from when you started STEM camp?

3.     Have you learned anything new about yourself?

4.     What was the best and worst parts of STEM camp?

5.     What surprised you about this experience?

6.     Please complete the following sentence. “After participating in STEM camp this year, I feel that I… “

To create an appropriate space for the video reflections, we used a small, quiet, private room just outside of the main classroom where students were spending their days. The room was equipped with a GoPro Hero 4 camera and students could move or adjust the camera based on their comfort level (Figure 1 shows the room set up).

Figure 1: An image of a small room with two empty chairs and a table. On the table is a video camera on a tripod, and a list of questions that contain the prompts for the video.

Figure 1: Video reflection room set up with camera and prompts.


Our motivation for creating a private space adjacent to the classroom was to give students a place to be able to quietly reflect while still being close to the camp setting. Giving the students a private space, but one that is still connected in time and space to the learning environment maintained the ecological soundness of this method. Figure 2 shows a still photo from a student’s video reflection showing the setting where students made their recordings.

Figure 2: An image of a student sitting in front of a camera with hands clasped together in front of her face.

Figure 2: A still from a student’s video reflection.


In addition, we had anticipated, and hoped, that this mode of reflecting: speaking to a video camera, might emulate current, culturally appropriate and familiar practices. We took our inspiration from the many examples of young people posting reflections or product reviews on YouTube from their bedrooms. We often referred to the small room where the videos were being made as our “reality show confession booth.” This idea seemed to resonate with the students and they seemed very comfortable expressing themselves in front of the camera.

Assessing EMR

In order to retrospectively assess how EMR worked within this setting, our team applied thematic analysis (Guest et al. 2011) of the following qualitative data: (1) student video reflections (2) field notes, memos and reflections from the research team, and (3) data from personal interviews with the two instructors of the camp. The qualitative data was reviewed, coded and discussed by the research team to uncover common themes throughout the data. These data were discussed in relation to the researchers’ experiences of using standard textual reflections.

Theme 1: Initial Reticence, Overall Enthusiasm

During the creation of the first video reflection in week one, some students mentioned that they felt a little awkward creating the video diaries. In contrast, in the last video reflection, students commented that they looked awkward in the first video or remembered feeling awkward at the time. Although there was this initial reticence regarding the first video recording, students also described how much more comfortable they were recording their last reflection. Most students were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the experience of having done the videos in retrospect. They mentioned how they enjoyed using the cameras, interviewing one another, and taking the cameras on their field trips. This enthusiasm was palpable when the students were showed the highlight compilation of their summer experience.

“Anyway, I really liked that video. I’m feeling good because it’s kinda like the whole three weeks packed into one little video and it kinda shows my progress, like what I thought before and what I think now. And it’s kinda different to think that like in the beginning, I didn’t think I could do it, and I know how to get it done.” – P6

As one instructor noted, “we even asked them if they liked [it]… and they all responded with an overwhelming “YESSSS!!” (Solis-Bruno 2015).

The instructors in the program while supportive of EMR, had a variety of questions concerning the feasibility of this technology. However, they helped to creatively embed the videos reflections into the environment and the curriculum. They were also helpful in communicating the purpose of the videos in a student-centered way by referring to it as “the documentary.” Similar to the students’ experiences, instructors grew to value this novel method. By the end of the program, they reflected that the felt EMR was highly valuable for the students and both instructors said they would incorporate video reflection in this way in future classes (Solis-Bruno 2015; Jordan 2015).

Theme 2: Seeing Themselves

In the previous year of the STEM summer camp, we had asked students to think about how they had changed over the three-week experience in a series of semi-structured interviews. Overall, students in previous years did not express seeing much change in themselves over the short experience in the camp. However, students who used EMR were able to visibly see themselves in retrospect and comment on the changes in their learning. They compared their feelings about technology, coding, and engineering over the three-week period and were able to see for themselves how their thoughts had changed. These “a-ha” moments were the most visible during the second and third video reflections when students were looking at pictures of themselves or looking back at their previous videos.

During the second video reflection, we gave students photographs of themselves at work during the camp. Figure 3 shows an example of a photograph that was used as a prompt. In this video reflection in particular, students expressed surprise and amazement at seeing themselves from this outside perspective.

Figure 3: An image of a student sitting in front of a computer, designing a video game.

Figure 3: A photograph of a student that was used as a prompt in the second video reflection.


Many said they had never seen themselves in this way before. They described seeing themselves as focused or that they looked like someone who was programming. Many mentioned that their families would be surprised to see the person they saw in this picture: someone who was focused and working hard.

“I think that I look determined. I feel- I feel pretty good with um the fact that I can do this … like knowing that I can do this kind of stuff, that’s cool.” – P2

This reflection in particular points out the strength of the Ecological Momentary Reflection (EMR) method, and when combined with photographs, gives students an external or third person view of themselves.

In the third and last video reflection, many students had revelations and moments of surprise as they looked back on their previous videos. Several of them provided very clear and impassioned reflections on how this experience had fundamentally changed the way they saw themselves in relations to STEM topics. One student said that before the camp, she had seen herself as an “artsy” person and now she saw she was equally strong in things like engineering. Given the goals of this STEM summer camp learning experience, this student’s shift is encouraging.

“After watching the video that I made felt really confident in myself and I felt like …[I’m] doing what I’m supposed to in MSL.” – P3

“I see myself as more of a techy person I guess I… I realized that I really like technology and I really enjoy programming these games that we’ve been doing.” – P1

Several students had noted during their reflections that they had been struggling with some aspects of the coding tasks they were doing in the camp. These struggles were temporary frustrations and only moments in time. All of the students successfully completed a working, playable video game during their time in the camp. Watching themselves talk about these struggles in the video reflections allowed them to see how they had been able to overcome them. Therefore, they were able to talk about their resilience in terms of overcoming these challenges. Being able to see how they overcame challenges and that they could overcome these challenges, enables students to see that with hard work and by asking for help they can succeed, which enables the development of a growth mindset (Dweck 2006) and grit (Duckworth et al. 2007).

Theme 3: Broadening the Notion of Audience

In contrast to the other types of reflection done in classroom settings, that tend to be solely focused on writing, we saw how the addition of the videos helps to broaden the notion of audience. The expectation and the format of the videos implied an external and broader audience than just the student and instructor. This expectation had been communicated as part of the video project and it was clear that students were thinking broadly about audience. Students had mentioned their family members in the reflections and also used the pronoun, “you”, in their reflections to invoke the audience of ‘us’ (the faculty advisors, instructors, and their peers in the course). One student’s final reflection seemed like a dedication to his peers, as he proclaimed “how cool you guys are.” According to the instructors, some students wanted an even broader audience, and were disappointed that the compilation video was not played at the end of camp celebration for their family and friends (Jordan 2015). Evidently, they were proud of not just the accomplishments of the products of the summer camp, but also the process in which they discussed their learning through the video diaries.

Theme 4: Logistics, Implementation and Technical Challenges

When introducing any new pedagogical method that incorporates technology in the classroom, there is much to learn for future iterations. We learned a great deal about implementing EMR and areas for improvement in the future, both for the STEM summer camp learning context and beyond. One of our concerns at the beginning of the study was that students entering and exiting the main classroom to record the video diaries would be disruptive to the learning environment. However, the instructors stated that they did not feel that the activity was disruptive. They stated that from their perspective, the process of making and viewing the videos was highly valuable for the students (Jordan 2015; Solis-Bruno 2015). The lack of disruption could be attributed to the nature of the informal learning environment, which can be less structured than a formal school-based learning situations. However, we assert that the EMR method would complement a learning environment that is project or inquiry based.

One technical challenge we encountered in the study was audio quality. We were using GoPro Hero 4 cameras and while the video is of very high quality, the audio was not. With that video camera in particular, an external microphone would greatly increase audio quality. In addition, the battery life and size of the video recordings were limiting factors. An additional technical challenge is the storing of video files. It is important to set up an appropriate technical infrastructure for the video files to be securely stored but still accessible to the students and instructors.

The Promise of EMR

As we reflect on our experience with EMR, we turn to its strengths and promise for use as an authentic reflection tool to augment and make visible learning that occurs in informal and formal settings. We assumed that EMR would be congruent with teens’ “selfie” culture. While students at first were reticent to film themselves on camera, they did grow more comfortable over time especially in the impromptu videos, like the ones on the field trips. Given its basis in Ecological Momentary Assessment, EMR creates a fitting and even attractive tool for student engagement. It helps to capture learning both in the environment it is taking place and also the moment it is happening. In this way, EMR captures a fleeting moment of the student’s experience and enables reflection on that otherwise inaccessible moment, allowing students to witness their thinking across time.

EMR appears to be an effective tool for student reflection. The strong theme of Seeing Themselves supports the use of EMR as an effective reflecting process in a learning environment as it allows students to see themselves from as an outside observer. EMR also overcomes some of the limitations of written reflection that can influence students to perform in an academic manner and conceptualize the teacher as the sole audience for the reflection.

One of EMR’s strengths is broadening the audience of reflection and going beyond the idea of the reflection being produced by one student for one teacher. Requiring students to produce reflections for themselves but also their peers strengthens the learning environment. The majority of students were interested in keeping their videos and also their photographs from the prompts as keepsakes. Consequently, using student-centered technology, methods, and artifacts as tools for thinking not only provides students with more meaningful learning experiences, but also promotes recurring and persistent practices of reflection.

The benefits of EMR as a technology far outweigh the drawbacks. It leverages a technology that is familiar, yet novel or unexpected in a classroom setting. The video camera engages students in a way that is low risk yet high reward. While there may be challenges to videos, there are too with written reflection, such as the varying literacy skills available to a student. We conclude that the technology is congruent with tools and technologies that many adolescents are already familiar and comfortable with.

In conclusion, the common themes that emerged from our data highlight how using EMR in the classroom can support authentic reflection that enhances students’ learning experience and educators’ assessment of student learning and the learning environment. EMR departs from static written reflections and instead provides students a way to see and reflect on their own thinking and learning as it is happening.

Thus, EMR is a promising method for reflection in any complex learning environment by capturing real-time learning, maintaining ecological validity, and allowing for authentic and powerful reflection. We highly encourage others to explore this technology in their classrooms.


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We would like to express our deep gratitude to Amanda Figueroa and DJ Crisostomo in the Student Transition Programs at the University of Washington Tacoma for their leadership and making the MSL program such a transformative learning experience for the students of our community. We also wish to thank Luis Solis-Bruno and Stephanie Jordan the instructors of the 9th grade cohort of MSL in 2015 who were so welcoming to us and embraced the idea of using videos. In addition, this work would not be possible without the amazing teens in the MSL program who shared their experience with us through their video reflections. Finally, we would like to thank special issue editors Tyler Fox & Carlos Hernandez for bringing this special issue to fruition.

About the Authors

Emma J. Rose, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at University of Washington Tacoma. Her research is motivated by a commitment to social justice and a belief that the way technologies are designed ultimately shapes our world. Her research interests include the practice of user experience, how people use expertise to overcome resource constraints, and the development of technical identity. She tweets @emmarosephd.

Jarek Sierschynski, Ph.D. is a learning scientist and assistant professor in Education at University of Washington Tacoma. His work examines definitions of STEM, scientific practices and technology integration by focusing on complexities inherent in cultural tools used by historically marginalized communities. Recently, he has been investigating how students think about their identities in relation to science and technology. His current project involves the design of an informal learning environment in which technology serves youths as an identity, cultural and scientific resource.

Elin A. Björling, Ph.D. holds both a professional research scientist position for the Office of Research and a clinical faculty position in the school of Nursing and Healthcare Leadership at University of Washington Tacoma. Over the past two decades, Elin has studied adolescent health utilizing mixed-methods in community based project designs. Her recent research has focused primarily on using an Ecological Momentary Assessment approach to study stress in adolescents. She tweets @elinbjorling.

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