Portfolios

A Portfolio in Plant Biology BIOL 1222
(A Portfolio for Course and Faculty Development)

Overview

Portfolio Excerpt

To give you a context for the portfolio I've included most of the text from the "framing statement" which introduces the portfolio; this should help to set the stage for the portfolio.

Framing Statement

The portfolio that follows focuses on a freshman level plant biology course required for most biology majors at UNC Charlotte. I have taught plant biology laboratories for a number of years, but a recent faculty retirement left a hole in the scheduled rotation for plant biology lecture and I was tapped to fill that hole. Thus, the role of lecturer in this course is a new one for me.

I've written the portfolio with development in mind; it's not meant to be an official document circulated for evaluation and review. So why do this? There are two reasons. First, I want to use the portfolio to sort through some of the teaching issues that concerned me during my first semester teaching in our plant biology course and to reflect on some of the experiments I tried during that time. It's been a way to insure that my good ideas about teaching aren't lost as fleeting thoughts or as unwritten resolutions to "do better" the next time I teach the course. The opposite is also true. I want to avoid repeating mistakes the next time I teach the class or "making do" with old strategies because I haven't taken the time to rethink my game plan for a lesson or activity. My hope is that the very act of capturing those fleeting thoughts, of formalizing the game plan, of considering the failures, and of underlining the successes will gel my thoughts and move me towards improvement.

The second reason is related to my own career trajectory. I've been a faculty member since 1980 and what I find these days is that many of the techniques I used as a junior faculty member no longer satisfy me. My teaching heritage, however, is rooted in the cultural norms of my discipline and the realities of institutional constraints. The Biology Department I joined as a junior faculty member remains, as it was, a fairly traditional one. Like faculty in many such departments we lean toward good, hearty 'meat and potatoes" teaching in our lecture sections. This is the type of teaching which delivers fascinating (or at least interesting), carefully crafted (or at least well-organized) lectures to student groups of just about any size. It's the type of teaching that's probably easiest - and most "economical," staff-wise - to do with large (150 - 200 students) classes. And it's the type of teaching which has earned me excellent teaching evaluations throughout the years and which put me in the position of earning the University's highest teaching award nearly ten years ago.

It's also the type of teaching which leaves a lot of students in the dust, particularly these days and particularly with students who may be unprepared for academic work at the collegiate level; these are students who may not have developed the self-discipline or self-awareness to understand that student success is largely a measure of their own individual effort and their ability to organize, synthesize, integrate, and apply information. For the most part, our entry-level students are exposed to a pretty impersonal style of teaching which is misleading in that it promotes passive learning. And yet, how much individual attention can you give to a class of 180? What kind of assignments and activities can be developed to promote more individual responsibility, creativity, self-reflective learning, and critical/analytical thinking?

The bottom line, therefore, is that this portfolio is also about exploration - a senior faculty member's exploration of a new course (Entry 2: reflections on a syllabus and course) and of new ways of engaging students (Entries 3 and 5: reflections on two portfolio assignments). In this incarnation, the portfolio is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis of the course in its totality. Rather, it's a series of snapshots which document some new initiatives (Entry 4: revisiting a multiple choice test), some new ways of thinking about the course (Entry 6: reflection on student learning), and some thoughts on what I've learned (Entry 7: reflection on student evaluations and final thoughts)

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Developmental Course Portfolios: Questions and Challenges

  1. Why do it?
  2. What types of materials are useful? And "how much" is enough for inclusion?
  3. Does it need to be accessible to "outside" readers? If so, what types of readers might be appropriate - and why? What types of materials would help those readers?
  4. Are there benefits? Do they outweigh the time invested in the short run? in the long run?
  5. If a developmental portfolio become
  6. What type of balance should exist between reflection on content and reflection on pedagogy?
  7. Other issues?

Possible Benefits

  1. Better teaching and learning.
  2. Faculty and course renewal.
  3. Institutional "memory bank" and resource for accreditation.
  4. Departmental resource for accreditation and as reference for other faculty teaching a course.
  5. Eventual Utility - post-tenure review, promotion

For more information on course portfolios contact:
Deborah M. Langsam
Department of Biology
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Charlotte, North Carolina 28223
(e-mail: dmlangsa@email.uncc.edu)

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