Visualizing Our Intellectual Journies

For those following my latest line of thought, I want to share the newest development. My last few posts have captured my frustrations and reflections on assessment as well as outlined how I’m approaching this complex topic in the undergraduate class I’m teaching here at VCU. My last post attempted to put it all together: Put the thinking first, make it visible (The Backpack), embed it in everything students do, have them account for their intellectual development throughout the course, and finish up with an argument for a final mark based on grade profiles that we created together; profiles that capture the thinking that informs a mark rather than mere product performance, which I argued tends to favor the privileged (whatever that may mean).  So, their course work (participation to papers) represent mere examples of the intellectual skills and attitudes they have practiced and have come to develop to some degree.  What’s the next step?

Well I should say there are many, but today I used timeline js to create visualization tool for the class to track the thinking moves we organically construct in class and  that individuals can use to develop their own visualization tacking their intellectual growth. As the class progresses, I will populate the thinking moves with student examples. Their individual timelines will cite examples of thinking moves as represented by recordings, projects, papers, reflections, etc.

The wordpress host won’t display the timeline, but you can see it here.  Here’s a screen shot.

Screenshot (3)
The organizing idea is to make our thinking visible so that we can practice, reproduce, refine and correct. As noted in an earlier post, I want to shift the power dynamic of portfolios to students and away from the authority figure (instructor, institution, boss). Of course, the experts have insights that bring important insight and value to the process, but ultimately I want students to take command of the conversation and tell the reader HOW to read the portfolio by focusing on the skills and dispositions, on the process of intellectual development, rather than the cherry-picked products, which can be fabricated and superficial. One’s work becomes examples of thinking, rather than the thinking itself.

All too often students do not find value in the portfolios they create. I had a conversation with a student (senior in psychology) who ranks high in her class who told me that portfolios are a waste of time. How unfortunate! All too often students are unclear of the criteria by which their work will be evaluated. All too often the criteria are not clearly articulated; particularly as they relate to micro skills. All too often the evaluating body (person or people) do not have explicitly clear conceptions of the criteria by which they assess the body of student work; particularly in the micro skills and thinking moves. It’s even worse when the criteria are unspoken criteria are implied or implicitly understood. “I’ll recognize good thinking when I see it!” Not satisfactory in my book.

I would like to see a student hand me a portfolio that orients my thinking (thus evaluation) by explicitly placing first the thinking moves s/he has come to command and those that are developing, then citing examples from her/his work that capture the evolution of one’s understanding generally and within a particular field of study. Moreover, I’d like a student portfolio to project their thinking moves into other contexts: TRANSFER!!! Finally, I’d like to see a narrative that captures those thinking moves that are missing and in need of development. That is a powerful portfolio because it is meaningful and useful.

My students (they don’t know it yet) will be constructing these visual timelines. However, I’m open for alternative constructions if a student can convince me (and the class) of its merit as a sufficient alternative. I’m open.

Imagine the power that such a visualization, where the thinking is first, can have on institutional portfolio systems. For example, departments can list specific competencies or skill sets that students take ownership of and explicitly exemplify. Personally, I’d like to see students have a hand in creating and articulating the competencies, but I understand the pragmatics of time and resource allocation.

Let’s challenge students to track their intellectual journeys in clear, explicit and visual ways: then, now and into the future.


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