Making learning more visible—and students more powerful.
Palo Alto College (PAC) in San Antonio has long known the benefits of the ePortfolio. Back in 2011, professor Suzel Molina championed this tool to help prepare PAC’s vibrant community of students for success. The school averaged about 800 student ePortfolios per year after that. Then in 2019, PAC decided to expand ePortfolios from personalized career-focused collections to greater opportunities for reflection. The intent was to more fully capture the richness of students' journeys and position them even better for the professional world.
That’s about the time PAC music instructor Edlyn De Oliveria attended her first CanvasCon and learned Portfolium had joined the Canvas Learning Management Platform. Little did she know she and her colleague Carmen Velazquez-Avila would be the ones presenting about Portfolium a year later at CanvasCon 2020. That’s what you get when your school transforms traditional transactions into transformational experiences in just 10 months flat.
“We took one look at Portfolium and were amazed about what it could offer. From that point forward, Portfolium was the chosen platform to launch our new ePortfolio initiative. A group of faculty and staff came together to create a plan.”
Meet the Palo Alto College Familia
Many PAC students are the first in their families to attend college. Most are also juggling work, family, and other responsibilities.
- 61% female
- 39% male
- 60+% Hispanic
- 20.2% full-time
- 79.8% part-time
- 46% economically disadvantaged
- 22.1 = average student age
That’s the PAC mission. With it comes the belief that any student can go to college. And PAC goes the distance to make sure they do. The school’s SHARE Center provides resources like counseling, a food pantry, career advising, and emergency aid to help lighten students’ loads. As of the fall of 2020 the school’s Alamo Promise program also provides last-dollar funding to help students fill in gaps between their financial aid and tuition costs.
PHASE 1: CHANGING THE CULTURE
By the fall of 2019, PAC had decided to go all in on Portfolium, so they made it part of the curriculum that would curate each students’ first year. Suzel and Edlyn visited 93 different Freshman Learning Foundations courses several times during the first semester to help students set up their profiles and begin their ePortfolio work. This got them engaged and built reflection right into the curriculum. It also began improving student retention and quality of work right away. (After all, ePortfolios are public.)
“Within the first semester of launching our initiative, students were getting contacted by prominent local employers like Amazon and Toyota with job offers.”
—Edlyn De Oliveria
PHASE 2: GUIDING THE JOURNEY
The criteria for establishing this digital platform included:
- Creating a plethora of opportunities to engage students in meaningful tasks
- Empowering students to take ownership
As new projects began to emerge on PAC’s College Portfolium Network, students began having new conversations. Faculty and staff started discussing overlapping course content. Advising and assessment administrators and staff began new dialogues. Strong new partnerships formed between faculty and the supportive PAC advising team.
In early spring of 2020 PAC expanded their Portfolium program with additional courses (e.g., arts, sciences, and honors), as well as a teacher education program. Both teacher and peer advisors created their own ePortfolios and used them to engage with students. And students were consistently using this tool to capture and share their educational journeys, accomplishments, affiliations, work, and life experiences. So the school stepped back and put the students in the driver’s seat.
PHASE COVID-19: ADAPTING TO CHANGE
Just when all of this progress got off the ground, COVID-19 brought everything to a temporary halt. Like the rest of the world, the PAC team paused, regrouped, and moved forward. Then they doubled down on their Portfolium goals in a virtual world where transparency and accessible (particularly phone-accessible) technology was key to students’ engagement. They focused on:
Within the first few days of working remotely, the school realized that students needed help navigating pretty much everything online. So they compiled an easy-access digital repository of step-by-step tutorials on topics from registering for classes to making appointments with an advisor.
More intentional mentoring
PAC added an advising pathway in Portfolium to engage students organically through their critical first year of college. They also engaged select current and former students to become peer mentors to new students. All advisors had Portfolium accounts and were prepared to model this pathway for them.
Digital vision boards
These were created to keep students on track, help them meet critical milestones and successfully reach next steps. With their own digital vision boards, they could now share their academic and personal growth with everyone, inside and outside the school. These involved personal mission statements and success plans, among other elements.
PHASE 3: GETTING OUT OF THE WAY
By this point, Portfolium was:
- Assisting with course curriculum -
- Engaging students in meaningful tasks
- Empowering students through new ownership
- Keeping everyone on track and on task
- Creating a sense of community
- Enhancing remote learning
- Increasing retention rates
- Connecting students, faculty, and staff
- Establishing a successful peer-to-peer review process
Students were writing more, articulating, and reflecting on their learning processes and developing into creative and critical thinkers. They were also discovering new skills and using technology they hadn’t previously associated with college to express their learning through multiple modalities.
By August 2020, PAC and Portfolium had achieved:
2,000+ portfolios created
13,400 skills displayed
102,000+ data points entered
24,000 outside visits to the Palo Alto College Portfolium network
It wasn’t about grades. It was about life.
Students were using Portfolium to tell their beautiful, one-of-a-kind stories. As this new narrative began, they also started connecting the dots in their educational journeys. (It’s connected to Canvas, of course.) It became clear that students wanted to engage in portfolio work whether or not it was tied to a grade—as long as they thought it would better prepare them for the workforce. So PAC decided to get out of the way and take grades out of the equation. The goal of ePortfolios became simply documenting experiential learning.
“There’s a buzz around Portfolium on our campus. Students want to be on board. They want to join the classes that are using it. And they're coming to our campus to be part of Portfolium and ePortfolio work.”
—Edlyn De Oliveria
PHASE 4: BUILDING ON THE BUZZ
One of the most powerful features of Portfolium is its ability to connect students to local, and even international, career opportunities. So PAC is launching new pathways that highlight student learning outside of the classroom as well. This continues to broaden and improve the quality of work being displayed in ePortfolios.
Creating new pathways
In the fall of 2020, PAC launched two Marketable Skills pathways: communication and critical thinking. These aim to help students become better writers and critical thinkers as they engage in guided activities that connect them to tutors and content experts in these areas. The STEM department is also diving in with Portfolium, and it will soon be used to facilitate internship opportunities for various departments.
Calling all LeadHERs
PAC also launched its first student organization pathway, LeadHERs, aimed at empowering female students. It connects them with staff or faculty mentors to complete projects and activities that will help guide and nurture them into becoming transformational leaders in society. LeadHERs will also help students build robust portfolios displaying skills in civic and community engagement and leadership.
Celebrating student success
The students' resumes are now far more robust. They display a variety of skills, activities, and experiences with supporting projects to boot. Accordingly, PAC is finding ways to recognize both small and large achievements in Portfolium. That includes visible accolades such as badging, awards, and scholarships that can link to both the Portfolium Network and LinkedIn.
“A few years ago, I was told I didn't have what it took to be successful in my industry. If told that today, I would tell them, 'You're wrong. Go to my ePortfolio and see for yourself how much I have grown.' If I'm growing, I'll get there."—Hunter Baker, Theatre Major
ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH PORTFOLIUM
COVID-19 gave the world a particularly challenging year. Just in time, Portfolium gave PAC students a new way to showcase their achievements, spotlight their resilience, set goals beyond the classroom—and drive their educational journeys as their knowledge and marketable skills stack up. Faculty, staff, and administrators have embraced this powerful new tool. Students have, too. They’re finding their voices. And the world is listening.
We invite you to attend our upcoming webinar with the Palo Alto team to explore how they’re leveraging academic portfolios to help students showcase their skills throughout college and beyond.