Q&A with Metcalf Award Recipient Courtney Goto
Digital learning initiatives are happening across the BU campus. This Q&A series highlights innovative ideas, collaborative thinking, cutting-edge perspectives and those leading the digital teaching and learning charge.
Courtney Goto joined the School of Theology (STH) in 2010 and is is the co-director of the STH Center for Practical Theology. Over the past decade, the Associate Professor of Religious Education—whose teachings focus on aesthetic teaching and learning, racism, culture, and religious faith—won STH’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2011, and is a 2020 recipient of Boston University’s prestigious Metcalf Award.
When describing her teaching methodology, Goto says the baseline to innovative teaching necessitates a thirst for exploration and accessing the right tools—including the web-based Digication e-Portfolio platform.
“I’m discovering that using technology in teaching is another means of teaching creatively,” Goto says. “The right tools can invite creativity from learners as well as from me that I could not have imagined.”
In 2017, Goto began requiring students in her Practicing Faith: Embodying the Kingdom course to utilize ePortfolio. The platform, which houses a collection of selected work, showcases a variety of course-specific, portfolio-type files, images, multimedia, blogs, hyperlinks, and more.
“In this course students choose a guiding question or issue of their choice that guides their learning through the semester,” Goto says. “Through their ePortfolio, they track and document their exploration of their question, the readings, and their experiences of the course, which helps them to integrate and identify their best learning.”
Fast forward to 2020, Goto’s interest in Digication expanded from the classroom to professional use—specifically highlighting the scholar’s work during the Metcalf pre-award submission process.
“I wanted [Metcalf] reviewers to experience something true to how I teach—through the feel, flow, and content of my ePortfolio. Digication allowed me to have control over how I presented my work,” she adds.
In this one-on-one, Goto discusses the power of ePortfolio use, ways to enhance classroom learning, and offers advice on how to effectively incorporate Digication into courses.
DL&I: Please tell us about your coursework and your overall teaching methodology.
As mentioned, I use ePortfolios in a course called Practicing Faith: Embodying the Kin(g)dom. The course is designed to allow students to explore the role of the physical body and taking action in pursuing the highest ideals of religious faith. Rather than focusing on the content of faith or treating faith as if it were mostly concerned with right thinking, the course accents experiencing and enacting faith. Students chart their own path through the course, choosing to investigate practices such as praying, eating, and dialogue. Of course, students read but they also design “mini-field research” to examine a practice in real life.
DL&I: Describe how you utilize ePortfolio in the classroom and include an example of student engagement.
I assign ePortfolios to help students document their self-determined path through the course, which is unique to every student. They begin by identifying their guiding question or issue and mapping how they will navigate the course material, given the choices that I provide at every turn. Each student uploads their fieldnotes, providing text, video, and photos. I also require that students include key excerpts from papers. At the end of the semester, students reflect on their best learning and how their guiding question evolved.
DL&I: You mentioned you used Digication to present an ePortfolio for the finalist round of the Metcalf Award. Please tell me about the project, why you chose this platform to showcase your work, and how the platform enhanced the presentation process.
When I became a finalist for the Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, I decided to submit my materials in an ePortfolio, rather than simply emailing and attaching a hodgepodge of evidence. I wanted to curate an experience of my teaching, by framing, illustrating, and highlighting what I wanted reviewers to see and hear. I added photos to help reviewers imagine ideas I was teaching, and I included documents to show assignments I had created. I wanted reviewers to listen to samples of audio-feedback I give on student papers (I record myself commenting on a student’s paper as I walk through it page-by-page). I wanted reviewers to experience something true to how I teach—through the feel, flow, and content of my ePortfolio. Digication allowed me to have control over how I presented my work.
DL&I: For many higher education teachers and students, remote teaching and learning is a new experience. How can faculty use ePortfolios to improve teaching and enhance learning for their students during these times?
I’d recommend that faculty create their own ePortfolio first to explore what Digication can do. Maybe create an ePortfolio that documents their experience of summer 2020, as the nation tries to open up. I suggest including video, audio, photos and text to gage how manageable Digication is. Then folks will be in a stronger position to imagine how this tool might be useful in their teaching.
DL&I: Are there other innovative ways to use ePortfolios?
I would like the university to welcome the use of ePortfolios in tenure and promotion reviews where appropriate. Particularly for faculty who teach in the humanities, Digication could stir their creativity in assembling and presenting their materials. Presenting one’s work in a thoughtful, visual way invites a person to be more clear about what’s most important for reviewers to understand. Experiencing tenure and promotion materials in a more engaging way could help reviewers to appreciate more fully the work that faculty do.
DL&I: What might be potential barriers to the effective use of ePortfolios?
Learning Digication is like learning any software platform. It takes time and practice. Some students, particularly older students (as in over 50), feel daunted by having to learn a new program. It doesn’t help that many students procrastinate, which works against them when they are trying to learn a platform quickly.
DL&I: What advice would you offer to faculty to overcome challenges of incorporating portfolios into a course?
Making a user-friendly template with prompts embedded in each section helps students to keep on track. I also suggest making a tutorial video, showing students how to create an ePortfolio step by step, as well as how to use the design features of Digication. I tell my students that how the ePortfolio looks will not be graded, which relieves pressure on students who are not interested in graphic design. However, many students enjoy expressing their creativity in producing their ePortfolio. I also invite students to comment on each other’s ePortfolios so that students can share what they’ve produced and be inspired by their classmates’ work.
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About the Author: Maureen McCarthy is the Communications Manager for Boston University’s Digital Learning & Innovation and editor of DL&I News.