Virginia Tech’s Office of Learning Technologies won the 2012 Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award for its use of ePortfolios in First Year Experiences Pathways to Success courses.

Sakai is the open-source learning environment that Virginia Tech has branded “Scholar,” which is the primary platform the university uses to build ePortfolios. The award is based specifically on ePortfolio use in the First Year Experiences courses.

The Pathways to Success courses help students develop their problem solving, inquiry, and integration of learning skills. “The use of ePortfolios reinforces the goals of the Pathways to Success program,” said Marc Zaldivar, director of ePortfolio Initiatives in the Office of Learning Technologies. “They can be used to meet student needs for learning and professional development, while enhancing opportunities for authentic assessment of student learning on behalf of the institution.”

“Pathways to Success courses are able to customize their ePortfolio approach to fit their individual needs,” added Teggin Summers, assistant director of ePortfolio Initiatives in the Office of Learning Technologies. “By leveraging the flexibility of the tools and using them to their full capacity, programs have been able to develop curriculum that includes authentic reflection and assessment for students.”

The Pathways to Success program currently serves around 2,000 students, with a goal of reaching all first-year and transfer students by 2015.

“The First Year Experiences program is designed to provide students with the appropriate tools for exploration and discovery with opportunities to fully engage as learners,” said Mary Ann Lewis, director of the Office of First Year Experiences. “The use of ePortfolios can open up those doors for students to reflect and build life-long learning skills.”

According to the Sakai Foundation, the award is based on “an innovative course or educational experience that, by design, engages and challenges students, resulting in greater student interest, a deeper level of understanding and/or a lasting change in the students’ perception of an issue or topic.”  In 2010, Karen Swenson, associate professor in the Department of English, won an honorable mention for her use of Scholar’s wiki tool to build a community of student scholars. 

Individuals or departments interested in learning about ePortfolio use in the classroom can learn more on the ePortfolio Initiatives website, including examples of student portfolios and video tutorials.

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