A new year in October

One of the things I love about the academic world is the annual cycle of beginnings and endings. Since I’ve been living in Southern California (more than 10 years now!) I’ve been especially aware of the seasonality of the academic calendar since it’s often the only way to notice seasonal change!

So here it is October, and we are one month in to a new academic year. With this academic came A LOT of changes for me, and I’m only now catching my breath and able to reflect a bit.

This year I am in a new role, leading the team of faculty and staff involved in Whittier College’s “Whittier Scholars Program” (#WCScholars we call it). #WCScholars is this year celebrating our 40th birthday as an alternative path to a liberal arts degree at Whittier College. Students in #WCScholars design their own majors AND ALSO they design their own entire liberal education curricula. It’s an amazingly flexible approach to education that puts undergraduates in charge of envisioning, proposing, defending, and executing their own educations. I LOVE this program, and have become increasingly involved in it for the past few years.

In #WCScholars I work with an Associate Director, Charlie Eastman, one of the funnest and smartest faculty members on campus, and a Program Coordinator Joanna Diaz, who is also in a new position. So the three of us are forging a new path, trying to continue the strong program we inherited while initiating a reflective and thorough practice of regular assessment and revision.

#WCScholars currently has close to 100 students spread across the full four-year curriculum. The students are each pursuing a uniquely-designed educational path that they revise each year as they learn and grow. So one of our most significant routine tasks is managing the course selections and changes of all those students each term. There is no standardized checklist of courses for any part of the program, so each student truly is creating a completely individual set of graduation requirements, requirements which then go through a faculty approval process and then go to the College Registrar to be coded into the system. And then, the following semester or year, each student changes. And that’s GOOD! Because what is education but a process of change? It’s exciting when students hone their choices, refine their goals, reenvision their plans. But it is also, currently, a whole lot of paperwork. A. WHOLE. LOT.

So, to reduce paperwork and to foster integrative, metacognitive reflection by students about their choices, we are rolling out a new digital spine for the program, which we call a “Poetfolio.” (We are, after all the Whittier College Poets, a mascot as unique as our students’ educational designs.) Poetfolio will be an ePortfolio system in which all #WCScholars will collect, share, and reflect about signature learning experiences across their four years of college. We are really excited about the possibilities! It is powered by Reclaim Hosting, using open source and open access software (primarily WordPress), so that students learn useful web writing and design skills as they build and maintain their own Poetfolios. I plan to write another post soon about Poetfolio and what it does currently, and what we hope it will do soon. Please stay tuned!

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