Creating Connected Educators with Online Portfolios

Creating Connected Educators with Online Portfolios

Katie S. Dredger (James Madison University, USA), Joy Myers (James Madison University, USA), Pamela M. Sullivan (James Madison University, USA) and Douglas J. Loveless (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2101-3.ch011
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The authors explore ethical considerations, as well as logistical concerns of online portfolio creation by teacher candidates by examining how the Reading Faculty in one university instituted a cross-course online portfolio that followed students as they progressed through their Master's degree in Teaching (MAT) program. This grassroots online portfolio initiative, while collegial, became a microcosm of technology use in education today where faculty attempted to provide students with a job-seeking tool while also encouraging reflection on their growth in the teaching profession. This tenuous line in an environment of hyper-standardization and accountability left unanswered questions. Faculty worked to transparently examine costs and benefits to stake-holders. This chapter describes how the online portfolio project developed, and offers vignettes that illustrate some of these issues faced by the teacher educators who implemented the project across their courses.
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As teacher-training programs grapple with balancing goals of pragmatically producing a hireable workforce as well as creating reflective professionals who weave philosophy and theory into their practice, faculties of education are often turning to digital technologies to facilitate flexible and deep learning experiences. Peter O’Connor (2016) recently told a group of graduating teachers: you have not only learned to work in the world as it is, but also learned how to consider the world that could be so that you may reshape it into one that is more just and humane. Following this line of thinking, teacher-training programs should endeavor to train educators to teach in schools as they currently are, while also working to bring about a better education system through praxis.

Unfortunately, the idealized goal of creating professionals that embody Dewey’s (1895)notion of a teacher1 and the pragmatic aim to provide teachers that school districts want to hire are at odds in the current era of neoliberal education. What do we do when our theoretical underpinnings lead us to teach in ways that are subversive and not endorsed by the Education Industrial Complex? Furthermore, the increasing demands for demonstrable learning outcomes in higher education lead even the teachers of teachers to internalize the increasingly hegemonic forces shaped by the Education Industrial Complex—forces that are so ingrained in public education that they become to be perceived as inherent to the system.

Can online portfolios can offer a way to encourage critical reflection and nuanced evidence of learning, as well as meet the needs of providing teachers-in-training with a document that can later facilitate the job-finding process? As we consider this question, we must continue to remind ourselves as teacher educators that to narrowly define teacher training as merely a process in which untrained individuals gain the skills to teach situates teaching and teacher training as neoliberal tasks aimed at meeting market needs. Yes, teacher training is about getting a job upon completion, but it is also about becoming the kind of Deweyan teacher that can problematize, question, and critique the system. This teacher also encourages students to do the same. A public school teacher is a public servant; and in a democratic society, a teacher is employed by the democracy to defend democracy through engaging students and their families in the construction of knowledges that will enable democracy to continue and thrive. Though contrary to popular discourse around education, our mandate as teachers is not to train a compliant and efficient workforce, one that can be easily manipulated by demagogues out for their own interests.

In this discussion of online portfolios, we attempt to avoid the pitfalls of efficiency and instrumental rationality that reinforce an industrial form of education. Instead we aim to embody the spirit of teaching espoused by Freire (1970) in which teachers and students “deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world” (p. 34). If instead, education works to conform and systemize students, with teachers operating in the banking model, we can envision the day when Mitra’s (2010) worries of teachers being replaced by computers becomes realized. Of course, the Education Industrial Complex fosters just that. Robotic teachers are easier to control and program, they are cheaper, and they don’t subversively act to educate a population of creative, critical thinkers that will undermine the financial interests of those benefitting from the status quo.

We believe online portfolios can offer students with a hypertextual document, much like Borges’ (1962) labyrinth, that allows them to explore their perceptions, interpretations, and embodiments of teaching. Such a self-exploration of teaching empowers teachers to creatively link their practice to theory rather than relying on systemized banks of curriculum and pedagogy. Online portfolios can make such epistemologies visible to others as theoretical writings are linked to practical plans and curriculum, both standardized and hidden.

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