The ultimate accomplishment of our year-long, job-embedded professional learning journey, The Connected Learner Experience, is the action research project that each team completes and presents at our year-end culminating celebration. Action research is a process in which our educators collaboratively examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully. They work together to identify a problem within their school or community, and then collaboratively to solve it. Action research is meaningful, positive, and reflective. It is data-driven, action-based, improvement-focused, and it’s transformative.

This post is part of a series of featured action research projects from our 2011-12 teams as they prepare for their culminating presentations. First up is this interview with our team from the Agnes Irwin School and their ePortfolios for students project.

Founded in 1869 by Miss Agnes Irwin, the first Dean of Radcliffe College and the great-great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin, The Agnes Irwin School was one of the first schools in the United States devoted to the education of girls and young women. As a Headmistress at the age of just twenty-eight, Miss Agnes Irwin would create an institution that emphasized “disciplined and precise thinking,” where girls could flourish in a classical curriculum that included a range of study in English, modern and classical languages, history, mathematics and science. The school carries on this tradition today.

Here’s a sneak peek into ePortfolios for students

Your action research project tackled the possibility of giving students a voice using ePortfolios. What made you aware of this particular challenge in your school? Why did you land on this issue as the focus of your action research project?

Our team this year spanned two divisions at our school – lower and middle school. We discovered that across these divisions students did not have an organized means of displaying and sharing their work electronically with teachers, parents, or other students. This discovery was made shortly after one of our team members, Diane Groff, came across research that both supported and encouraged ePortfolios.

Tell us a little bit about the process you went through during your journey through PLP’s professional development this year? How did your action research come together? Who did what and how did you identify who would be good at different aspects of the project?

We began the process by determining how our school community could benefit from the use of ePortfolios. Through our research, a framework for the content of the ePortfolios came about. It became clear that while ePortfolios could span the divisions of our school, the content and artifact-selection process should differ.

It was at that point that Claire Lewis and Ashley Kaufmann, two of the lower school teachers on our team, began to create a list and collect samples of the kinds of artifacts that would be appropriate for lower school ePortfolios. Diane Groff and Ann Ramsey, who both work with our middle school students, continued this process on their end. As they worked within their divisions, I considered the overall impact of this process. I explored the following questions: What will our lower school girls learn about digital citizenship through the use of ePortfolios? As these girls transition into middle and upper school, how will they be better equipped to brand themselves through this digital-age approach to portfolios? How can ePortfolios be used to transcend grade and/or content- specific information and show personal and academic growth over time?

Both personal interest and professional roles determined who completed each task. Diane Groff, who works as our middle school librarian, established a working bibliography, which focused and validated the work of each individual team member.

The Agnes Irwin School Action Research Team

The Agnes Irwin School Action Research Team

What was your biggest revelation or aha moment during this year’s action research?

The biggest revelation during this whole process was that despite our various roles in the different divisions at our school, we were all united by a desire to see ePortfolio-use become a part of what we do at our school. As we shared our work casually with others, we became aware that they, too, believed in our work.

How did the concepts and strategies you learned during your PLP journey help you along the way?

PLP taught us that we should allow our personal interests and the interests of our community to drive us in the process of determining our project. We learned that as “messy” as the process might be, through this collaborative approach to professional development, we could potentially spark the kind of dialogue necessary for transforming the approach to 21st century teaching and learning at our school.

What was a major challenge or roadblock you encountered during your project? How did you mitigate this difficulty?

A major challenge that we encountered during our project was the limited amount of time that each of us had in our schedules for delving into this kind work. We mitigated this difficulty by setting goals for each of our meetings, using collaborative tools, such as Google documents, to communicate ideas outside of meetings, and reminding ourselves that our work was relevant and necessary for our community.

What was the most positive or transformative thing to happen as a result of your project?

As a result of our project, we became more focused on the community interests and needs that unite the separate divisions of our school. We were reminded that the work that we do individually affects the work of the whole community.

Do you think this project will have implications into the future? Is it ongoing?

We do think that this project will have implications in the future. In fact, it was designed to be an ongoing, cross-divisional project that would extend from one school year to the next.

How has being a part of PLP changed you as a teacher or leader?

PLP has changed me as a teacher by encouraging me to explore new ways of thinking, teaching, and learning regardless of the time constraints and challenges to these changes. As a leader, I now recognize the importance of establishing ongoing, professional and global relationships. In the end, I benefit from these relationships, as do my students and my community.

Join us for a year of action research and learning

Check out the complete details on The Agnes Irwin School’s ePortfolios project hereLike the idea of using action research to solve problems in your school? We have built an entire year of job-embedded learning around action research and social media tools called The Connected Learner Experience. Teams are forming now. Check it out here and join us for 2012-13.

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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