The project to be shared focuses on the experiences of five cohorts of MA-level second and foreign language teachers in training. It has broad relevance for graduate level professionals in any non-technical discipline (or the academic programs in which they are housed) who seek:
a) to develop practical, hands-on facility with composing in digital spaces;
b) to reflect upon and articulate the on-going relationships and tensions between academic constructs encountered during formal studies, past personal and professional experiences, and future professional trajectory; and
c) to navigate the shift in identity from pre-professional graduate student to emerging professional with a clear stance relative to the field.
The primary focus of the academic course in which this work was undertaken was objective A, above: exposure to and extended project-based time to engage with and create (as opposed to simply 'deposit text') in digital spaces. It was also an assumption of this teacher training program that prior to developing and leading project-based courses with their own future students, participants should first have an extended experience of doing this themselves.
The formal program 'exit mechanism' for students is submission of a highly structured, high stakes, paper-based "professional portfolio". Required components have varied over the years, but have typically included a 10,000 word 'position paper' that links learning theory and classroom practice, one or more significantly revised course projects, a selection of professional products (syllabi, etc) and research summaries, all accompanied by cover notes that explain the selection criteria for and significance of individual items as well as the connections between items.
The graduate seminar in "Project-based Learning with Technology" became a platform for low stakes experimentation, for listening to and keeping track of their hunches, for linking their past experiences to emerging ideas in more tangible ways, for sifting and sorting to identify which ideas were most compelling to them, for taking concrete actions along the way rather than waiting for everything to automagically "fall into place" during their final semester.
These largely open sites created a space outside of formal academic requirements, and served for many as "entry mechanisms" into the professional world, for the creation and articulation of their future professional selves. Through the slow accretion of artifacts and articulations they ultimately demonstrated (and fostered the creation of) a coherent, compelling and unique combination of personal and professional priorities and areas of expertise.
By insisting that participants build what made sense to them at the time (relative to their current semester in the program, their passion for or objections to their past teaching and learning experiences -- both formal and informal, their level of technical expertise, etc) students in the seminar were given an opportunity to build as a way to understand their on-going experiences, to structure them, to make them real and amenable to further revisions, discussions, debate and refinement.
All of this occurred as preparatory to and outside of the formal, high stakes portfolio submission process.