School starts back up in 20 days.  Student leaders in the SERVE Living Learning Community move back in 13 days and we start meeting to bring the last pieces together before the new first-year SERVErs arrive.  As part of that, we have been busy trying to set up the many structures and processes that will guide us all through a safe, reflective, productive, challenging, and inspiring semester of experiences in the classroom, on the hall, and in the community.

Its funny how seemingly distinct ideas/experiences co-mingle sometimes… but the above “structuring” process was rolling around in my head right about the time when I was trying to explain the “why” behind ePortfolios in SERVE for a presentation and had a great conversation with some faculty and community members about the learning paradigm (conversation was part of series sponsored by a grant from Ask Big Questions – the hope is that by having deep meaningful conversation about some of the critical issues/ideas in our field that our day-to-day practice will be transformed).  All these things swirling around my brain got me thinking… what messages and values are intentionally or unintentionally communicated by our “forms” or “structures” or “processes”?  What story is told by these – in the same way as the pictures or quotes hanging in our offices tell a story?

Let me give the example that I ended up using for the presentation at AAEEBL’s ePortfolio conference.

Take a good ole fashioned time log like this one that I made up to state the case…

Though I am over-dramatizing a bit… three things seem to pop out the most in this “just check the box” story.

  1. I only care about what you did in one line or less. (not how you felt, what you may have learned, etc.)
  2. HOURS!  How many did you do?  Did they add up to something super-impressive or at least passable?!?
  3. I don’t trust you to be honest on this form… so have your site supervisor sign it!

None of these are intended messages or values… they actually are the very opposite of what we value. We desire the stories of volunteer learning and reflection, of community impact… not what can fit in a single box on a sheet or what can be told simply by a number of hours.  And, while we want to confirm participation, it is more about quality control than anything else (not about implied dishonesty).  Site supervisor contact should/would be about collaboration – check-ins to see how things are going – not signature-verification.

I used this to illustrate one of the reasons I like the ePortfolio in SERVE – because it seems to say “tell me a story”… and through that process, I can interpret many of the types of accountability that the time log is aiming for… I can still check the boxes that need to be checked.  Though it is by no means the perfect alternative… it comes closer to the message I would like to send.

My purpose in sharing this is simple… this co-mingling of ideas/experiences has tweaked how I am thinking and working.  As we are revising processes, structures, forms, and even course assignments, I am asking myself about the (Un)Intended messages that are being sent.  What story is being told… and is it an accurate one about what I value? Can we find ways to let how we structure our necessary administrative “hoops to jump through” (like ensuring that students who will lead alternative break trips are appropriately trained and prepared for a high quality and safe serving-learning experience) still tell authentic stories about who we are and what we value in the process?

I encourage you to do the same for yourself in your own work… and share how it goes so I can learn from your insights! :)