Milestone Moments: From Insight to Action

min read

What’s a milestone moment?  Why are they important opportunities for institutional change initiatives?

Milestone moments are key points in a project or initiative. Often they are marked by time – the six month or one year mark of a project–or by a significant event or accomplishment.  They are important markers of our work and yet, too often they slip past us, unnoticed. Milestone moments are moments of opportunity, and as institutional change leaders, we must leverage those opportunities to advance our initiatives.

Last week, I had the privilege of keynoting the AAC&U ePortfolio Forum in San Francisco with my co-author and research partner, Bret Eynon, Associate Provost at LaGuardia Community College. We were talking about ePortfolio, which was recently identified by George D. Kuh and the AAC&U as the 11th High Impact Practice, based significantly on the work of the Connect to Learning project and our recently released book, High Impact ePortfolio Practice: A Catalyst for Student, Faculty, and Institutional Learning.

During our keynote, I told a story about my dad that I want to share with you as we think about how to use milestone moments to move our initiatives forward.

My dad was a biology professor; when I was in elementary school, we would go to his lab on Saturday morning and work together. He would teach me all sorts of things. And, whenever I accomplished something significant–I grew my first bacteria in a petri dish, or dissected my first fetal pig–we celebrated that accomplishment. Then he would follow that celebration with some questions:

  • What did you learn?

  • What do you want to know more about?

  • What’s next?

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my dad was instilling in me the practice of recognizing those milestone moments and then using that moment to move from insight (What did you learn?) to action (What’s next?).

Taking the opportunity to move from insight to action is critical to launching, building, and sustaining any institutional change initiative. When I told the story last week, we talked about the ways that ePortfolio practitioners can collectively use this significant moment of being recognized as a High Impact Practice to move the field forward, and think about how we can deepen our use and understanding of effective ePortfolio pedagogy.

On the plane back from California to New York, I was doing some work on Guttman Community College’s iPASS action plan. I made the connection between the “milestone meeting” with our Starfish implementation manager and the talk we had just given. And I realized that I had almost missed an opportunity to move from insight to action with our iPASS team. Almost.

For our iPASS project, this particular milestone moment came at the 18-month mark of our work. To recognize the moment, we brought together our iPASS Steering Committee. First, we recognized our accomplishments:

  • Over 21,000 flags, kudos, and referrals sent in Starfish.

  • The breadth of Starfish use across the College – from faculty and advisors to financial aid to Peer Mentors and Tutors to Single Stop and Disability Services.

  • All first-year students completed educational planning in their ePortfolio.

  • We had nearly 100% regular faculty and advisor usage of both Starfish and ePortfolio.

We celebrated what we had achieved.

Then, we asked ourselves:

What did we learn? We learned that Starfish and ePortfolio are practices that engage students in taking ownership of their learning process and help build a sense of agency as they respond to flags and kudos and seek help at different points in their learning experience.

What do we want to know more about?  We want to know more about the impact of Starfish and ePortfolio experience on student learning and success.

What’s next?  We have a pretty extensive plan for the year, but two key actions will be bringing our Office of Partnerships and Student Engagement, Registrar, and United Men of Color initiative into Starfish, an early warning and student tracking system. And we’re beginning a research study of the impact of a “well-designed” iPASS experience with two of our first year learning communities.

So, I encourage my institutional change colleagues reading this to make sure to recognize those milestone moments in your work. Celebrate them. Then, ask yourselves (and your teams) those key questions: What did we learn? What do we want to know more about? What’s next? Use these moments to move from insight to action.

Laura M. Gambino, Ed.D, is the Associate Dean for Assessment and Technology at Guttman Community College.