The Digication Blog

What does it mean for you to discover your true, authentic self? What does it take, and why does it matter?

Tracy Penny Light is the Professor and Director of Leadership and Excellence in the Academic Development Division at St. George’s University and is the President and Board Chair of AAEEBL, the Association for Authentic Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning.

Tracy joined us to talk about how she empowers learners and equips them with the methods and tools for successful self-discovery through mindfulness, storytelling, and critical thinking, along with how to pull it all together and make meaningful connections using Digication’s ePortfolio system.


How To Help Students Practice Mindfulness and Critical Thinking

Part of helping students become effective thinkers is helping them develop the ability to think critically and to practice mindfulness as they progress through their academic careers. The benefits of helping them develop these two skills extend beyond their time in academia, and if practiced consistently, can extend well into their professional careers as well.

Why do these skills matter?

Helping students understand the processes of thinking, rethinking, and making connections between learning experiences can help them have more meaningful learning experiences — this helps students understand the whys behind the hows of their time in higher education.

When put into practice, students learn to connect ideas, subject matter, and even courses that, at first, may seem completely irrelevant to their interests and pursuits, but with the appropriate guidance, they can develop incredible insights and self-discovery by understanding how these connect to them as learners, as well as understanding how these topics and ideas may have impacted others in different ways. This allows students to develop the ability to think both broadly and deeply, which results in more meaningful learning experiences, allows for more effective reflection, and helps them discover their authentic selves.

Self-Discovery and Meaningful Learning Through Storytelling

The ability to think critically and practice mindfulness is the foundation that allows someone to discover themselves, and storytelling is a powerful way they can use to pull it all together with a cohesive and meaningful structure.

How does it start?

Tracy encourages educators to ask guiding questions that help students discover the answers for themselves — starting with simple questions like:

  • “What’s happening?”
  • “Who am I?”
  • “How do I fit into this context?”

… along with deeper questions such as:

  • “How does my positionality [that is, my stance or positioning in relation to the social and political context of the study] impact how I’m understanding this material?”
  • “How can I tell my story and still bring in the threads from a lot of different contexts so that I [can] better understand whatever I’m exploring?”

These are just some of the approaches that educators can take in helping students pull together what they have learned and craft a narrative structure that helps them see the bigger picture of why they are learning what they are learning.

This also has the added benefit of encouraging student feedback, which, in turn, helps educators refine their teaching methods and adapt these to the student’s needs based on their respective backgrounds and lived experiences.

Tracy says that both students and educators will “have a much better understanding of not only themselves... but also for the kinds of experiences their students might have, and they are just going to build their empathy. They are going to get something good out of it because they are going to develop this professional identity and it's going to be a win for everyone.”

How ePortfolios Empower Students, Faculty, and Institutions

Central to the initiatives that Tracy has been involved in are well-considered methods of teaching and making meaningful connections, and these are things that Digication’s ePortfolio system is well-suited to facilitating.

She said that ePortfolios are excellent tools that enable all of these for students because these place learners at the heart of everything.

The storytelling component is a powerful aspect of any ePortfolio initiative, and further to that are the variety of pedagogies that academics have been experimenting with.

Tracy’s work with AAEEBL encourages conversations with people to help them think through what would enable them to be successful at their respective institutions with their portfolio initiatives, regardless of scale. They provide guiding questions such as:

  • What do you need?
  • Why do you need it?
  • How can you implement these for different purposes?
  • What evidence of success do you need to see?

They also provide crowdsourced resources that the community can use, and they foster a communal approach of learning from one another and employ iterative processes that allow academics to avoid having to constantly “reinvent the wheel,” all with the goal of doing things better.

Want to hear more from Tracy Penny Light about how she implements her ePortfolio initiatives to help both students and educators?

Listen to Tracy go in-depth on critical thinking, mindfulness, authentic self-discovery, and more — listen to the full episode here.

Don’t miss an episode — subscribe to the Digication Scholars Conversation podcast by clicking here.