Visualize Your Promotion Portfolio with Cmap

[This is a guest post by Janine Utell, who is an Associate Professor of English at Widener University in Pennsylvania. She teaches composition and 19th and 20th century British literature; she has also facilitated a number of on- and off-campus workshops on writing, critical thinking, and general education. Previously at ProfHacker, she's written on "Practical Wisdom and Professional Life" and "How to Study Your Own Teaching (And Why You Might Want To)." You can follow Janine on Twitter: @janineutell --Ed.]

This past summer I attended an AAC&U Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success. It was valuable in and of itself, but while there my colleagues and I were introduced to a new tool by our faculty mentor: Cmap, a cognitive mapping tool. I’m going to run through some of how to use it, but my main point here is to share how I thought I might use this (or any cognitive-mapping tool) to visualize and make sense of a promotion portfolio.

Getting Started

If you’ve used a cognitive mapping-type tool before (like SimpleMind for Mac), Cmap is going to look pretty familiar. I’ll just point out some of the really handy things.

Once you’ve installed and opened the app, you’ll see that it lets you make and save Cmaps on your computer and allows you to create a folder on the Cmap server. If you ever want to publish your Cmap online or share them with others, then creating your own user folder on the server is a good step. You also need to do this if you want to be able to work with your maps on different machines. One of the nice features of Cmap is that for each concept, or element, in your map, you can created embedded nodes, and even link to another map, or to any URL, PDF, video, image, etc. So you can embed maps within maps, send users to other files and sources, and so on.

Another great feature of Cmap is that you can share your map in a collaborative workspace, working and editing in real time like you would in, say, a Google Doc. At the institute with my colleagues, we decided to use Cmap for a presentation we had to give. One of us created the map, then invited the rest of us to join the space using our usernames. Once the invitations were accepted (and we’d all installed the software, of course), we were able to collaborate on editing the map.

Finally, Cmap encourages the use of different kinds of modal connectors to shape your map and show relationships (causality, actions taken, states of being, etc.). What actions are prompted by your concepts? What results have you had, or hope to have?

I and my colleagues were taught how to use Cmap by Timothy Eatman, the Research Director for Imagining America. To get a good sense of the power of this tool for shaping research questions and agendas, and making one’s work visible to others, check out his Cmap here; click around to see how each component of his agenda is further mapped out into embedded questions, data, and resources.

Visualizing a Promotion Portfolio

It was Tim’s use of Cmap that prompted my own attempt to try the tool to map out my application for promotion. I’ll be going up for full professor this fall, and my anxiety around this prompted a really helpful conversation with my associate dean. The anxiety came from having a CV that does include “traditional” literary scholarship — peer-reviewed articles, monograph, on clearly defined questions emerging from engagement with literary study (my period of training, modernism). But it also includes some stuff I’m going to have to explain: a sort of major shift towards a new research agenda, for one thing, with products that looked different from what had gotten me tenure.

Furthermore, I had become more engaged, post-tenure, with public humanities, both in my city and across my discipline as I conversed online and off on the place of the humanities and higher education in the 21st century. I’ve blogged, I’ve tweeted, I’ve given talks — and again, it all made sense to me because it was all working around and towards the same question and goal: why do we need literature and the humanities now, and what is my role in the public sphere and the classroom? (I’ve talked about archiving online scholarly engagement as part of a portfolio here.)

Finally, there was the institutional work. There was service and development of teaching and pedagogy geared towards student success and making my institution a good place to teach and learn. I won’t say I fell into the trap that many women at the associate level in the humanities fall into (like here and here), but I will say keeping a balance amongst the three legs of the three-legged stool was an interesting challenge. Sometimes the stool is wobbly. (Sometimes you really need more legs, but that might be a topic for another time.)

So: after a conversation with my associate dean that went something like me kind of freaking out — how is all this stuff going to make sense to anyone who hasn’t been living in my brain for the past X years? — he said something that made perfect sense to someone working on narrative: tell a good story. Show the connections. Show how all the pieces fit together.

Mapping my promotion portfolio is helping me do that. I’m not the most visual person, so this doesn’t feel as natural to me as it might to others — as you might be able to tell if you click here to see my first attempt. Stories feel more natural to me, and the narrative of my portfolio is going to be very important. But I came up with a focus question, the question I imagined my committee, my audience, asking, the question that has driven me. By creating the map, visualizing the relationships, the actions I’ve taken as a teacher-scholar-citizen that have been guided by my focus question, I think I can make my work visible to others, and I think I can make a case for its value. By embedding artifacts within the maps defining specific commitments and action, specific questions to be asked and answered — PDFs of articles or links to blog posts and Twitter chats, all right there to be clicked on and read in a larger context — I can direct people to the specific evidence of my work and help them think about what it means.

And I do think I have an obligation to make a case for its value. I think it does have value, but I don’t take for granted that others will see it. The more of us who find helpful ways to make that case, the case for new and different kinds of scholarly and academic work, the more we help others in the profession.

Hqve you used Cmap or another cognitive mapping tool when putting together your materials for an academic promotion? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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