4 ways ePortfolios are going beyond college resume building

To Help Teach 21St Century Skills

Being able to write in a way that addresses multiple audiences, sends the right message, and resonates with readers is a skill that today’s college students need before they make their way out into the workforce.

At Northeastern University, educators are using ePortfolios to help students achieve this and other writing-related goals. In “ePortfolios and Audience: Teaching a Critical Twenty-First Century Skill,” Chris Gallagher and Laurie Poklop discuss how the university used ePortfolios to help first-year writing students hone their 21st Century writing skills.

“The ability to craft compositions that successfully negotiate multiple audiences’ needs and expectations is a critical 21st Century skill,” the authors state. “Many, perhaps most, forms of web-based writing—think of virtually any public website—provide different kinds of information and different types of engagement to different readers.”

According to the authors, the overarching goal of the program was to help students develop confidence and competence in writing for academic, professional, and public purposes and audiences. Focusing on First-Year Writing (FYW), students were asked to design ePortfolios to showcase their completed work across multiple writing projects. Students then submitted their work to a program repository, with 18 (out of a total of 43) then chosen for review (i.e., for home page, structure/navigation, imagery/media, individual artifacts, tone/voice, and reflective writing).

The report’s authors concluded that, although audience traditionally has played a limited role in the program’s first-year writing courses, ePortfolios have prompted significant shifts in the teaching of “audience” to students. Four distinct types of ePortfolios emerged as a result of the exercise (i.e., process, project, showcase, and reflective) and ePortfolios helped shift instructors’ and students’ attention to audiences other than the instructor, the authors state. In addition, the authors found that while there is evidence that many students had multiple audiences in mind as they were writing, “their ePortfolios reflect varying levels of success in negotiating the needs and interests of multiple kinds of readers.”

Based on their 3-year investigation into the use of the ePortfolio as a tool for teaching 21st Century skills, the authors “recommend explicit attention to, and practice in, writing for multiple audiences and creating ePortfolios that offer different pathways for different readers.” They also say that assignments and instruction that draw students’ attention to intentional design of structure and navigation, adequate contextualization of content and artifacts, and flexible use of voices “is a promising approach to helping students learn the critical 21st Century skill of composing for multiple audiences.”

To Provide an Authentic Learning Experience Online

Online learners don’t always feel connected to their institutions, instructors, or fellow students. Hoping to fill the communication gaps – and the feelings of isolation and/or lack of support – that can emerge in the online learning space, one university “integrated ePortfolios into graduate-level online education programs to facilitate a programmatic, systematic graduate student supervision approach,” according to Craig Shepherd and Doris Bolliger, authors of “Managing Communication and Professional Development in Online Graduate Programs with Electronic Portfolios.

In their report, the authors detail how two online graduate programs at a midsize university “implemented ePortfolios to foster communication and connectedness among students and faculty, develop community that extends beyond course boundaries, and promote professional goal formation and achievement among students.”

Such efforts are particularly important in the graduate space, where many students study from a distance and, as such, don’t have the chance to interact on campus. “Advisors must assist distance students with their transition to academic culture, supervise progress with research and writing, and transform students into independent writers and researchers,” the authors point out.

Using ePortfolios, the institution’s instructors can provide authentic learning experiences, address different learning styles, apply authentic assessment approaches, and integrate formative and summative assessment stages. The digital tools can also be used to document a variety of requirements such as assessment, presentation, learning, and personal development.

“ePortfolios can promote learning communities and facilitate feelings of connectedness among students and instructors,” the authors state. “Their use may assist in the creation and support of an online learning community when students share their projects, engage in peer review, and provide peer feedback via e-mail or discussion boards.”

For this university, ePortfolios are more than just talent showcases; they are tools for cultivating dynamic interaction among instructors, learners, and mentors.

(Next page: Enhancing PD and civic engagement)

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