Stop the ePortfolio madness say…students?

After student backlash at Clemson University, IT expert discusses what could be done to make higher education ePortfolios truly beneficial for students.

higher-education-ePortfoliosThey’re so despised they even have a petition for their demise on Change.org signed by thousands of students. And no, they’re not a chain of restaurants or social justice issues—they’re higher education ePortfolios. But is there a way to make them better?

A few years ago, Clemson University student Jamie Harding took the trouble to articulate the grassroots anger of his peers and called for the elimination of higher education ePortfolios. While his focus was Clemson’s homegrown, mandatory ePortfolio initiative, his description of what he and his peers see as the way higher education is supposed to work is stunning in its candor. Jamie is not some lone malcontent. He had 2,954 supporters for his petition posted on Change.org.

In his excerpt below, Jamie expresses the bald-faced economics of higher education for most students and their parents. Educational idealists should brace themselves; it’s a social contract that tolerates nothing less than a tangible payoff.

“Like most of my classmates, I put work into my classes and receive grades, as I should. It is as simple as that. Why should we be required to create a portfolio that just reiterates the fact that we have completed a course? Why should we be submitting work to an online portfolio that does not give us any credit? We have to complete this to graduate? If I have achieved good grades and completed the courses necessary, I should be well on my way to graduating. The portfolio only creates another task for students to worry about, a task that accomplishes nothing. I wrote an essay for my English class. I got an A on it and it led me to receive an A in the course, and I successfully earned those credits. Nowhere in there do I see a gap that must be filled with an ePortfolio.”

What earthly reason would there be for adding a capstone or showcase higher education ePortfolio to the lives of students? It’s a fair question. I want to be clear. I am not belittling Clemson. It’s a fine school doing what hundreds of other institutions have tried over the last fifteen years. Clemson, like so many, has spent no small amount of money developing and supporting this vision.

Clemson’s student products are very impressive. They seek what many have sought from an higher education ePortfolio: a thoughtful summary of the student’s journey of learning and struggle for personal confidence. Clemson is obviously trying hard to beat back the objections – trying and failing according to Jamie and his peers. Yet, Clemson still is working to workshop and “blitz” session their way forward.

No campus is immune to this. Given the campus social contract Jamie speaks of, this happens to institutional homegrown and commercial providers alike. Why?

(Next page: Unrealistic goals and institutional denial)

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