Innovative faculty and institutions are leveraging the power of ePortfolios to transform the college classroom.
[Editor’s note: This story originally ran as a feature in our Oct/Nov. digital publication. Read more features part of this issue here.]
For the most part, ePortfolios are seen as online, digital repositories where college students can house their work for sharing with potential employers and other interested parties. Projects, resumes, artwork and designs, work samples, video clips, awards, honors, and myriad other materials can be neatly organized and presented in a digital fashion, making it easy for employers to access and review the work at their fingertips.
But what happens when you take the original ePortfolio concept and expand its horizons to include other purposes? In “The Changing Landscape of ePortfolios,” The Australasian Journal of Educational Technology examined one Australian university’s integration of ePortfolio tools with learning and teaching outcomes across numerous disciplines and learning contexts. Using tools like Expo Lx, Dreamweaver, and Google Sites, the institution used ePortfolios for showcasing achievements, reflection, and recording practical experience.
Through this experience, the school concluded that ePortfolios are not only useful for showcasing student work and achievements, but also for other functions. “As the ePortfolio technologies and policies continue to mature,” the school stated in its report, “they provide a decisively more university-friendly environment that can support a student-centered learning and teaching approach, as well as formal institutional processes.”
With more institutions of higher ed catching onto the diverse value of ePortfolios, we examine four innovative ways that these schools are leveraging these technology tools in the classroom. Here are their stories:
(Next page: New skills and boosting the online experience)
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)
To Enhance Professional Development
At LaGuardia Community College, three faculty members are using ePortfolios to foster integrative social pedagogy (i.e., a design approach for teaching and learning where the representation of knowledge for an audience is central to the construction of course knowledge). In “Faculty Professional Development: Advancing Integrative Social Pedagogy Using ePortfolio,” the authors point to two seminars, “Art of Advising: Learning and Implementing Holistic Advisement Skills” and “Connected Learning: ePortfolio and Integrative Pedagogy,” as the common link among the three faculty members.
Art of Advising, for example, is a seminar that allows faculty and staff to work together in order to “go beyond the common perception of advising as course selection, and examines factors critical to how the Council on the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education defined advising as assisting ‘students in the development of meaningful educational plans,’” the authors state. “The seminar aims to explore, adapt, and demonstrate ePortfolio practices to help students identify and reflect on their interests, skills, strengths, and challenges.”
The seminar prompted two LaGuardia faculty members to collaborate and work with a group of students to use ePortfolios to build, connect, and sustain advisement efforts in the accounting discipline. The initiative centered on career-readiness and found students using ePortfolios to prepare for a career in the accounting field. An “About Me” assignment, for example, urged students to become more aware of themselves as learners in the context of their past, their present, and their future aspirations. “It also asked them to reflect on themselves as team players,” the authors state, “detailing the skills and qualities they already had and the skills and qualities they needed to develop.”
In conclusion, the authors feel that for LaGuardia’s faculty, the yearlong “Art of Advising and Connected Learning” professional development seminars “served as the catalysts for developing assignments and activities that succeeded in helping students to obtain, retain, apply, and share knowledge within intellectual communities.”
To Encourage and Support Student Civic Engagement
The college experience goes beyond just attending classes, getting good grades, and graduating within the desired timeframe. Through civic engagement and community involvement, for example, undergraduate students can enhance their educational experiences while also contributing to the world around them. In “Using ePortfolios to Assess Program Goals, Integrative Learning, and Civic Engagement: A Case Example” authors from the University of Michigan discuss the use of ePortfolios to assess individual student outcomes related to civic engagement.
Using a case example of an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor focused on community action and social change, the report’s authors demonstrate how ePortfolios were used to assess individual student change related to civic engagement as well as for providing input about program impact and outcomes.
Fifty-one students participated in the exercise, which was part of the minor’s one-credit capstone course, where students develop a philosophy statement highlighting their beliefs and perspectives about civic engagement activities.
The students presented their ePortfolios to other students throughout the course as well as via a showcase presentation at the end of the course. According to the authors, students were also asked to share and get feedback from outside faculty mentors of their own choosing. “The goal of the sharing is to help students to express and articulate their learning in ways that support deeper reflection,” they state.
Calling the ePortfolio “an innovative platform for assessment,” the authors plan to continue exploring the various ways in which these tools can be used to support pedagogical and curricular developments, assess program outcomes, and facilitate changes in the minor to enhance students’ overall civic engagement education. “…the ePortfolio process has enabled us to capture elements of what we know are high-impact practices for civic engagement, service learning, and social action education,” the authors conclude. “Through our preliminary efforts, we believe that ePortfolios make high-impact practices visible, allowing students to reflect on experiences and communicate them in new ways and to articulate and share the value of these types of experiences with external audiences, such as family members, employers, or academic advisors.”
Bridget McCrea is an editorial freelancer with eCampus News.
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