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Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, many institutions have restructured their study abroad programs to make them virtual. Students stay “in country” but do a variety of activities to learn about their country of study, such as view expert speakers, engage in virtual tours, and participate in cultural dinners, where they prepare and eat meals from the host country.

Although virtual study abroad programs have become more popular due to travel restrictions that resulted from the pandemic, institutions are considering maintaining these programs because of the vast benefits afforded to learners. Particularly, these international programs provide affordable global engagement and allow students to engage in programs that, on account of professional, personal, or financial restrictions, they may otherwise have been unable to. Students find these programs attractive since they are able to explore other countries without leaving home.

E-portfolios provide an engaging way of adding reflection and engagement to these virtual study abroad programs. Through the development of e-portfolio artifacts, students document their global knowledge and levels of intercultural competence and academic, professional, and personal growth. Institutions can also highlight study abroad e-portfolios to make global learning visible and to demonstrate their committee to international education and issues of social justice, equity, and inclusion.

E-portfolios focused on students’ international experiences can also be valuable for marketability in a global workplace. Students can demonstrate to potential employers their competencies and understandings of international contexts. By submitting their e-portfolio with their job applications, students with professional e-portfolios can demonstrate what sets them apart from other applicants in the competitive job market. Further, faculty assessments on e-portfolios and students’ e-portfolio presentations provide opportunities for them to practice and further develop valuable career readiness skills.

Implementing e-portfolio assignments

E-portfolios for virtual study abroad programs should be designed to traverse not only the student’s coursework during the program but also their prior learning and beliefs before the program and reflections on the experience afterward. Students should begin their e-portfolios by creating and reflecting on personal statement goals of studying abroad and providing a list of beliefs about the country. During the program they document the various activities that they engage in as well as blog their ongoing reflections; afterward they reflect on what they have learned, making explicit reference to their prior beliefs about the country and whether they have changed during the program.

When implementing e-portfolios, instructors should consider which artifacts best capture a summary of students’ coursework, showcases their academic accomplishments, and provide a visual representation of their expertise in a specific field of study. Students may include pictures of food they have cooked from the country, videos of presentations related to their study abroad experiences, or research related articles or blogs highlighting areas of social justice projects. Additionally, faculty may consider requiring students to include content focused on their goals and biases and how they accomplished their program objectives and overcame any preconceptions they initially possessed. For these assessments, students can provide a presentation of their e-portfolios on areas that include the following: 

Additionally, students can include statements and artifacts associated with their global mindset growth and how they prepared for their virtual study abroad activities. Particularly, additional e-portfolio artifacts that encompass the below cultural components:

Faculty cannot assume that students will have the technical skills to develop the e-portfolio, and so must provide guidance in the form directions and tutorials. They should also consider including e-portfolio instructions and activities throughout the course to provide students ample opportunities to develop components of their e-portfolios and navigate the e-portfolio platform. Teachers can also share examples of prior students’ work to further demonstrate which artifacts students may consider including in their e-portfolios. Additional considerations for e-portfolio assessments include creativity, attention to detail, and opportunities for students to engage in self-reflection. This assessment should result in students’ creation of a professional product and the inclusion of reflective learning experiences. 

Teachers have traditionally used portfolios to monitor student growth, making e-portfolios an ideal way to tie together and amplify the learning in virtual study abroad programs. Faculty can guide students to initially reflect on their expectations for virtual study abroad and ponder what they learned after the completion of their online immersive cultural experiences. Through e-portfolios assignments, students demonstrate their development of global mildness and how they expanded their world views. Essentially, these assignments afford students the unique opportunity to attain cultural experiences that enhance their worldviews and promote international marketability without leaving their homes.

Kelly M. Torres, PhD, is the department chair of the educational psychology and technology program and Aubrey Statti, EdD, is a core faculty member of the educational psychology and technology program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.