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The Whys and Hows of ePortfolios

Teaching with Technology

The Whys and Hows of ePortfolios

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Student portfolios have become popular in higher education due to their variety of uses. They can document a student process, such as how an engineering class built a robot (Gallagher and Poklop, 2014). They can document a student's work across a program, such as an architecture student demonstrating the development of his or her design skills (Richards-Schuster et al., 2014), which can help with program-level assessments. They can also be used to cultivate students' reflections on their learning.

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Uses of ePortfolios
Student portfolios have become popular in higher education due to their variety of uses. They can document a student process, such as how an engineering class built a robot (Gallagher and Poklop, 2014). They can document a student's work across a program, such as an architecture student demonstrating the development of his or her design skills (Richards-Schuster et al., 2014), which can help with program-level assessments. They can also be used to cultivate students' reflections on their learning. Most students just complete a course and move on to the next one, never looking back at their work. Portfolios force students to survey what they have done, identify themes related to underlying learning outcomes, and gather those into a coherent whole. This “meta reflection” has been found to vastly improve retention and understanding of deep concepts.

The digital revolution carries the benefits of portfolios further by allowing students to draw together a much wider variety of content. Students can draw together text, video, images, podcasts, and so forth to illustrate their learning and thinking. Plus, they can integrate their own work with outside content through mashups. A history student studying ancient Rome can create a Google Maps overlay of Rome that describes the area and events of the time through text, images, and videos added by the student. A geography student can tag the contour map of a location with information on how the landscape was formed and links to models of the minerals found in the formation.

ePortfolios also allow for a much wider audience for a student's work. Students get out of the mind-set of developing work only for their teachers and instead consider other students, friends, family, employers, or the public at large as they develop their portfolio. This requires them to think about how their messages will appear to different audiences. The ability to speak to a wide variety of audiences with digital tools is a critical 21st-century skill. Many students are learning it on their own through homemade YouTube videos and the like. But faculty can facilitate students' development of the skill by providing students a way to formally organize their work to get feedback from others on how well it conveys the intended message.

Finally, ePortfolios can be used to facilitate two-way communication between the student and his or her audience. The ePortfolio can include a moderated comment feature to allow students, faculty, or the public at large to comment on the content and the student's position. A portfolio used across a program can be incorporated into individual courses, with students required to comment on each other's portfolios as a class assignment. This gives students a reason to continually return to the work to revise it as they add to, and modify, their understanding (Coffey and Ashford-Rowe, 2014). This helps students engage in the material in an informal, nongraded way that expresses their own views and understanding.

We generally think of portfolios as more appropriate to fields of study that require students to produce something to display, such as painting, but they can be used for any subject. The basic principle is to capture and reflect on learning, and any subject allows students to express conceptual points through digital media. A student in a literature course can use images to convey Tom Sawyer's struggle over his feelings toward Jim and laws about slavery, while a student in an ethics course can use videos or other content to illustrate different views of animal rights.

Creating ePortfolios
There are a variety of good systems for creating ePortfolios. Many faculty assume that they must use university-licensed systems, such as those built into the learning management system (LMS). While those can have the advantage of being simple to set up and connect to a course, their functionality can be foreign to students used to working with applications such as Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram. One study of ePortfolios used Taskstream to host student work and found that students did not know how to publish the product, or even whether it was published. Plus, the work will likely have a limited audience, as institutional systems are generally designed to prevent outside access to student work, and one would not normally think of searching an LMS to find interesting content on an issue.

EduClipper (educlipper.net) is a nice alternative to institutional systems that is built to allow students to easily create attractive Web content. A faculty member can set up a site as a companion to a course, with each topic given a board to which students post content that they find related to it. It also has an ePortfolio feature that allows individual students to set up their own portfolios by choosing from a variety of themes, layouts, and colors.

Google Sites is another good option because it integrates with all the other Google products. ePortfolios can use the nearly unlimited storage capacity of Google Drive to host data, documents, or videos, and can connect to Gmail for communication. Plus, students will have access to the content after they leave school and can continue to develop their portfolios for different purposes, such as job applications.

Students can either get a Google account themselves, if they do not already have one, or the instructor can set up one for each student. This gives the students access to all of Google's features, including a Google Sites page. Students should share their Sites pages with the instructor while developing the work so that the instructor can monitor progress and make suggestions, and then publish it when it is done. Publicizing the work just requires sending out links to the public, which can be done to all students at once. Take a look at this tutorial on how to set up an ePortfolio in Google Sites: https://youtube/eU8xmw3eKVA.

Another possibility is to use Google Blogger, which also comes with a Google account. Blogger is Google's blogging app, and while it does not have the variety of presentation options of Sites, it does allow for easy upload of content and attractive display options. Because a blog is organized chronologically, Blogger could be a good choice if the instructor is looking only for students to post their thoughts and content related to class topics in order, as they are covered.

Consider how ePortfolios can add to students' learning in your courses or program.

References
Coffey, U. & Ashford-Rowe, K. (2014). The Changing Landscape of ePortfolios: A Case Study in One Australian University, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, v. 30, i. 3.

Gallagher, C. & Poklop, L. (2014). ePortfolios and Audience: Teaching a Critical Twenty-First-Century Skill, International Journal of ePortfolio, v. 4, n. 1.

Richards-Schuster, K. et al. (2014). Using ePortfolios to Assess Program Goals, Integrative Learning, and Civic Engagement: A Case Example, International Journal of ePortfolio, v. 4, n. 2.