Issues in Digital Technology in Education/E-Portfolios
By: Renu Kumar
“An e-portfolio is a digitized collection of artifacts, including demonstrations, resources, and accomplishments that represent an individual, group, community, organization, or institution. This collection can be comprised of text-based, graphic, or multimedia elements archived on a Web site or on other electronic media such as CD-ROM or DVD” (Lorrenzo & Ittelson, 2005, p. 1). They can also be defined as “personalized, Web-based collections of work, responses to work, and reflections that are used to demonstrate key skills and accomplishments for a variety of contexts and time periods” (Lorrenzo & Ittelson, 2005, p. 3).
There are mainly three types or applications of e-portfolios: Course portfolio, Program portfolio, and Institutional portfolio (Stefani, Mason, & Pegler, 2007). Course portfolios are usually assembled by students for one course. They document and reflect upon the ways in which the student has met the outcomes for that particular course. They can also be part of course assessment. Program portfolios are developed by students to document the work they have completed, the skills they have learned, and the outcomes they have met in an academic program or department. Students can use them to show-case their work to prospective employers. Institutional portfolios are mainly used as personal development planning tools in which each individual’s records are documented, including future plans and extra-curricular activities.
E-portfolios are being used to meet a variety of learning requirements such as Assessment (demonstrate achievement against a criteria), Presentations (evidence learning in a persuasive way), Learning (document, guide, and advance learning over time), Personal development, and Multiple owners (allowing more that one person to contribute and participate in the content) (Stefani et al., 2007).
Student e-portfolios are a product of faculty-assigned, print-based student portfolios from the mid-80s (typically used in art-related programs and in disciplines with mostly writing components, such as English and communication studies). They gained prominence in higher education during the mid-90s and continue to be increasingly popular (Lorrenzo & Ittelson, 2005). E-portfolios are an obvious extension to paper-based folios in this e-learning age with some added advantages. With digital portfolios, it is easier to rearrange, edit, and combine materials. They offer a variety of layouts and storage of different forms of content both multimedia and text-based. The student can use hyperlinking to connect documents together linking between the portfolio elements and also external sources and references. This makes it easier to make associations between different subject areas, learning experiences and artifacts. And finally, e-portfolios are portable and mobile. The e-portfolio can be potentially accessed anywhere in the world and can be replicated and shared with others.
Impact on Education
If implemented well e-Portfolios can encourage reflective practice, peer and self-evaluation, and assessment. They can provide an ongoing basis for student’s planning and goal setting. They could enable and encourage professional learning and promote self-development. They can cater to a wide range of learning styles. Students have different learning strategies and e-portfolios can support this diversity. They can provide a framework for formative and summative assessment.
Reflection plays a key role in the successful implementation and outcomes of e-portfolios especially in higher education. “Reflection is an essential feature of a deep approach to learning. Structuring the practice of reflection transforms it into learning experience” (Stefani et al., 2007, p. 61). E-Portfolio software allow for various activities that support this learning style. For example at the beginning of a course, the student can be asked to reflect on what they don’t know, what they would like to learn, and how they want to go about it. Students can keep a learning journal throughout the course in which they record their thoughts, observations, feelings, and questions. A ‘critical incident diary’ also works well in e-portfolio software. The aim of developing reflective learners is to encourage students to be more self-aware and self-critical; to be honest about themselves, and open to criticism and feedback. An e-portfolio with reflective processes and mentoring by the teacher can develop these qualities in students.
The use of an e-portfolio over a whole program is becoming relatively common especially at American universities and colleges. E-portfolios have the potential to facilitate discussion among students and assessors on their work in the context of their prior work, their identified, and future goals. Teaching students the skill of setting goals for themselves is a life skill like reflection which is critical. E-portfolio provides the option for peer commenting and allows integrating it directly with student’s work. Peer commenting on student work is usually a great incentive for improving the quality and effort that students invest in their work.
Another process facilitated by e-portfolios is mentoring (Stefani et al., 2007). A number of teachers have noted that while providing advice and guidance to students throughout the course via e-portfolio may seem to be very time consuming activity, it is invaluable as a means of increasing students’ understanding of their own learning.
Helen Barrett, a strong advocate for e-portfolios, comments that a “portfolio’s whole purpose is to foster learning and document growth over time is based upon a constructivist model of learning” (Stefani et al., 2007, p. 74). She suggests that “portfolio authoring reflects that tenets of constructivism in that it allows for students to begin their learning at many different starting points. Formative feedback or critique challenges the student’s original insights prompting reflection and revision. In this sense, the portfolio is a tool to support the process of learning, and assessment is formative. The portfolio becomes a story of learning owned by the learner” (Stefani et al., 2007, p. 74). Jackson believes we should be encouraging students to construct new knowledge rather than to show how much transmitted knowledge they have retained. This is a ‘constructivist’ view, one which is very important in teaching and learning currently. This pedagogical approach is frequently associated with e-learning along with student-centered learning (Jackson, 2003).
Moreover, if the student ‘e-portfolio space’ is linked with the learning management systems like Blackboard, WebCT, or Moodle, then students will have access to full records of their performance both formative and summative assessments.
Issues and Implications
A number of the issues are associated with student e-portfolios and an exhaustive list was compiled by Lorenzo and Ittelson (2005) in their article. Below is a subset of those issues that I believe are critical:
1. Is a student e-portfolio considered an ‘official’ representation of a particular learning experience? If the student is allowed to update or change the e-portfolio, is it still ‘official’?
2. As e-portfolios accumulate year after year, more servers and maintenance are required. How long should an e-portfolio remain at an institution after the student graduates? Should students be allowed lifetime access to e-portfolio after they graduate? Should alumni be charged a fee to keep their e-portfolios on an institution’s servers?
3. Who owns the e-portfolio? Is it the institution? Should anyone other than the student be able to make changes to the student’s e-portfolio?
4. How are e-portfolios evaluated so that they are valid? How do we validate the material added by students to e-portfolios as student’s authentic work?
Other challenges are implementation driven:
1. How many and what kind of servers will be necessary to hold increasing numbers of e-portfolios?
2. How will PERPA regulations impact an e-portfolio system?
3. What policies are needed for governing information access, security, and privacy? How will they be determined and controlled?
4. How will an e-portfolio system authenticate that all the work, documentation, and demonstrations were created by the author?
5. Who owns the records? Can it be transferred to another institution?
6. Can it be exported to another format for offline usage?
7. How likely is it that the students and faculty will accept and use the e-portfolio system?
8. What are the policies around long term maintenance and deletion of e-portfolios?
It is critical for institutions to think through these issues as part of the development and implementation process.
Just like any new technology, e-portfolios have drawbacks as well. One significant drawback is the limitation to students who are illiterate in technology (Lau, 2005). Students need to have the right equipment and software in order to work on e-portfolios. Moreover, students might spend a lot of time focusing on the design rather that on the content (Lau, 2005). From an administrative point of view, it can be time consuming and labor-intensive for large groups. For an effective use, it requires proper student and staff training and instruction. There might be some privacy issues as well. It might enable plagiarism if it is available via the internet of ones original work, ideas, and thoughts. The ability for the student to modify contents after evaluation may alter the intended purpose. And finally, if it is used for grading purposes, it might require some sort of standardization so that it is easier to evaluate.
There are several software products available in the market both commercial, open-source, and proprietary for e-portfolio systems. Some of the commercial ones include eportfolio.org, Taskstream and the built-in portfolio components for learning management systems such as Blackboard and WebCT. There are several open source products available as well. Some of the most common ones are Elgg and OSPI. Many institutions also decide to develop software in-house as it can be customized and provides more flexibility. Tools such as Blogs, Wikis, e-Journals, and Dreamweaver can also facilitate similar processes and achieve successful outcomes.
Few institutions have begun to adopt e-portfolios based on their needs and requirements. Here are few case studies with different models.
1) Linking the e-portfolio and PDP into Masters in Pharmacy degree at Strathclyde School of Pharmacy in UK. The overall goal of the project was to enhance employment prospects for the students. Students were encouraged to build their evidence of learning and development by means of ‘diary entry’. The e-portfolio was implemented via SPIDER, a virtual environment developed within the department (http://spider.pharmacy.strath.ac.uk). The students were provided with support and guidelines around reflection, self-assessment, and self-evaluation. (Stefani et al., 2007).
2) Alverno (Liberal Arts College for women), the e-portfolio at an institutional level. (http://www.alberno.edu/academics/dpp.html). Some of the key uses were providing a means for students to record their internships, volunteer, and community service work, and to build a resume. Allowing students to store multimedia files; audio and video and enabling faculty and students to view it anytime, anywhere they have internet access. (Stefani et al., 2007).
3) Lifelong E-Folio Minnesota. (http://www.efoliominnesota.com) It is a multimedia first statewide portfolio system that provides all Minnesota residents, including students enrolled in Minnesota schools, educators and others a free life-time e-portfolio with up to 3MB storage space. (Lorrenzo & Ittelson, 2005).
There are very promising educational opportunities for e-portfolios across various disciplines, applications, and institutions. Although many have begun to adopt e-portfolio technology and research on them, they are not mainstream higher educational technology. Many institutions are still struggling with the implementation of Learning Management systems. Nevertheless, it is essential to explore this technology as it has the potential to support the varied learning styles of our Digital Natives. In this era of knowledge economy where most of the future jobs are not yet defined it is critical for students to plan ahead. E-portfolios basis as a constructivist model of learning further develops students’ reflective practice, goal setting, and self-evaluation and assessment.
References and Further Reading
1. Jackson, N.J (2003). Nurturing creativity through an imaginative curriculum. Educational Developments 4(2): 8-12. Retrieved June 05, 2008, from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/creativity.htm
2. Lau, S. (2005). The Implementation of Portfolio Assessment in an ESL/EFL Classroom. Retrieved June 21, 2008, from http://web1.hpu.edu/images/GraduateStudies/TESL_WPS/05Lau_Portfolio_a16709.pdf
3. Lorenzo, G., & Ittelson, J. (2005). An overview of E-Portfolios. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. Retrieved June 05, 2008, from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI3001.pdf
4. Stefani, L., & Mason, R., & Pegler, C. (2007). The educational potential of e-portfolios. Routledge: London and New York.