ePortfolios: The Good, the Bad, and What We’re Reading About It

Posted October 19th, 2016 at 11:00 am.

Imagine this. During college, instead of writing short essay responses on Moodle, you write them on your personal blog. You get in a heated debate with four of your classmates and two advocates as a nearby non-profit about local environmental issues. Instead of a final paper, you build a digital map on urban food deserts, which you host on your website permanently. When you’re done with college and searching for a job, you link to your personal website in your job applications.

This is the promise of ePortfolios—student ownership over their data, learning that transcends the classroom, and the opportunity for students to showcase skills to future employers. But how do the practicalities live up to the promise? And what makes a successful ePortfolio program? We read and annotated some sources to find out.

The Promise of ePortfolios

“I have had many amazing experiences at Michigan, but I didn’t really know what they meant or how they all fit together… Now, I see patterns and themes in the work I have been doing, how things fit together. The work I’ve been doing actually makes sense…”

This is an early piece, but Miller and Morgaine’s extensive quoting from interviews gives a fairly nuanced look at what it’s actually like to learn to use ePortfolios. It also hints at the trickiness of designing a really effective ePortfolio program.

“A professor using e-portfolios as the basis for a course grade has to take a different approach from a professor using more traditional means of assessment.”

Very positive interview which makes a useful point about the ePortfolio as a way of respecting student experiences as learning: “Until now, we have not allowed students to have much in the way of experience; instead, we expect them to listen to someone who has had experience.” Yet the descriptions of implementations we find here also incidentally suggests that ePortfolios work best when the whole curriculum or class is shaped around them.

“Students make connections across various assignments and courses and, more importantly, decide how those connections ought to be displayed. We should not dismiss this work as a trivial matter of graphic design and presentation.”

Hubert, Pickavance and Hyberger write about ePortfolios as an experiential, high-impact practice. When students build ePortfolios, the authors write, they “enact a shift from being a consumer to being a producer of their own education” and “become learners with agency.” Meanwhile, the authors frame increased visibility as a gain for both students and faculty. The “visibility of e-portfolios pushes students to up their game,” which they also “provide much greater visibility into the work of faculty” and “shed light on an institution’s teaching.”

The Data Ownership Debate

“[Students] may install LAMP-compatible Web applications, set up subdomains and e-mail addresses, and install databases.”

You can’t read too much about ePortfolios without hearing about Domain of One’s Own, an initiative first started at the University of Mary Washington. This project gives students individual domains and handles the hosting, and students can take all of their data with them when they leave.

“By owning their own domains, students can learn and demonstrate skills — very desirable skills — in HTML, Web design, and WordPress. They can come to recognize the importance of digital identity — what it means to control and shape it, what it means to own your data.”

Not, strictly speaking, an article on ePortfolios, but it does contain a forceful and convincing defense of student public interaction online. Also notes that students almost incidentally often use the space as a way to “start building a rich professional portfolio.”

“This basic function… fits the culture of the service economy that now dominates the country: Jobs are increasingly temporary and one needs a ready record of accomplishments to continue to be employed or under contract.”

Trent Batson notes that ePortfolios are increasingly being marketed to institutions and to corporations. While his vision of the technology is also framed positively, this description of the world of corporate ePortfolios feels very different from the disruptive discourse around Domain of One’s Own, even while many of the arguments are very similar. Particularly interesting (and troubling?) here is the suggestion that ePortfolios are better preparation for the “gig economy.”

Career Relevance?

“‘I don’t think that a lot of our hiring managers know or understand an e-portfolio…”

Written from a business rather than an ed tech side, this piece questions whether employers are interested in ePortfolios. Korn’s conclusion is less one-sided than the title suggests—many employers comment that ePortfolios would be useful, but their usefulness is limited particularly in first-round weeding through resumes from employers who hire many people at once, since HR software will not evaluate portfolios, and hiring managers may not have the time to look through them.

“Investing in the tool for the sake of keeping up with the trend is a recipe for failure.”

Overall positive piece, though it does critique poor implementations of ePortfolios. It also brings up the debate about whether employers actually demand ePortfolios, citing a source who suggests that “Where employers want a body of work for specific positions, other, better solutions exist, like Behance for artists and designers and GitHub or StackExchange for programmers.” Ultimately suggests that ePortfolios might be most useful as private repository of student writing, helping students track what they created over the course of college.

Filed under: Trending Topics Tags: , by Beth Seltzer

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