Electronic Portfolios

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

Electronic (digital) portfolios have been in use in education for several decades. These e-portfolios are structured collections of learner work created as part of formal learning, and they are usually built in pieces over time. The developmental pieces are e3valuated as formative assessments, and the final cumulative product is usually “graded” as a summative assessment. The digital artifacts are interpreted for the lead-up learning and skills that enabled the creation. Often, learners also create reflective and self-reflective pieces surrounding the electronic portfolios to further develop their skills. This short module introduces e-portfolios.


Takeaways

Learners will...

  • review what electronic portfolios are and when these originated in the educational space
  • list key required elements for an electronic portfolio and common types of digital files used in electronic portfolios
  • name some basic steps required for the creation of the e-portfolio and some common lengths of time for the creation of an e-portfolio
  • consider how e-portfolios are used in the educational context…for professional development…and for professional assessment
  • consider some common online venues for the sharing of e-portfolios (both public and “walled”)


Module Pretest

1. What are electronic portfolios? When were they harnessed for educational usage? What problems were electronic portfolios seen to solve?

2. What are key required elements to an electronic portfolio? What sorts of technologies are used to create the digital artifacts? What are some common types of digital files used in electronic portfolios?

3. What are some understood “basic steps” to the creation of an e-portfolio? What are some common spans of time for the creation of an e-portfolio?

4. How are electronic portfolios used for educational purposes? For professional development purposes? For professional assessment purposes?

5. What are some common online venues for the sharing of e-portfolios? Public venues? Walled venues?

Main Contents

1. What are electronic portfolios? When were they harnessed for educational usage? What problems were electronic portfolios seen to solve?

Generally speaking, electronic portfolios (e-portfolios, digital portfolios) are collections of digital and digitized files that showcase learner thinking and development over time. These portfolios usually house creative work such as art, writing, designs, engineered solutions, software programs, and other artifacts. The items inside an electronic portfolio may be “born digital” or “born analog” and digitized (such as paintings on physical canvases that are scanned or photographed into digital format).

E-portfolios appear in the academic educational literature around the early to mid-1990s.

Digital portfolios were seen to expand the range of types of available assessments and to enable more space for innovations or creativity (now at the highest apex of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy). Such collections enable room for learner expressiveness and unique artful signatures. As one researcher writes, e-portfolios are “a means of validating individual performance” (Wiedmer, Apr. 1998).

Besides broadening the types of available assessments, e-portfolios also enhance learner engagement. They provide learners with a portable (able to be moved to other contexts using memory devices) collection that may be used in job-hunting and in professional gallery shows.

Also, pedagogically, the creation of such portfolios enable the instructor and domain experts to have input into the evolving portfolio…and for peer co-learners to share insights and appreciate each other’s creativity and to develop constructive critiques to support each other’s works.

Having long-term projects like e-portfolios enables a learner to carry a work (or related works) from start-to-finish. This form of “teaching with technology” also builds learner discipline and a sense of learner agency; learners are encouraged to “own” their own learning and develop lifelong skills in the field. This e-portfolio development (a complex form of project-based learning) also helps a learner focus on every assignment “apprentice works” and as contributing to the skills that they will ultimately need in their chosen profession. Here, learners solve “hard problems,” and they are using their skills to organize their work and write and draw to explain their work. Their projects have both a utilitarian bent as well as an aesthetic one. Digital artifacts in e-portfolios have to be authentic and aligned with the work in the respective field (Ramey & Hay, 2003).


2. What are key required elements to an electronic portfolio? What sorts of technologies are used to create the digital artifacts? What are some common types of digital files used in electronic portfolios?

To explore what elements may be in an electronic portfolio, it helps to begin with a definition:

An early definition established by the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (EDUCAUSE; Cambridge, 2004) called an electronic portfolio a collection of authentic and diverse evidence, drawn from a larger archive representing what a person or organization has learned over time, on which the person or organization has reflected, and that is designed for presentation to one or more audiences for a particular rhetorical purpose. (Barrett, 2007, p. 439)

Another definition of an e-portfolio reads: “multimedia containers for students and teachers, as well as supporting student self-regulation and core educational competencies, especially literary skills” (Meyer, Abrami, Wade, & Scherzer, 2009, p. 1).

From an early review, the key required elements to an electronic portfolio may differ based on a range of issues. One basic listing follows:

“The core elements in a portfolio
  • “Learner Goals
  • Guidelines for selection of materials (to keep collection from growing haphazardly)
  • Work samples, chosen by both student and teacher
  • Teacher feedback
  • Student self-reflection
  • Clear/appropriate criteria for evaluating work (rubrics based on standards)
  • Standards and Exemplars - examples of good work” (Barrett, n.d., p. 3)

The above provides a sense of some possibilities, but there seems to be a lot of flexibility in the curricular design. In the consumption of electronic portfolios, the focuses are often on the artifacts created by the learner, but there are also clearly many supporting materials in e-portfolios.

A variety of technological files may be in an e-portfolio: “relational databases, hypermedia ‘card’ software, multimedia authoring software, World Wide Web (HTML) pages, Adobe Acrobat (PDF files), multimedia slideshows, (and) video (digital and analog)” (Barrett, April 2000, p. 1).

Over the years, a number of dedicated software programs have been created for the building of e-portfolios. There have been a number of authoring tools as well—for the creation of discrete objects. Also, there have been hosted authoring tools to enable people to create items from cloud-based Software As A Service (SAAS).

A core functionality of e-portfolios is that they should be portable or transferable to other contexts. In lieu of portability, some web-based e-portfolio systems promise to archive works into perpetuity, so that they are always accessible, based on learner needs.


3. What are some understood “basic steps” to the creation of an e-portfolio? What are some common spans of time for the creation of an e-portfolio?

Several common theories applied in education bolster the uses of electronic portfolios. One earlier theory is positivism, which suggests an objectivist view of the world. One is constructivism, which asserts that people create meaning both as individuals and as members of social groups (that co-create together). In other cases, e-portfolios are launched in a theory-agnostic way.

Sometimes, applied theories are used. One is utilitarianism, with many e-portfolios focused on professional and real-world work outside the “ivory tower.”

Experiential learning is considered an important part of e-portfolios. In this case, Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle depicts the dynamics of beginning with an experience, paying attention to particular elements of that experience and reflecting on that, abstracting that experience, and applying the new learning to a new context, and so on. The movement is from experience – reflection – abstraction – experimentation, in a continuous cycle.

FourStepsinKolbCycle.png

(OmniGiraffe, Nov. 14, 2013)

Reflection solidifies the learning, but it also does a lot more. In creating e-portfolios and engaging with experts in the field, learners not only hone their knowledge and skills, but they also learn about engaging with colleagues and broader publics. They become aware of the need for constructive collaboration and meaningful presentation (sometimes to non-experts). In their self-reflection, learners take on a professional role in their minds and step into the position, ultimately, when they graduate and start working professionally in the field.

An e-portfolio is not just about created, collected, and artfully curated digital objects, but about the processes that have led up to their creation.

“EPs are powerful learning tools not only because they organize content, but also because they are designed to support a variety of evidence-based pedagogical processes and assessment purposes” (Meyer, Abrami, Wade, & Scherzer, 2009, p. 1)

No matter what theories are applied or not, instructors who use e-portfolios do cede some ground to others: subject matter experts (SMEs) in the field (who may be invited to judge e-portfolios), learners (who judge each other’s works), and so on. Instructors also have to be willing to integrate new technologies and pedagogies like electronic portfolios (Meyer, Abrami, Wade, & Scherzer, 2009). One portion of the academic literature focuses on the uses of e-portfolios to train teachers and to help them integrate technology and literacy into their own work (Richards, Apr. 1998). Instructors have to work on “logistical and implementation problems” on the one hand, and learners face the challenges of engaging “electronic writing” in their e-portfolios (Pullman, 2002, p. 151).

Traditional analog portfolio processes include “collecting, selecting, reflecting, projecting, (and) celebrating,” and electronic portfolio processes including “archiving, linking/thinking, storytelling, collaborating, (and) publishing” (Barrett, 2007, p. 439).

Assessing e-portfolios is also a crucial issue. In the literature, practitioners suggest the criticality of having an established “list of standards, competencies, and proficiencies against which all portfolios will be judged” (Wiedmer, Apr. 1998). Usually, learners are trained in the standards before their work undergoes judgment and critique. Usually, they have multiple chances to revise and update works because designs are iterative and never one-offs. Student work may be indicative of “curricular integrity” (Ramey & Hay, 2003), what is being taught (apparently), how well the curriculum is being taught, and how well the teaching has been received.

E-portfolios are assessed piecemeal throughout the building process formatively and then assessed upon completion summatively. When experts assess an e-portfolio, they are only actually usually seeing the finalized works of the learners, and the assessors have to interpret backwards from the created objects to understand what it took to make those objects and the (design) thinking behind the products (Ramey & Hay, 2003, p. 32). If teams are brought in to assess learner work in e-portfolios, interrater reliability is an important aspect (Pullman, 2002).

One other note: Inclusive of the standards for e-portfolios should be intellectual property and media law aspects, so if learners use their creations in contests and publishing, they can be fully legal.

In terms of time spans for the creation of e-portfolios, that varies. In formal learning, these may require a semester (or quarter), year, two years, four years, five years, and such to build comprehensive e-portfolios. The length of time informs how much may be expected of the learner.


4. How are electronic portfolios used for educational purposes? For professional development purposes? For professional assessment purposes?

E-portfolios require that their creators demonstrate both “complex thinking and expressive skills” (Herman & Winters, 1994, as cited in Barrett, 2005, p. 3). These characteristics benefit in a variety of contexts.

In an educational context, e-portfolios are used as a technology-based tool to enhance learners understanding of their chosen profession, their ability to interact with peers and clients, their ability to design and self-express digitally, and other knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). This is so in professional contexts as well. E-portfolios have been applied for professional assessments in K12 education; these are not uncommon in design fields either (although these are not called e-portfolios per se in those contexts).

In one e-portfolio-based program to capture teacher performance, teachers included the following elements in their fields:

”1. A description of their teaching context
2. A planning overview and rationale for three to five lesson-learning segments with a central focus
3. One or two videotapes of instruction from these lessons accompanied by commentary describing the instruction that took place each day and in these clips
4. An assessment plan and analysis of samples of student work from one learning segment
5.Written reflections on instruction and student learning” (Pecheone, Pigg, Chung, & Souviney, 2005, p. 165)

E-portfolios serve a number of purposes in educational and professional contexts. In an assessment context, how they are harnessed may point to underlying educational theories.

as assessment tools to document the attainment of standards (a positivist model--the assessment portfolio); as digital stories of deep learning (a constructivist model--the learning or process portfolio); and as digital resumes to highlight competence (a showcase model-- the best works/marketing/employment portfolio). These models are often at odds, philosophically, with each other. (Barrett, 2005, p. 13)


5. What are some common online venues for the sharing of e-portfolios? Public venues? Walled venues?

The broad adoption of e-portfolios, as a worldwide practice, may practically mean increased access to more of the world’s global knowledge (Yancey, Winter 2009).

To experience some, it is possible to explore various public-facing e-portfolio websites hosted by universities, commercial companies, social media sites, and others. Usually, only the finalized works of the learner are shared along with a statement and a short biography.

Some “walled” venues include “galleries” of student work that are password protected and available only to registered students.

Examples

Some learning-based e-portfolios are available on MERLOT II (the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching). These are a category of resources, so to access e-portfolios in a certain domain, search by domain, and scroll down to the e-portfolio category.

How To

The process for this will depend on the learning domain and a range of other factors.

Possible Pitfalls

Based on the research literature, it is important to think through the e-portfolio process as an integrated part of the curriculum, to work through technological challenges early on, and to provide sufficient support for learners throughout the process. The evaluations for portfolios should also be predefined clearly, optimally with some sample student works provided. Learning outcomes should be accurately assessed.

Also, clear intellectual property (including copyright) and media laws should be covered, so learners do not get into any trouble if they submit their creations to contests and publications.

Finally, an authoring team shared some learner-based cost-benefit evaluations for the uptake of e-portfolios. They wrote:

“Benefits included opportunities to reflect, better access to and organization of professional documents, increased technology skills, and better understanding of teaching standards. The costs or disadvantages included issues of program implementation, access to and reliability of the technology, and the amount of time and effort expended”(Wetzel & Strudler, Spring 2006, p. 99).

Such tradeoffs may be considered.

Module Post-Test

1. What are electronic portfolios? When were they harnessed for educational usage? What problems were electronic portfolios seen to solve?

2. What are key required elements to an electronic portfolio? What sorts of technologies are used to create the digital artifacts? What are some common types of digital files used in electronic portfolios?

3. What are some understood “basic steps” to the creation of an e-portfolio? What are some common spans of time for the creation of an e-portfolio?

4. How are electronic portfolios used for educational purposes? For professional development purposes? For professional assessment purposes?

5. What are some common online venues for the sharing of e-portfolios? Public venues? Walled venues?


References

Barrett, H.C. (n.d.). Collaborative planning for electronic portfolios: Asking strategic questions. Handout.

Barrett, H.C. (2000, Apr.) Create your own electronic portfolio: Using off-the-shelf software to showcase your own or student work. Learning & Leading with Technology: 1 – 8.

Barrett, H.C. (2007). Researching electronic portfolios and learner engagement: The REFLECT Initiative. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy (JAAL): 50(6.2), 438 – 449. International Reading Association.

Barrett, H.C. (2005). Researching electronic portfolios and learner engagement. White paper. The REFLECT Initiative (Researching Electronic portFolios: Learning, Engagement and Collaboration through Technology).

Meyer, E., Abrami, P., Scherzer, R., & Wade, A. (2009). Electronic portfolios in the classroom: Factors impacting teachers’ integration of new technologies and new pedagogies. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American educational research association, San Diego, CA.

OmniGiraffe. (2013, Nov. 14). The Four Steps in Kolb Cycle. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Four_Steps_in_Kolb_Cycle.svg.

Pecheone, R.L., Pigg, M.J., Chung, R.R., & Souviney, R.J. (2005). Performance assessment and electronic portfolios: Their effect on teacher learning and education. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues, and Ideas: 78(4), 164 – 176.

Pullman, G. (2002). Electronic portfolios revisited: The efolios project. Computers and Composition: 19 (2002), 151 – 169.

Richards, R.T. (1998, Apr.) Infusing technology and literacy into the undergraduate teacher education curriculum through the use of electronic portfolios. T H E Journal (Technological Horizons in Education: 25 (9), 46 - .

Wetzel, K. & Strudler, N. (2006, Spring). Costs and benefits of electronic portfolios in teacher education: Student voices. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education: 22(3), 99 – 108.

Wiedmer, T. L. (1998, Apr.) Digital portfolios. Phi Delta Kappan: 79(8), 586 – 589.

Yancey, K. B. (2009, Winter). Electronic portfolios a decade into the twenty-first century: What we know, what we need to know. Peer Review: 11(1), 28 – 32.


Extra Resources

Electronic portfolio