Eportfolios offer compelling opportunities for institutions seeking more authentic ways to assess student learning, help students become reflective learners, and integrate formal and informal learning experiences. In spite of this potential, there is little evidence of wide adoption of institutionally supported eportfolio tools in the British Columbia post-secondary system. To understand why, this study examined 29 case studies of eportfolio implementations in post-secondary institutions, primarily in the US and UK, and compared the results to 4 broader research reports to identify the key issues affecting institutional decisions for implementing eportfolios.
The study reveals a complex pedagogical practice typically influenced by both internal motivations and external drivers. Disciplines with professional requirements for the demonstration of standards or competencies may be the easiest fit for eportfolio use.
Consistent lessons from eportfolio pioneers suggest that institutions considering implementing eportfolios should pay close attention to the following:
- clarity of purpose;
- selecting appropriate tools (while recognizing tools are in their infancy);
- purposeful integration of eportfolios into curriculum;
- attention to training and support;
- engagement and buy-in from all stakeholders in the planning and implementing phases;
- and the challenges of addressing issues of time and workload; assessment; providing meaningful, frequent feedback; and encouraging meaningful reflection.
While not a silver bullet, with careful planning and attention to key questions, there is strong evidence that eportfolios can help students more authentically demonstrate what they have learned and connect this learning to their lives beyond our institutions.
Final report: Eportfolios: In Search of a Silver Bullet available in PDF format
Of the 29 case studies examined, 10 listed tracking or demonstrating outcomes or competencies as the primary goal for implementing eportfolios. Seven listed helping students make connections or integrating learning across programs or among multiple work or personal contexts. Other motivations included professional development planning (particularly in the UK), accommodating a specific learning task such as replacing exams with portfolio assessment, desire to explore eportfolios, and to improve existing paper-based portfolio systems.
Proprietary tools used included PebblePad (4), Epsilen (2), Blackboard (1), Sharepoint (1), Chalk & Wire (1). Custom, in-house applications were reported in eight of the studies. Web tools included applications such as Dreamweaver, FrontPage, Keep Toolkit, and Sea Monkey. Open source tools included Moodle and Elgg, Sakai and OSP (Open Source Portfolio). Two case studies reported offering a choice of software and supporting multiple tools (WebCT, WordPress, Blackboard, web authoring software etc.). In one case, the tool or tools used could not be determined from the case study report.
The most frequently reported lesson was about the importance of communicating clearly to students the intended purpose of the eportfolio within the intended context. Eighteen of the 29 case studies included clarity as a key recommendation. Suggestions included providing concrete examples and coherent conceptual frameworks, providing clear guidelines on connecting artifacts to principles or standards, explaining how eportfolios differ from other web-based presentations, providing clear guidelines on what makes a successful eportfolio, and making a distinction between presentation portfolios and reflective portfolios. Students appear to more naturally grasp the concept and benefit of presentation eportfolios as something that will help them advance their careers. Students appear to need more guidance and greater clarity when the goal of the eportfolio is reflection or integration. In these areas, students may require more concrete examples and continuous reinforcement to understand and internalize the “folio thinking process”.
In spite of the widely asserted principle that eportfolios are about a “process” rather than a specific technology, technology issues figured prominently in 13 of the case studies analyzed.