April 4, 2009...11:11 pm

Wired Campus (repost): Electronic Portfolios: a Path to the Future of Learning

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repost of Wired Campus guest blog, March 18, 2009: Randy Bass and Bret Eynon

If we truly want to advance from a focus on teaching to a focus on student learning, then a strategy involving something like electronic student portfolios, or ePortfolios, is essential.
In an essay in the current issue of Academic Commons, three researchers write that “ePortfolios may be the most likely vehicle to help us make the transition to an academy of the future that is both relevant and authoritative.”

Electronic portfolios mean different things in different settings, some with more or less emphasis on student work, reflection, and integration. Nonetheless, for ePortfolios to be a bridge to the future of a relevant academy we have to emphasize at least four fundamental features:

First, ePortfolios can integrate student learning in an expanded range of media, literacies, and viable intellectual work. As the robust ePortfolio projects at Washington State, Clemson, and Pennsylvania State Universities illustrate, ePortfolios enable students to collect work and reflections on their learning through text, imagery, and multimedia artifacts.  Given that we are already living in a culture where visual communication is as influential as written text, the ability to represent learning through integrated media will be essential.

Second, ePortfolios enable students to link together diverse parts of their learning including the formal and informal curriculum. In their richest format, at places like LaGuardia Community College and San Francisco State University, ePortfolios invite students to undertake an inquiry into their own learning, and to integrate their classroom learning with internships, community service, and their experiences in work, family, and community life.  These projects suggest an ePortfolio’s potential to help us understand the complex interplay between affective and cognitive process, between the academic curriculum and the lived curriculum.

Third, ePortfolios engage students with their learning. The integrative ePortfolio project at LaGuardia Community College, represented in the Visible Knowledge Project collection, has had a drastic impact on student outcomes. Students in ePortfolio classes at LaGuardia are more likely to demonstrate high degrees of engagement in critical thinking, writing, and collaborative learning. They are significantly more likely than students in non-ePortfolio sections of the same classes to pass their classes, and to pass with higher grades. And ePortfolio use also correlates with increased retention – students in ePortfolio courses are more likely to return to college the following semester, continuing their progress towards graduation and transfer.

Fourth, ePortfolios offer colleges a meaningful mechanism for accessing and organizing the evidence of student learning. In many ways, ePortoflios are not primarily about technology but a commitment to a set of principles about education. Writing about the VALUE Project, which is developing ways to compare and evaluate ePortfolios across institutions, Terrel Rhodes argues that learning “needs to be demonstrated through cumulative, progressive work students perform as they move through their educational pathways to graduation” in both curricular and co-curricular contexts.

In the past five years, according to the Campus Computing Project, the percentage of U.S. colleges and universities using ePortfolios has more than tripled.16 It is possible that 10 years from now we will no longer even be discussing these collections as if they were a special practice; they might be a pervasive and transparent part of the learning environment. At the moment, ePortfolios represent perhaps the most promising strategy for responding to calls for accountability and at the same time nurturing a culture of experimentation with new forms of learning.

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