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April 19, 2018

Quality vs. Quantity: Ensuring ePortfolio Success

The use of electronic portfolios (ePortfolios) across the United States has continued to increase over the past 10 years. While it can be important to quantify the work that learners complete, it is also imperative to ensure that learners produce a quality ePortfolio.

Quality is defined as the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind or as the degree of excellence of something. Thus, a quality ePortfolio can be defined as an ePortfolio that is measured against others and found to be above standard. But how do we know we are looking at a quality ePortfolio? While it might be tempting to state that you just know, it is important to define quality in relation to an ePortfolio in order to ensure that measurement of quality is consistent.

 

EPortfolios should be more than a simple repository for learners to use for storing their work. An ePortfolio should be a place where learners demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have gained throughout their curricular and co-curricular activities. It should also be a place where learners make connections between all their curricular and non-curricular activities during their academic journey. These connections help learners get to know themselves and become more aware of their academic journey, helping them figure out who they want to be when they enter their chosen profession and tell their story.

 

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Determining the quality ePortfolio is often left up to those requiring the creation of an ePortfolio, as well as those selected to evaluate an ePortfolio. Requirements often combine a set of course or program requirements and can also include a set of standards set forth by a professional body (i.e. standards set forth by Council of the Accreditation of Educator Preparation). However, ePortfolios that are often heavily templated and easy to evaluate, don’t always generate buy-in from learners, aren’t often used by learners after graduation. Instead, the use of a rubric that takes into account the entirety of an ePortfolio, instead of a templated checklist of items, can be employed to determine its quality. The demonstration of this empirically is still a work in progress for the greater ePortfolio community.


The discussion regarding the quality of ePortfolio produced by learners can be lost in the shuffle of numeric requirements and discussions regarding speeding up the scaling-up process. Progressive institutions that are working to bring ePortfolios to their campuses must first decide how to approach their implementation on campus. While it might be tempting to make them a requirement for learners through a top-down effort, speeding the adoption process, this approach doesn’t always prove itself as a way to create lasting student buy-in into such a taxing exercise. Nor does it encourage learners to create an ePortfolio for anything more than a way to fulfill course or program requirements. Instead, it often becomes a compliance exercise for learners and they don’t often revisit their ePortfolio after their final assessment.

 

In order to ensure that quality ePortfolios are integrated into campus life and the learner experience, thoughtful steps must be taken to ensure that ePortfolios are systematically integrated throughout campus. This bottom-up process requires time and careful consideration to be taken to support a balance between the pedagogy that drives the creation and use of ePortfolios with the process needed to create one. Additionally, not only is it important that ePortfolios be a meaningful exercise for learners as they capture their work, but it is also essential that learners be able to use their ePortfolio when they transition from campus to career. An implementation framework that assists in working through this bottom-up process has been used for the past five years.

 

Here at Radford University, we are working diligently in order to assist learners in approaching ePortfolios from a quality driven mindset. We offer guest visits to classes and organization meetings to get them started in their chosen platform and during this time we encourage discussion about what an ePortfolio is, why learners should create one, and what makes a quality ePortfolio. Appointments for one-on-one conversations are also offered, to help students who have further questions and to assist in the design of a quality ePortfolio they can continue to use as they transition from campus to career. More information about our ePortfolio program can be found here.

 

In a perfect world, we would continue to see learners use their ePortfolios after graduation, making the ePortfolio a valuable tool. ePortfolios aren’t just a technology or a tool, they are a high impact practice in a constant state of change, continuing to grow and evolve with their creator. ePortfolios also embody sound pedagogy, and without this pedagogy woven into an ePortfolio their value to all stakeholders can decrease. As ePortfolios continue to grow in their use and implementation, it is essential that universities ensure the scaling-up process doesn’t lose pedagogical soundness, as well as buy in from learners.

 

As a university we have seen that students who encounter ePortfolios during their educational journey are more likely to persist and graduate. While we have just embarked upon our partnership with Portfolium, the data points we currently have are promising and we are excited to see how students continue to use them after graduation.

This article was written by Samantha J. Blevins, Ph.D., Instructional Designer & Learning Architect at the Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning, Radford University.

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