ePortfolios – Good Practice from US-American Colleges and Universities

A look at a special issue of the Journal "Peer Review" on ePortfolios

“Peer Review” is a journal devoted to “emerging trends and key debates in undergraduate liberal education”. The topic of the current issue (Winter 2014. Vol. 16, No. 1) is “E-Portfolios: For Reflection, Learning, and Assessment” - available online at http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-wi14/index.cfm.

Guest editor Terrel Rhodes introduces the topic as follows:
“Recently, e-portfolios have become one of the most discussed innovations in higher education, even though the pedagogy has been around since the 1990s. I say “pedagogy” because, as the articles in this issue of Peer Review demonstrate, the real educational benefits of e-portfolios come from a set of pedagogical practices, not the technological platform itself. Across the country, e-portfolio initiatives are emerging on a range of campuses as digital communication becomes more commonplace in the lives of students, faculty, and institutions. This issue of Peer Review illustrates the multiple ways in which e-portfolios are being used on campus to enhance student success, as well as the evidence of e-portfolios’ positive effect on student learning.”

More than half of US colleges and universities are already using ePortfolios. A reason for Susan Khan to throw “A Look at at Where We’ve Been, Where We Are Now, and Where We’re (Possibly) Going “. She points out the shift form the “teaching paradigm” to the “learning paradigm” which is accompanying the growing use of ePortfolios and she quotes Darren Cambridge’s observation that e-portfolios “touch everything; virtually every obstacle to improving teaching and learning in higher education is also an obstacle to using e-portfolios well” (Cambridge 2010).

A further analysis of Bret Eynon, Laura M. Gambino, and Judit Török shows “Completion, Quality, and Change:  The Difference E-Portfolios Make”. Among the findings of the analysis: “At a growing number of campuses with sustained e-portfolio initiatives, student e-portfolio usage correlates with higher levels of student success as measured by pass rates, GPA, and retention.” Furthermore, ePortfolio initiatives support reflection, social pedagogy, and deep learning, if they are embedded in adequate pedagogic and support structures. According to the analyses carried out for the article it also can be shown that “E-portfolio initiatives can catalyze campus cultural and structural change, helping the institution move toward becoming an adaptive learning organization”.
Practice reports in the journal allow an insight into using ePortfolios as tools for promotion of reflection and critical thinking, on ePortfolios as tools for assessment, which is ongoing and fits into a cyclical, holistic process of learning in which university staff and students participate alike.

Randy Bass concludes the issue with reflections on the nature of ePortfolio:
“E-portfolios are decidedly not the hottest thing in higher education. They just don’t fit the profile for a sexy ed-tech trend. For example, their success does not threaten to disrupt the entire business model of higher education. In fact, when thoughtfully employed, e-portfolios can be a mechanism for greater institutional coherence. Another serious impediment to e-portfolio’s status as an ed-tech trend is that they don’t fit into a neat ed-tech category. The technology of e-portfolios, though enabling or inhibiting, is not the crux of the “it” that makes e-portfolios effective. E-portfolios are at heart a set of pedagogies and practices that link learners to learning, curriculum to the cocurriculum, and courses and programs to institutional outcomes.”  Thus, ePortfolios are “the agents of integration”, helping students to create a context for their “increasingly granular learning experiences” and allow institutions “to get an unmatched, holistic view into the impact of their curricular and institutional designs”.

E-Portfolios for Reflection, Learning, and Assessment. Winter 2014, Vol. 16, No. 1. 
Cambridge 2010 = Cambridge, D. 2010. E-portfolios for Lifelong Learning and Assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.