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Module 6: ePortfolio: From Standalone to Integreted Initiatives


One of the problems with ePortfolio initiatives is their fragmentation, including within an institution. A number of ePortfolio initiatives within institutions only address one single function (e.g. Recognition of Prior Learning), a single course or discipline. There are also ‘global’ initiatives at institutional level, e.g. a capstone ePortfolio, that do not affect the way teaching and learning is managed in the rest of the institution.

The current fragmentation is also an indicator of the degree of maturity of ePortfolio initiatives: many ePortfolio initiatives are standalone initiatives led by enthusiast innovators. This raises a number of issues: sustainability, as initiatives might stop when the innovators move on or get tired, and also the return on investments (for innovators and learners), as the investment in ePortfolios is not valued beyond a course or a discipline.

Moving from a standalone to an integrated initiative is not a trivial process. The main issue is not technological but educational, organisational and managerial. For the ePortfolio not to become “one more thing to do on top of all the things that have to be done,” which is more likely to lead to failure, developing an integrated approach to ePortfolios will require some changes within the institution in order to align its practice to the values embedded in the ePortfolios: authentic learning, authentic assessment, empowerment of learners as self-directed learners.

This module offers insights and perspectives regarding the process as well as a framework for transition from standalone to integrated initiatives.

Objectives of the module

At the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Critically review a “successful” standalone initiative — strengths and weaknesses.

  • Set the conditions for moving a successful standalone initiative into a successful integrated initiative.


Warm up questions

  • Are the learning and teaching foundations of your organisation “ePortfolio-ready”?

  • What will you or your organisation have to change to fully benefit from ePortfolios? (for ex.: teaching-learning strategies, etc.)

  • Do you have existing organisational processes that would be improved with ePortfolios?

  • How will you use intrinsic motivation (of learners and staff) as the engine for ePortfolio practice?

  • How will you avoid extrinsic motivation (of learners and staff) as an incentive for ePortfolio practice?

  • How will you involve the stakeholders in the design, implementation and running of the ePortfolio initiative?



What is an integrated ePortfolio initiative/environment?

What differentiates an integrated ePortfolio initiative from other ePortfolio initiatives? There are different aspects of the notion of organisational integration. The first one is managerial: is the initiative led by a single teacher or a group of teacher’s or is it led by the governing body? The second is impact: does it affect discrete units in the organisation (e.g. a discipline) or all the units? A third one is pedagogical: do ePortfolios affect learning and teaching practices or are they a kind of add-on on top of what was already done? A fourth one is about the agency where the integration happen: is it the learner who is at the centre of the integration process or is it the institution and its processes?

An integrated ePortfolio initiative means going beyond using ePortfolios in only one area of the curriculum activities, supporting an integrative learning process that transcends academic boundaries, where students are at the centre of the integration process, including co-curriculum activities, real-world experience, problems, and synthesizes multiple areas of knowledge, making the connection between learning and practice stronger. Supporting students’ integration of the outcomes of their formal and informal learning, over time, across subjects (courses) and academic and non academic activities, is one of the most important goals and challenges of 21st century education.


Integrated ePortfolio initiative/environment vs. Integrated ePortfolio platform

There is no direct connection between an integrated ePortfolio initiative/environment and an integrated eportfolio platform. The department of an institution can decide to install an ePortfolio platform to support a specific discipline or course (this is not integrative) while another institution could have no platform and invite learners to use the tools of their choice to keep a reflective journal of their learning across all disciplines.


Defining an Integrated ePortfolio initiative

Temporary definition (to be discussed and improved by the course participants):

             An ePortfolio initiative is an integrated initiative when

  1. Learners are at the heart of the integration process

  2. ePortfolios integrate all learning, formal and informal

  3. The content of ePortfolios is used systematically by those responsible for learning (teachers, etc.) to inform future practice

  4. The ePortfolio initiative is led at executive level

  5. The ePortfolio initiative is not added on top of existing structures and processes, but is used to integrate and/or transform current structures and processes

  6. There is a seamless flow of information between ePortfolios, institutional and personal information systems

There is of course a range of initiatives between fully integrative and fully standalone. Some initiatives might satisfy only some of the criteria elicited in the definition above. There are also initiatives that will not satisfy any of the criteria. Falsely integrated ePortfolio initiatives are initiatives that sound integrated but, in reality, are standalone initiatives. They tend to be added on top of rather than transforming current structures, processes and practices.

If we had to define an acid test to discriminate between integrative and standalone initiatives, it might be through assessing its positive impact on the rest of the organisation in driving further transformation. If organisations want to reap the full benefits of successful standalone initiatives, creating an integrative approach to ePortfolios, this will most likely require changed management.

Case studies

Standalone ePortfolio initiative at University of Virginia

Here we also want to mention the successful standalone initiative at the University of Virginia. In one of their teacher education courses they integrated an electronic portfolio concept to support course activities such as class discussion, teaching observations, reflective essays, an action research paper, research presentations, and a teaching portfolio. They made several iterations/improvements of the course design supported with an ePortfolio concept in order to better support their pedagogy that resulted in “important curricular changes, from a focus on individual to social and then holistic reflection”. Full case study is available on this page: Reflective Course Design: An Interplay between Pedagogy and Technology in a Language Teacher Education Course

Integrated ePortfolio initiative Queensland University of Technology

The case of Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is an example of the successfully integrated initiative. The QUT’s top management initiated an ePortfolio project; they developed a strategic plan and organized supporting departments to ensure successful ePortfolio implementation. They developed their own in-house ePortfolio solution that is integrated with already existing QUT systems and ensures privacy and security as key factors of any system adoption. The solution is available to all students, teaching staff and alumni, and at all levels and fields of study. They have linked to careers programmes with course curriculums that can be used as standalone, and as part of the development process through the years. They regularly collect data and feedback about the usage and experience and use this information for further developments and improvements. For more information read: Case study QUT Home Page or QUT - Australian ePortfolio project (2008/2009).

How to move from standalone to integrated?

There is not a pre-defined model for moving from a standalone to an integrated ePortfolio. There are of course some basic steps you will have to take into account, as with any new initiative.

Processes involved in launching a new initiative:

  1. Raising Awareness of the benefits of ePortfolio integration

  2. Getting the commitment of key stakeholders (leaders, scholars, staff, learners etc).

  3. Co-designing the integration initiative (people, processes, technologies, funding, etc.)

  4. Getting and activating the resources. Monitoring progress.

  5. Reviewing the outcomes based on data collection.

  6. Planning improvements.

Although numbered, the processes are not sequential and do not have to follow the waterfall model (one thing after the other). With agile approaches, the design and development is organised on much tighter loops, so that it is easier to revise at an early stage the design to take into account problems and new ideas. Only a small number of organisations are capable or willing to use agile approaches, as they tend to give more power to the end users, less to the institution and technology providers.

For many decision makers, it is much easier to ask for an answer to “which platform should we choose?” than “how should we transform our organisation to fully benefit from ePortfolios?”

Reading material

Different integration approaches

The Catalyst Framework

An example of an integrative ePortfolio approach is developed by Connect to Learning (C2L) national network of campus ePortfolio leaders. Their output framework, the Catalyst Framework, suggests that effective integrative ePortfolio initiatives address three core levels of campus life and learning: students and faculty, departments and programs, and institutional culture. The most successful ePortfolio initiatives address these core learning levels with work that takes place in five interlocking sectors: Pedagogy, Professional Development, Outcomes Assessment, Technology, and Scaling Up. Embracing and helping to unify these levels and sectors are three overarching design principles: Inquiry, Reflection, and Integration. The more detailed explanation of the framework development and its components can be seen here: What Difference Can ePortfolio Make? A Field Report from the Connect to Learning Project; The Catalyst Framework, Student Learning & Institutional Change

Framework for Organization-Wide ePortfolio Implementation

One US university ePortfolio implementation study resulted in an implementation framework that consisted of six key implementation elements. This framework is based on DOI (diffusion of innovative) theory. The framework components are: awareness (when an organization becomes aware of ePortfolios and its potentials); motivation (when an organization understands and appreciates the intrinsic and extrinsic incentives for using ePortfolios); commitment (when an organization makes the strategic decisions to integrate ePortfolios); resources (when an organization plans resources needed for ePortfolio implementation); leadership (when an organization gains leadership support for sustained ePortfolio use); and evaluation (when an organization participates in ePortfolio evaluation to inform the next iteration). The main goal of the framework was to enable anyone considering implementing portfolios or already in the process of implementation to use it to assess the organization’s current status in the implementation process, as well as the critical next steps. Awareness can and usually comes from a successful standalone initiative. The more detailed explanation of the framework development and its components can be seen here: Opening up Large Scale Change Initiatives: Calling on Faculty Perspectives to Develop a Framework for Organization-Wide ePortfolio Implementation.

  1. Using the Maturity Matrix, review the ePortfolio readiness of your organisation.

  2. Review the case studies provided in the module using the Maturity Matrix — If you have more time, perform additional desk research on integrated ePortfolio initiatives to feed-into the course knowledge base

  3. Using the case study template from Module 2, define your Integrated Portfolio Initiative/environment. Is your scenario integrative? Why do you think that is? What are the barriers and enablers for its implementation? Could it be improved? What would be required to improve it?

Write a short structured recommendation for an integrated approach to ePortfolio implementation in your organisation.
  • Publish your recommendation along with the filled-in template.

  • Invite peers, colleagues and other members of the organisation/department to review and comment on your recommendation.

  • For an optimal dissemination of your ideas use the course hashtag #ePcourse and the Europortfolio community hashtag #epnet.

  • Collect comments from peers, reflect and revise the proposal.

  • Submit a short reflective narrative of the whole process and share it through your Personal Blog.