e-portfolios: preliminary thoughts

The subject of electronic portfolios has surfaced again here at UVM. Meanwhile, clearing out some old stacks of folders, Steve came across a flyer for the 1997 Graduate Student Reception activities that included this session: (It was an abbreviated version of one I had taught for EDSS395)
“Portfolio Design: Make the Web work for you. Many graduate students maintain a portfolio on the Web to organize or display their work. This 1/2 hour session will describe a sample graduate portfolio and outline the steps involved in creating and maintaining one.”
As is usual with ideas that have been developing over time, ‘everyone knows’ what an e-portfolio is, while in actuality the definition is mutable, malleable and sometimes misunderstood. This seemed like a good time to check out the current climate on e-portfolios. How are they defined now? How are they used? Is there software available for making e-portfolios? Does that software emphasize one definition of portfolio over another?
What are portfolios? According to current definitions, they fall into several categories, based on their perceived use and audience:
Assessment – the portfolio consists of samples of students’ work that evidences their evolution of learning over time. Materials are compiled based on students ‘best work’ and often are chosen to highlight mastery of core standards. These portfolios are also used as evidence of student achievement, for institutional reporting purposes.
Reflection – the portfolio is a place for students to gather their work and then provide commentary on it, reflecting on what they have learned and using that reflection to shape future learning. In this sense the portfolio acts as both a self-assessment tool and as an environment that helps students synthesize what they have learned.
Presentation – the portfolio is geared toward an outside audience. It displays the best work of the student and is shaped to highlight achievement. In that sense it acts as an annotated resume, and indeed is often used as such.
Organiziation – the portfolio is for the student’s private use. That is, it is a place where students gather all their work, all assignments, papers, bibliographies, projects, even class syllabi, etc. and stores them as an archive. This archive is then used for future reference both in the creation of new work and as a source for drawing out “best work” to be used for externally-directed portfolios as described above. (The Portfolio Design workshop mentioned above defined portfolios in this way.)
Of course, combinations of all these are also possible. In recent years, pre-service teacher education has been at the forefront in developing the Professional Portfolio that combines the assessment, reflection and presentation models. In 2003, the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative defined electronic portfolios as:
* a collection of authentic and diverse evidence,
* drawn from a larger archive representing what a person or organization has learned over time
* on which the person or organization has reflected, and
* designed for presentation to one or more audiences for a particular rhetorical purpose.
How are portfolios created?
The evolution of e-portfolios mirrors the evolution of available technology tools. An examination of papers and conference sessions on e-portfolios in education finds that early portfolios were usually digital surrogates on non-digital works: scans of images, photographs of projects, etc. As hypercard applications gave way to web applications, portfolios followed suit, being composed of ‘born digital’ artefacts linked together and presented in web form. More recently, social web applications and spaces like blogs, or MySpace and Facebook have provided yet another arena in which to build portfolios, though these are often misconceived as “non-professional” spaces.
The last few years have also seen the development of commercial and open source portfolio creation tools. Some of these tools take the constructivist approach to e-portfolios, where the portfolio is seen as a student-created work to aid student reflection and learning, while others emphasize the positivist appraoch, seeing portfolios as assessment tools that can also be mined to provide institutional data to support accreditation reporting. In “Conflicting Paradigms in Electronic Portfolio Approaches,” Barrett and Wilkerson explore these conflicting approaches, pointing out the difficulty for a single software product to reconcile these disparate functions. They point to the following institutions as models for how this might be acheived:
Teacher Education Programs

  • Baylor University College of Education
  • Ball State University College of Ed – Students create web-based portfolios PLUS they have developed a customized system to maintain assessment data called rGrade.
  • University of San Francisco implementation of Taskstream:
  • * working portfolio (digital archive)
    * assessment portfolio
    * Directed Response Folio example
    Campus-wide implementations

  • University of Denver (campus-wide) – http://portfolio.du.edu
  • University of Washington, with their Catalyst Portfolio Builder and their Student Learning Objectives (SLO) system.
  • Other commercial products that have recently leaped into the frey are:

  • Blackboard/WebCT: http://www.webct.com/portfolio
  • Open Source Portfolio – integrates with SAIKAI and now with Blackboard.
    Demo site: http://eportfolio.d.umn.edu,
    OSP Initiative site: http://www.theospi.org
    recent SAIKAI/OSP conference
  • Resources:
    Electronic Portfolios in Teacher Education, dissertation, by Carla Hagen Piper – Chapter 2 is especially useful for an overview of the interplay between the ‘multiple intelligences’ theories in cognitive research, the performance-based assessment movements of the 1990s, and federal and state education initiatives of the past decade.
    Conflicting Paradigms in Electronic Portfolio Approaches, by Dr. Helen Barrett –
    Introduction to Electronic Portfolio Assessment, by Dr. Helen Barrett
    Open Source Portfolio Initiative
    Handbook of Research on Electronic Portfolios, ed. by Ali Jafari and Catherine Kaufman – a book, but also e-book, that UVM doesn’t have. However, the chapter titles and author names should provide leads.
    More to come…

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