Pedagogy Before Portfolios: Part Two

In a previous post, we explored the pitfalls of adopting new digital technologies without first fully considering pedagogy through lessons learned by special education faculty in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s (KPU) Access Programs (AP) in their attempts to implement ePortfolios using the PebblePad learning platform. Although in their initial implementation, AP faculty did not take the time needed to develop a learning strategy using folio thinking as an underpinning for deployment, they have since regrouped and engaged in a fulsome program revision with folio thinking and ePortfolio development at its core. 

This blog describes the experiences of AP faculty using folio thinking and ePortfolios as a framework to identify and challenge outdated assumptions about disability and education and consider new methods of course design and delivery to engage learners.

By Gillian Sudlow and Dr. Teresa Swan, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

KPU has offered programs for students with the label of intellectual disabilities since the early 1980s. The program model has remained largely the same, with a focus on entry-level employability and skills development using classroom instruction and work-experience placements. In fall 2020 the department undertook a program revision for several reasons, including the need to examine the traditional, outdated “one size fits all” approach to teaching and learning commonly used with students with disabilities. What became clear during the revision process, and the sudden pivot to online during the pandemic, was the ways digital pedagogy and new learning technologies could increase flexibility in and access to the university community for AP students.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities’ recent addition of ePortfolios to its list of high-impact educational practices (Watson et al. 2016) inspired local post-secondary institutions to adopt folio thinking and ePortfolios as a process to generate and document learning. Suter (2013) describes folio thinking as a “habit of mind” that provides an environment for students to create ePortfolios and reflect on their learning while emphasizing creating, collecting, organizing, reflecting, integrating, and showcasing their work. Numerous studies show the impact of digital technologies on student learning (Alfredsson, Kjellberg, and Hemmingsson 2019; Cinquin, Guitton, and Sauzéon 2019; Sallafranque-St.-Louis and Normand 2015), yet some students — students with intellectual disability — are often overlooked or excluded from these conversations. 

Such omissions may stem from negative assumptions and beliefs about the competencies of students with disabilities to become proficient with or even need to engage with digital learning platforms. Such assumptions continue to be propagated by traditional, functional-skills-practice curricula that leave little room for knowledge creation or critical engagement with content, reinforcing systemic barriers that continue the cycle of limited educational opportunities and high unemployment rates. KPU’s newly revised AP curriculum challenges these assumptions and seeks to break down these barriers by offering tangible evidence of skills gained by students throughout their learning journey to improve access and inclusion to higher education and employment. 

AP faculty are discovering how digital pedagogy can challenge bureaucratic systems embedded in ableist norms and practices that act as barriers for students. Working with the support of KPU’s Teaching and Learning Commons, AP faculty are embedding ePortfolios in all curricular and non-curricular activities to help students document their learning at study, work, or play and reflect on the impact of the intersecting relationships, offering a well-rounded personal learning experience that focuses on scaffolding, knowledge acquisition, and reflection supported by digital pedagogy rather than low-level functional skills development. ePortfolios will enable faculty to guide and scaffold learning, moving students away from being passive receipts of knowledge to being active agents of their own learning and included in university life. 

In conjunction with the Teaching and Learning Commons, KPU’s enterprise ePortfolio platform, PebblePad, will support both student and faculty to achieve the new outcomes of the AP program. PebblePad’s drag-and-drop interface makes it user-friendly, while in-app help and built-in customizable templates can provide additional scaffolding to assist learners as they develop folio-thinking habits and technical competencies. Additionally, PebblePad meets Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 and is compatible with assistive technologies. As AP students grow their digital literacy skills, they can choose who to share their ePortfolios with for feedback from peers, instructors, and external workplace assessors. Finally, when students complete the program, their ePortfolio will go with them as they maintain ownership of all their work through a PebblePad alumni account. This is work they can share as evidence of their learning and skills development to gain access to higher education or to showcase to potential employers. 

As KPU’s AP faculty continue on their learning journey implementing an innovative curriculum, they can be confident that the digital tool they are adopting is not just a shiny, empty wrapper but one supported by sound pedagogy and filled with the potential to assist AP students to move beyond negative assumptions and break down systemic barriers.


Alfredsson, A., K., Kjellberg, A., and Hemmingsson, H. (2020). “Digital Participation? Internet Use Among Adolescents With and Without Intellectual Disabilities: A Comparative Study,” New Media & Society22(12), 2128–2145. https:

Cinquin, P. A., Guitton, P., and Sauzéon, H. (2019). “Online e-Learning and Cognitive Disabilities: A Systematic Review,” Computers & Education130, 152–167. https:

Sallafranque-St-Louis, F., and Normand, C. L. (2017). “From Solitude to Solicitation: How People with Intellectual Disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder Use the Internet,” Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 11(1). https: doi:

Watson, C. E., Kuh, G. D., Rhodes, T., Light, T. P., and Chen, H. L. (2016). “Editorial: ePortfolios – The Eleventh High Impact Practice,” International Journal of EPortfolio, 6(2), 65–69.

About the Authors

Gillian Sudlow and Dr. Teresa Swan work at KPU. Gillian Sudlow teaches English Upgrading in the Faculty of Academic and Career Preparation and is an educational consultant for learning design and ePortfolio advancement with the Teaching and Learning Commons. Dr. Teresa Swan is a faculty in the Access Programs, Adult Special Education.

The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels