If you have thought about adopting alternative assessments since the pandemic, you might have heard about ePortfolios (short for electronic portfolios, a tool learners can use to keep a digital collection of evidence over time) and how they have been implemented in teaching and learning for a variety of purposes. However, trying something new is not always easy, especially when new technologies are involved. This fourth post in our Digital Pedagogy Toolbox blog series, which highlights interactive technologies and pedagogies, is not so much about the what and why of ePortfolios; instead Jiexing Hu uses WordPress ePortfolios as an example and invites you to consider what might be helpful in the early planning stages of using this tool.
Post by Jiexing Hu, learning experience designer at the University of Victoria
Purpose of ePortfolios
The first and most crucial step in planning is always around purpose: What is your goal to engage students in creating ePortfolios? Is it to showcase achievements, to log and reflect on learning processes, or for assessment? This is particularly important as it’s associated with pedagogical design considerations and technical setup. It also sets the tone for the types of ePortfolios you choose as well as what kind of artifacts (e.g., writings, projects, assignments, experience, achievements, and so on) you expect from students.
For example, web design can be complicated and multifaceted, and you might easily lose focus without a clear purpose. If the goal is to have students identify and record the changes of a certain natural phenomenon by keeping weekly observation blogs, the focus of their ePortfolios should be the quality of their blogs and the evidence (e.g., photos) rather than the choice of template, theme, or menu. But of course, the focus can change if the purpose is different.
Here’s another example from a different point of view: When you recognize one of the learning goals is to have students demonstrate a certain competency, and therefore they might choose to embed videos to showcase it, you might notice platforms like WordPress have a low upload size limit (i.e., usually not enough to hold large media), which means you need to consider where and how students could store their videos securely and privately online before embedding them into WordPress. Many institutions have a video platform (like Kaltura or Echo360), but recognizing another tool is needed to reach the purpose will give you enough time to prepare and/or look for support.
Activity and Assessment Design
Students have different experiences with the concept of an ePortfolio and other technologies. In most cases, unless the group has participated in something similar before, you can simply assume your learners have zero knowledge and skills in terms of putting together a meaningful ePortfolio. However, this obstacle can be reduced through careful activity and assessment design. I found it extremely helpful when the activity was more structured and broken up into small steps as a multiphase project. For example, introducing the tool, walking through examples, creating a site with a domain name, going through basic web-design navigations, making a first post, organizing posts, creating a page, etc. These steps can be assigned as weekly tasks during a course. A multiphase project helps ensure every learner gets enough support at each step from their instructors as well as peers.
We often consider that smaller class size is a better condition for implementing ePortfolios, as the common setup for ePortfolio activities is to have each learner develop a collection, followed up with assessments or presentations (Contreras-Higuera, Martínez-Olmo, José Rubio-Hurtado, & Vilà-Baños, 2016). But that’s not the only way to start. Consider starting a pilot project like inviting students to make posts or comment on a site you have developed and shared internally. As a further step, you may consider setting it up as a group project in which several students work together to build a collection.
In addition, if you plan to assess students’ work on ePortfolios, you may want to consider working with a rubric and providing it to students to offer clear guidance on your expectations (Raposo-Rivas & Gallego-Arrufat, 2016). Meanwhile, you don’t have to be the only assessor, as peer reviews or workplace professionals’ reviews (if career ePortfolios) can be both beneficial and efficient (Ferns & Zegwaard, 2014).
Permission and Public Writing
Developing an ePortfolio can easily be the first time students try public writing for academics (although ePortfolios do not need to be public), and this can be a great opportunity to introduce students to copyright (i.e., what should or shouldn’t be used in their sites) and privacy (i.e., what should and shouldn’t be included in their posts and artifacts without permission, like confidential or identity information). If you’re not familiar with these concepts, it’s also a good opportunity to contact the privacy office at your institution for clarification and resources.
Another important part is to consider who will have access to/could view students’ ePortfolios. You shouldn’t require students to publicly write something, as none of us can predict what impact a public post may have on students in the future. Hence, depending on the intent of the ePortfolios, you need to consider whether these creations will be shared with the class internally, usually for peer review and presentation; with selected people and groups, usually for career ePortfolios; or just with you, the instructor, usually for assessment.
Not only do students need support, but as an instructor, you also need sufficient support to successfully implement the activity (Nagle, O’ Connell, & Farrelly, 2019). I recommend you contact the technology-integrated learning and teaching support team at your institution in the early planning stage to get professional advice or hands-on support for pedagogical design, site setup (individual or group), access management, etc.
ePortfolios add diversity as well as meaning to learning by allowing students to identify their learning process, interact with learning materials in varied ways, and prepare them for future learning. However, they’re not omnipotent, as they might not be applicable to every learner due to, for example, language barriers, familiarity with technologies, cultural background, and accessibility issues in the technology. Here I circle back to my first point on purpose: always be clear about what you and your students would like to achieve and make thoughtful decisions based on that.
ePortfolios can be implemented with many digital platforms, not just WordPress, and the considerations I mentioned above are certainly not the full checklist. However, I hope this is something helpful for you to start with.
The Digital Pedagogy Toolbox blog series is a monthly blog post series that features highlights of interactive technologies and pedagogies in learning and teaching design. This series is an extended version of the BCcampus FLO Tech Tool Tip blog series. In these blogs you may find an activity that supports innovative and effective teaching practice in technology-infused learning environments, a short recipe for digital teaching and learning, or some tips on the pedagogical uses of a tool for instruction.
- Digital Pedagogy Toolbox: Creating Engaging, Interactive Learning Resources
- Digital Pedagogy Toolbox: Ethics as Design
- Digital Pedagogy Toolbox: Designing for Care with Personas
ePortfolio Grading Rubrics: https://carleton.ca/cuportfoliosupport/eportfolio-grading-rubrics/
Contreras-Higuera, W. E., Martínez-Olmo, F., José Rubio-Hurtado, M., & Vilà-Baños, R. (2016). University students’ perceptions of e-portfolios and rubrics as combined assessment tools in education courses. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 54(1), 85–107. https://doi.org/10.1177/0735633115612784
Ferns, S., & Zegwaard, K. E. (2014). Critical assessment issues in work-integrated learning. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 15(3), 179.
Nagle, L., O’ Connell, M., & Farrelly, T. (2019) A gap in governance: Acknowledging the challenges of organic ePortfolio implementation. Educational Media International, 56(4), 328–342. https://doi.org/10.1080/09523987.2019.1682271
Raposo-Rivas, M., & Gallego-Arrufat, M.-J. (2016). University students’ perceptions of electronic rubric-based assessment. Digital Education Review, 30, 220. https://doi.org/10.1344/der.2016.30.220-233