To coincide with the launch of ePortfolios at the ANU, we’re excited to offer this introduction to how and why they can be used in tertiary teaching. If you are at ANU, we encourage you to take a look at our ePortfolio and the user guides. Now over to Aliya! – Janene & Katie.
Portfolio learning – What is it?
Written by Aliya Steed, ANU Online
Welcome to Day One of this espresso course on ePortfolios. Portfolio learning is not a new idea, but the opportunities and tools for using portfolios in higher education have been expanding in recent years. Digital or e-portfolios are making it easier and more accessible for teachers and institutions to use portfolios, even with large groups of students. In this short espresso course, we will find out what portfolios are, how and why you may want to use them, and look at some of the issues you may encounter.
What is a portfolio or e-portfolio?
A portfolio is an organised and annotated collection of artefacts which documents learning and development over time. Artefacts can be in any format or media: they might include selections of writing, images, videos, audio, excerpts, reports, data, illustrations, websites, links and so on.
Portfolios almost always include some reflection in the form of annotations, reflective journals, narrative or some type of meta-cognition (“thinking about thinking” – read more here). Through reflection, the learner demonstrates their thinking and understanding of their work, experiences or the artefacts themselves. According to Butler (2006: 2), “In fact, it is the reflections on the pieces of evidence, the reasons they were chosen and what the portfolio creator learned from them, that are the key aspect to a portfolio”.
A digital or e-portfolio refers to one that is housed online or electronically, facilitating the storage, sharing and presentation of a potentially large collection of artefacts, over an extended period of time. Common e-portfolio systems used by Australian universities include Mahara and PebblePad among others, as well as homegrown systems.
These systems typically provide a means to:
- Create, publish and share web pages,
- Discuss and give feedback
- Store digital artefacts
- Link to other systems (such as Learning Management Systems) where other data or artefacts may be stored (JISC 2008: 6)
Using a digital portfolio has the advantage of flexibility and scalability compared to a traditional, paper-based portfolio, but there are issues around privacy, access, ownership, and trustworthiness of digital artefacts which we will explore later in this course (Trevitt, Macduff and Steed 2014: 74).
Why use portfolios?
You may have heard of portfolios as something an art or design student might use to collect examples of their work. This is one purpose of a portfolio – used to “showcase” or demonstrate the students’ best practice. However, portfolios can be used to support a wide variety of personal, professional and academic development purposes. The chart below gives some examples of common uses of this tool.
|Learning portfolio||Documenting learning over time||Development of thinking, transformation
Eg. PhD student
|Credential portfolio||Provide evidence for certification||For professional registration
E.g. teaching degree
|Showcase portfolio||Provide examples of best practice||Applying for employment e.g Photography students|
Different types of portfolio (Adapted from Butler 2006: 2).
Barrett (2004) highlights the following purposes for e-portfolios (as summarised by Pachler & Daly (2011):
- As assessment tools to document the attainment of standards (a positivist model – the assessment portfolio)
- As digital stories of deep learning (a constructivist model – the learning or process portfolio); and
- As digital resumes to highlight competence (a showcase model – the best works/marketing/employment portfolio).
More than just a collection of stuff – benefits of portfolios
The importance of portfolio is in representation, rather than just collection. The artefacts are deliberately collated and curated by the student to represent something about their work. Putting together a presentation or product requires students to engage in “rich and complex processes of planning, synthesising, sharing, discussing, reflecting, giving, receiving and responding to feedback”, increasingly considered valuable “since the process of learning can be as important as the end product.” (JISC 2008).
Butler (2006:3) outlines the following benefits of e-portfolios including that they:
- Yield evidence of learning
- Help to focus student thinking and facilitate reflection
- Document a learner’s progress over time
- Develop and enhance students’ communication and (organizational) skills
- Provide a way of identifying and recognizing prior learning.
Depending on their intended purpose, portfolios might focus more or less on the “process” of learning versus the “product” which is produced, as illustrated in the following image:
In theory then, portfolios should be a good fit with higher education, where students are increasingly expected to learn to exercise judgement, engage in self-directed learning, demonstrate their capacity for independent and critical thinking, and learn to deal with an unknown future (Trevitt, Macduff and Steed 2014).
Now that we have looked at what portfolios are and what their purpose and possible benefits might be for learning, in the rest of this course we will examine some examples of how portfolios are being used in universities and explore what might contribute to their success, as well as the sorts of issues and challenge which may arise in practice.
Activity. You are invited to consider the following questions and post your thoughts in the comments below.
- Have you used a portfolio as a learner or a teacher? What did you find worked well ? What were the challenges?
- Can you see a place for portfolios in your discipline ?
- How could / does your institution use portfolios ?
- Butler, P. (2006) A Review Of The Literature On Portfolios And Electronic Portfolios (eCDF ePortfolio Project). October. Palmerston North, New Zealand: Massey University College of Education (Retrieved 5 August 2017, from: https://akoaotearoa.ac.nz/download/ng/file/group-996/n2620-eportfolio-research-report.pdf)
- Lorenzo, G. and Ittelson, J. (2005) “An Overview of E-Portfolios” Educause Learning Initiative Paper 1, July.
- Maharg, P. “E-portfolios: professional learning and experience”, presentation available at: https://www.slideshare.net/paulmaharg/eportfolios-professional-learning-and-experience
- Murphy, S. “Portfolios and curriculum reform: patterns in practice” (1994) Assessing Writing 1 (2), 175-206.
- Pachler and Daly (2011) Key issues in e-Learning: Research and Practice. London: Continuum.
- JiSC report – Effective Practice with ePortfolios – Supporting 21st century learning
- Trevitt, C., Macduff, A and Steed, A. “[e]portfolios for learning and as evidence of achievement: scoping the academic practice development agenda ahead” (2014) Internet and Higher Education 20, 69-78.