This is part of a regular series of articles exploring some of the terms used in e-learning (view other articles in the series). We’ll do our best to break down the jargon and explain what things are from a basic perspective.
We’ll take a look at e-portfolios today. Interest in using e-portfolios in education stems from the 1990s when cheap and easy-to-use technologies became available. They are essentially presentations of a collection of digital items i.e. electronic equivalents of paper-based portfolios, which are simply a binder or holder for a number of pages of content. Often labels or a narrative are used to explain and contextualise the items.
There are some key processes of working with portfolios irrespective of format: firstly selecting the content to include, then contextualising and organising the content, and thirdly sharing them with others. However, they are used with a wide variety of different aims, for example to support learning, as a more holistic approach to assessment, to promote personal development planning, or to improve employability.
Many different technologies can be used to support e-portfolio working, as long as the processes of selecting, describing, and controlled sharing of e-portfolios can be supported. So these range from desktop presentation software such as PowerPoint, generic openly available tools such as blogs and wikis, through to dedicated e-portfolio or PDP software such as PebblePad and Mahara.
Depending on how they are used some of the following benefits are possible:
- Gaining an integrated overview of learning and achievements from different parts of their experience.
- Making sense of, and learning to express, their personal skills and identities, strengths and stories.
- Ways to gain ongoing feedback from tutors, mentors, or peers on their work.
- Creating a presentation which can be used with employers, future clients, to apply for courses.
- Gaining a big picture of the effectiveness of teaching processes
- Using completed portfolios to inspire and prepare the next cohort e.g. for going on placement.
- Checking for competence across a range of skills and understanding.
- As a vehicle for embedding reflective practice and personal development planning
Thinking about which of these benefits are the most important can really help to inform which technology is the right one for your context. For example:
- What will be the hook that will make students engage?
- Which is more important: a private personal learning space or ongoing feedback from tutors or peers?
- Is there an authentic audience who will provide valuable feedback on portfolio work?
- Which is more important: deep rich personal exploration of the self or structured guidance and scaffolded processes?
To conclude: it’s clear that the technology won’t deliver the benefits outlined here on its own. Portfolio use has to be embedded and supported so students value and understand the processes.