An e-portfolio is a web-based tool for showcasing work and ideas; it can be used to promote learning, discovery, and reflection. Do e-portfolios enhance the classroom experience and contribute to greater learning outcomes? Several teachers from multiple disciplines weigh in on that question.
DARSIE BOWDEN — Professor, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
One of the most important thing we do in first-year writing is move students away from the high-school idea of the five-paragraph essay, that one-size-fits-all style of writing that has no real audience and no purpose beyond getting a grade. We want them to be able to write for many different audiences and purposes, and that means helping students develop the ability to make choices (in style, tone, format, and delivery) that depend upon the writing situation.
Putting together an e-portfolio fits this agenda perfectly, as students are invited to collect, select, and reflect on their work. As part of this process they have to examine and explain their choices, and in those explanations we can see the degree to which the student has achieved what the course intended.
As teachers, we gain an extra, rich layer of information about what happens between the lines: How do the students know what they know? What do they make of what they have learned? With that perspective — which goes way beyond reading a final paper — I can see whether what I’ve planned for a class really happens. The students’ narrative reflection about the connections between the pieces they’ve written is illuminating to me; I get a much more nuanced and enlightened view of what we—students and I, working together—have achieved in the class.
As an added bonus, as the director of the First Year Writing program, I can use the portfolios in program-wide assessments in which we determine how well our courses are helping students achieve learning outcomes.
KATIE VAN SLUYS — Associate professor, College of Education
When I think about what constitutes 21st century literacy, “cracking the code” of print is not enough. We have to be cross-cultural communicators, collaborators, and co-creators, making and consuming meaning across multiple media. As what it means to be “literate” changes, we have to keep learning — and learning includes understanding issues (including portfolios) from multiple perspectives.
The Integrative Knowledge E-portfolio (IKE) initiative in the College of Education (COE) is all about 21st century literacy practices. IKE allows students to be agents in their own learning. We don’t want students to use their e-portfolios as places to put stuff that instructors tell them they have to save — that’s not capturing the power of the process. Rather, we put our students at the center of the process; they choose how to show who they are and what they’ve learned.
In the classroom, Digication (the primary tool in the process) helps us move beyond the “Did I get it right?” question toward an engaging, compelling, and expanded conversation about learning: “How do you show what you are thinking?” The e-portfolio is a place to align beliefs and professional practice.
When we started looking at Digication, our first question was, “What’s possible?” We included students in finding responses because they are central to the work we do and their contributions are important as we integrate e-portfolios into COE programs. The process of putting an e-portfolio together prepares students to talk about what they can do in ways that are articulate, integrated, and purposeful.
SHARON GUAN — Instructor, Department of Modern Languages
I’m experimenting with e-portfolios as a form of pedagogy. Learning Chinese is difficult; playing makes it easier, and Digication makes the process entertaining.
My students love making their portfolios! They create multi-media presentations about topics in the textbook, such as “my family” or “my daily life.” I evaluate these for accuracy and grammar, also taking into consideration whether the students understand each others’ work. Their comprehension — good or bad — tells me so much about each student and about the class as a whole. And because the presentations are preserved, I can use the best ones to teach other classes.
I have the same students for six quarters, and with Digication I can trace each one’s progress. And, because the students capture their own audio recordings — what better way to prove you can speak a language? — their e-portfolios are great credentials for studying and working abroad.
Of course, learning a language also means falling in love with a culture, and in their e-portfolios my students include their favorite Chinese websites, movies, songs, and literature. This content reaches beyond the classroom and certainly beyond a conventional lecture. Then, as we share these resources in the class, we create a learning community — again, that’s perfect for language acquisition.
MICHAEL MOORE — Instructor, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
Reflection is a form of praxis; “thinking about thinking” appeals to students, and it’s a wonderful way of being in the world.
We want students to ask and answer a lot of questions: “What did I do in this class and how is it significant? What feedback did I get? How did I revise and improve my work? How do I feel about it now? What’s the connection between text, audio, and visuals for a literate person today? What did I learn and why does it matter?” E-portfolios are a dot-connecting mechanism for documenting all that thinking.
I’m a big believer in a portfolio culture: a teacher can structure a class to help the students build meaningful portfolios that show their range of learning, growth, and reflection. If students carry their portfolios forward — adding the work from other classes, as well as experiences in community-based learning and extracurricular activities — they end up with a meta-awareness of their whole education, a longitudinal view that’s useful in preparing for a career or applying to graduate school.
View Moore’s WRD 104 portfolio: http://composing.org/composition2012/
View Moore’s general teaching portfolio: https://depaul.digication.com/moore2012
LILIANA ZECKER — Associate professor, College of Education
The Integrative Knowledge E-portfolio (IKE) framework, which the College of Education adopted to support our students’ approach to e-portfolios, is a transformative pedagogy with the potential to profoundly change both teaching and learning. An IKE is not a depository of assignments, where students file their work, but rather a canvas on which students portray themselves professionally, looking back and projecting forward, integrating experiences and goals that are life-long and life-wide.
The IKE framework prompts students into thinking in new and different ways, not just about what they know but also about how they know it. The most important part of crafting an IKE is the process itself; the e-portfolio becomes a new lens through which students look at themselves and their work in the world. We discuss with students that the main point of an IKE is not the final product. Rather, the value is the journey that transforms them from knowledge holders to knowledge makers, who think about their profession in ways that are aware, intentional, and reflective.
As a teacher, my goal has never been dispensing information; I strive to scaffold and witness transformative thinking. That is what the Integrative Knowledge E-portfolio process allows me to do: I can use it to help my students grow as thinkers.
Katie Wozniak — Instructor, School for New Learning
The School of New Learning itself takes a “portfolio” approach to learning, as we value adult students’ documentation of their abilities and experiences as part of the bigger educational process. Because we’re all about reflection and interpretation, Digication is a teaching and learning tool that really fits well with our mission. We have used Digication in some of our academic writing, professional writing, and Foundations courses; students find it easy-to-learn and easy-to-use.
Making an e-portfolio increases the authenticity of each student’s writing. Because the process invites students to think about — to care about — audiences other than just the teacher, they become more thoughtful in what they say and how they say it; the topics and issues they write about are more interesting to them and, therefore, more interesting to their readers. The portfolio process encourages students to reflect deeply on how their experiences and accomplishments connect and to share this understanding with audiences inside and outside the academic environment.
As teachers, we like the fact that in their portfolios students can include parts of their identities above and beyond their work in class. By sharing these with classmates, our students become indirect mentors to each other — they become a community of learners while making connections between their multiple identities and their roles in society. The stronger that community, the greater the opportunities for insights and growth.
DePaul offers many ways for faculty to learn about Digication. Just follow this link: http://teachingcommons.depaul.edu/Technology/eportfoliosatdepaul.html