Many universities are implementing e-portfolios in some capacity. The purposes of e-portfolios fall into roughly one of three main categories. The first type of e-portfolio involves using the space to learn reflectively. This type is prevalent in teacher preparation programs. The second type of e-portfolio is used to help the institution with assessment. The third type of e-portfolio is used as a marketing tool to showcase employment and technical skills. The following report gives a brief overview of the different types of e-portfolios and some suggestions on how these could be incorporated in various capacities across different departments at higher education institutions.
E-portfolio as a reflective learning space
The idea of a reflective learning space is predicated on the notion that students who frequently look back at past work or past experiences will gain some insight into how they function as learners and what future growth is still necessary to complete certain professional goals. Although this type of e-portfolio can be employed in a variety of higher education settings, they are most frequently employed in teacher preparation programs. This type of reflective learning space allows pre-service teachers to better understand teaching standards and gives them a way to organize and store professional documents.
E-portfolio as an instrument of assessment
The e-portfolio as an instrument of assessment fills two roles. First, the institution can use the e-portfolio as a way to collect data and assess students’ progress towards certain learning goals, whether they are general education goals or certain teacher dispositions. Second, the e-portfolio can be used by institutions to collect and present data that will help them achieve or maintain accreditation. Current research by Wetzel , et al. indicates that most institutions with mature e-portfolio programs, those existing for more than five years, use part or multiple parts of the e-portfolio to collect and present data used for NCATE accreditation.
E-portfolio as marketing tool and skills dossier
The e-portfolio is also able to play a vital role for students who have recently graduated or a looking for a summer job or internship. Although current research by Ward and Moser indicates that the use of e-portfolios by HR recruiters was low in all industries of employment, a large percentage of employers indicate that they will become increasingly involved with e-portfolios in the near future. The research of Ward and Moser also indicates that e-portfolios are used most often in the fields of education and human services.
The preferences of hiring managers focused on utility. Respondents to the research queries of Ward and Moser suggest that resumes and references are the most applicable artifacts of an e-portfolio, followed by samples of written work and projects/presentations.
Another benefit of using e-portfolios in the job search process, as indicated by the research of Carliner, is a way to validate credentials from international candidates, or vice-versa, a way for American job seekers to validate language skills or other credentials to international employers. This type of e-portfolio could be especially valuable to foreign language majors or students studying international relations.
Although e-portfolios are versatile instruments, research suggests that e-portfolios are less effective when they try to combine more than one of the above goals. To paraphrase Wetzel, when they try to do all three things, e-portfolios do none effectively. Although these are valid claims, especially when considering the necessary mindset required of students to create an e-portfolio tailored to multiple needs, perhaps a staggered system could be put into place. This staggered system could have students adapt their e-portfolios at different times throughout their careers so that they are never focused on more than one rhetorical situation. For example, incoming freshmen could be required to create and add some basic content to an e-portfolio in a freshmen seminar class. As these students progress through college and their respective majors the e-portfolios can be used by content area professors to engage students in reflective learning. Towards the end of the program, students will again tailor their e-portfolio to target certain discipline specific careers. It is at this point that the e-portfolios could be used for assessment, although not necessarily the type of assessment that many universities are using at present, but rather a holistic form of assessment, a type of assessment that measure not only students progress towards learning goals, but other skills and practical experiences that would otherwise go unrecorded.
Although implementing e-portfolios on a large scale offers a wide variety of benefits, both formatively and summatively as assessment is concerned, the technical limitations of students and faculty in addition to the large amount of time required by both students and faculty to create e-portfolios are the largest detriments to large scale implementation. The research of Wetzel and colleagues notes that the two largest concerns of students and faculty regarding e-portfolios are the technical skills required and the time that it takes to digitize and arrange content artifacts into a meaningful order.
The lack of certain technical skills could be addressed in a number of manners; first, the use of a content management system, akin to Google sites, Blogger, or WordPress, would immediately decrease the amount of technical expertise required to create and maintain professional looking e-portfolios; second, the institution could employ either students or a small professional staff to assist students and faculty with the creation and assessment of e-portfolios; third, the institution could support students in the creation of the e-portfolios by integrating them into already existing classes.
The large amount of time that it takes to create and populate an e-portfolio with artifacts can be addressed in several different ways as well; first, by extending the creation and population of an e-portfolio over a four year span the students will gradually complete this process, and in addition they will presumably build a comfort level with the software over time, thus decreasing the time taken to complete various tasks; second, both the time and technical concerns of implementing e-portfolios point to integration of e-portfolios with other assignments in classes specific to students’ majors and in an initial class that supports incoming students as they navigate and become familiar with the digital amenities of the institution.