Educational initiatives and technologies change, but the practices enabled by e-portfolio tools have, if anything, increasing relevance.
In 2008 when we published our effective practice guide to e-portfolios, use of e-portfolio tools in UK universities and colleges was very much on the up, as is borne out by the UCISA TEL survey data which shows that between 2005 and 2014 e-portfolio usage rose from 27% to a heady 78%.
But what has happened since then? With an increasing focus on learning analytics, lecture capture and EMA, has e-portfolio practice slipped below the TEL radar? If e-portfolio tools are still commonly provided and supported institutionally, as the report shows, what purposes are being met today by this difficult-to-define but valuable technology?
Our new guide, how to enhance student learning, progression and employability with e-portfolios, switches the focus from the institutional perspective on e-portfolios to that of the learner – when all is said or done, it is arguably more important than ever to look at use of these digital tools through the lens of the learner experience.
What we found
By doing so, we have found some subtle shifts of emphasis, although e-portfolio tools and practices are still enhancing the quality of learning and facilitating progression in a remarkable number of ways. So much so that finding a single definition for the term “e-portfolios” remains a difficult conundrum – depending on the context of use, this flexible technology can mean different things to different people.
Another aspect that remains essentially the same is the value of the processes involved in e-portfolio creation. Mastering the skills needed to create an e-portfolio of evidence gives students a serious head start when it comes to employability:
“An e-portfolio may provide the evidence that leads to a job or a qualification, but the process of developing it adds a great deal more to an individual’s employability and learning potential.”
No surprise then that student employability remains a significant driver behind e-portfolio use in UK HE and FE.
But what is different is the approach. Rather than being side-lined as an option for PDP , today’s effective e-portfolio practice, especially when designed to develop graduate attributes and enhance employability, is likely to be embedded in the curriculum, with its importance signalled to students through the assessment framework.
Then there is the increase in apprenticeships in further and higher education which depend on competency- or evidence-based portfolios. Many degree courses informed by standards set by a professional body similarly require an e-portfolio-based route to accreditation. Although the tools used can differ widely, our exemplars illustrate the importance of understanding what effective practice is in these contexts too.
“Unlike VLEs, e-portfolio tools enable connections to be made across many different learning experiences; they enable learners to reach out beyond the institution to employers and the wider world; they unite formal and informal learning and may even continue to be used across a lifetime of learning.”
But let’s not forget that an e-portfolio is created by an individual, and so will capture the journey the individual has taken to reach that point in their learning. And because e-portfolio tools enable connections to be made across a diversity of learning experiences, the end product, the portfolio, offers a rich insight into the many different influences and events that have shaped that journey.
Hence the importance of providing learners with their own personal learning space; e-portfolio tools help students make sense of the disparate elements that have contributed to their learning so that they can see “the bigger picture”. But we now know this synthesis needs to be enacted through the curriculum rather than left to chance.
Assessment involving e-portfolios can seem daunting in contexts where traditional forms of assessment predominate, but the benefits are clear. Our exemplars include a variety of tips for practitioners designing the curriculum as well as illustrating those benefits from a learner’s perspective.
Our latest review of e-portfolio practices prompts a fresh look at how these tools are used on your courses, and how widely the benefits are being experienced. Those embarking on a course that integrates e-portfolios not only have the potential to discover “who I am” but also “what I aspire to be” and “what I need from others to help me get there”. And that can be just as important a source of evidence for institutions and curriculum designers as it is for learners and their future employers.
Find out more from our latest report on effective e-portfolio practice, how to enhance student learning, progression and employability with e-portfolios.
Ros Smith, Author