Nearly two dozen faculty participate in the ePortfolio initiative, make use of the Digispace as part of their teaching, or both. We feature just a few of these faculty here. What comes through their brief narratives is the way that ePortfolio is changing both their students’ experiences with learning and their teaching practice.
2016 was the first year I used ePortfolio for my writing courses. What I found most satisfying about the format was the exploratory writing students engaged in for their blog writing. Before each class meeting, students were responsible for responding to a reflective prompt connected to a reading, video, or podcast. These reflective blogs served as not only an informal and creative space to ponder questions, thoughts and ideas, but also served as a practice field for more formal academic writing. The blog was a risk-free space to experiment with voice, tone, sentence structure and paragraph form. I enjoyed watching ideas begin as seeds on the ePortfolio and grow into fully realized essays and proposals in formal assignments. Additionally, one of the best features was that it was so easy to share selected student work within our writing community.
By using the blog feature on ePortfolio, I found students were more willing to explore ideas and tangents than they may have been when simply turning in a homework assignment. Because students have their own space on ePortfolio and because that space has a real audience, they wind up being more invested in the work they post.
Michael J. Cripps
I have fully embraced ePortfolio as a component of my courses at UNE. Since the launch of ePortfolios in Fall 2016, I have embedded them as a component of seven classes at both the freshman- and upper-levels of the curriculum. As a writing instructor, I find that ePortfolio fits nicely into my courses. Portfolios have long been a core component of writing classes, and the digital age enables students to move their work online, to consider writing for an audience broader than the professor, and to treat the ePortfolio as a showcase of their best work. They are writing more and investing more of themselves in their work as they start to shift their sense of learning.
I have been interested in ePortfolio for nearly fifteen years and helped launch a college-wide ePortfolio initiative at an urban university in 2008. Having advocated for a greater embrace of the digital in courses for nearly two decades, I am very excited to see UNE taking the initial steps towards ePortfolio. UNE’s Digispace offers precisely the kind of support that students taking on digital projects need to guide their development, as many students report discomfort with digital tools even as many consider them to be “digital natives.”
I started using ePortolios in my Research Methods course back in 2013, and while two students embraced the concept of presenting their academic work in a single, digital collection—even presenting their projects with me at the AAEEBL’s ePortfolio conference in Boston—, for most this option remained a marginally interesting but also technically challenging component of the course. Server troubles and an outdated version of WordPress hampered efforts to expand the blog, for me the centerpiece of the ePortfolio, by 2015.
Encouraged by the move to a different server and the wider launch of ePortfolio in Fall 2016, however, my in the Spring 2017 Methods section created and maintained an ePortfolio throughout the course. Thanks to faculty development work around ways to use the ePortfolio, I adapted my approach to Methods, in particular by requiring project framing statements and end-of-year-reflective statements. Although I recognize that we have work to do to more fully embed ePortfolio in the major, I also see a viable way forward, and some students do as well.
For me, the value of ePortfolio lies in the opportunity it gives students
- To see their work holistically,
- To draw connections between low-stakes, informal writing and their big projects,
- To construct an intellectual identity out of their various courses, and
- To see that construction as being itself an active, creative process, a practice of collection, selection, and reflection.
I have chosen to incorporate ePortfolio into my English Composition classes because I believe it helps students take greater ownership in their learning, and it builds their digital skill set. I first embraced ePortfolio in 2016 when I was teaching College Reading and Writing because the course was designed to incorporate ePortfolio. At first, I did not understand the value of ePortfolio. I looked at it as electronic storage for student writing. I thought it would be fun for students to add a few personalized details, such as pictures and reflections of their learning, which would not have been possible using Blackboard. Then, after watching the ways that ePortfolio inspired students to embrace the space as their own and by looking at the ePortfolios of my colleagues’ students, I started rethinking the purpose of ePortfolio. Students added content and pictures as well as links and graphics to make it their space.
Without dedicating much instructional class time, I could require students to share examples of their annotation methods and hand-written pre-writing, allowing for a greater breadth of student work for class discussion and the opportunity for me to preview and sometimes respond to the work before we met as a class. Students also took their posts more seriously since they knew that anyone (not just those in their section of the course) might see their work. With some prompting, students even started linking their work from other courses, making ePortfolio a place that would reflect their UNE experience, year by year. I decided that all of my UNE first-year students should be given the same opportunity.
In addition to ePortfolio’s benefit to students, the use of ePortfolio has inspired me to develop my teaching practice. Since I teach mainly hybrid sections of the course, ePortfolio is a natural match. Students are aware that they will be using digital learning tools and spaces, such as discussion boards, and I regularly incorporate digital media into the course content. As I continued to use ePortfolio in my courses, I also began experimenting more with the structure of the ePortfolio, opting to organize by learning objective rather than project, for example. This allowed for frequent discussion about assignments and their associated learning objectives. I also began incorporating digital projects, knowing they could be shared and later archived as students progressed through their UNE courses. My hope is that students will look back at these early posts, projects, and writing samples and recognize their growth.
I’ve used WordPress with my students for the past three or four years in a limited fashion—mostly as a place to house lower stakes journal writing, a move to reduce the amount of physical material I’d need to collect each term. Of course, I’d been aware of the possibilities using a real-deal ePortfolio might offer my classes, but I suppose there was an ongoing fear that students would view the electronic component as somehow ancillary, or as a tacked-on, nonessential part of the course. In 2016, however, I took the plunge and fully integrated ePorfolio into most (7/8) of my classes. Although it was a challenge to get everyone on-board at first, after just two semesters of fully embracing ePortfolio as part of my teaching, I’ve both observed and experienced some real benefits.
- Access to/amount of student work—I’m able to keep track of the progress of student homework/journals/and formal writing WAY more easily. Too, I’m not sure I realized how much writing I was actually asking of my students. Some quick sampling from the past two terms reveals 10,000 plus words written during the semester (not counting revised drafts). While the novelist in me is impressed, this is certainly not to suggest quantity drives quality. However, how do writers become better writers? Writing, and writing lots.
- A greater sense of who students are—with a place for each individual student to create, evolve, and share their own digital identities, everyone in the class—including this instructor—is able to get a stronger sense of who each person actually is. This is especially true if a student is writing about some deeply important or long-standing tradition (we write food narratives and tradition/ritual is often a staple in this genre). What I’ve found this past year is that when students really embrace their ePortfolio, there is so much more than just words on a computer screen.
- End-of-term reflection and assessment samples both become easier to manage—ePortfolio provides a fuller picture for students to cast back and reflect on the work and progress they’ve made over the term—essentially, all of the work can be located there. With all of these various course artifacts so readily accessible, it is much more likely that students could recognize just how our coursework fits together, and actually be able to pinpoint moments of real growth over the term. When you can see draft after draft so easily, growth is pretty easy to spot. Additionally, with so much of our coursework organized and accessible, gathering department assessment samples at the end of the term is quite simple.
- Taking it to the next level! In the spring semester I had my students explore some of they possibilities of how valuable end-of-semester reflective projects might be. Many students created really thoughtful works during the last week of so of our class. These reflective digital projects demonstrate a real engagement with how an essay, and the process of drafting an essay, can be elevated by embracing the digital.