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.
I have been using ePortfolio in both the Composition and Narrative Medicine & Writing classroom since 2016. Using ePortfolio not only allows students to gain practical web skills, but allows them to carve their own creative space on the internet. The blog tool lets students respond in exploratory ways to readings, videos, podcasts, or creative writing prompts, while also serving as a practice field for more formal academic and creative writing. It is a risk-free space to experiment with voice, tone, sentence structure, and paragraph form. I enjoy watching ideas begin as seeds on the ePortfolio and grow into fully realized essays and proposals in formal assignments.
Using ePortfolio has also allowed us to catalog great classroom discussions and student growth. We may begin a discussion in small groups in class, and then students are prompted to respond to a post on my page to crystallize their stance or thoughts about the discussion. Using ePortfolio gives us the ability to go back to that discussion and expand, turn, or complicate ideas. It also allows students to catalog their own growth in a central place, linking to posts, essays, and even other course work to integrate and measure their learning.
Ultimately ePortfolio has shown me that when students have their own digital space and a real audience, they are more invested in the work they produce.
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, which would not have been possible using Blackboard. Then, after watching the ways that ePortfolio inspired students customize the space and engage more fully, I realized that I was under-estimating the value the ePortfolio to students. Students who were quiet in class posted thoughtful responses, and reflections helped me to understand how they were applying their knowledge beyond the class. Looking at the ePortfolios of my colleagues’ students, I started rethinking the possibilities.
Now, I help students better understand the value of ePortfolio to them as learners. Students share informal writing in posts, and comment on each other’s work. As way to frame and reflect on their course work, students also share and reflect on examples of their growth. The building of the ePortfolio allows 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 meet as a class. Students also take their posts more seriously since they know that anyone (not just those in their section of the course) might see their work. They have a place to share their multi-media presentations and other polished writing. In a larger context, I highlight the opportunity ePortfolio offers to take a step back and look at themselves as learners. Students apply the skills and practices of their English course to their other courses, making ePortfolio a place that reflects and better connects their growth not only in one semester but over the course of several.
In addition to ePortfolio’s benefit to students, the use of ePortfolio has inspired me to develop my teaching practice. Since I teach mainly using the hybrid model, 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. Also I now have students organize their ePortfolio by learning objective rather than project. This allows for frequent discussion about the ways assignments help build the skills required to meet the course learning objectives. My hope is that students will look back at these early posts, projects, and writing samples and recognize their growth and the value of their UNE educational experience.
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.