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Authentic Assessment, Deeper Learning: ePortfolios in Higher Education

by Kelly Walsh on April 5, 2016

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Catching up on the ePortfolio – Resources That Explore Their Value, & a Brief Look at Some of Today’s Solutions

Imagine a higher education environment in which the vast majority of courses require students to learn course objectives by participating in assignments and projects that allow them to be creative, solve problems, and apply the skills they are learning in ‘real world’ scenarios.

In this approach to learning, students are graded based on demonstrated competencies, and by the time they complete their course work, they are likely to have developed one or more digital artifacts that can show the world what they’ve done. That’s where the e-portfolio comes in. Naturally, more traditional educational approaches can also leverage e-portfolios to demonstrate student learning (but it’s nice to aim a little higher :)).

It’s 2016. Shouldn’t making exemplary work and evidence of learning available online, to support furthering educational and career opportunities, be a requirement in most higher education degree programs in this digital era? While the need and portent of a digital portfolio will vary with different types of academic programs, students should at least have the opportunity to share their finest work (or choose not to do so).

This excellent 2009 publication from the Association of American Colleges & Universities provides a wealth of insights into the how’s and why’s of e-portfolios to present and document student work. The article, “Catalyst for Learning: ePortfolio-Based Outcomes Assessment” by Bret Eynon and Laura Gambino starts off with the statement that, “Higher education’s use of ePortfolio in outcomes assessment is exploding, growing by 300% between 2009 and 2013.” This is exciting! Hopefully the tide is turning and the e-portfolio truly will become the norm.

The article cited above directs readers to the “Catalyst to Learning” site from LaGuardia Community College: http://c2l.mcnrc.org/. There are many good resources and collected artifacts available here for further exploration of the potential for e-Portfolios in our colleges and universities, including documented success stories.

e-Portfolio Product and Vendors

There do not appear to be many stand-alone ePortfolio solutions on the market. There appear to be more offerings that are integrated with a larger offering (most of which are LMS or CMS type systems).

We took a closer look at the self contained offerings and provide some summary information, links, and portfolio examples below. Following this is a list of other ePortfolio solutions that are integrated with more expansive offerings.

Digication 

Digication (www.digication.com) is a widely used, well known ePortfolio platform (their home page boasts over 5,000 customers, and cites a number of major universities). The solution offers numerous integration points, including integration with Windows AD & LDAP, some Student Information System integration, Google Apps integration, and an API (presumably this allows skilled programmers to design custom integrations).

This web page focuses on how Digication can be used for assessment of student work, providing a brief video overview. The site also offers some examples of student portfolios. Here are some reflections on two of the examples provided:

Teaching Portfolio
https://brown.digication.com/benweber/Annual_Thesis_Project1

This is a rich example of a portfolio. It manages to be both uncluttered in layout and dense with content at the same time. Weber writes, “What began in graduate school as a site for me to chart my progress toward meeting Brown University MAT Program’s Practice Based Standards for beginning teachers, reflect on the reciprocal processes of teaching and learning, self-assess, and to display both my and students’ work, has become my professional portfolio.” Weber shares dozens of examples of his work.

Senior Design – Non-electronic Blood Pressure Assist Device
https://stonybrook.digication.com/biodesign_group_5/need/

This portfolio focuses on a Senior Design Project, documented the Unmet Need, Design, Business Plan, Testing, Progress, and Reflection.

Mahara (Open Source e-Portolio built to integrate with Moodle)

Mahara (mahara.org) is another pretty well known e-portfolio solution that is used in higher education, and it is unique in a number of ways. First, it is open and free. Mahara was developed to integrate with the very popular and widely used open, free Moodle Learning Management System. So it should come as no surprise that the majority of users (maybe all?) are Moodle users. And much like Moodle, there are plenty of partners who host and support Mahara installations for a fee.

As with quite a few other open source applications, there are various resources online to provide support and a sense of community. These include a Wiki, a quarterly newsletter, events across the world, and “Planet Mahara” (an aggregated RSS feed of blogs of Mahara developers and users).

Mahara provides a demonstration site that they make it easy to log on to, but I struggled to find much in the way of content (it was not in English, but that wasn’t much of a challenge, it was more about content, which seemed to consist largely of links to pictures that wouldn’t open). This demo site does allow you to set up your own account and experiment (everything is reset each evening).

Fortunately, I did manage to find this set of Mahara portfolio examples from Solent University in the UK. After getting past the first link, which didn’t work, the next few did, and these provided a good look at what a Mahara portfolio might look like. Here are two examples:

Chalk & Wire

Chalk & Wire (chalkandwire.com) does go beyond just ePortfolio functionality, but it still seems to be the focus of their solution. The home page claims that it was “Voted top choice for transparently blending ePortfolios with learning assessment functionality” (although there doesn’t seem to be any indication of when or by whom). Their emphasis on the relationship between ePortfolios and assessment is strong, and that’s a good thing.

This page lists Features, which, in addition to the ePortfolio and assessment tools includes a very interesting module for Accreditation Management.

Here we have a Client Stories page, which provides a nice set of fun, fold-out style overviews of how universities have worked with the Chalk and Wire solution and services. These stories provide an encouraging look into what appears to be a well rounded solution with solid support. Looks like their pretty good with integration too. Some example assessments would really round out their web site.

Other “Integrated” Solutions

There are numerous e-Portfolios available that are part of a larger system for schools. Following is a list of some of these types of solutions.

The Do-it-Yourself Approach to ePortfolios

Of course, given the fact that electronic portfolios are basically just organized digital content, it is certainly possible to build your own. Institutions can select one or more tools, like Google Sites, a Wiki, Weebly, etc., and encourage students to create accounts and build portfolios.

The upsides to this approach can include little or no direct cost, flexibility, and being easy for students to take ownership of. The downsides include having little or no control from an institutional perspective, support headaches that can come with limited standardization, and little or no integration capabilities.

If you know of other solutions, or wish to clarify or otherwise comment on what you’ve read here, please drop a comment and let us know. Thanks!

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester, in White Plains, NY, where he also teaches. In 2009, Walsh founded EmergingEdTech.com. He frequently delivers presentations and training on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. His eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book is available here. Walsh became the Community Administrator for the Flipped Learning Network in June of 2016. In his "spare time" he also writes, records, and performs original music ... stop by kwalshmusic.com and have a listen!

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, or those of other writers, and not those of my employer. - K. Walsh]

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly Walsh April 14, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Thanks much Derek and Dr. Follins! Glad you found it helpful.

Dr. Craig T. Follins April 14, 2016 at 11:36 am

Great article. Thanks for sharing..

Derek April 5, 2016 at 6:34 pm

Great article and fabulous resource for teachers, trainer, assessors and learners.
Excellent writing.

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