Tools and Tips for Helping Students Create E-portfolios
by Kim Moore
Ten years ago, my administration asked if I could create a course to teach online skills. That left the door wide open to a very broad subject matter. With complete freedom to develop this course, I jumped at the chance to add “classroom teacher” to my role as librarian. But what was I going to teach? What skills do the digital youth need? How could I engage students in learning new online skills as well as help them take ownership of their learning? I wanted a course that would meet the needs of students growing up in a digital, information-rich time that values creativity, innovation, and resourcefulness. How could I reach all the goals I set for this course? Enter student e-portfolios.
WHAT’S AN E-PORTFOLIO
There can be confusion over how and why e-portfolios are used in education. Educators use them to help students bridge inquiry and integration, as well as deepen their learning. How do they support this complex model of student learning? There are three basic e-portfolios, which can overlap in practice:
- Learning/process—an intended collection of specific works (sometimes, in progress)
- Showcase—a display of students’ best work
- Assessment/accountability—to document what a student has learned
E-portfolios are both a product and, more importantly, a process. An e-portfolio is a collection of work (evidence, artifact) in an electronic format that showcases learning over time. It can include just about anything that can be uploaded:
- Files of various formats (text, pictures, video, etc.)
- Evidence related to courses taken, programs of study, etc.
- Writing samples that might include several drafts to show development and improvement
- Projects prepared for class or extracurricular activities
- Academic records and achievements
- Evidence of creativity and performance, both personal and professional
- Evidence of extracurricular or co-curricular activities, including examples of leadership
- Evaluations, analysis, and recommendations
When first introduced, e-portfolios served as an archive of digital information, with presentation as the main purpose. They now serve as an alternative form of assessment, allowing students to have more control over their learning. There can be multiple sources of assessment feedback and artifact review, including self-assessment, peer feedback (formative), and teacher assessment (summative). Today, educational e-portfolios help creators identify and reflect on the outcomes of learning experiences, as well as produce archives and presentations. Students benefit in the form of valid, holistic assessment of higher-order cognitive skills. Helen Barrett, a researcher and consultant with many years of work in e-portfolios, has developed a chart (Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios; electronicportfolios.org/balance/Balancing2faces.pdf) that illustrates how an e-portfolio is both a product and process, identifies the key elements in a successful educational e-portfolio and emphasizes the importance of student reflection.
STUDENT LEARNING ENRICHMENT
An e-portfolio could be called a living resume that permits student ownership and control. The employment of e-portfolios guides students to do the following:
- Develop a growth mindset
- Strengthen metacognition—improve self-assessment
- Improve self-motivation—set and meet personal goals
- Showcase achievements
- Grow into empowered learners
- Expand digital literacy
- Channel creativity and innovation
- Demonstrate learning across courses and time
Students are in charge of what to include, within guidelines set by their teacher. They decide how to design their e-portfolio, which artifacts best represent their learning, and, sometimes, what medium these artifacts are in. It is important to allow students to have some control over their final product. To demonstrate growth, an e-portfolio will often include similar work done over the course of several years. The products students include in their portfolios should be related to the curriculum and serve as evidence of their engagement in meaningful learning.
The value of e-portfolios in education has been studied and well documented for over a decade. According to the “Field Guide to ePortfolio,” it is a “dynamic medium for revealing the social construction of knowledge and learning through reflective practice and active involvement in the expansion of a student’s own voice and agency as a contributor to the broader society in which they live.”
E-portfolios allow students to critically assess their academic work, to reflect on that work, and to make connections among different courses, assignments, and other activities (such as work experience, extracurricular pursuits, and volunteering opportunities).
E-portfolios are used in more than half of all universities and colleges. The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) paper, “It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success,” states, “more than 4 in 5 employers say an electronic portfolio would be useful to them in ensuring that job applicants have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in their company or organization.” I have met many librarians who say the most impressive job applicants are the ones with a current e-portfolio.
N.A. Buzzetto-More researched the effectiveness of e-portfolios in education. The results include the following:
- 88% of students found multiple benefits to student-created portfolios.
- 89% agreed that the portfolio encouraged them to think about what they had learned during their academic experience.
- 91% affirmed that the portfolio-building process encouraged them to think about the professional knowledge, skills, and abilities they acquired.
Buzzetto-More’s Information Literacy ePortfolio Model (researchgate.net/figure/The-Information-Literacy-E-Portfolio-Model-A-major-component-of-e-portfolios-is-the_fig2_283568588/actions#caption) details the e-portfolio in the education process in which students strategize, create artifacts, process their own learning by evaluating and making judgments about the artifacts, synthesize compilation and creation of the portfolio, self-evaluate by reflecting on the process, articulate through presentation and sharing artifacts, and provide for an interchange of feedback concluding with their response.
HOW I DO IT
Student motivation and engagement are critical for the success of an e-portfolio. Learners desire freedom to express creativity and individuality. My digital literacy students choose a topic to research all semester. We spend a lot of time brainstorming a topic that will be meaningful and make them want to research more. There are many free digital brainstorming tools online. After choosing a topic, they begin to build a website via Weebly. Some of the products they have created include a 1-minute commercial, an infographic, a digital presentation, and an animated story. In the process, I also teach my students copyright and fair use laws, news literacy, how to critically evaluate websites, how to ensure online privacy, and internet safety. As I am a librarian, I also teach them to effectively use library databases via the creation of an annotated bibliography on their topic.
My favorite part of their website is their homepage. This is the last page they create at the end of the semester. There is one paragraph to introduce themselves and one that reflects on the research and learning they did on their chosen topic. This is where I learn if the e-portfolio met the criteria I set for student outcomes. I discover what tools helped students learn the most about their topic, the ones they liked and disliked, the ones they enjoyed as a creative outlet, and the ones that gave them confidence to speak about their topic. I change the online tools we use each year based on their reflections. Students also enjoy talking about themselves and what made them choose their topic, what they learned about it, and what they hope others will learn from their e-portfolio. My students are proud of their work when I tell them they created new knowledge with their website.
CHOOSING A PLATFORM
Before selecting a platform, you need to determine the primary purpose of your e-portfolio program. Knowing what questions to ask will help you choose the right one for your school and its students. Is it for displaying student work; student learning, reflection, and growth; career/college preparation; or alternative assessment? While these goals can overlap, it is critical to define the main purpose to help you choose the right platform. There are free versions as well as fee-based versions of e-portfolio platforms. How do you know which will best serve the needs of your students? There are a few simple questions to ask before you decide:
- Who owns it?
- Who curates it?
- Who organizes it?
- Where does it live?
- How much will it cost?
- How will assessment work?
- Can it be used with your current learning management system (LMS)?
Along with these simple questions, there are a few complex institutional questions you should address before implementing e-portfolios, such as the following:
- Is the platform completely device-agnostic?
- Is it exportable following graduation?
- What file types does it support?
- Are there any storage limits?
- How do you log in? Is it a single LMS login?
- Who owns the data?
- Who can see students’ work?
Look for an educational version of any product you choose. The price will be lower, and it will usually include full functionality. Many schools already use Google’s G Suite, making integration seamless and free by using Google Sites. My choice of Weebly was driven by its nominal fee, the ability to password-protect student websites, and its ease of use in any browser. The browser issue was important because we are a BYOD school, and students can use PCs, Macs, or Chromebooks. Thorough planning before implementation will help ease the transition to e-portfolios.
Encourage students to consider portfolio creation as a way to take ownership of their learning and have the freedom to choose multiple creative formats. It is a way they can express and prove their knowledge outside the norm of essay-writing and test-taking. M.P. Prendes Espinosa and M.M. Sánchez Vera recommend six steps to ensure successful integration of e-portfolios:
- Give students info from the very beginning. Why e-portfolios?
- Limit the number of components.
- Explain the evaluation criteria.
- Teach and facilitate the process of self-reflection and self-evaluation.
- Indicate the appropriate time to be spent in e-portfolio creation
- Provide advice and prepare students for the realization of their e-portfolio.
You can see there will be considerable work on your part to help guide your students’ use of e-portfolios. I provide mine with e-portfolio examples created by previous students. This helps them see what is expected and also how they can create an e-portfolio that is as individual as they each are. Teachers should supply a detailed rubric explaining the effectiveness and overall value of each performance. The rubric helps students understand expectations and provides a guide as they reflect on the different aspects of their work. There are many rubrics available online that you can adapt to meet your requirements. Reflections should be guided by questions that make students consider the past while thinking toward the future. You do not have to include your entire class content in e-portfolio format. Start simple by adding only a few elements at a time. Through guiding students and explaining the process, you can ensure successful and meaningful implementation of e-portfolios with your students.
Barrett, H. (2009). Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios. (Retrieved April 15, 2019, from electronicportfolios.org/balance)
Batson, T., Coleman, K.S., Chen, H.L., Watson, C.E., Rhodes, T.L., and Harver, A. (Eds.). (2017). “Field Guide to ePortfolio.” Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities. (Retrieved May 6, 2019, from aportfolio.appstate.edu/sites/aportfolio.appstate.edu/files/field_guide_to_eportfolio.pdf)
Buzzetto-More, N.A. (2010). “Assessing the Efficacy and Effectiveness of an E-Portfolio Used for Summative Assessment.” Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Skills and Lifelong Learning, 6, 061-085. doi:10.28945/1164
Educatorstechnology. (April 30, 2014). “The 3 Types of Digital Portfolios Teachers Should Know About.” (Retrieved April 12, 2019, from https://www.educatorstechnology.com/2014/04/the-3-types-of-digital-portfolios.html)
McCuen@aacu.org. (February 22, 2016). “It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success: Overview and Key Findings.” (Retrieved April 10, 2019, from aacu.org/leap/presidentstrust/compact/2013SurveySummary)
Prendes Espinosa, M.P. and Sánchez Vera, M.M. (2008). “Portafolio Electrónico: Posibilidades Los Docentes.” Pixel-Bit. Revista de Medios y Educación, 2008(32), 21–34.
“The What, Why, and How of ePortfolios” (n.d.). (Retrieved April 10, 2019, from clemson.edu/academics/programs/eportfolio/information.html)