Teaching theatre, MUH, Image copyright Macquarie University Alumni https://www.flickr.com/photos/115746074@N05/

ePortfolios: Why the bad press?

ePortfolios will be an integral component of the new Bachelor of Clinical Science from next year, and the new Learning and Teaching Green Paper signals broader adoption might be on the horizon at Macquarie.  So what is an ePortfolio, and why do they sometimes get bad press? Professor Kirsty Forrest, Associate Dean Learning and Teaching in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, offers her thoughts.

What do you understand by the term ePortfolio in your context?

Kirsty Forrest - image copyright Macquarie University
Professor Kirsty Forrest

ePortfolios get bad press, and I think it’s because of what I’ve seen in the past, where people get stuck in this mindset that an ePortfolio is just reflective essays, or a student going online and writing about their experience. Students put in an essay or big pieces of written work, and up to a year later they might get feedback on it. That’s not what I mean in our context.

I see an ePortfolio as a kind of a technical support system where you put things – anything – that show that you have done something.  Really it’s like a version of your filing cabinet, somewhere to keep your evidence. It can be the actual thing, the essay, or it could be the mark for the essay. Or an up to date CV and a Basic Life Support certificate, for example.

What advantages does an ePortfolio give students in your field?

An ePortfolio gives you the ability to collect lots of different types of evidence and types of media. Some of our senior students who are already doctors do brain surgery operations. They can record a brain surgery operation, cut it down to the bit they want their supervisor to look at, and the supervisor annotates over the top of the video about their performance – ‘maybe next time you should consider holding the suture that way’. The student gets that back to keep as part of their evidence of their training, abilities, capabilities. So that’s how you would build your portfolio, and you take it with you after you’ve graduated, it’s yours to keep.

Of course it should also be mobile, with an app on the iPad and iPhone, so students will be able to add things there and then, at the time they’re doing them.

Isn’t having a degree enough evidence for an employer of students’ capabilities?

Most medical degrees now would have a portfolio component in them because it’s about documenting evidence of your performance. And as a doctor, right from your first year out of university and for your whole professional life, you have to take part in a portfolio practice that is formalised at the national level. You do it anyway as a professional, so why not do it as a student?

So how will this fit it in with your assessment practices in the new clinical program?

In some ways an ePortfolio is actually just an electronic version of what we already do ‘by hand’ at the moment with our other programs. It’s hard work and the difference is it currently happens at the end of the unit rather than being continual, so you don’t have the opportunity to provide feedback to students for change.

Some teaching staff will think the fact that the ePortfolio is continual means more work for them, but overall I see it as less work. There won’t be the same intense period of marking at the end of the unit.

Do you think a single solution will work for the whole University?

I think the university can be known for having this approach, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the same thing or tool for every part of the university. There can be ePortfolios in various ways, shapes and forms.

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