5 reasons we should be talking about ePortfolios

According to Dr Trudy Ambler, in the cloud-based era we’ve outgrown the idea of an ePorfolio as simply an electronic folder of student course work. Here are five reasons why she thinks ePortfolios should still be high on Macquarie’s learning and teaching agenda.

1. Universities aren’t the only ones providing valuable learning experiences to students.

Trudy Ambler - image copyright MQ
Dr Trudy Ambler

“These days you can learn anywhere. Yesterday I thought I’d like to be able to design and make an Apple app. I could learn how to do it using Google and video clips on YouTube. So why come to a university? One reason is that we have an understanding of learning, and we structure our programs in a way that scaffolds the learning and prepares the student in a particular way. And obviously we’re an accredited and recognized higher education provider. But that doesn’t mean that other learning that goes on isn’t any good.  And if we could capture those informal learning experiences too – that’s where a portfolio could be great.”

2. The process of learning can be just as important as a piece of assessment.

“Something that we could value more in higher education is the process of learning. So often, students put such a high priority on assessments as an output from their studies. The ePortfolio can also capture some of the details of what is going on in the learning process. Students can make their learning visible and then they can engage in that meta-cognitive process of reflecting on their learning as well.  In the virtual space, students might do a personal reflection on a text that they could audio record and embed into their portfolio. Face-to-face, you could make time in your tutorials or online each week for a student to reflect on a particular paper. You can then bring those things together holistically, rather than the perhaps more fragmented form they take during the actual process of engaging with them.”

3. Employers like them.

“I haven’t found a great deal of research that has explicitly asked employers, would you like students to be able to present a portfolio of work to you, and what would you like to see? We’ve got an intuitive sense that it would be useful. Certainly in professions like medicine or teaching, a portfolio is pretty standard.”

“We did have a forum recently in MMCCS with a panel of media experts. One who’s from a prominent online media outlet was asked, why did you employ a Macquarie University graduate? He said that, yes, he expected somebody who had graduated from university to have their degree certificate and to have completed all their units. But what the student he employed brought was a collection of work including their films and the writing they’d done, something he could look at and say ‘this is what this student can do’. “    

4. It’s not just about a single software solution any more.

“We already collect lots of bits of information in different systems and social networks, and decide how we want to use it. Sometimes we think of the portfolio as a folder that you put stuff in but now you can think of the cloud itself as a Portfolio. We are moving towards a personalised learning network.”

“Disciplines use portfolios in different ways, and accreditation bodies have particular requirements around their portfolios. Macquarie’s Learning and Teaching Green Paper talks about giving students an opportunity to capture their extra-curricular activities, about informal and non-formal learning. I just can’t see one software solution being the answer institution-wide.”

5. Portfolios challenge us to think about what happens to student-generated content.

“With portfolios, there are some risk factors around the extent and the type of content created by students, and questions around whether it’s in the personal space, the public space, or inward facing to the MQ community. Do we want our public-facing portfolio to have the MQ logo on it?  Are we prepared to – and do students want us to – put our branding on their portfolio? But, in a sense, that’s not any different to thinking about how we operate in the online space more generally.  We need to be very clear with students about what their responsibilities are, and what the university can offer.”

Dr Trudy Ambler is Associate Dean Quality and Standards in Macquarie University’s Faculty of Arts.  She is also leading a team that was recently awarded a Strategic Priority Grant to investigate the pedagogical and governance aspects of ePortfolios at Macquarie.

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