August 29, 2014

The E-Portfolio: A New Technology in Teaching

As part of Southwestern’s ongoing Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), all seniors now complete a capstone class and a digital portfolio to demonstrate proficiency and accomplishment in research, writing, critical thinking, and the use of technology.

Education majors begin their digital portfolio during their sophomore year. An e-portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that demonstrates effort, progress and achievement. It provides a richer picture of student performance than can be gained from more traditional, objective forms of assessment.

E-portfolios might be the biggest thing in technology innovation on campus. Electronic portfolios have a greater potential to alter higher education at its very core than any other technology application we’ve known thus far.

Some of the strengths that portfolios provide teacher education:
• empowerment: the shift of ownership of learning from faculty to student.
• collaboration: the ability to allow students to engage in ongoing discussions about content with both peers and teachers.
• integration: the ability to make connections between theory and practice.
• explicitness: the student’s focus on the specificity of purpose for the portfolio.
• authenticity: the portfolio provides direct links between artifacts included and classroom practice.
• critical thinking: provided by the opportunity to reflect on change and growth over a period of time.

E-portfolios can be “web-sensible”—a thoughtfully arranged collection of multimedia-rich, interlinked, hypertextual documents that students compose, own, maintain, and archive on the Internet or in other formats, such as CD-ROMs and DVDs. Web applications designed to support e-portfolio composition can offer additional opportunities for providing structure, guidance, and feedback to students, and can provide students with opportunities to connect selectively with multiple audiences. Italo Osorio, director of application services, has installed a course management system for students to design their e-portfolio.

Students can represent themselves through personalized information that conveys a web-savvy and deliberately constructed ethos for various uses of the e-portfolio. They can also manage those identities by having control over artifacts and who sees them. Students analyze the audience they intend to have read their e-portfolios, not only to accommodate faculty, but also employers, issuers of credentials, family, friends, and other readers.

Students in Southwestern’s education department create “reflective artifacts” in which they identify and evaluate the different kinds of learning that their e-portfolios represent. In each education class, we have designed projects to be “capstone.” Students then choose eight to 10 of these capstone projects to put in their e-portfolio. These have to be chosen to represent the four areas of the QEP—research, writing, critical thinking, and the use of technology.

Teachers will be facing a wide variety of challenges arising from the confluence of performance-based assessment and digital technology. The professors in the education department continue to help our students identify instructional and assessment techniques in which they are successful and seek ways to have technology strengthen these successful experiences.

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