I work in student support to train and mentor our ePortfolio Assistants at Old Dominion University’s Center for High Impact Practices. As such, I am witness to the varied experiences of students on their ePortfolio journey. I refer to it as a journey, because ePortfolio done well grows with an individual. Particularly in introductory or general education courses, the ePortfolio component may not be a huge product. This is not a bad thing. It can be less overwhelming for students to not have a high-stakes assignment when using an unfamiliar digital tool.
When a student has done a project ePortfolio, before they do a course one, then a program one, and finally the professional one, the skills of reflection and identity presentation can be built up over time. I have seen many graduating seniors, struggle to answer the question “So, who are you?” that an ePortfolio forces them to answer. When it is time to graduate and all of a sudden they need to create an ePortfolio to apply for a job (yes, some employers are now requiring it of applicants) they don’t know how to pull all the aspects of their identity into one product (Kehoe & Goudzwaard, 2015). Professional ePortfolios afford a unique opportunity for a student to control the narrative and show how the disparate aspects of their selves go together. Munday, Rowley, & Polly (2017) found that the visual images used in ePortfolios contributed to students’ views of themselves as competent professionals within their respective fields. Oftentimes, students building the professional ePortfolio are rather impressed with themselves and comment that they did not realize they had learned so much in their studies until they brought it all together.
For those earlier courses mostly trying to introduce students to the concept of ePortfolios, it can be beneficial when the instructor really emphasizes that the goal is to practice for the eventual bigger project of building a professional ePortfolio. Good ePortfolio practice helps students see themselves as a self. It can help build their awareness of how they want to be seen by an outside world, and cultivate an understanding of audience and genre in the process. Many educators who use them see ePortfolios primarily as a learning tool and their priorities for incorporating ePortfolios into a curriculum are to foster deep learning, synthesis, and self reflection.
While all students benefit from these analytical and reflective components, they won’t all necessarily care about these aspects of the ePortfolio. It is perhaps a symptom of our society in general that many people don’t understand what reflection actually entails. It has become a shallow buzzword, the dreaded reflection part of the assignment. That the purpose of reflection is to engage in metacognition is often lost in the shuffle. In my experience, students are more concerned with how an ePortfolio will help their future selves land a job. Sometimes we might have to act like a parent sneaking their children vegetables because we know it’s good for them. As Jones & Leverenz (2017) point out, it behooves faculty to think about motivating students to want to make ePortfolios. In other words, framing ePortfolios as potentially assisting students as they go on the job market, while also guiding them towards reflection, analysis, synthesis, and identity construction is a win-win.
The product is always improved when students see the value of any assignment. When students know there are multiple audiences, especially external audiences, who could potentially look at their work the ePortfolio product tends to be better, mostly due to the increased effort by the student (Ramirez, 2011). Students recognize the higher stakes of others seeing and judging their work. If a student thinks they are making one ePortfolio for this one class, just for the instructor to see and grade, and then they will never use the ePortfolio or the skills used to create it again, is it any wonder they often don’t put forth much effort?
Jones, B. & Leverenz, C. (2017). Building personal brands with digital storytelling eportfolios. International Journal of ePortfolio, 7(1), 67-91.
Kehoe, A., & Goudzwaard, M. (2015). ePortfolios, badges, and the whole digital self: How evidence-based learning pedagogies and technologies can support integrative learning and identity development. Theory Into Practice, 54(4), 343-351.
Munday, J., Rowley, J., & Polly, P. (2017). The use of visual images in building professional self identities. International Journal of ePortfolio, 7(1), 53-65.
Ramirez, K. (2011). ePerformance: Crafting, rehearsing, and presenting the ePortfolio persona. International Journal of ePortfolio, 1(1), 1-9.