Use of electronic portfolios in higher education is more than two decades old, but adoption across the country has accelerated dramatically since 2010. Built on long experience with paper portfolios in such disciplines as art and journalism, ePortfolios may initially have seemed like a way of performing the same tasks online. But adopters quickly began to see that ePortfolios were not simply a technology but rather a constructive practice that fostered many proven pedagogies. A growing body of research shows that ePortfolio practice can help students own and connect their learning experiences and support meaningful outcomes assessment for curriculum improvement.
"I've come to think that this [reflection] is not only an incredibly impactful form of assignment for students to do, but it's also a way that instructors can be assured that the way that they've designed their class, the way that they've been trying to help students learn, is working or not working. I think it is the place where learning is captured." -- IUPUI faculty 2012
The catchphrase "collect, select, reflect" includes important elements of ePortfolio development but is incomplete without a fourth component: "compose." ePortfolio projects in which students construct their own websites--and the number of such projects is increasing at IUPUI--foster student creativity and add new layers of reflection as capabilities of the digital environment. Students can choose from multiple media, build in visual and audio elements, and use hyperlinks and menus to explain and demonstrate what they have learned. With good guidance, this process can help students to discover connections among concepts and learning experiences, enabling them to see their learning as integrated and purposeful. Composing an ePortfolio website helps students learn to communicate in multiple modalities, responsibly manage their online identities, and develop as learners and emerging professionals.
The value of ePortfolios for assessment has been recognized since their earliest beginnings. A fundamental strength is their capacity to support "authentic assessment"--that is, assessment focused on actual achievements viewed directly rather than on proxies for achievement like GPAs or standardized test scores. With multi-modal evidence, ePortfolios emphasize what students can do with their knowledge and skills. More than other forms of authentic assessment, reflective ePortfolios can capture complex cognitive and affective ("ineffable") outcomes, demonstrate a trajectory of learning and growth over time, and offer instructors and programs valuable insight into students' perceptions and interpretations of their learning experiences.
As Eynon and Gambino note in the Catalyst for Learning section on Outcomes Assessment, "reviewing ePortfolios and student work, faculty and staff can more easily make concrete recommendations to improve curriculum and pedagogy." This has certainly been the case at IUPUI, as a recent campus research project made clear (the International Journal of ePortfolio has published our article about this project). As one IUPUI program director noted in an interview for this research, "We made a change, a major curricular change in 2009, and a lot of that was due to the way we're doing the capstone portfolios." ePortfolios also support faculty collaboration on curriculum. As another IUPUI program director remarked in 2012, designing and assessing a program ePortfolio helped instructors understand "how their own course material related" as well as "what was being taught in other courses, how all of it fit together to achieve the program outcomes and standards."
"ePortfolios are a way of documenting learning that has occurred, giving faculty a better opportunity to answer the question 'has the right learning occurred?' Artifacts help to demonstrate the integration of the learning that has occurred." --IUPUI academic staff member, 2012