Monthly Archives: February 2012

Applications of the E-portfolio

Many universities are implementing e-portfolios in some capacity. The purposes of e-portfolios fall into roughly one of three main categories. The first type of e-portfolio involves using the space to learn reflectively. This type is prevalent in teacher preparation programs. The second type of e-portfolio is used to help the institution with assessment. The third type of e-portfolio is used as a marketing tool to showcase employment and technical skills. The following report gives a brief overview of the different types of e-portfolios and some suggestions on how these could be incorporated in various capacities across different departments at higher education institutions.

E-portfolio as a reflective learning space

The idea of a reflective learning space is predicated on the notion that students who frequently look back at past work or past experiences will gain some insight into how they function as learners and what future growth is still necessary to complete certain professional goals. Although this type of e-portfolio can be employed in a variety of higher education settings, they are most frequently employed in teacher preparation programs. This type of reflective learning space allows pre-service teachers to better understand teaching standards and gives them a way to organize and store professional documents.

E-portfolio as an instrument of assessment  

The e-portfolio as an instrument of assessment fills two roles. First, the institution can use the e-portfolio as a way to collect data and assess students’ progress towards certain learning goals, whether they are general education goals or certain teacher dispositions. Second, the e-portfolio can be used by institutions to collect and present data that will help them achieve or maintain accreditation. Current research by Wetzel , et al.  indicates that most institutions with mature e-portfolio programs, those existing for more than five years, use part or multiple parts of the e-portfolio to collect and present data used for NCATE accreditation.

E-portfolio as marketing tool and skills dossier 

The e-portfolio is also able to play a vital role for students who have recently graduated or a looking for a summer job or internship. Although current research by Ward and Moser indicates that the use of e-portfolios by HR recruiters was low in all industries of employment, a large percentage of employers indicate that they will become increasingly involved with e-portfolios in the near future. The research of Ward and Moser also indicates that e-portfolios are used most often in the fields of education and human services.

The preferences of hiring managers focused on utility. Respondents to the research queries of Ward and Moser suggest that resumes and references are the most applicable artifacts of an e-portfolio, followed by samples of written work and projects/presentations.

Another benefit of using e-portfolios in the job search process, as indicated by the research of Carliner, is a way to validate credentials from international candidates, or vice-versa, a way for American job seekers to validate language skills or other credentials to international employers. This type of e-portfolio could be especially valuable to foreign language majors or students studying international relations.

Suggestions

Although e-portfolios are versatile instruments, research suggests that e-portfolios are less effective when they try to combine more than one of the above goals. To paraphrase Wetzel, when they try to do all three things, e-portfolios do none effectively. Although these are valid claims, especially when considering the necessary mindset required of students to create an e-portfolio tailored to multiple needs, perhaps a staggered system could be put into place. This staggered system could have students adapt their e-portfolios at different times throughout their careers so that they are never focused on more than one rhetorical situation. For example, incoming freshmen could be required to create and add some basic content to an e-portfolio in a freshmen seminar class. As these students progress through college and their respective majors the e-portfolios can be used by content area professors to engage students in reflective learning. Towards the end of the program, students will again tailor their e-portfolio to target certain discipline specific careers. It is at this point that the e-portfolios could be used for assessment, although not necessarily the type of assessment that many universities are using at present, but rather a holistic form of assessment, a type of assessment that measure not only students progress towards learning goals, but other skills and practical experiences that would otherwise go unrecorded.

Concerns

Although implementing e-portfolios on a large scale offers a wide variety of benefits, both formatively and summatively as assessment is concerned, the technical limitations of students and faculty in addition to the large amount of time required by both students and faculty to create e-portfolios are the largest detriments to large scale implementation.  The research of Wetzel and colleagues notes that the two largest concerns of students and faculty regarding e-portfolios are the technical skills required and the time that it takes to digitize and arrange content artifacts into a meaningful order.

The lack of certain technical skills could be addressed in a number of manners; first, the use of a content management system, akin to Google sites, Blogger, or WordPress, would immediately decrease the amount of technical expertise required to create and maintain professional looking e-portfolios; second, the institution could employ either students or a small professional staff to assist students and faculty with the creation and assessment of e-portfolios; third, the institution could support students in the creation of the e-portfolios by integrating them into already existing classes.

The large amount of time that it takes to create and populate an e-portfolio with artifacts can be addressed in several different ways as well; first, by extending the creation and population of an e-portfolio over a four year span the students will gradually complete this process, and in addition they will presumably build a comfort level with the software over time, thus decreasing the time taken to complete various tasks; second, both the time and technical concerns of implementing e-portfolios point to integration of e-portfolios with other assignments in classes specific to students’ majors and in an initial class that supports incoming students as they navigate and become familiar with the digital amenities of the institution.

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A New Look at Reading and Writing Assignments

While communication technology has changed rapidly over the last thirty years, our modes of teaching students to be communicative have changed very little. The essay still seems to be the time-tested standard in many areas of the humanities and the social sciences. Increasingly, students in public schools are exposed to informational media that is published digitally, and as such, they are often see traditional paper text as an archaic mode of communication. The following post offers some easy ways to re-think reading and writing assignments to boost student motivation and better prepare them for literacy in an increasingly digital world.

Writing Assignments

Writing assignments, as they have traditionally been employed in educational settings, focus on correcting writing  after the writing process, rather than providing sufficient feedback to students during the writing process itself.  Much of what students write in the classroom is also teacher centered in two manners. First, teachers often decide topics, genres, and other technical specifications. Second, feedback on student writing is based on a teacher’s innate preferences and dispositions regarding the use of written language, often despite undoubted attempts at fairness and objectivity. These facts, coupled with a decrease in student motivation, highlight the need for a serious reconsideration of how instructional professionals develop writing assignments and respond to student writing.

Students Need to Have Choice in Writing Assignments

Not all writing is the same, nor does it need to be. The teacher who sees only one solution to such a multi-sided problem is thinking in terms of “cans” and “cannots,” and not in terms of “hows.” Flexibility promotes experimentation, which is what we all want. Most English teachers would be ecstatic to see their students playing and experimenting with language for the sheer joy in creating something silly, or something serious, or something smart. So why not give them the opportunity? The means letting students, at times, choose both their topic and mode of response. Providing students with the opportunity to respond in multigenre form will allow them to practice writing styles that will better enhance their skills as strategic and independent thinkers.

Students Need to Publish, and Students Need Varied Feedback

In the digital world, there is no excuse to not share interesting writing and thoughts with one another. Social media broadcasts the minutia of millions of minds every minute and commands far more attention at any given moment than probably any other form of media in history. What does this say to a student whose essay has gone from her desk to your desk and back again? Sharing content is a vital part of being a digital author and also provides access to an almost unlimited source of feedback and criticism when used in conjunction with digital publishing forums. Publishing written work, whether it be in digital form, a school paper or literary journal, or in a classroom research conference, is an integral part of developing an identity as  a scholar and finding fulfillment in your work.

In addition to increasing student motivation  and attachment to a subject, physical and digital publishing forums often provide students with the most valuable commodity in their growth as writers: varied feedback. It is easy to figure out how one person thinks, what peeves them, but it is increasingly difficult to figure out what writing strategies will help you achieve your goals when a group of diverse individuals is your audience.

Good Teachers Provide Feedback That Is Critical and Cerebral

When responding to student writing don’t focus unnecessarily on mechanical errors unless they are detrimental to your comprehension of the student’s argument itself. Think of these grammar mistakes as something to explain later with manipulative sentence parts. Your response to student writing should provoke the student to think more critically. I like to offer logical counter arguments and ask them open ended questions (“How does fact X impact argument Y?”). This is your forum, as the teacher, to direct the student in the improvement of his or her piece of writing. Oftentimes, this feedback should be thematic and follow previous direct instruction. For example, after discussing the role of audience awareness when writing, you would ask one or two open ended questions about the student’s knowledge and understanding of her audiences on the next piece of writing you assess.