Peer Review

From the Guest Editor

Recently, e-portfolios have become one of the most discussed innovations in higher education, even though the pedagogy has been around since the 1990s. I say “pedagogy” because, as the articles in this issue of Peer Review demonstrate, the real educational benefits of e-portfolios come from a set of pedagogical practices, not the technological platform itself. Across the country, e-portfolio initiatives are emerging on a range of campuses as digital communication becomes more commonplace in the lives of students, faculty, and institutions. This issue of Peer Review illustrates the multiple ways in which e-portfolios are being used on campus to enhance student success, as well as the evidence of e-portfolios’ positive effect on student learning.

Here are my own answers to some common questions posed about e-portfolios.

Why should higher education in general, or any of us in particular, pay attention to e-portfolios?
E-portfolios are technological tools that serve students, faculty, and institutions in multiple ways. Faculty can frame the contents and organization of e-portfolios to include course, program, and institutional learning outcomes, as well as the types and quantity of artifacts students include to demonstrate their learning toward those outcomes. Students can show their best work, including multiple drafts of their work as they develop and explore their learning as they work toward a final product demonstrating their achievement. Programs and institutions can have authentic evidence and examples of the level of learning demonstrated by their students for use in efforts to improve achievement and demonstrate accountability. The technology allows for capturing learning wherever it occurs (classroom, cocurriculum, community), in whatever mode it occurs (written, visual, graphic, oral, pictorial), and over time and space (single course, whole program, among and across multiple institutions).

What about the increased workload for faculty and students?
Initially, as with any new pedagogy, e-portfolios require time to learn. The great thing about e-portfolios is that the more an e-portfolio is owned by a student, the more valuable its content and processes become. Students do most of the work of constructing and maintaining their portfolios. E-portfolios can be presented as a medium for students to demonstrate learning that is valued by faculty and achieved through coursework and the cocurriculum, and that is relevant to career and graduate school readiness. Unless student learning through e-portfolios is integrated into the daily practices of an institution, it will remain a less effective strategy and be perceived as an add-on in student and faculty minds. The more an e-portfolio is part of the curriculum across courses and programs, the less work it becomes for faculty; it simply replaces current work with reconceptualized assignments and evaluations.

What have we learned about e-portfolios? What is the case for adopting an e-portfolio approach to learning?
This publication reveals emerging evidence from across higher education on the positive impact of e-portfolios on student learning. E-portfolios are an especially strong pedagogy for the increasing numbers of first-generation, second language, and traditionally underserved students coming to higher education—students who are sometimes less well prepared than traditional students. E-portfolio use appears to enhance retention and graduation. E-portfolios are associated with more student success with transfer from institution to institution. E-portfolios seem to be most effective when peer and faculty feedback through the e-portfolio is regular and focused. Requiring students to reflect on their own learning seems to equip students to internalize and integrate their learning in new ways that strengthen the whole learning process, connecting it to the various aspects of the students’ lived experiences beyond the classroom. In sum, many of the issues and criticisms facing higher education today can be ameliorated through embedding e-portfolios in the formal and informal experience of students as they move through their educational pathways.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has argued through its centennial LEAP initiative (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) that e-portfolios are one of the best technologies available to institutions of higher education and their students, as they seek the opportunities to resist the atomization and privatization of education in favor of more integrative and meaningful forms of liberal education—the forms of education that faculty and employers have repeatedly claimed are essential for success in college, the economy, and civic life. The articles in this issue of Peer Review help to illuminate at the difference e-portfolios already are making.

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