E-portfolios have clear links with learning, teaching and assessment of learning, but benefits also exist for institutions, especially where the vision for e-portfolios is part of a wider strategy to promote lifelong learning, widen participation or to embed learner-centred pedagogies.
From a data management point-of-view, the integration of e-portfolio systems within and across institutions and organisations can also bring significant benefits. Taken from Beetham (2005), these include:
- Rationalisation of administrative processes, particularly in the areas of learner records and assessment management
- Enhanced provision to individual learners, due to better information about their needs and preferences; personalisation
- Enhanced selection processes, due to better information about individuals’ achievements
- Credibility for learning opportunities and programmes offered, through participation in a recognised framework for recording achievement
- Improved organisational research, quality assurance and planning through access to richer information about learners.
"Any unexpected benefits? Well, yes, I think we would agree that actually using the e-portfolio has given staff the confidence to try other forms of technology, for instance audio files to give feedback to their students or linking their PebblePad blog with their Facebook. So they’re beginning to experiment more and feel probably a bit more comfortable with the technology…"
Sarah Chesney of the Blossom Project at the University of Cumbria
E-portfolios: some key benefits for institutions
- Supporting the admissions process
- Helping learners reflect, to develop their self-awareness and autonomy
- Development of skills as required by institution or professional body
- Presentation of achievements and skills to a third party
- Enhancement of self-confidence, self-esteem and motivation among learners and tutors
- Widening participation
- Alumni – opportunities for long-term relationship.
Source: EELLS final report
Models of implementation
As with any e-learning initiative, moving from small scale pilots and funded projects to wider implementation involves careful management. Some of the key factors that should be considered are identifying what is appropriate and sustainable, aligning curricular practice, managing potential risk factors and preparing for future developments.
When it comes to implementation, the most important question to be asked about e-portfolios is not ‘What system should we adopt?’, but rather ‘What do we want to achieve, and who with?’ Taking the learners as the starting point remains sound policy, since the needs and requirements of target groups should be the driver behind an initiative.
Approaches to engagement of users by implementation of appropriate tutor/mentor training and student support materials is important. The EPICS-2 project surveyed students from a wide range of undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes at Newcastle University on their engagement with e-portfolios. Results showed that those with the highest engagement had, in comparison with their less engaged peers, a higher understanding of the purpose of the e-portfolio and how it is used on their programmes as well as a higher reported incidence of references by teaching staff to the e-portfolio. Source: EPICS-2 final report, page 18.
If centrally managed and linked to institution-wide provision, such as tutorial programmes, awareness of an e-portfolio initiative is likely to be greater and take-up more rapid. However, the imposition of a compulsory initiative does not ensure the commitment of practitioners and learners. In contrast, implementation that is demand-led can result in more effective and fruitful outcomes, although these may emerge in a piecemeal rather than a uniform way. Making the e-portfolio system applicable and relevant to different subject disciplines is another aspect of the challenge.
The e-Portfolio Implementation Toolkit provides some guidance for Senior Managers. It includes different implementation approaches, key issues and effective practice, together with an eight point summary guide.
"Having a central service for e-portfolios that is open to all students enables students to take the initiative. It doesn’t have to come from their academic programme. It enables you to reflect on your journey, what skills you have acquired. It enables you to practice how you represent those to others. That’s what employers value.
"There are a number of reasons for having a centralised service for e-portfolios. Professional courses such as medicine and nursing need e-portfolios. Then there is the employability agenda which generates a much wider need for e-portfolios. However, there is no mandate to adopt e-portfolios here; just because we have provided a central service, it does not mean everyone has to use it. Medicine and veterinary medicine their own integrated curriculum with an e-portfolio product built into it. We have a service for the majority of the institution but not necessarily for everyone.
"We have accepted a piecemeal incremental and steady rise in the use of e-portfolios, finding courses and individuals that are interested and working with them to build confidence. Moving from ad hoc use to an institution-wide initiative is the issue now. We work with individual courses to help them redesign or extend. It is important that any use of e-portfolios is an appropriate one. All our experience shows that such an initiative will fail if forced on anyone."
Professor Jeff Haywood, vice principal, knowledge management
Establishing an e-portfolio culture
Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs), or in-house staff development units, arguably offer the most sustainable and effective routes to embedding change in culture and practice across an institution, since these foster, rather than insist on innovation. Other steps to embedding an e-portfolio culture include appointing a senior manager champion, developing a peer mentor scheme to support practitioners new to e-portfolio-based learning, providing online support for new users, and emphasising the advantages of e-portfolios to practitioners and learners, focusing, for example, on the potential to develop learners’ employability through their reflective writing skills.
e-Portfolio adoption in learning and teaching is likely to increase if practitioners are themselves using reflective e-portfolios for continuing professional development. The Flourish project explored how e-portfolios can be used to embed CPD practice in the University of Cumbria’s teacher training programme and support the appraisal process. Blossom, a related project looked at similar practices of using e-portfolios to support staff CPD across the HE sector. A successful small scale project in areas where there is a clearly defined need also helps to create momentum – early adopters can then become mentors to others (ePISTLE Guidelines 5: Use and Non-Use). However, the single most powerful incentive is the commitment of senior managers.
The resource implications of staff development particularly in terms of time and support need to be considered. Tutors are more likely to engage with and be enthusiastic about e-portfolios (Stefani et al, 2007; ePISTLE Guidelines 3: Transition) if protected time is made available to them. Adoption of e-portfolios is likely to develop at different rates across the institution (Barrett 2004). Raising awareness of the potential of an e-portfolio tool as well as pedagogic benefits are factors in adoption, for example, in the FILE-PASS project the tutors did not realise for some time that the e-portfolio could store visual materials. The value of IT support and skills development is further investigated in the Choosing, Implementing and Embedding section of these resources.
Collaboration: the role of a community of practice
'The overall approach was collaboration, collaboration, collaboration among the regional Universities and FE Colleges, and within these groups among learning technologists, educationalists, administrators, executives, managers.'
EPICS final report P.4
Collaboration between providers on a regional basis over the delivery of Personal Development Planning (PDP) and development of e-portfolios has already been explored in the JISC regional pilot projects. The EPICS project, for example, found that establishing collaboration across the partner institutions was essential for the project to deliver a critical level of uptake of connected services. An outcome of the project was the establishment of a regional PDP/e-portfolio forum and online community of interest in the North East of England to take forward issues in this area and better realise lifelong learning in the region.
Similarly, the RIPPLL project has shown great potential for collaboration that exists between technical information and communication technology (ICT) staff in higher education institutions (HEIs) and their counterparts in colleges in the same region, focused by the issue of interoperability for student progression. Face-to-face contact and the pooling of expertise proved highly productive in terms of ensuring the success of the project. This cross-institutional model has been expanded by Leap-Ahead, the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire Lifelong Learning Network.
Networks which foster dialogue, debate and discussion between different practitioners within as well as outside the institution can play an important role in successfully developing and embedding an e-portfolio culture. In the ISLE project, tutors identified the creation of staff networks and discussion fora as a key aspect of e-portfolio implementation. The CAMEL model provides a tried and tested framework for developing a community of practice both within an institution and between different partners.
Data issues and managing technology
Reduction of risks associated with legal issues or academic misconduct is essential in a successful e-portfolio implementation. The first line of defence has to be embedding digital literacy skills into the day-to-day practice of both learners and academic staff. See the Legal Issues section for further guidance in this area.
The technological and information management aspects of implementation are complex and have been explored and highlighted by a range of projects. These cover issues from access, authentication and storage of e-portfolio-related data to interoperability. Pages within the Choosing, Implementing and Embedding section of this infoKit explores these issues in more detail.