Learners have varied responses to e-portfolios depending upon their previous experiences, attitudes to IT, independent learning skill level, tutor engagement and understanding of the process.
'The learners were well aware of, and able to articulate the potential benefits of using the e-portfolio tool. They saw one of the strengths of the system as the creation of a personal database, where they could collect together a wide range of information which would be accessible from any computer at any time, and from which they could choose to share some of the contents with others. They saw working in such a system as good preparation for the future in terms of producing a structured CV and developing IT skills.'
MYWORLD final report P.14
Jisc projects such as EELLS, MANSLE and FILE-PASS have explored with learners their perceptions of e-portfolios and their role in supporting learning, for example, the FILE-PASS project sought the views of ‘isolated’ learners about e-portfolios.
Learner engagement with e-portfolios
Research shows that learners like e-portfolios because they can:
- Be customised and personalised
- Be used to demonstrate their technical skills (Amber and Czech 2002)
- Be viewed by others including tutors, peers and potential employers. This ability to promote a learner’s work can lead to greater engagement and pride in the finished project (Aschermann 1999; Strivens 2006). In the FILE-PASS project, students liked being able to publish their work to the internet and found this highly motivating
- Include multimedia such as evidence captured through mobile phones
- Help with employability. For example, first year learners at Penn State University liked being introduced to résumé (CV) writing since it helped prepare them for work (DiBiase 2002)
- Provide a one-stop shop for all their work
However, learners’ responses to e-portfolios will vary and this may reflect:
- Cultural differences towards the e-portfolio and PDP (Personal Development Planning): ‘Many British universities include significant numbers of students from differing cultural backgrounds, both within and beyond the UK, at undergraduate and postgraduate level. … The different approaches to study, learning and even degree of focus on the individual, together with varying motives for undertaking study may be important influences on whether someone is inclined to use an e-portfolio.’ (ePISTLE report on factors affecting use/non-use of ePortfolios by learners, July 2006)
- Computer usage at work. The ePISTLE project found that learners who were already using computers in full-time jobs were often less inclined to want to spend further time working with a computer during their evenings
- Fear of who has access to online lifelong learning records. A group of learners as part of the PDP4Life (Personal Development Planning for Progression and Lifelong Learning) Project were concerned that lifelong learning e-portfolios would be ‘state-controlled’.
An example of where learner attitudes may differ is in sharing of materials. Some showed a positive attitude to sharing their promotional presentations through the internet (‘I have learnt about sharing presentations with others which is very useful.’ FILE-PASS) or sharing for feedback and support from peers and/or mentors (ePISTLE). The experience in the ISLE project, however, showed that there was greater reluctance to share personal reflections and a concern over who had access to their work. Similarly, learners in the MANSLE project were reluctant to allow public access to potential employers or educational institutions.
"… I found reflecting difficult anyway, just doing it in a diary and the thought of then publishing that… thoughts that (I) prefer to be kept private to be put on the web was a little bit scary to start with"
Student from the Helpp project on online reflection by foundation health and science route
Learner engagement with personal development planning
"…personal development and planning for life after university is not a priority for most students."
Learners may not always engage with PDP (Personal Development Planning) as the ISLE and Learning Matrix projects found. Learners in the early stages of their programme, particularly school leavers, may find it difficult to relate PDP to employment prospects.
This could be a reflection on education as a whole, which encourages specialisation at an early age and as a result, learners take ‘a jumping through hoops’ perspective on education to obtain their qualification and hence recording their learning through an e-portfolio is not something that seems immediately relevant to gain better marks for an assessment.
Robert Johnson from the University of Warwick reporting on a first year initiative to introduce PDP also had a mixed response with some students avoiding meetings with tutors rather than discussing PDP. Students would often want to know if PDP was assessed.
In contrast, mature learners are more likely to see the link between e-portfolio and employability and hence value PDP. Their life experiences may mean that PDP is more relevant to their studies and aspirations. Encouraging students to look at the ‘bigger picture’ of future careers would appear to require more focus at an earlier stage in the educational process. Quote from part-time engineering student as part of the HELPP project:
‘I’ve already started on my blogger site a little thing on my own life really, seeing what I actually want to do in the future so I’ve already taken ELGG and actually used it in my day-to-day life rather than just college because you’ve got to draw a line at College with what you’re going to comment on, and you know, what you’re going to comment on in other aspects of your life.’
PDP4XL2 Occupational Therapy students were encouraged to use the e-portfolio tool as part of Bournemouth University’s VLE (Blackboard) but they found that the tool did not support reflection and PDP but acted more as a repository. PDP4XL2 Learners at the Arts Institute engaged with the reflective aspects of PDP throughout their studies but were unsure if they would continue after completing their course due to the practicality of not having easy access to a computer. With regard to the design of e-portfolio tools PDP4XL2 project found that learners want easy-to-use systems that allow a multitude of file formats for the assets. They do not want to be restricted by templates. NHS employees are concerned about possible fraud and require assurances that the system is secure.
This is similar to the feedback from learners who used the University of Westminster e-portfolio system for study skills – learners who were nearer to completing their studies engaged more with the PDP elements of the modules whereas younger learners were more focused on assessment.
The second stage of the PDP4Life project, PDP4XL2 provides further information about learner attitudes in health and the creative industries to PDP.
The benefits of e-portfolios for learners
Some key benefits for learners
- Encourage reflective learning
- Aid personal development planning
- Promote self-awareness, knowledge, esteem and confidence
- Develop learner autonomy
- Smooth the transition between learning institutions
- Help with career progression, employability or further study
- Help learners to articulate/present their skills and achievements to third parties
- Help the learner become more independent and autonomous
- Help the learning process towards learning goals/achievements
- Instil in learners relevant professional attitudes and responsibilities
- Encourage learner-centred support from institutions
- Help learners articulate their strengths and achievements to an audience
For application to HE
"Students found the use of an e-portfolio useful in thinking about going and applying to university. They particularly liked recording and evidencing the skills they had which would be useful to include university application Personal Statement."
ELP case study 1
"So far when using the e-portfolio I have thought about decisions more and I question more things"
ELP case study 3
"It makes you more motivated and you look forward to applying to the course you want, so you feel more confident."
ELP case study 3
For application for employment
I would use it if I was looking for jobs abroad I would find it extremely useful to be able to write to Mondavi and say here’s my base CV, click on this link and you’ll learn much more about my experience… It’s a very good way of a) differentiating yourself because not that many people do it and b) not wasting time because somebody can have a better insight as to what you’re about.LEARNER AT FOCUS GROUP – MYWORLD FINAL REPORT P.16
If I’d come into it really fresh and I didn’t know what I was going to do and I knew I had a passion for wine but I wasn’t quite sure which way my personal skills were going to go I find doing this quite useful because it made me think about a much more structured way whether I was going to long term be happy in a vineyard or would I be happy in a winery.LEARNER AT FOCUS GROUP – MYWORLD FINAL REPORT P.16
Darren Cambridge’s research at Minnesota University in the USA found that educational planning was extremely important to the learners because:
"Their portfolios are expressions of both who they’ve been and who they’d like to be. Jeff, a graduate student and systems administrator, thinks of a portfolio as ‘a picture, a text picture of ones life, past, …current, maybe future, … where your dreams are, goals are.’ As well as representation of capabilities and aspirations, a portfolio serves as a ‘central repository’ of the author’s ideas and experiences on which he or she can reflect in making decisions about the future.
"Because eFolio ‘prompts [him] to look back,’ Jeff is better able to make informed choice about the future. ‘Once I look and see an overall view of all the different things, it is kind of directing me to hey maybe I need to look at different things in my career too, even my teaching."