'E-portfolio processes and tools for organisation and communication support the learning outcomes of students with a wide range of abilities. Learners also develop ICT skills through using these tools, thus achieving curriculum outcomes through purposeful activity.'
‘Impact of e-portfolios on learning’, Becta study (Hartnell-Young et al 2007) P.4
Learning processes fundamentally underpin the creation of any portfolio, as well as being a strong institutional driver. The creation of an e-portfolio involves one or more processes which can employ and develop a range of learning skills which are shown in the PLTS framework below.
This model, based on the Kolb cycle of experiential learning, illustrates a process of continuous reflective learning, promoted and sustained through contact with others.
It focuses on skills sets which enable young people to be more adaptable and effective learners and which employers and higher education want to see developed. Six skills ‘groups’ are identified: independent enquirers; creative thinkers; reflective learners; team workers; self managers and effective participators.
Capturing and storing evidence
Learners record evidence for development or presentation either gathered in the research process or as they progress. Evidence might include ideas, photos, videos, coursework, feedback, formal achievement records. Selection is an important process – not all evidence may be relevant and there may be technical limitations to the amount of data stored (see section on Access, Authentication and Storage).
In the myWORLD project, a group of Visual and Performing Arts students at the University of Brighton recognised the benefits of using e-portfolio for collecting, storing and organising work. In some ways, they preferred the emphasis on this process rather than simply creating a CV, for instance.
The WoLF project has gathered interesting data about the use of PDAs by Teaching Assistants to capture evidence within early years environments. There was then the opportunity to share as a group. One student had mobility, visual and auditory challenges and found that using the device added value to her learning experience.
The ePet e-portfolio is used at The University of Newcastle in both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in dentistry. Several time a day students enter data regarding consultations self-grading. Vast amounts of clinically rich data are stored and this is later used in self-reflection and available for tutor feedback. One drawback highlighted in the project evaluation is the patchy nature of WiFi in a clinical setting and using a PC can be off-putting in an open clinical area.
Reflection is a critical process which supports the creation of an e-portfolio.
The process can lead to deeper learning through self-reflection and the outcomes inform planning, goal-setting and future reflection. Reflection develops a range of skills which underpin personalised learning including self-assessment and critical thinking.
Reflection can also be a collaborative process. Tools supporting reflective practice include blogs and wikis which can be drawn together with other forms of evidence into an e-portfolio to provide a holistic picture of the individual learner.
The University of Bradford, Midwifery Lifelong Learning uses an e-portfolio for whole course reflection, not just by module.
"I find the virtual web-folios of my development as a student midwife invaluable, and a great tool for reflecting on my learning process at university. Not only will I be able to use them in the future, for example when applying for job applications, but I will also be able to read back through my development as a student midwife in years to come (without the worry of losing a hard copy, which may have the corners curled back from over reading!)."
Student story, Amy Cowling1
The FILE-PASS project noted ‘All students involved in this project have found the writing of blog entries to be a useful process in expressing their thoughts and feelings on a variety of issues and experiences.’ (Final Report, p11).
Giving and receiving feedback
As part of the collaborative process, tutors, peers and other audiences give feedback to the individual learner which can support both formative assessment and assessment of learning. The learner can in turn provide feedback to support peers. The evaluation of the Kent PLPP project showed that learners valued receiving regular feedback about their progress but expressed disappointment that tutors did not maximise the learning portal for this purpose.
'Some students could see the way they had changed over the internship and the contribution of writing reflections and the impact of feedback.'
Massey University, Australia
Planning and setting goals
As a result of reflection and as part of the reflective process, learners are able to see gaps in their experience and achievements and match these with opportunities.
They can then start to plan and set goals, e.g. planning for assessment, guiding future learning and career aspirations. This enables the learner to be realistic about their objectives and to plan longer term. The process can develop organisational skills and aid motivation. Tools could include e.g. electronic calendars and blogs.
In the ISLE project, NQ2 Performing Arts students at Ayr College created an e-portfolio to record their current and future career and study plans. Students recognised the value of the process to help plan for the future and timetable their lives more effectively.
Collaboration and feedback are part of a social learning process which centres on communication and can support assessment for learning. The process can involve learners, peers, tutors, employers, parents and can be cross-institutional. The VLE provides a platform through discussion forums as does an e-mail system, blog, wiki or social networking tool.
The advantage of an e-portfolio is that it can potentially aggregate the evidence acquired from these tools in the process of collaboration. Evidence shows that collaborative learning through e-portfolios is more common in a primary school or professional context than at FE/Secondary level (cf. Becta research). Older learners can be reluctant to share personal information and experiences with others.
However, mature learners in the FILE-PASS project were particularly receptive to collaborative activities: ‘The use of e-portfolios with this learner group (mature learners) resulted in a greater appreciation of collaboration and collaborative learning.’ This illustrates how e-portfolios can be collaborative as well as personal working spaces. We’d also recommend reading through the ELP case study.
Presenting to an audience
As well as being part of the learning process, presentation is the key purpose of creating any e-portfolio.
Learners can present the products of learning in different ways for different audiences (e.g. tutors, peers, careers advisers, employers, admissions officers, parents) and purposes (e.g. for assessment, UCAS application, job application, showcasing work).
The process of presentation also involves learners representing themselves. The processes of reflection, goal-setting, collaboration and feedback, for instance, can increase confidence and self-motivation to enable learners to better get across their skills and achievements.
From the FILE-PASS project, it was clear that the ability to promote their own work and publish to the internet was very motivational for learners (FILE-PASS Project Appendix 2). However, learners may find developing a promotional e-portfolio challenging because they have to present an integrated representation of themselves from their personal and professional lives (Cambridge 2005).
- 1 A Higher Education Academy essay competition winner (2009) entitled ‘What is your experience of using technology as part of your learning process? Please explain both the benefits and any pitfalls you have encountered.’