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E-portfolios: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know

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Keynote presentation given with Peter Hartley at the Researching and Evaluating Personal Development Planning and e-Portfolio International Research Seminar, Nottingham, England, April 26, 2010.

Keynote presentation given with Peter Hartley at the Researching and Evaluating Personal Development Planning and e-Portfolio International Research Seminar, Nottingham, England, April 26, 2010.


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  • 1. E-portfolios: what do we know and what do we need to know? Darren Cambridge Peter Hartley
  • 2. This session: Work in progress!
    • Introductions
    • Aims to:
      • Offer a starting point in terms of overview and a potential future agenda.
      • Start the discussion – have we got it right? Have we identified the most critical issues?
    • Our approach: we did say this was work in progress …
    • Structure:
      • 20 things we think we know.
      • 10 things we need to know.
      • 10 suggestions for how we do it.
  • 3. Opening thoughts from us
  • 4. Opening thoughts from Gartner
  • 5.  
  • 6. What we know: about definitions and traditions
    • W e do not have an international (or even national) consensus definition of ‘e-portfolio’.
    • Different e-portfolio initiatives offer very different underlying assumptions, approaches and organisations.
    • Portfolios and e-portfolios do have a significant history of use and research base in certain contexts.
    • The interrelationship between reflection and evidence is central to practice in most mature contexts.
    • Across contexts, there are different ‘cultural traditions’ that affect both the adoption and uptake of PDP and e-portfolios.
  • 7. What we know: about impact on learning
    • Some students on some courses benefit significantly from learning activities, including PDP, which involve e-portfolios.
    • E-portfolio composition can improve student engagement and retention.
    • E-portfolio authors benefit from control over the organization and visual design of their portfolios.
    • The e-portfolio genre is especially valuable for synthesizing experiences across contexts, both academic and otherwise.
    • The e-portfolio genre can help learners cultivate integrated professional, disciplinary, and civic identities.
  • 8. What we know: about supporting learning
    • The role of the academic tutor is absolutely critical to the successful adoption of both PDP and e-portfolios by students.
    • Tutors use e-portfolios in very different ways.
    • Students’ peers can also powerfully support the effective use of e-portfolios.
    • Courses that offer multiple opportunities to document and reflect on learning are more likely to engage students.
    • Students are motivated by connections to intrinsically meaningful audiences for their e-portfolios.
  • 9. What we know: about institutional context
    • E-portfolio teaching, learning, and technology requires ongoing and long-term support from staff and the institution, including training and familiarisation.
    • E-portfolios have efficacy for certain types of assessment and evaluation.
    • E-portfolios are most effective when an articulated and coherent educational philosophy and mission guides practice.
    • Effectively implementing e-portfolios requires collaborations across institutional roles.
    • Eportfolios are disruptive: They require transformative change throughout the university to fulfill their potential.
  • 10. One organisational journey
  • 11. What we need to know
    • What are the long-term impacts of e-portfolio adoption and use?
    • Can we expect a single e-portfolio platform and/or process to suit every student (or even most students)?
    • What are the underlying psychological factors and processes which support or impede the take-up of portfolios?
    • How important is IT-confidence and skill?
    • How can we persuade/encourage reluctant tutors?
    • What are the most significant institutional barriers and enablers?
  • 12. What we need to know
    • How can e-portfolios be used for transition (e.g. between school and university, university and workplace, home and abroad, employment and retirement)?
    • How can e-portfolio assessment processes best capitalize on the distinct affordances of the eportfolio genre?
    • How can we understand and support the multiple audiences for e-portfolios (not just students and tutors)?
    • How can multiple technologies be used together to effectively support e-portfolio processes?
  • 13. How can we best research these issues?
    • We need more research on what students and staff really do (as opposed to what they tell us they do!).
    • We need more sophisticated philosophical and psychological analysis of different student and staff patterns of engagement with PDP and e-portfolios.
    • Can we use a broader range of methods and approaches, drawing on diverse disciplinary epistemologies?
    • How can we arrive at more shared methods and approaches so we can collate and compare data across institutions?
    • How do we/should we evaluate long-term impact?
  • 14. How can we do it together?
    • We need to find ways to link up research and practice across institutional, disciplinary, and national boundaries and across levels of education.
    • We need to find ways to connect our work to complimentary scholarly movements to improve teaching and learning in higher education.
    • We need to find ways to translate our findings into forms and forums that impact public policy
  • 15. And finally:
    • Collaborative models such as I/NCEPR and NARN offer promising models for connecting research and influencing practice.
    • So, how do we build on and consolidate this approach?