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Business Officer Magazine
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Enhancing E-Portfolio Effectiveness

The online collection of a student’s work adds an emphasis on reflection for deeper understanding of what the student is learning.

By Karla Hignite

More than 50 percent of students in higher education are exposed to e-portfolio at some point during their college experience, says Bret Eynon, associate dean for teaching and learning at LaGuardia Community College, a leader in e-portfolio-intensive institutions (see also "Powering Up the Mind" in the July-August 2014 issue of Business Officer). The Catalyst for Learning: ePortfolio Resources and Research Web site is part of the Connect to Learning project led by the Making Connections National Resource Center at LaGuardia Community College, which Eynon oversees.

Created by 24 campuses in the Connect to Learning project, this site provides data, practices, and strategies showing how e-portfolio can advance learning, deepen pedagogy and assessment, and support institutional change.

E-portfolio is essentially a collection of a student's work made available on the Web, and it builds on a longtime tradition within certain disciplines where students produce a body of work, explains Eynon. What e-portfolio adds is an emphasis on reflection—what a student thinks about that body of work and the learning that went into it. "Studies show this is a crucial step for integrating deeper understanding," notes Eynon.

E-portfolio also provides flexibility for incorporating a wider range of work-including art, articles, research papers, visual representations, movies, and anything else that can be supported by a digital universe. Because it lives on the Web, e-portfolio provides an opportunity to add to it from anywhere and for anyone else—friend, professor, or potential employer—to view it as well.

Benefits for Institutional Outcomes

"Part of why we developed this Web site is that while use of e-portfolio is growing, there remains significant confusion about how to do it well," says Eynon. Many institution leaders and faculty members need models and guidance to make e-portfolio more effective, he adds.

For instance, faculty need to help students use e-portfolio in meaningful ways. This isn't so much a technology question as it is a question of how best to help students reflect on what they are learning, says Eynon. "Effective teaching that incorporates reflective learning is key." And this requires appropriate professional development for faculty as well.

Second, data show a huge difference in the impact of e-portfolio when it is shared, says Eynon. "If this is purely an archive where students put assignments, it won't do much to extend learning." Conversely, compiling content throughout a semester and sharing it with other students who can comment on the material within a social media structure has shown to generate a lot of excitement on campuses that are using e-portfolio in this way, notes Eynon.

A third factor contributing to the success of e-portfolio is when it is incorporated in a comprehensive manner. "At LaGuardia, we use e-portfolio for our institution outcomes assessment. This provides a huge difference in terms of the power of e-portfolio when everyone understands its importance and supports its use," says Eynon.

"When e-portfolio is seen as a tool to enhance student, faculty, and institution learning and is reinforced at multiple levels, this helps the institution itself develop as a learning organization."

KARLA HIGNITE, Ogden, Utah, is a contributing editor for Business Officer.