I drafted reviews of the sessions I attended and will post shortly but for now here is a summary of what I concluded were the ten key components to a successful campus wide, sustainable e-portfolio program. They are listed in no particular order — they all are critical components. With even one missing I believe the whole initiative can go sideways.
- Peer advisors / mentors — These are students, usually paid, that have the role of helping to get fellow junior classmates up to speed with developing their e-portfolio, from technical questions to career direction help (in cooperation with the careers department). Some schools have peer mentors focused specifically their e-portfolio initiatives; whereas, others have them with a more general mandate of peer success mentors. In this case, they help with students in all aspects of getting up to speed with student resources on campus, offering advice and leading to improving student retention. These programs are not ad hoc but are well thought out, well-resources, ongoing year over year initiatives.
- Partnership with the career centres and student services — Yes, a key part of portfolios is reflection but where many students see the value (and it is supposed to be their e-portfolio, right?!) is as a tool to help them make the transition to a good, related job or grad school.
- Partnership with IT — A common phrase is “it’s not about the technology, it’s the pedagogy”. While the feelings behind this one are likely correct, the “e” in e-portfolio is critical and without a robust, well supported e-portfolio platform of some kind, then the initiative is dead in the water. Students and faculty need to know that they will be supported in the long term so questions like “what will happen to my e-portfolio after I graduate” must be answered clearly. This support can come from an external vendor (a number of schools at the conference for example were using digication) or it can be from internal IT support (a number of schools were using self-hosted WordPress installs). In many cases, it involved support from both an outside vendor and internal resources.
- Program Leadership — Although I mentioned there was no particular order to these elements, if they were in order, this one should be at the top. There needs to be someone that understands e-portfolios and the implications on pedagogy beyond just the areas directly touched by the e-portfolio itself (i.e. a whole new way of structuring courses and assessment, a modernization of the university itself or as the conference proposed a re-bundling of higher education). This leader needs to be ideally full time or at least a decent release time. It may be worthwhile for this leader to still have a few sections teaching active and connected to students in the classroom.
- Executive Buy-In — e-Portfolios are not another pet project or tech flavour of the day. If done right, they can be the heart of an institutions pedagogy, student recruitment, student retainment and success after graduation. It is important that those in charge of allocating resources give sufficient budget to the e-portfolio initiative or it will be guaranteed not to succeed, never to get beyond constant “pilots” without legs. In the successful portfolio schools, the President and the VPs get it.
- Systematic Scale out Strategy — There needs to be a plan for how to integrate students entering the University that already have portfolios (possibly can even use as part of the application process), how to get first year students all developing their initial portfolio (e.g. all students in English first year course), how to get all graduating students having a top quality portfolio that they get feedback on from industry and how to integrate e-portfolio use between start and finish… in years two and three.
- Faculty PD — There needs to be a way of engaging a new group of faculty each year to help them re-design their courses to be more portfolio enhanced. It’s not enough to just “add another thing” to a course. The course must be redesigned with some things taken out before new things are added. This is not a trivial process and requires a multi-year training approach. Faculty must model the portfolio activity they want their students to do. There also needs to be PD funds for faculty to attend e-portfolio conferences and events to hear what is working at other schools. There are so many good ideas and research out there that we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. We just need to find the best practices that work for our University and context.
- Tools and Resources — There are a lot of good tools to help faculty and students develop portfolios. It would be good to have an online module that brings these tools together in a cohesive way. This would take some pressure and workload off faculty that want to use e-portfolios in their courses without having all the heavy lifting of being an expert in so many areas (e.g. creative commons licensing, privacy, digital literacy, sourcing quality picture, deciding on appropriate content for an audience, etc.).
- Student Involvement — This one should be a “no-brainer”. If students really “own” their e-portfolios, they need to be involved. e-Portfolios must be authentic. This means a student should have choice. While it’s highly recommended to have a campus platform that is well supported for portfolios, if a student wishes to use a different tool or approach this should be encouraged as long as it is done in a way that the faculty can still assess the portfolio as needed (e.g. having some way of categorizing projects that are showcased). Students should have a reasonable amount of flexibility in the content of their e-portfolio posts and where we do require them very specific instructions, they should have the ability to after the course or after they graduate to hide or delete what they don’t want. They should be able to easily export their content to different tools. We need to get student feedback in our whole e-portfolio program. What do students like? What do they not like? At the same time, we can’t just blindly offer whatever students say they want. We need to use the expertise we have and the resources from this list to provide the best possible learning experience for students.
- Campus Wide Vision — The magic of e-portfolios happens when there is a cross-disciplinary, campus wide initiative and not just a collection of separate program-based portfolios. This makes it possible for discovery of student talent, for the creation of cross-program student teams, for the co-operating of faculty from diverse areas. With the components 1-9 above, this campus wide vision is possible. Without this, e-portfolios are likely to be just a series of never-ending “pilots” that never reach the potential for helping students take their learning and their progression after school to another level.
e-Portfolios have been around for decades and yet there are still few examples where their transformative power is clearly evident across an entire campus. Where colleges and universities have accomplished this, the positive impact is immense and even defining (e.g. Laguardia, Alverno).
The good news is here at Capilano University, we already have many of the success components above, perhaps even close to having all of them. We have had many years of pilots in multiple program areas, large investments in money and time already such as the Ministry of Education grant received a few years ago. We have had some of the largest e-portfolio implementations in Canada if not globally and some of the earliest implementations going back all the way to 2005 if not earlier (e.g. the School of Business adoption of the Alverno approach to assessment). Some programs like Animation and others have been using ePortfolios from the very beginning of digital tools being available.
We have a unique team of people with deep knowledge not just with e-portfolios but with the underlying heart of e-portfolios, the power of reflection that is integrated into learning. e-Portfolios could be a defining characteristic at Capilano University, something that attracts students here, something that keeps students here and something that ensures their success upon graduation.
This AEEBL event was inspiring for me because the schools around New York in my opinion but also I think many others agree have been at the forefront of e-Portfolio practice. They have implemented e-portfolios for decades, learned what works and what doesn’t, what is required for success (e.g. student peer mentors), they have pushed the available software platforms to be improved to truly work for an educational context and they have generously shared their lessons learned with the world.
It was also inspiring because hearing from all the presenters at the event, I realized how well Capilano University is positioned to truly leverage the learning magic of portfolios since we already have a number of the success components well developed.
We really owe it to our students to re-bundle higher education so that it is relevant for the modern world we live in.