E-Portfolios and assessment of reflection

Grant (2005, p.1) states that the term ‘e-portfolio’ is “notoriously confusing” and makes attempts to define how we should use term. He begins his report with 3 distinct definitions:

  1. First, a CV type system whereby the student uses an eportfolio to showcase their work; similar to an art/design portfolio used to demonstrate competence to a client or employer. LinkedIn, it may be argued, fits this definition.
  2. The second, a system used by a learner as a tool to enhance their own understanding through reflection. Commonly used within teaching and medical training practices.
  3. The third use of the term is a public or private system in which assets are stored for retrieval and sharing; I use Evernote for this purpose to store digital data and notes.

I would like to discuss the 2nd definition as described by Grant and in particular the validity of assessing personal reflections within an eportfolio learning tool. The Wordpress blogs used within our MSc TEL are a good example of this approach, however when this work is prescribed as a part of a course, it does raise the question “should reflection be assessed?” (Roberts et al., 2005, p.7). Formally assessing this process may lead to students feeling uncomfortable when writing personal remarks on their learning journey, or may lead to this process being undervalued as it becomes just another part of the assignment.

I agree with Roberts et al. that motivation is key. They state that an “eportfolio should be embedded in their everyday workflow in an attractive way. It is often the element of reflection that tends to be unappealing for students. Students need to have discretionary control over the time they spend on e-portfolios and must choose to engage voluntarily" (2005. p8).  Rather than assessing reflection as a required part of a course (which in my experience is the practice within teacher training), in order to encourage reflective practice, assignments could be set for the students to explore the value of reflection (much like this one) so that the value of an personal eportfolio system is internally embedded and therefore motivation becomes intrinsic to the learner. This requires a relinquish of control by the course facilitator in the methods by which their students learn, which may not always be the best approach as offering students autonomy to choose to use an eportfolio system may result in some learners missing out as “learners with less confidence and experience are recognised to need structured personal development opportunities” (Beetham, 2005, p.10) when it comes to eportfolio systems.

Mason (2006) argues that the use eportfolios is good practice, as this promotes self-directed learning, choice and a wide range of resources and that “these are all elements of course design that most adults appreciate” and even goes as far to state “these technologies were very successful for our students” (p.1) but fails to provide little supporting evidence and define by what measure they are a success. I feel further study needs to be done to ascertain whether students who actively reflect on their work actually achieve greater success (and by what measure). Whilst I do see the value of reflection, I find evidence is lacking to justify the time taken by students and teachers for this process, especially for formal assessment purposes. Without clear evidence, motivating learners to use eportfolio systems may be left to teacher testimonies of their value or prescribed elements of the curriculum enforcing their use. This, while encouraging student use of eportfolio systems, is never going to create the same desire of use as an internal belief to their value in supporting learning activities.

Beetham, H. (2005). e-portfolios in post-16 learning in the UK: developments, issues and opportunities. Retrieved October, 8, 2010.

Grant, S. (2005). Clear e-portfolio definitions: a prerequisite for effective interoperability. Proceedings of ePortfolio, 27-28.

Mason, R. (2006). Learning technologies for adult continuing education. Studies in Continuing Education, 28(2), 121–133. doi:10.1080/01580370600751039

Roberts, G., Aalderink, W., Cook, J., Feijen, M., Harvey, J., Lee, S., & Wade, V. P. (2005). Reflective learning, future thinking: digital repositories, e-portfolios, informal learning and ubiquitous computing. In Research Seminar at ALT Spring Conference. Retrieved from http://www.immagic.com/eLibrary/ARCHIVES/GENERAL/ALT_UK/A051118R.pdf