Doing E-Portfolios Right

As curricular approach spreads, composition professors adopt "best practices" statement.
March 26, 2007

Composition instructors have long been in the forefront of the idea of using portfolios to assess student learning. There are many forms of portfolios, but the basic idea is to have students assemble a body of work over the course of a semester -- and to have more emphasis on student progression over a semester than on any one paper.

"We've been the sites of portfolio culture," said Kathleen Blake Yancey, a professor of English at Florida State University and past chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. At the conference's annual meeting last week, it adopted a statement of "best practices" on e-portfolios, the next stage in the portfolio movement and one with some key changes for the field.

Yancey noted that there are real differences between print and e-portfolios that go beyond the fact that the former a in print and the latter online. For starters, she said that print portfolios have generally been "teacher driven" while the technology issues associated wtih e-portfolios make them more likely to be "institution driven."

E-portfolios also enable students to submit work that reflects their multimedia ideas. Doug Hesse, a professor of English at the University of Denver, said he has students who want to embed videos in their papers -- and he'd rather review the work online than read a description of a video.

The guidelines adopted by the conference -- soon to be available on its Web site -- revolve around a set of principles, and what those principles mean for faculty members, program directors, administrators, and technology staffs.

Many of the suggestions focus on having clear expectations and explanations for all parties: for students to know how the porfolios will be used, for faculty to know what institutional expectations are, and for technology divisions to know what will be required of them in creating and maintaining systems.

There are also some trickier issues raised in the best practices guidelines. Among the recommendations:

  • That administrators encourage "authentic" and "locally designed" assessment programs with the e-portfolios, rather than using the online nature of the portfolios to review work at many campuses in ways not designed by the faculty.
  • That various campus groups work together to define the appropriate privacy protections for work maintained in e-portfolios and that students be given a clear understanding of what portions of their e-portfolios may be generally available.
  • That faculty members help students with a range of issues that go beyond strictly curricular needs, such as how to reflect their multicultural identies in portfolios, how to use their portfolios to establish a "professional ethos," and how to adapt their portfolios for use in seeking jobs.



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