This summer at PCCC
we have been looking at tools and platforms for having students put their writing portfolios online into what many people call an ePortfolio.
We're not breaking any new ground with this project. Writing portfolios have a long history, and putting them online has been done for longer than there has been the Internet since people were using network servers at schools.
The first product we looked at is eportfolio.org, an obvious choice for us because it is a platform offered by the same consortium that we belong to for our eTutoring. We piloted it with a group of 20 faculty this summer and, unfortunately, they found it confusing to use and unattractive. Attractiveness shouldn't be a prime consideration, but that's what showed up in our surveys, so...
You get more interesting things with portfolio websites but the learning curve is steep. Here are a few from my students last fall at NJIT: Stephanie, Orna, Paul, Catherine and Sandra. My students are studying visual design and building sites is part of the course content, so it makes sense for them to create portfolio sites.
I don't think building websites will work for us at PCCC. Our students don't have the technology background, we don't give them server space, and we don't want the creation of the portfolio to outrank the creation of the pieces of writing.
Montclair State University (NJ) has been using Pachyderm which creates an attractive Flash site automatically from template choices.
Middlesex County College (NJ) has a homegrown portfolio product. It's also a template-driven website that they give students to use. (See eportfolio.middlesexcc.edu) I like the simplicity of the MCC solution, but I know that I can't expect PCCC to have the IT support to create such a tool. So that leaves "products."
What are we looking for in a portfolio for our small cohort of students this fall?
- IT support
- very simple user interface
- "starting place" (template) that works as is, but is also
- customizable if students wish to be more ambitious
- ability to upload files
- ability to scale over the next few years This fall, we will be working with 75 students, by fall 09 we will have 275 portfolios.
- some attractiveness
We looked at many products this summer from obvious ones like the portfolio from Blackboard, the new one in Moodle, PebblePad from the UK, Epsilen and Digication which has versions for K-12 and higher ed.
We actually started back in January looking at many of the sites bookmarked at electronicportfolios.org. (If you are starting down that path, this document from JISC may be helpful.) And a group of us attended a portfolio conference at La Guardia Community College (NY) last spring and were impressed with the wide adoption of portfolios they have with a similar student population to PCCC. They have a gallery of some "basic" portfolios online
And where are we now? The product we decided to use this fall is eFolioWorld from the Minnesota State College and University System. MnSCU assumed the role of managing partner for the ePortfolio software in 2007. At present, the eFolioWorld system supports the portfolio needs of their system and other non-MnSCU institutional and organizational partners. You can see some samples in their showcase.
There are many reasons why schools are asking that ePortfolios be mainatined - a record their educational progress, personal achievements, for institutional accountability, accreditation, for mentoring & tutoring purposes, to assess student competencies, and as career & professional showcases. It's not only students. Some schools ask teachers to maintain portfolios as part of the tenure process.
There's a nice group of eFolio examples from students in a Masters of Public Health degree program from San Francisco State University. These portfolios are used to monitor educational goals and academic achievements, with artifacts such as a professional mission statement, evidence of work across national competencies in public health, community-based and professional experience, and a culminating experience report.
Our own portfolio project is to follow students taken our first writing-intensive courses which launch this fall. Beginning with the incoming class of fall 2007, students who enroll at PCCC and intend to obtain an A.A. degree are required to take-and pass with a "C" or better two writing-intensive courses prior to graduation.
We define a writing-intensive course as one that incorporates discipline-specific writing extensively into the course, and the writing contributes significantly to each student's grade. The instructor uses writing assignments to promote the learning of the course content, as well as to increase the students' critical thinking and information literacy skills. Instructors use both formal and informal writing assignments.
In our Writing Initiative, we are designing twenty distinct Writing Intensive, General Education courses across the curriculum. These courses will be supported by an instructional development component that will collaborate with faculty in developing writing assignments for their courses, and students in those courses will be supported by the writing center that will open this fall.
It's an ambitious project, but the portfolio component this fall is only to get our first 75 students to create an eFolio, upload the writing from the writing-intensive class and then select a few pieces to showcase and write additional reflections on those pieces. At least half of our reasons for using the portfolios have to do with the program accountability and assessment we need for our grant. The other half of this is to pilot the portfolio process (more than a single product) for possible adoption by the entire college in the next few years.