It is easy to think of electronic portfolios in terms of a folder in which to store information. However, this is a too narrow definition of the term in relation in a didactical context. Otnes (2002) argues that “the notion of a folder is diverse, and is connected with both a form of learning and a form of evaluation” (p. 176, my translation). From this definition we see that it is way more than a dusty drawer in which to stuff paper documents. As a form of learning, one should emphasise that electronic portfolio work is a process, and students may edit and rearrange continually. Yancy (2001) suggests that the process of portfolio work is a process of collection, selection, and selection, as my title also indicates. In order to get a better grasp of how this works, I would like to use my own blogging as an example. In the EDU3084: Digital Competence course, we practice electronic portfolio work by using WordPress as a working portfolio displaying our learning processes and text productions. The threshold for publishing should remain low, albeit the texts should aim to be related to an educational related theme. As the collection increases, there comes a time when the students are asked to select the work they are most proud of, or the work that is most related to a given exam task. The students, then, most significantly reflect on their selections in order to exhibit a higher taxonomical level. This work is included in a production folder which functions more as summative assessment at the end of a course. The working portfolio is, by contrast, a dynamic and interacting unit (cf. Otnes 2003, p. 87). Barrett calls these for “Learning (Formative) portfolios” and “Assessment (Summative) portfolios” respectively.
Yancy (2001) argues that open electronic portfolios (e.g., PLE), or open with restrictions (e.g., LMS) could enhance the learning processes: “First, precisely because they make learning visible, portfolios allow both faculty and students to focus on learning in a new way. Portfolios bring together visibility, process, and reflection as students chart and interpret their own learning” (p. 19). Since peer-reviewing is not only accepted, but welcomed, students can freely comment and support one another’s learning processes. A challenge, however, could be those of plagiarism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “plagiarism” as “to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas” (Merriam-Webster, 2014: “plagiarism”). While plain copying and pasting is somewhat more or less easily detected, using another person’s ideas as if it were your own ideas is something much more problematic as it is very broadly defined. A peril might be that exemplary students might underperform in open and visible portfolios in fear of being plagiarised. Luckily, re-blogging is a helpful feature that credits the author’s work.
What distinguishes electronic portfolios from analogue portfolios is, according to Otnes (2002) that they make use of media-specific features such as multimodality, interactivity, and hypertextuality (cf. Schwebs and Otnes, 2001). Pictures, audio samples, video files, and other semiotic resources can be utilized to the maximum. Students can also communicate by chatting and commenting. The process of reading a text is altered, considering the amount of hypertext. Students can link pages to words, sentences and pictures, so that readers can explore more carefully some aspects of the text than others.
For those of you that are still in doubt whether or not electronic portfolios, e.g. by blogging, is a good idea for your class, there is today a lot more freedom of choice in terms of privacy settings than just a couple of years ago. WordPress allows you to publish privately, as well as publicly. In that way, you can control the students’ text before they are published publicly, if that should be in your interest. For the lower levels and ESL classes, this could be helpful strategy to get rid of those typos. Still, an important feature of the electronic working portfolio is that you can at any time edit and update published work.
(Student producing text for an electronic portfolio in the classroom. Flickr – Brad Flickinger)
Barrett, H. (2001). Electronic Portfolios. In: Educational Technology: An Encyclopedia [Online]. Available at: http://electronicportfolios.com/portfolios/encyclopediaentry.htm [Accessed: 01.02.2014]
Otnes, H. (2002). Skjermbaserte fellestekster. Digitale mapper og hypertekstskriving. In T. L. Hoel & S. R. Ludvigsen (Eds.), Et utdanningssystem i endring. IKT og læring. (pp. 175-189). Oslo: Gyldendal.
Otnes, H. (2003). Arkivskuff eller læringsarena? Lærings-og dokumentasjonssjangrer i digitale mapper. In O. Dysthe & K. S. Engelsen (Eds.), Mapper som pedagogisk redskap. Perspektiver og erfaringer. (pp. 85-112). Oslo: Abstrakt forlag.
Schwebs, T., & Otnes, H. (2001). Tekst. no: sjangrer og strukturer i digitale medier. Oslo: Cappelen/LNU.
Yancey, K. B. (2001). Digitized Student Portfolios. In B. L. Cambridge, S. Kahn, D. P. Tompkins & K. B. Yancey (Eds.), Electronic portfolios: Emerging practices in student, faculty, and institutional learning (pp. 15-30). Washington, D. C.: American Association for Higher Education.