ePortfolios: UNIV 201

Self-Regulation and Academic Integrity  

“[Students] were able to say how their learning throughout the course had been connected, but also how it connected to other stuff, whether it was their personal engagement in the community, their disciplinary work or their academics” – Robin Mueller

Background

Dr. Robin Mueller piloted the course UNIV 201: Global Challenges Inquiry in Winter 2017, through the Taylor Institute of Teaching and Learning (TI). It was an inquiry-based, problem solving course centered on the question “How will we feed 9 billion people by the year 2050?” The course was offered to first-year students from across faculties. There were two sections of the class, each with 10 students. More about the class can be found in the course syllabus or in this article from Utoday. Dr. Mueller and her team at the TI developed the course and decided to experiment with unique assessment methods, such as replacing a final exam with an ePortfolio project. Click here to read about the Structured Controversy assignment used in this course.

Strategy

ePortfolios are online collections of learning created by the learner. Students build a blog-style website and document their learning in the course and beyond it by posting assignments, independent study, reflections and other demonstrations of their knowledge and skills. An ePortfolio is an ongoing project that builds as a student progresses through a course or program. The University of Calgary has an ePortfolio platform that students can use to build their profile.

In the Global Challenges course, ePortfolios were required to include revised versions of each assignment and reflection completed for the class, as well as evidence of learning that the student provided independently. This evidence could take any form, from articles to advertisements, as long as the student was able to explain and discuss its significance. Students were also asked to use their ePortfolio to connect the various elements of the course to one another, as well as to their life outside of the course. Making these connections and being asked to demonstrate their learning in an online format forced the students to be reflective on what and how they were learning, as well as how that learning applied to and was used in their daily lives. Here is the assignment description and rubric that Dr. Mueller used.

Challenges and Successes

Dr. Mueller admits that she was surprised at how hesitant students initially were towards the ePortfolio project. She notes that there was a lot of intimidation towards trying out a new technology. The support of the ePortfolio team at the TI was used extensively as the students adjusted to working on the platform. With the guidance of the TI team, the difficulties were worked out and most students gained the confidence they needed to be successful with the project.

Creating an ePortfolio is an effective way of making connections and allowing for high level demonstrations of learning in post-secondary courses. It does require a significant amount of effort to implement, as the students did require a lot of instructor and technological support. The project also has to span the length of the course to ensure that students have time to build and make connections in their ePortfolio. Students also need to be motivated to work on the project throughout the semester. “You can’t make an ePortfolio in a day” says Mueller, who notes that underwhelming performance on the project by some students was likely the result of them leaving it to finish at the end of the term.  She says that in the future, she will allot more class time for ePortfolio work sessions, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Dr. Mueller is an advocate for the use of ePortfolios in higher education. She has created supporting resources that explain their function and implementation further (found here and here). She says that when implemented correctly, with a lot of student support, ePortfolios can be one of the most valuable projects for students.

-Ashley Weleschuk