Why Electronic Portfolios?
Portfolios have long been used by educators as tools to foster critical, interconnected learning. The growth, expansion and use of multimedia technologies as tools to augment the teaching and learning process, however, has had a significant impact on how we conceive of portfolios and how portfolios can be used to strengthen student learning outcomes. Many colleges and universities, particularly undergraduate, liberal arts institutions, are moving toward electronic portfolios (“eFolios”). Reasons are varied; the most significant have been identified in eFolio literature as the following:
An eFolio can be stored more easily than a paper-based portfolio, and in multiple locations. Students can bring their eFolios with them after graduating, and continue updating and revising, while also leaving copies with the school. The ability to reproduce and share multiple copies of an eFolio facilitates processes including peer review, revision, and assessment.
An eFolio can be produced in multiple iterations. For example, one version for a student’s major; one version to be viewed by potential employers; one version to be viewed by potential graduate schools. Revising and producing these multiple iterations fosters students’ critical thinking abilities by encouraging them to consider the different rhetorical demands of different audiences, contexts, and purposes. While this is also true of a paper portfolio, production and storage of multiple iterations in paper form is much more cumbersome.
Different Kinds of Work
An eFolio allows students to display and reflect upon achievements not conducive to presentation in an ink-and-paper environment. For example, an eFolio can include audiotapes (e.g. of a student speaking in a foreign language or conducting an interview); videotapes (e.g. of performances or presentations); artwork, charts, graphs, PowerPoints, or photos of poster presentations. This aspect of eFolios also provides a corrective for the verbal bias usually perpetuated by paper portfolios, which is helpful both to students working in non- or low-verbal modes (e.g. through artwork, performance, formulae, or laboratory experimentation) as well as students with disabilities, whose strengths may be in areas other than writing.
Connections Among Parts of the Portfolio
An eFolio makes explicit the connections between the different parts of a student’s education. While a paper portfolio exists primarily in sequential form, an eFolio can exist in various shapes which demonstrate the interdisciplinarity of a student’s learning experience. More importantly, the interconnectivity of an eFolio encourages its student-author to recognize and present the “story” of her learning process by asking her to compose the most appropriate shape and linking system for her eFolio.
Connections between the Portfolio and the Larger World
In addition to demonstrating connections between parts of a student’s learning experience, an eFolio also encourages students to make links between their work in college and communities outside of the college campus (e.g. through volunteer work, internships, organizations relevant to their research, travel and study abroad, presentations at conferences).
Composing eFolios digitally enables students to develop what Cynthia Selfe has called “technological literacy” but which is now more commonly called “critical digital literacy.” By critical digital literacy, we are referring to the ability to navigate as a composer/user, not merely a receiver. In recent years, an enormous shift has been brought about by the widespread and often transparent entrance of digital technologies into our schools. Teaching for critical digital literacy aims to educate students who are not merely consumers of digital technologies, but authors and critics of such technologies as well. In order to do this, students (and the faculty teaching them) must make a fundamental shift: rather than seeing digital technologies as something alien and difficult, and/or as the facile addition of “bells and whistles” to otherwise unchanged processes of composing, we must understand digital technologies as a complex network of culturally-laden practices, assumptions and beliefs.