Developing Your Program's Approach

Programs adopting an ePortfolio project benefit from a planning stage where they can map ePortfolio artifacts to objectives or standards then create or designate milestone assignments and reflective writing assignments to be demonstrated in the ePortfolio.

Mapping ePortfolio Artifacts to Objectives or Standards

To begin using ePortfolios for either a course or program, it is important to "map" the products that students create—i.e., ePortfolio artifacts—to specific objectives or standards. Course or program objectives describe what knowledge, skills, or attitudes that you want students to show they have mastered. By assigning projects that align directly with these objectives, students know what is expected and instructors know what to evaluate. When mapping artifacts to the objectives it is also important to think about the level of competency required. For example, asking a nursing student to write down the process for finding a vein and inserting a needle is a lower level of competence than asking that same student to demonstrate that he or she has actually done it (e.g., video clip, observation log written by supervising doctor or nurse in the field). Reflective statements allow students to describe how they feel when performing the skill.

Standards created by outside agencies, such as teacher credential agencies and discipline-specific accreditation bodies, often predetermine what skills and knowledge students need to show. You can still be creative with how students use an ePortfolio to demonstrate their competencies. You can also add components that the standards often do not require, such as reflective statements, leadership skills, and community-based activities.

Creating and Implementing ePortfolio Assignments

You and your students can be creative about how they reach particular objectives or standards. Questions to ask might include:

  • Is there one best way to reach this objective or standard, or can I give students a choice about how to reach it?
  • What skills will the students need in other classes in this program?
  • What skills will employers want to see?

ePortfolios provide opportunities to accommodate students' different learning styles and different learning needs. If possible, give students options regarding how they demonstrate skills and competencies. These options can be related to the format used or the content covered in completing the ePortfolio assignment. Examples of different formats to achieve the objective include writing a paper, giving and recording a presentation, or creating a video.

Many campuses are shifting away from "checkbox filling" to "intentional learning." While students must complete all the requirements for a class or program, it is also important for them to know why they are doing it and to make choices about classes or ePortfolio assignment topics that move them toward some goal. Asking students to write reflective statements about individual artifacts is one way to get them to thinkabout why they are doing an ePortfolio assignment and how itrelates to the class, the program, or their life goals.

Students must go through ePortfolio processes as well. You can help students by clearly defining what you want them to do for each ePortfolio assignment. Clear instructions that define your expectations go a long way. Give a clear overview of the ingredients that are required in the portfolio and a timeline for completion.

  • How long should the reflective statements be and what should they cover?
  • What types of artifacts are acceptable to show specific skills or to meet certain standards?
  • When is each portion of the ePortfolio assignment due?
  • How can you support students to write clear executive summaries of their projects?

Students sometimes wait until the last minute to complete an ePortfolio assignment, making the artifact less valuable as a way to assess their learning or to bridge to career. Consider breaking ePortfolio assignments into parts that are completed throughout the semester. For example, if the students have never seen the ePortfolio tool, schedule a date early in the semester for a presentation or workshop by staff or faculty supporting ePortfolio efforts on campus. Consider assigning students to provide peer review feedback a month before the actual final ePortfolio assignment is due, so the students will have time to address missing components or weak sections.

Notes about access to technology and Universal Design for Learning: When you create ePortfolio assignments, be sure to consider what technology students will need to complete them. If you want students to create a video, are there cameras for students to check out? Are there video editing stations for students to reserve? If you want students to create an artifact using specialized software (e.g., a statistics application like SPSS, a graphic editing application like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator), do any campus or college computer labs have that software available for students to use?

Universal Design for Learning:

Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, is an educational approach to make sure that every student has an equal chance to succeed. For details, see:

Reflective Writing within ePortfolios

Reflective writing is a key component of an academic ePortfolio and what separates it from being just a "scrapbook" or random collection of work. While each discipline will have unique directions for student reflections, we've found that the use of reflective prompts can be a good way to guide the reflective process.

Reflection demonstrates critical thinking about the class, readings or other materials, assignments and lectures. Each department will want to agree upon some reflective prompts to be shared with those courses that signature assignments will be collected from.

Other departments encourage faculty to use sample reflective prompts related to integrative learning:

  • What concepts/ideas/readings/theories or other materials will you carry away with you from this course?
  • Where are places that you can see your courses overlap?
  • How does the material/theme in one course relate to the material in another?
  • How have you grown as a student over the course of this program?

A reflection is not: a simple statement evaluating the course, the professor, or a re-statement of what the course was of what you did in it.