Promoting Social Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study of Ph.D. E-Portfolios

Promoting Social Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study of Ph.D. E-Portfolios

Walter S. Polka, Rachael J. Rossi, Tina M. Huber, Molly J. Oliverio
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6956-6.ch002
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Successful completion of a doctoral degree often depends on the support a candidate receives from faculty and classmates. e-portfolios are an application of social learning pedagogy that promotes collaboration among peers while simultaneously archiving an individual's academic accomplishments. In this study, 10 cohort groups of Ph.D. students at a small liberal arts university were tasked with creating and sharing an e-portfolio throughout their doctoral program. The doctors invited all current and former Ph.D. students to participate in a survey about their e-portfolio experience: a potential sample of 140 participants. Thirty-seven current or former students completed the survey. Fifty-six percent of the responses indicated a positive reaction to the e-portfolio project. Specifically, respondents stated that the e-portfolio project promoted an increased sense of self-efficacy, encouraged relationship-building within cohort groups, and helped students to develop their research agendas.
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The purpose of this chapter of the book, e-Learning Engagement in a Transformative Social Learning Environment is to provide educators with a case study of the evolution of student portfolios from fifty years ago to present time in higher education settings. The chapter focuses on the experiences and changes adapted by educators over time to accommodate the interests and needs of students as well as to incorporate contemporary technology formats to pedagogically sound constructivist approaches that promote authentic individual student reflections and sustained social interactions in ever-changing educational settings. The theoretical framework of this chapter consists of a synthesis of key components of social learning advanced by Vygotsky, constructivist principles promulgated by Dewey, and reflective practices advocated by Bandura.

This chapter includes a personal narrative by an experienced educator who has used various forms of student-centered portfolios in numerous courses at higher education institutions since the 1970s. At that early stage of portfolio development, educators began discussing and demonstrating the use of specific student course portfolios at conferences and workshops throughout the United States. They advocated that employing such student-centered activities results in improvement in both interpersonal and intrapersonal communications because when students and teachers express background information about themselves and their personal values as they begin to create an authentic community of learners who understand and genuinely care for each other (Polka, 2002).

This chapter also explores the impact of improvements in technology which resulted in the second-generation of more sophisticated digital portfolios that extended the capability of this student-centered approach to better capture and document student and group learning. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, student portfolios began to include various digital images and artifacts as technology became more ubiquitous and more user-friendly as documented in a 2011 research study at the case study institution (Polka, Latorre, & Rossi, 2013). Digital portfolios became more popular in education as the processing and storage power of computers increased and so did the digital mindset of higher education students. Educators recognized the expanded opportunities and short-term as well as long-term value that digitized portfolios provided to the learning process for individual and group evaluations as well as supports for increased structured social learning in classrooms and for program assessments.

The current applications in the evolution of the student-centered portfolio are also presented in this chapter as reflected in a recent research conducted about the existing digital portfolio requirements at the case study site. The changes in experiences and applications of portfolios highlight the comprehensive capacity of e-portfolios to provide extensive documentation, retrieval, and presentation assistance to advanced higher education students in order to demonstrate their evidence of competencies to embark on their own research agendas and analyze information. This e-portfolio stage is marked by an increase in both the personal recognition of the intrinsic learning value of the portfolio product as well as the extrinsic social learning benefits associated with the process of developing, displaying, and sustaining e-portfolios by both students and professors.

The research conducted at the end of April, 2021 at the case study site elicited the perceptions and experiences of Ph.D. students who completed their program of studies or are currently progressing in their program of studies. The results of this study are used by the researchers to highlight the current social learning and self-reflective advantages of e-portfolios and to recommend future projections for their use of e-portfolios as key individual and social learning tools in the continued transformation of teaching and learning in our global village.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Student Self-Reflections: Individual self-talk and thoughts about previous experiences with people, things, and ideas.

Research Agenda: Individual or group projections of projects or activities of the future related to studying people, things, and/or ideas.

Course Portfolios: First generation of student developed course specific collections of thoughts, values, and reflections of learning experiences placed on paper or manilla folders.

Values Clarification: A systematic approach to facilitate discussions about personal views related to people, things, and ideas in the micro or mega contexts.

e-Portfolio: Current generation of student developed program specific collections of thoughts, values, and reflections of learning experiences placed in an electronic format for ease of display and access.

Program Requirements: Expectations and assessments for completion of curriculum study.

Relationship Building: Developing high-touch interactions with colleagues based on mutual respect, trust, and honesty.

Student Interactions: The experiences between students based on topics of mutual interests and needs.

Digital Portfolios: Second generation of student developed program specific collections of thoughts, values, and reflections of learning experiences placed in an electronic format for ease of display and access.

Student-centered Learning: Teaching activities designed with the individual interests and needs of the student as primacy.

Self-Efficacy: Personal belief in one’s ability to complete tasks.

Qualitative Study: A research study that involves collecting data from individuals using personal interviews or open-ended questions that require participant responses.

Learning Setting Ambience: The climate or “feeling tone” in traditional classrooms or in online courses.

Constructivism: A philosophical approach to teaching and learning based on the needs, interests, and experiences of the learner.

Software Programs: Digitally based materials that enable users to create, investigate, or evaluate people, things, and ideas under investigation.

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