Using ePortfolios to Integrate and Assess Learning across the Curriculum

Using ePortfolios to Integrate and Assess Learning across the Curriculum

Catherine M. Wehlburg
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9577-1.ch030
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Students who are able to make connections across academic courses and co-curricular activities are often excellent students. They use skills to transfer knowledge from one context to another and benefit from this integration. Not all students do this without being taught. Using ePortfolios allows for learning to become visible across time and learning situations. This benefits students by allowing them to see and reflect on learning over time. And, because student learning and the resulting reflections are documented, others can see the student learning as well. Faculty mentoring can influence this process, guiding students through the reflection process and the creation of a learning ePortfolio that is a richer and more meaningful reflection of all that occurs during a student's time in higher education. In addition to the benefit to increase student learning, the technology used in ePortfolios can provide for a better assessment of student learning across an institution.
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If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. —Antoine de Saint-Exupery



Most institutions in higher education have broad and far-reaching mission statements focusing on goals such as “problem solving,” “critical thinking,” “lifelong learning,” and “global participation.” These are quite laudable and worthwhile aims, most certainly. However, knowing when and even if students reach these goals is a very difficult task. More often than not, university mission statements are seen as a philosophy or a vision of what students could and should become. And, to make matters even more difficult, many students may not even be aware of their institutional mission statements.

Added to this mix of problems, is the issue of public and legislative discontent with the system of higher education. “Colleges and universities, for all the benefits they bring, accomplish far less for their students than they should. Many seniors graduate without being able to write well enough to satisfy their employers. Many cannot reason clearly or perform competently in analyzing complex, nontechnical problems, even though faculties rank critical thinking as the primary goal of a college education” (Bok, 2006, p. 8). And Derek Bok is not alone in his critique of the failings of higher education. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (2011) have questioned whether or not students are really gaining much at all through their college years. How is it possible that this can be happening given higher education’s focus on these goals? Perhaps a part of this problem lies in the fact that our mission statements are grand and aesthetically beautiful, but extremely difficult to measure and to determine if the institution is truly doing what it states it will do for student learning. “Organizational inertia, the assumption that students are meeting the academic goals espoused in mission statements, and a lack of external pressure to demonstrate learning have all contributed to a failure systematically to measure and evaluate students’ gain in higher education” (Arum & Roksa, 2011, p. 17).

New technologies and a renewed focus on student learning can help to change this downward spiral. Indeed, accountability measures are becoming integrated into many university systems as they become essential pillars in the accreditation process of U.S. institutions. “Accreditation has long been a topic likelier to make eyelids droop than to inflame passion. But after years of quiet neglect from policy makers, it was thrust into the spotlight during the second Bush administration, when then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and a national commission she appointed sought to use accreditation to crank up accountability on colleges and universities” (Lederman, 2012).

With accountability and assessment becoming ubiquitous on college campuses, assessment professionals have been searching for ways to meaningfully gather data on student learning that will not overwhelm faculty and students in terms of the time that is required to gather and analyze those resulting data.

Key Terms in this Chapter

ePortfolio: A digitized collection of artifacts including demonstrations, resources, and accomplishments that represent a student's efforts, progress and achievements in one or more areas.

Transformative Assessment: The use of assessment to improve and enhance a program or institution.

Assessment: A systematic and ongoing process of gathering and interpreting information in order to find out if an educational program is meeting established objectives and then using that information to enhance the program.

Institutional Effectiveness: The systematic process of measuring performance against stated goals and missions at all levels of an institution.

University ePortfolio Mentor: A faculty or staff member who supports and directs student work in their ePortfolio in order to manage learning.

Reflective Learning: The process of internally examining and exploring an issue of learning, often across several learning experiences, which creates and clarifies meaning.

Accreditation: Official certification that a program or university has met specific standards of quality.

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