An example of Student ePortfolio from Ntxhee Yee Thao

Are ePortfolios Right for Your Students?

Are ePortfolios right for your course? Spoilers: we think so. ePortfolios (web-based managed collections of artifacts or ‘evidence’—here of student learning) are one of the Association of American Colleges and University’s (AAC&U) 11 High Impact Practices (HIPs). ePortolios, and assignments tied to their creation, often fulfill a number of the eight key characteristics of HIPs. Most importantly, ePortfolios also help students integrate their learning and make connections between other HIPs.

Different types of ePortfolios help articulate how students must consider different audiences when demonstrating their learning. You can also blend them together for a customized student experience. You might do a course portfolio, a programmatic portfolio, or introduce students to the idea of a developmental or professional portfolio demonstrating their progress over time.

ePortfolios for Reflection & Assessment

Using ePortfolios for learning and reflection encourages metacognitive connections between skills, assessments, and learning outcomes. Reflection, which can be done either publicly or privately, can take many forms within a portfolio. When reflection is built into the assessments that may become artifacts of a portfolio, students will have already done some of this reflective work, making it easier for them to draw connections between and among course work.

Example of student portfolio from Cheynne Ver Voort
Example of student portfolio from Cheynne Ver Voort

Kris Vespia, Associate Professor of Psychology, adds mini reflections to the end of some assessments which ask students to write a few short sentences about the skills they learned while working on the activity, how they see themselves using these skills outside of the classroom, and which learning outcomes they see this activity or assessment fulfilling. Later, if a student takes Kris’s Psychology senior capstone course, they can use those assessments and reflections they’ve been accumulating to produce a programmatic portfolio. These portfolios contain artifacts of learning from across their educational careers that meet the Psychology departmental learning outcomes. The Psychology programmatic portfolios are intended for a public audience, so each item includes a short paragraph describing the artifact and the skills demonstrated through its creation. Here is one example of a student’s programmatic ePortfolio from Dr. Vespia’s capstone course.

After a few semesters, this project has given the Psychology department some very strong assessment data from which they can draw. Might your department or program benefit from a similar practice?

If assessing such a thing seems like a heavy lift, consider that the AAC&U recommends aligning ePortfolios with the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) and the General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs) to articulate explicit connections between student learning outcomes and the work they’re doing. This may afford instructors and programs the opportunity to utilize the AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics as a starting point for assessing ePortfolios as an authentic assessment which can be particularly challenging to assess at scale.

ePortfolios for Professionalization

Example of student ePortfolio from Andrew Ransom
Example of student ePortfolio from Andrew Ransom

ePortfolios and a curated digital identity can help students demonstrate their abilities to integrate their learning across disciplines and feature digital literacy competencies making them marketable to employers and graduate schools. Portfolios are central places where collected work publicly shares the formation of career readiness. The process of creating a portfolio allows students to practice discussing the academic work they’ve done in multiple contexts and for multiple audiences. In this and other ways, a portfolio can better inform graduates for when they enter the job market as evidenced by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). While NACE is somewhat proprietary, you can get a feel for the sort of competencies they’re after—all boxes ePortfolios help check—by looking at results such as these (in this case from California University of Pennsylvania).

If this is of interest to you, feel free to expand the list below for details on some skills closely associated with ePortfolio work.

One thing that will likely influence students' success, whether they are continuing their education past their master’s degree or entering the job market right away, is their comfort level with computers, applications, software, and social media. Employers often have some unrealistic or misaligned expectations for new hires who are just leaving college—they assume that because students use technology and social media in their personal life, they’ll understand how to use it for professional purposes, too! This is assumption is often incorrect, but an ePortfolio project can help give students some experience with using technology for professional purposes. By creating a portfolio, students can also start thinking about their professional digital identity, which has become crucial in a world where networking on sites such as LinkedIn is instrumental in finding a job.

Digital Technology is #4 on the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) list of 8 core skills for career success. Employers are looking for candidates who have demonstrated competency in existing digital technologies and the ability to adapt to new and emerging technologies. 

Learning how to use a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, which is one of the tools that we recommend using for creating an ePortfolio, is another skill that students can add to a CV or résumé. Even though students may not imagine themselves using website builders or CMSs in the future, they may find that these skills will still come in handy. Ask your colleagues—some of them are even asked to add things to our campus websites using a CMS called Kentico in order to fulfill public posting requirements for grants!

Career Management is #7 on that list from NACE: The ability to identify and articulate skills, strengths, and experiences in a way that's relevant to the position students desire is a skill that a portfolio can help students develop because they can practice thinking and describing projects and assignments to different audiences; proficiency in exploring and pursuing job options and the ability to self-advocate in the workplace can stem from this kind of practice.

Explaining how projects and assessments from undergraduate and graduate academics apply to skills listed in a job posting is one of the things students will likely be asked in an interview. Students might want to express how they could potentially grow into that entry-level position by sharing the skills they’ve cultivated in a project that indirectly relates to their field of study.

Communication is #2 on that NACE 8 core skills and competencies list: the ability to articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in both written and verbal contexts. Think about how appropriate it would be to be able to share how courses, course work, and projects from undergraduate and graduate careers can apply to the skills in a job description. Creating a portfolio is basically practicing those interviewing skills so that students have some vocabulary and examples to pull from directly.

Getting started with recommendations for students

Getting started with an ePortfolio project or assignment can sound like a daunting task, but it’s not so bad if we keep in mind that what we’re really after is helping students collect and describe the work they’ve already done. The list below summarizes some of the key considerations to start with.

As an instructor, you can guide students in this process. You can also use the structure of your course to establish baseline groupings—e.g. “Theory, Research, Practice.”

Ask yourself: what patterns are you seeing? Hopefully your work is at least linked by your major, minor, and/or emphasis. How might you articulate these patterns using portfolio sections, categories, or pages? 

Don’t forget about group work. Are any of these projects the result of group work? If so, you must get permission from your team members to share the work publicly (if that’s your plan). It might be necessary to redact or remove other student names from the work—but don’t mischaracterize or pass off their work as your own. Alternatively, feature only the sections you’ve worked on by yourself. In your portfolio, you’ll need to articulate how these are a part of a larger project. 

Who is your portfolio for? Peer reviewers? Instructors? Employers? Graduate Schools? If you want a public, web-indexed portfolio, consider choosing a medium like WordPress (see below), Wix, Weebly, or Google Sites.

As an instructor, make it transparent what you anticipate students will do with their portfolio. Is it just for this class? Do you intend for it to go beyond the course? How will this influence the way you have students engage with it as a medium?

As an instructor, this is a great first assignment for ePortfolios.

Write a résumé or CV. Make a “web safe” version if you’re making a public portfolio so that it doesn’t have your home address or phone number on it.

Meet with Career Services for feedback!

Each time you finish a paper, project, grant proposal, or other artifact that you’re proud of, save it somewhere (see Collect your work and think of how it fits together above) so that you can add it to your portfolio. A you make progress, you can also add it directly to your portfolio if you’ve already started one.

As an instructor, consider how your existing assignments might fit into a scheme suitable for a course or program-level portfolio.

Claiming a UWGB Subdomain & Installing WordPress

One way students can create an ePortfolio is by building a UWGB-hosted WordPress website in which they can add pages, images, documents, and other educational and professional artifacts. This starts with claiming a UWGB web domain and installing WordPress. The steps for doing this are available in this document.

Below are some examples of student portfolios built in this way:

Stay in touch.

Have you or your program used ePortfolios in the past? We’d love to hear about your experiences. What tips do you have for other instructors starting out with this sort of assignment? Or perhaps you’ve never used ePortfolios before, but are thinking about incorporating them into one of your courses—what questions do you need answered to get started?

Drop us a line via email or comment below!

If you’re interested in beginning a portfolio project in your course, request a consultation with CATL and one of our team members will get back to you about how to get started if you would like some guidance.

 

Up and Running with Remote Group Work

A Case for Group Work

Group work can elicit negative reactions from instructors and students alike. Often enough, students groan about doing it and instructors dread grading it. The process is ripe for communication breakdowns resulting in stress from both perspectives. On top of this, the digital learning environment tends to compound these issues. Why then is group work so prevalent?

The answer is that, when done well, group activities help foster engagement and build relationships. Collaborative work helps students develop important skills like effectively articulating ideas, active listening, and cooperation with peers. Collaborative assignments correlate strongly with student success positioning them as one of eight high-impact practices identified by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Making group work a worthwhile experience for students requires extra consideration and planning, but the positive gains are worth the effort.

Designing Group Work for Student Success

How can we design collaborative activities that are a quality learning experience for students? Scaffolding makes sure students are confident in their understanding of and ability to execute the activity. UW-Extension has created a helpful guide on facilitating group work that outlines three key suggestions to get you started. First, be sure students understand the purpose of the activity, in terms of what they are supposed to learn from it and why it is a group activity. Second, provide support so students have the necessary tools and training to collaborate. You are clear how and when students are to collaborate or provide suggestions. You ensure students understand how to use the needed technologies. Finally, providing opportunities for peer- and self-evaluation can alleviate frustrations of unequal workload by having students evaluate their own and their peers’ contributions. As challenges arise, guide groups toward solutions that are flexible but fair to all members. When embarking on group projects, be prepared to provide students with guidance about what to do when someone on the team is not meeting the group’s expectations.

One example of this as you design your group projects is to ask yourself whether it’s important students meet synchronously. If so, how might you design the project for students with caregiving responsibilities or with full-time or “off hours” work schedules? These students may not be able to meet as regularly or at the same time as other students. See below for how this might play into assessing the group project. You might also consider whether all students need to hold the same role within the group, or if their collective project be split up based on group roles.

Consider how the group dynamics can impact student experiences. Helping students come up with a plan for group work and methods of holding one another accountable promotes an inclusive and equitable learning environment. Consider any of these tools to help your students coordinate these efforts:

Assessing Group Work

Equitable, specific, and transparent grading are crucial to group-work success. The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence of Carnegie Mellon University has a great resource on how to assess group work, including samples. This resource breaks grading group work down into three areas. First, assess group work based on both individual and group learning and performance. Include an individual assessment component to motivate all students to contribute and help them to feel their individual efforts are recognized. Also assess the process along with the product. What skills are you hoping students develop by working in groups? Your choice of assessment should point to these skills. One way to meet this need is to have students complete reflective team, peer, or individual evaluations as described above. Finally, outline your assessment criteria and grading scheme upfront. Students should have clear expectations of how you will assess them. Include percentages for team vs. individual components and product vs. process components as they relate to the total project grade.

Tools for Working Collaboratively

Picking the right tool among a plethora of what is available is an important step. First, consider how you would like students to collaborate for the activity. Is it important that students talk or chat synchronously, asynchronously, or both? Will students share files?

The following suggestions include the main collaboration tools supported at UWGB. Click to expand the sections for the various tools below.

If you are interested in learning more about any of these tools, consider scheduling a consultation with a CATL member.

Canvas discussions are one option for student collaboration. Operating much like an online forum, discussions are best suited for asynchronous communication, meaning students can post and reply to messages at any time, in any order. If you have groups set up in Canvas, you can create group discussions in which group members can only see one another’s posts. You can also adjust your course settings so that students can create their own discussion threads as well.

If you’ve never seen VoiceThread, imagine a PowerPoint presentation in which students can leave audio, video, and text comments on every slide. It is a great tool for virtual presentations, as students can pre-record narration for slides and then embed their projects in Canvas pages, discussions, etc. to share with the rest of the class. Keep in mind however that it may take students longer to grow comfortable with VoiceThread than a tool like Canvas discussions or Office 365, which they may already be familiar with using.

Office 365 refers to the online Microsoft Office Suite, including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Students can work collaboratively and asynchronously on projects using online document versions of any of these software, which updates changes in nearly real time. Microsoft Office 365 has partial integration with Canvas, allowing students to set up and share Office documents from within Canvas using the Collaborations feature. Students will have to log in to Office 365 through their Canvas course before they can use most features of Canvas and Office 365 integration.

Collaborate Ultra is one of two web conferencing tools supported by the university, the other being Teams. Collaborate Ultra has full integration with Canvas, meaning students can access meetings and recordings from within a Canvas course. As such, it is generally easy to for students to access and use. One downside to Collaborate Ultra is that it is a purely synchronous meeting tool, so students will have to coordinate their schedules or find other ways of including members that may not be able to attend a live meeting.

Microsoft Teams is a collaboration tool that combines web conferencing, synchronous and asynchronous text communications (in the form of chat and posts), and shared, collaborative file space. Students can create a new team in MS Teams for their group project or operate in a channel of an existing class team. Microsoft Teams also has partial integration with Canvas, meaning students and instructors can create and share Teams meeting links within the New Rich Content Editor of Canvas (in pages, announcements, discussions, etc.).

Putting It into Practice

When we ask students to work collaboratively, it’s important we reveal the “hidden curriculum” by building in the steps they should take to be a successful team. As a starting point, asking students to answer these questions helps clarify the work of the group:

  • “Who’s on the team?”
  • “What are your tasks as a group?”
  • “How will you communicate?” (Asynchronously? Synchronously?)
  • “How will you ensure everyone can meet the deadlines you set?”
  • “If or When someone misses a meeting, how will you ensure that everyone has access to the information they’ll need to help you all complete the project on time?”
  • “When will you give each other feedback before you turn in the final assignment?”

For a ‘bare bones’ group assignment, take the above considerations on designing and assessing groupwork into account and create a worksheet for the student groups to fill out together. Create a Canvas group assignment to collect those agreements, assign it some points that will be a part of the whole project grade, and set the deadline for turning it in early so that students establish their plan early enough for it to benefit their group. Scaffolded activities that give students enough structure and agency is a delicate balance, but these kinds of guided worksheets and steps can help students focus their energy on the project, assignment, or task once everyone is on the same page.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Do you have some tried and tested strategies for helping students coordinate and complete group work online? Send them our way by emailing: CATL@uwgb.edu or comment below!

Modalities Guide

In order to help instructors plan for teaching in Fall 2020, CATL has a few guiding questions and suggestions based on models circulating in the educational development community, but contextualized to fit with what we have the capacity to do here at UW-Green Bay. This document assumes that a fully face-to-face course with no digital or online complement is not feasible in our context.
View the Guide Here