Recap: Curating Student Work in ePortfolios

 

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On Thursday, February 21st, faculty and graduate students from across CUNY got together over wine and cheese to discussing curating student work in ePortfolios. The evening marked the first of our two Open Pedagogy events this semester and drew faculty participation from departments like Communication and Design, Art History, English, and Biology. Each participant shared their concerns and hopes for student ePortfolios.

ePortfolios on the OpenLab are designed to allow students to create professional websites to showcase and reflect on their academic/ professional experiences. That said, providing students with built-in opportunities and guidance to curate their online work has not always been an obvious task. First, we might ask whose task it is: should it be the role of academic advisers, faculty instructors, or departments to work with students on their ePortfolios? To the extent that advisers, faculty, and departments are already doing this work, how can their efforts be better coordinated in service of guiding students in (dare we say?) the art of curating their work, reflecting on their City Tech career and academic growth, and transitioning, even, to building a professional portfolio they can share with employers? These were some of the questions animating the discussion.

We began by tackling the first of these questions: how and where to help students select their best work to showcase on their ePortfolios? Is the classroom the best space to do this? If that is case, then who should be providing students with feedback? Instructors only? Peers? Participants at the event shared some strategies. Some instructors set up detailed guidelines early in the semester, emphasizing to the class as a whole that seeming minutiae like Avatar images and usernames on the OpenLab can project an online image. They encourage students to think through how they would like to present themselves creatively, but thoughtfully. Others suggest to students that when coursework takes the form of public, multimedia writing-i.e. through blog posts and other reflective assignments-then the audience is not just the instructor grading the work: the audience is a larger online public.

Moreover, by reflecting in blog posts on their academic careers, students are writing for their future selves, giving themselves a record of their trajectories: milestones to commemorate and, yes, even early work to cringe at. Instructors hope in this way to equip students with a variety of perspectives, so that they can be the final curators of their own work. A challenge noted by participants was that advising sessions–which could theoretically be ideal spaces to guide students through curating an ePortfolio-are more often than not bureaucratic, demanding attention to administrative requirements such as course registration, rather than a broader vision for a student’s academic career. We wondered whether having more streamlined use of ePortfolios within departments might make ePortfolios easier to incorporate into advising sessions. Would this, we asked, lead to more robust portfolio use?

In the hard sciences, such as Biology, which are less writing-intensive, instructors wondered how they might effectively incorporate ePortfolios. Participants suggested having students blog to reflect on the ethical implications of experiments, as well as their own growth and challenges in learning scientific material. In photography courses, an instructor noted a more technical challenge: storage space-and limits- on the OpenLab! This is a broader concern for students whose coursework takes the form of larger files like images and videos. We noted that CUNY is hoping to soon offer unlimited Dropbox storage to students and faculty, which should be a good workaround.

A final question was when students should begin curating their ePortfolios? Are ePortfolios, which offer all of the affordances of open digital tools, best taken advantage of early in college careers? Or are they better saved for later, to avoid overwhelming students who are transitioning to higher education? Both perspectives were endorsed. Some noted that having students begin early gives them time to curate and look back at their work, if only to reflect on how far they’ve come and to select later, perhaps more polished, work to keep on their sites. It also improves buy-in from students to begin early, allowing them to gain familiarity with the digital tools of the OpenLab. Others argued for a more structured approach, streamlining ePortfolio use across classrooms, at least within departments, and easing students into the process. A long-term vision along these lines is to develop streamlined, but scaffolded ePortfolio assignments that help students iteratively build up their online presence.

Do your students use ePortfolios? Do you have ideas for how to help students with curation? Keep the conversation going by replying to this post and sharing your thoughts.

On a final note, folks interested in ePortfolios might want to take a look at the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning’s conference on ePortfolios, which will be held at Bronx Community College in New York City, July 15-18.

Here are a few additional resources and readings on ePortfolios that are worth a read:

This article highlights interdisciplinarity of using ePortfolios, which the authors contend is a critical skill for students to develop alongside critical thinking and transferring knowledge across fields. The appendices include assignments from General Education portfolio assignments in the author’s colleges.

  • Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “ePortfolio.” Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments. MLA Commons, 2016.

This resource explicates some basics and highlights creative assignments including ePortfolios.

The sample prompts included in this article are thought-provoking and gathered from CUNY-based research.

By thinking through the public online contexts of different types of ePortfolios, this article presents ways to use ePortfolios to develop digital literacies and tips for maintaining a professional online presence, including considerations of the specific needs of a digital format, architecture and design of a site.

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