Online portfolios make learning visible at ASU

By

Margaret Coulombe

What do an Arizona State University-Starbucks business student in Washington state, a sustainability research collaboration in Germany, and seven English classrooms on the ASU Tempe campus have in common? 

All took part in an online portfolio pilot project — ePortfolios hosted by Digication — undertaken to boost student learning and outcomes across a range of ASU learning environments.  

Although the use of portfolios as part of the learning process isn’t new, “the shift to an online, multimodal vehicle for expression has added new dimensions to online, hybrid and classroom learning, assessment and curriculum development,” said Katherine Heenan. Heenan is a lecturer with ASU writing programs in the Department of English; senior lecturer with Barrett, The Honors College; and co-led the pilot project with professor Shirley Rose. 

“By making their writing visible to the public online, to an audience that extends beyond a teacher or other students, students are much more invested in their work,” Heenan said. “The ePortfolio can also be directly linked to career development and job applications after graduation.” 

Jessica Bishop is in the first year of a bachelor’s in business sustainability through the ASU-Starbucks program. A barista with a prior degree in fashion design, she hesitated to leap into a career in creativity without developing some business acumen. 

“Having my work public was initially intimidating,” Bishop said. “But I found having to critically think about my work through the lens of learning outcomes and ‘habits of mind’ was quite valuable. I learned how to include secondary sources in my work, something I had never had to do before, and the process helped me see my areas of opportunities as a writer as well as areas where I excel.”  

Bishop’s ePortfolio, developed for Writing 101 with ASU Writer’s Studio instructor and clinical assistant professor Michelle Stuckey, reflects her learning journey through creative-writing reflections and intimate photo essays.

“There is no better way to have a student or educator understand how much a student has learned than this approach,” said Duane Roen, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences and dean of ASU’s University College. “No test can measure all the learning that a student has done. An ePortfolio is evidence across a range of file types — video, audio, photo — of what an individual can do. As university instructors, we should all be engaged with the public; ePortfolios are part of being connected with the greater world. Powerful stuff.”  

ASU senior James MacDonald agrees. A transfer student, he will complete his bachelor’s in political science with a minor in sustainability next May. He developed an ePortfolio as part of a three-semester, hybrid classroom experience with Leuphana University in Germany. One requirement for this global classroom was development of a shared research project and publication of an academic research paper. 

“I’d never done research before or had long-distance collaborative learning experience. Using this tool, I was able to stretch myself in new ways and show my academic progress,” MacDonald said. “The added benefit was that my partners in Germany and I could formulate the best approach to writing our academic paper, critique and review our shared progress directly through the online interface.” 

ASU ePortfolio pilot, which started in 2013 with 300 students and one program, has added nearly 10,000 accounts just this fall as it transitioned into a standard tool for more academic units and classrooms. The tool is also being used by American Indian Student Support Services to support Native American students outside the classroom. 

An added benefit to expanded use of ePortfolios is that faculty members can assess the effectiveness of their curriculum and whether the outcomes for each course are achieved. In the Department of English, writing programs’ students and teachers also compete for Exemplary ePortfolio Awards for their projects.

Additionally, the thousands of student ePortfolios already in progress provide an archive of student writing for faculty research purposes, noted Heenan, who created her own ePortfolio

Bishop, however, points to much more personal rewards of this learning process at ASU:

“Instead of writing to only fulfill the requirements of the class, I wrote to fulfill myself. Everyone in my family is making sacrifices so I can pursue this endeavor. Going back to school has been hard, but I am forever thankful and very humbled by this gift of education. The values I am instilling in my three kids through my hard work and determination will be something that they will carry with them forever.”

For questions about ePortfolio at ASU, contact Christopher Sheehan: ePortfolios@asu.edu.