This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

Banner Advance Home Navigation Bar Advance Home Issue Index Read past articles Weekly Calendar

  October 18, 2004

Online Porfolios To Be
'Living Journals' For Students

E-portfolios are coming to UConn.

Beginning next year, all students at the University will have the opportunity to create an online portfolio to help them document their accomplishments, keep track of their progress, and market themselves to potential employers. A pilot was launched this semester.

Like its precursor the traditional portfolio, an electronic portfolio – or e-portfolio – is an organized collection of completed work; but it can include a far wider range of materials, including text, graphics, video, audio, photos, and animation. The e-portfolio also offers an array of opportunities for presentation, and can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

“The e-portfolio system will provide our students with the opportunity to collect and present their accomplishments in an electronic format,” says Fred Maryanski, interim provost. “It is important that our students be at the leading edge of technology when they seek employment upon graduation.”

Students will enter their own material through a form, in a range of pre-determined categories. There will be about 100 different items to choose from, including name, address, personal photo, cover letters, resume, academic experience, professional experience, and extracurricular activities.

Officials hope soon to introduce a direct connection to the PeopleSoft student information system, so grades and transcripts can be uploaded to the portfolio automatically.

Although e-portfolios are similar to personal websites, there are some important differences: first, they are easier to develop, and do not require knowledge of HTML or web page development. And second, access to various parts of the portfolio is controlled by the owner.

“The vast majority of students are not prepared to create their own website from scratch,” says Kim Chambers, director of the Instructional Resource Center, who has been instrumental in developing e-portfolios at UConn. “Systems like WebCT and e-portfolio are an easy way to build a website without having to learn HTML.”

Students will control not only which materials are in their e-portfolios, but also will decide what may be seen and by whom, by giving permission to particular individuals or organizations to access specified information.

“An e-portfolio is private until you ‘publish’ portions of it to the audiences you choose,” says Chambers.

Documenting Progress
Cynthia Jones, assistant vice president for student affairs and director of career services, who is chair of the steering committee for e-portfolios, says, “Students will be able to put information into their e-portfolios throughout their college careers. Currently, there is no one archival place for students to document academics and extra-curricular activities. With e-portfolios, students can see what they have accomplished in an organized fashion.”

Schools and colleges and departments may also weigh in on the contents of the portfolio, requiring students to include particular samples of work to demonstrate that they have successfully completed their program of study.

Chambers says e-portfolios will document students’ progress as they proceed through their University careers, and will be a powerful tool for advising.

Just as important, adds Jones, is helping students recognize their own growth.

“An e-portfolio is like a living journal,” she says.

Jones says e-portfolios will be a boon to graduates applying for jobs. She thinks e-portfolios will supplement rather than supplant written resumes.

“I don’t expect the written resume will go away,” she says, “but employers will increasingly want more information. An e-portfolio is a ‘living resume’ – it’s contextually rich, as opposed to the one-dimensional written resume. It brings added value to a job search.”

Preparing for Implementation
A pilot program was launched this fall, with several hundred undergraduate and graduate students participating. Apart from revealing the inevitable few bugs that arise with any new system, the pilot is raising important implementation issues, such as the amount and type of training the system will require.

“We’re trying to gauge the amount of training that’s needed and whether it should be mandatory, because students are so technology-savvy,” Jones says. “We’re realizing they may need conceptual training, rather than instruction in how to use the technology.”

Full implementation of e-portfolios is planned to begin in May, during
orientation for incoming freshmen. The expectation is that students will maintain their e-portfolios from orientation through graduation, and possibly beyond.

One of the issues that has not yet been decided is how long graduating students may maintain their portfolios after graduation. The main sticking point is space on the server.

“There’s a trend toward colleges’ providing e-mail for life,” says Jones. “Now there’s a question of whether colleges will provide e-portfolios for life.”

Although the focus is currently on launching the program for students, e-portfolios are expected to have important implications for faculty as well.

“The e-portfolio system permits faculty to interact electronically with students more fully than is now possible,” says Maryanski.

Not only will e-portfolios provide a new tool for faculty to review, reflect upon, and comment on student work, they offer many of the same benefits to faculty as to students. As a vehicle for storing and documenting accomplishments, they can be used in promotion and tenure reviews or when applying for another job.

Although e-portfolios will be optional, Jones says she hopes students will choose to participate: “It’s an extra way to showcase themselves.”

Ryan Shea, a sophomore majoring in management information systems who is part of the e-portfolio implementation and training team and helped launch the pilot, is enthusiastic.

“The idea of having an e-portfolio is very big with me,” Shea says. “A lot of what I do is on the computer. An art student may have a sculpture, I have a website. There’s no way to represent that in a conventional resume.”