Monthly Archives: December 2012

ePortfolios in Theology:Using ePortfolios to Improve Student-Learning and Outcomes Assessment

Bryan Hollon is the director of the graduate program in theological studies at Malone University. He is sharing about his experience so far with ePortfolios in the Theology programs, both undergraduate and graduate, at Malone. Since Bryan wrote this for us in the summer, the Language and Literature department has also begun to utilize the digication system. We look forward to adding their experience with ePortfolios to the campus’ collective knowledge in the future. Take it away Bryan!… 

Introduction

The department of theology has spent a great deal of time, recently, discussing some of the strengths and weaknesses of our academic programs.  Although we are confident that our students enjoy good instruction by well-qualified professors, we realize that an education in biblical and theological studies can sometimes lack cohesion, at least from a student perspective.  That is, the curriculum in bible, theology, and ministry programs can seem, to the student, like a menagerie of introductions to disparate subjects, which employ different methodology towards different ends.

Although faculty members have a deep appreciation for the internal consistency of the various courses offered, these deep connections are not necessarily apparent to the average student. In light of these concerns, we have begun to explore ways to bring increased cohesion to the student learning experience, and we believe that implementing an assessment-driven ePortfolio program will help us achieve this goal.

What is an ePortfolio?

Learning Portfolios are educational tools that students use to collect, highlight, and reflect on course work and other educational experiences acquired while working towards completion of a degree.  An electronic portfolio (ePortfolio) is a digitized version of the learning portfolio that allows students to publish their work on a computer or online and share it with various interested parties such as:

  • Professors – who will evaluate ePortfolio artifacts (documents, videos, etc.) to assess student learning
  • Departments – who will use ePortfolios to track learning outcomes based upon specific program goals and objectives and who may highlight stand-out portfolios in order to promote the department’s degree programs to potential students and other interested parties
  • Friends and Colleagues of the Students – who will consult the portfolios for insight into building their own
  • Relatives – who often have a natural interest in their loved one’s learning for a variety of reasons
  • Prospective employers – who will benefit from having broad and deep exposure to student learning and growth, which an ePortfolio offers

ePortfolios may include evidence (artifacts) of learning such as essays, research papers, reflection papers, journals, etc., but also pictures, videos, PowerPoint presentations, and other forms of media. In short, the ePortfolio provides a space for students to collect, display, reflect upon, and demonstrate learning. If you have not already discovered Malone’s Digication site, click on the hyperlink to the left and have a look. You can use your regular Malone username and password to log-in. The portfolios that you will see were created during the Spring 2012 semester as a part of a pilot program.  These are “course” portfolios rather than “program” portfolios, but they will help you to understand the simplicity of the technology being used.

Assessment and ePortfolios

In the department of theology, we have chosen to implement ePortfolios with assessment in mind. Namely, students develop an ePortfolio in order to, among other things, demonstrate that they have achieved the academic program’s stated learning objectives. In the past, our department’s mission, goals, and objectives were clearly stated in the catalog but not central to teaching and learning. The goals and objectives were really something like “window-dressing.”

Accordingly, the first thing that we did, as a department, was to produce a substantial revision of our departmental mission, goals, and objectives. We asked, very simply, what do we want all of our students to know when they complete a degree in our department? Then, we wrote our new goals and objectives based upon our answers to this question. Our next step was a curriculum-mapping exercise to determine whether our current curriculum offers adequate instruction to enable students to achieve the stated goals and objectives.

In particular, we have begun to consider key assignments in our our courses in order to determine whether these assignments are relevant to program goals and objectives and capable giving our students an opportunity to provide evidence of learning that can be assessed included in an ePortfolio.

Student-Driven Learning

As we implement ePortfolios at the graduate and undergraduate levels, we will continue to make our departmental goals and objectives more central to the learning process. We want students to become so familiar with our goals and objectives that they will be able to state and explain them clearly when asked. Every student will be introduced to the goals and objectives as they enter the program and then required to reflect upon and demonstrate that they have achieved the goals and objectives as they develop their ePortfolio over the course of the program.

The Benefits of Learning Portfolios

While there are many potential benefits to the use of electronic portfolios for various individuals and groups, we believe that the following are especially noteworthy:

  • ePortfolios encourage students to understand the individual pieces of the learning process from  within the context of overall program goals and objectives
  • ePortfolios promote student-ownership of and a learner-centered approach to the entire learning process
  • ePortfolios promote student self-assessment through ongoing reflective activities
  • ePortfolios enable students to display evidence of their learning and growth to interested parties
  • ePortfolios offer teachers and departments an effective means of connecting program goals and objectives to specific courses and assignments and then assessing student achievement of these goals and objectives
  • ePortfolios offer prospective employers, potential students, and other interested parties valuable insight into the learning process promoted by departmental programs

If you are interested in using ePortfolios and would like more information about the work that we have done and continue to do in the department of theology, please send me a message, and I’ll be happy to meet with you or provide more information.

 

-Bryan Hollon

 

Appendices

Bryan’s Kit

  • Log in to the Digication Portfolio system specific for Malone University at:
    http://malone.digication.com – COST is FREE
  • Planning and departmental buy-in.
  • The configuration of a eportfolio template for theology students – Once you have a template portfolio ready, contact the help desk and we can publish your ePortfolio as a template

Additional Resources

Thank you, Brian, for sharing about your experience with ePortfolios thus far. If you are interested in additional information about ePortfolios and their effects on student learning, here are some additional resources that might be useful:

  • Challis, D. (2005). Towards the mature ePortfolio: Some implications for higher education. http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/93/87
  • An argument against (the comments on this blog entry are almost as interesting as his critique). I would also say that the digication system subverts a couple of his complaints in that it is available to our students even after they leave the university and allows them to create multiple ePortfolios (e.g., a long form one for reflection and a short form one for a succinct extension of a resume/C.V.)