In the digital age, traditional paper-based portfolios have given way to ePortfolios, harnessing a powerful way to showcase a student’s work that demonstrates their learning, progress, reflections and achievements, over a period of time. ePortfolios are increasingly becoming popular in education as they offer several benefits to both students and academics.
For students, ePortfolios provide an adaptable platform to showcase their learning journey, including their best work and reflections on when it didn’t go quite to plan, and draw on evidence from a range of sources whether that be PDFs, images, videos, audio snippets or written text. This process helps students develop their metacognitive skills and self-awareness as learners over a period of time. Academics, on the other hand, can use ePortfolios to assess students’ learning outcomes in a more comprehensive and authentic manner. In turn, this allows academics to gain insights into students’ thought processes, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and provide targeted feedback. Additionally, ePortfolios allow academics to track students’ progress and provide evidence of their achievements.
Using ePortfolios also builds several skills, including digital literacy, communication and critical thinking – all of which are vital in the modern workplace. Students have to select, curate, and present their work in a clear and engaging manner. They also have to reflect on their learning process and map this to learning outcomes. These skills are crucial for success in the modern workplace, where digital communication and collaboration are essential. With a background in teaching vocational courses for 12 years at Further Education level, I’ve seen first-hand the impact and outcomes of effective ePortfolio use for both students and academics.
At Portsmouth University, we have struggled to find a solid ePortfolio solution. We currently use a popular open-source ePortfolio platform that allows students to create and share their digital portfolios. While the platform has several benefits, including flexibility, customizability, and integration with other systems, it also faces some challenges. One major issue is its user interface, which can be overwhelming and confusing for some users – particularly in the setup stage of having to import the portfolio into your own profile. This process often leads to a lot of technical issues and puts up an immediate barrier to entry for those not tech-savvy. Additionally, the learning curve for using the platform can be steep, and it may take some time for users to become familiar with all the features and functionalities. However, despite these challenges, academics and students value the use of the ePortfolio system on offer and the benefits this provides.
We are currently coming towards the end of our first stage of a pilot with a new system: WiseFlow. This is a cloud-based digital end-to-end exam and assessment platform that supports the assessment and feedback lifecycle for students, assessors and administrators. It’s fair to say that staff feedback about the WiseFlow pilot has been overwhelmingly positive. As a core project team, we’ve had the pleasure of working with academic teams to support students with innovative assessments in Wiseflow, across a range of disciplines. This all links to our Digital Success Plan to (re)design robust assessments to meet the needs of the diverse student population within a blended and connected setting and incorporate a robust specialist end-to-end assessment platform. Our aims in the project were to make it easier for academics to design assessments, easier for students to find their assessments and feedback, and reduce the manual workaround assessments for academics and support staff. All of which, WiseFlow seems to have been able to deliver.
Within the pilot, we wanted to really push the boundaries of WiseFlow – utilising a wide range of assessment types to really test if WiseFlow can become the go-to platform for assessments at Portsmouth University. One of the big challenges for us was to find an ePortfolio solution that is user-friendly, and adaptable across a range of disciplines as well as providing a versatile feedback loop where students could receive formative feedback on their work from assessors and develop ideas, prior to final submission. After challenging the team at WiseFlow to this – they came back with a solution.
Traditionally, a FlowMulti (just one of the many ‘flow types’ WiseFlow offers for assessment) would be used for open/closed book multiple-choice exams, where the participants fill out a provided multiple-choice test. However, the team at WiseFlow suggested we could utilise this functionality to use as a bespoke ePortfolio solution.
Using a FlowMulti allowed us to replicate the layout and design of current ePortfolios as well as allow us to adapt the setup to truly take ePortfolios to the next level. To create the feedback loop, we allowed assessors early access to the work, early release of feedback to students, and students to submit unlimited times before the deadline. The portfolios could be easily updated year-on-year, were inviting for students to engage with, and could be authored by multiple academics at the same time. This seemed like the perfect solution.
After testing, adapting and re-testing, we felt this solution offered a totally new level of ePortfolio to our current offering. The ability to re-purpose traditional multiple-choice questions allowed us to push the boundaries of assessment further, like never before. The only limitation is our own creativity to adapt and repurpose these. We put together a showcase of a PGCert portfolio to show our academics the findings, who immediately fell in love with the platform and we started working together to develop a portfolio to run within the pilot.
“As a course team, we are incredibly excited about the flexibility that the Wiseflow ePortfolio has to offer. Working with the project team we have been able to design a summative assessment vehicle which is both intuitive for learners and versatile enough to encompass a broad range of tools which enable the course Learning Outcomes to be demonstrated in an engaging and meaningful way.” Dr Joanne Brindley, Academic Practice Lead & Senior Lecturer in Higher Education.
We are now in the “participation” phase of two ePortfolios – one for the Research Informed Teaching module and one for the new Level 7 Teach Well: Principles to Practice professional development module. We have had great experiences re-designing pre-existing portfolios to really push the boundaries of what is possible in WiseFlow. We’ve added interactive elements, by turning traditional questions and approaches on their head – such as using a histogram for reflection, allowing students to visually reflect on skillsets pre- and post-observation. We’ve provided students freedom of choice with assessment by integrating a voice recorder into the portfolio and also utilising existing platforms to integrate into the WiseFlow portfolio. Really, the only limitation is our own imagination.
“We teach the PG Cert Higher Education so our students are staff. The platform is incredibly user-friendly for both staff and students. We used it for ePortfolio as the last platform created lots of complaints, whereas this platform has led to lots of compliments. The staff members spoke highly of the platform and I believe, many have asked to be part of the pilot next year due to their positive experience.” Tom Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Higher Education
There has been overwhelmingly positive feedback from academics and students regarding the usability and functionality of using WiseFlow as an ePortfolio solution. Through word of mouth and firsthand experiences from early career academics, particularly those who are studying on the Research Informed Teaching module, the platform’s potential in enhancing their own teaching has become widely recognized. I remember being invited to one of Tom’s lectures to showcase the platform to his students who would be using it and the response was overwhelming. Staff were excited to use this as students and saw the immediate potential for their own teaching. It is always a good sign of a new innovation when there is an immediate benefit to both staff and students that can be applied instantly in the classroom. Essentially, we now have a waiting list for academics who are wanting to work with us to develop ePortfolios in WiseFlow – with no advertising at all and purely from those who have used it as students. We believe that when this is advertised, we will see a huge influx of academics wanting to use this. We have also spoken to other Universities in WiseFlow user groups, who are actively keen to explore this and want to learn about our innovative approach. The potential of this solution is game-changing, not just for us, but for other Higher Education institutions.
However, using an innovative approach and essentially turning a quiz assignment on its head does not come without some drawbacks that need to be considered before academics embark on an ePortfolio solution within WiseFlow. There is currently a 12-file limit, set at 10Mb per file when students upload files into the portfolio. Although it is great that students can do this, it does not lend itself to modern file sizes or some of our subject areas (for example, our Creative and Cultural Industry Faculty, where students would regularly upload large .psd, CAD files, HD video, and high-quality audio etc). In our initial pilot, we haven’t encountered this issue – but it’s worth considering if this is the correct way to proceed with an assessment. The limit on the number of files is also a concern. For example, some students in our pilot have reached the 12-file upload limit. While there are workarounds, such as storing files in a Google Drive folder and sharing the link or combining multiple files into one, however, it defeats the purpose of an ePortfolio as an all-encompassing system. Perhaps, a better approach would be to have an upload limit as a whole, with a defined combined file size. The final consideration to make is that once the ePortfolio is live, we cannot make changes. We’ve worked extensively with academics and our support teams to iron out any issues prior to release, but again, this is important for academics to understand. Careful planning and consideration must take place in the authoring phase of an assignment, which will then be rigorously checked prior to release – in the same way an exam would. Despite these setbacks, we’re actively in discussions with WiseFlow regarding developing this and hope to make progress on these in the near future.
The future of ePortfolios in WiseFlow is exciting, and we can’t wait to see how they will continue to be developed across the University. The ability to adapt and transform ePortfolios will open up new doors for our students and academics to really develop the ways in which students can showcase their knowledge and understanding. We’re hoping for a successful run of ePortfolio use within our pilot and looking forward to developing new ideas as we move into the future.
Until next time. Watch this space.