By Bianca Chan

As a Carleton University OnLine student, you complete and collect all of your work on your computer. It’s only fitting that you organize and store all of that hard work in an online portfolio.

cuPortfolio is an application supported by the Education Development Centre and developed by the ePortfolio system, Mahara. On the cuPortfolio website, it’s described as “a fully featured electronic portfolio system with social networking features to create online learning communities,” which means, not only is it extremely appropriate for online learners, but it’s a place where students can keep their assignments organized in a professional and flexible interface.

“An ePortfolio is much more than just a digital filing cabinet – it is a space for students to describe and provide insight into their learning and development,” says Allie Davidson, an Educational Technology Development Coordinator for the Educational Development Centre.

cuPortfolio allows students to display their learning using many different media, adds Davidson, including pictures, videos, audio files, Twitter feeds, interactive presentations, and interactive graphs. This means students can use the tool not only to integrate ideas, resources, work, and experiences into one portfolio, but they can also organize it in a personalized way that makes sense to them, she says.

According to Davidson, approximately 2,500 students, 57 instructors, and 68  classes are using cuPortfolio this year.

For online business professor Virginia Taylor, cuPortfolio reflects her own belief about what an online learning environment should be.

“I value a student-centered approach to learning where students have choices about how they approach learning. In much the same way, cuPortfolios encourage students to create their own ‘digital story’ with unique artifacts that reflect the learning process,” she says.

Taylor says cuPortfolio can be easily integrated into the group dynamics of her class. Since the course, A Cross-Cultural Communication, supports both independent learning supplemented with reflection and group interaction, Taylor says she realized cuPortfolio could be an opportunity to share ideas and explore concepts in a collaborative manner.

“As I learned more about cuPortfolio, I could see ways in which cuPortfolio might be used for a group project where students all contributed to one portfolio.”

The social networking component of the application is also unique to cuPortfolio. Since students can share their own portfolios and comment on their classmates’, Davidson says the application can also be extremely useful for peer review.

One challenge Davidson has seen among users is the “mental barrier of feeling like [students] have to learn a whole new area of technology in order to create a portfolio.” To help ease this intimidation and shorten the learning curve to align with the different pace of online courses, students are provided with training on how to use tool at the beginning of each course.

“I often hear from students after they have gone through the introduction session that it actually is pretty straightforward and they feel much more confident with the tool,” Davidson says.

If there is still confusion or uneasiness with the application, there are pages of online resources on the cuPortfolio support page, as well as the option for one-on-one training if students need additional support.

For Taylor, students have yet to give feedback on the app, though she herself hasn’t come across any challenges with it.

“I am still learning how to make the best use of cuPortfolios,” she admits, adding that she wants her students to make the best of the tool as well.

“I am focusing more on making sure that students benefit from the experience of developing their own portfolio and see it as a digital record of their learning experiences during the year abroad,” she says. “Given the time invested in creating a strong and dynamic portfolio, I want the students to see it as more than just another assignment.”

Now in its third year as a pilot project, cuPortfolio has been incorporated into many Carleton courses, both face-to-face and online, and the list keeps growing. Keep an eye out for it in your upcoming classes!

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