By Julie Lepine, Contract Instructor, School of Linguistics and Language Studies
Okay, so maybe the excuses of your university students are not as juvenile as ‘the dog ate my homework’ (or maybe they are!), but I’m sure you’ve all witnessed the slightly panicked, slightly defiant face of a student who has ‘forgotten’ to bring their homework to school. No biggie, right? Well, what if your lesson plan is scaffolded in such a way that completion of this homework is necessary to begin the next step of a process-oriented project? These students inevitably fall further and further behind in the process if they persist in procrastinating.
ePortfolios make students more accountable for their work. Since all that’s needed is a Wi-Fi connection and a device, students can no longer ‘forget’ their work at home, leave it on the bus, blame their sister for not dropping it off (these are some of the excuses I’ve been given in the past – do any sound familiar?). ePortfolios work as a reservoir for students to collect ideas, works-in-progress, etc. Since these aforementioned excuses no longer apply, students are held accountable to complete homework on time, thus allowing them to participate fully in scaffolded, process-oriented projects, improving overall class comprehension, and reinforcing good study habits. Furthermore, ePortfolios can contain teacher instructions, updates and models to support students in completing their homework. So the other well-used excuses, “I lost my assignment paper” or “I couldn’t remember the instructions,” become null as well. Hooray!
ePortfolios can help students see the forest and the trees. Once students are more accountable for their work and procrastinators are kept on task, ePortfolios can also demonstrate to students the beauty of a process-oriented approach to projects and assignments. Often when students are faced with a large assignment, they become overwhelmed and, consequently, procrastinate. Realizing that a process-oriented approach improves student comprehension and grades, teachers try to make the project more manageable by breaking it into several, scaffolded steps. Still many students have trouble seeing the forest for the trees (i.e., the connection between several small assignments and the overall goal). ePortfolios keep all steps of the assignment visible and available to students at all times. Instructors can purposefully scaffold steps in an ePortfolio collection, with guided instructions for each phase. Indeed, the change from paper-based assignments to ePortfolios has led many of my students to remark that they now see the interconnectedness and progression of their assignment. Whereas before they viewed the steps as separate assignments, they now are seen as steps in the completion of an entire project.
ePortfolios allow you to spy on your students. No, not in a creepy, privacy-infringing way, but rather in a supportive, feedback-providing way. As an ESLA (English as a Second Language for Academic purposes) teacher, the majority of my students are in their first year of university. Many are too shy, or don’t realize they are permitted to ask the teacher for feedback on their work. Too often students receive a lower grade than they expected simply for not following assignment instructions or meeting teacher expectations. After the assignment is submitted and graded it’s too late. And we can’t depend on all students to raise questions or concerns (often it’s the ones guaranteed to pass that come to office hours, not the ones who really need to). What if there was a way to solve this problem?
Having students share their ePortfolios allows the instructor to monitor their progress before they have submitted work for grading. I make a point of checking the work of all students before the submission date of the first ePortfolio assignment, and subsequent major assignments, to provide feedback within cuPortfolio itself on content, layout, etc. This not only helps individual students better understand my expectations, but also allows me to see where the majority of students are tripping up. Perhaps more explanation is needed? Perhaps a model answer would help? I can then allow some time in the next class to address any issues I spotted without putting the onus on my shy / procrastinating students to raise questions or concerns themselves.
There are, of course, a number of wider pedagogical theory-related reasons for implementing ePortfolios into your classes, but from the perspective of a daily practitioner, the merits discussed above have made the biggest difference in my day-to-day classes. If you are having trouble with any of these issues, why not give ePortfolios a try next semester?