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E-portfolios conquer Swiss universities

The "e-Portfolio special interest group (SIG)" met in Bern in mid-November. The "National event e-Portfolio 2017" focused on pedagogical, legal, and technical issues. Resolving these issues will help to further embed e-portfolios in Swiss university life.

Text: Nathalie Roth, published on 21.11.2017

The use of e-portfolios in university teaching comes to us from the English-speaking world. But for some years now the digital portfolio has also been appearing in Swiss universities. This is in no small part due to the work group of e-portfolio experts from various Swiss universities, the "e-Portfolio SIG", part of the Swiss e-learning community eduhub. This group of experts has been tirelessly pursuing the goal of expanding e-portfolios in Switzerland’s higher education landscape. With this goal in mind, the group has already convened for the sixth time, to share experiences, know-how, and best practices.

This annual meeting at the University of Bern is organised by the "e-Portfolio SIG" and SWITCH. As organiser, SWITCH also helps bring the right people together, offering them various platforms for exchange. This benefits not just the entire e-portfolio community, but also SWITCH, which considers itself to be part of this community and uses the opportunity to develop its services, such as SWITCHportfolio, in close cooperation with Swiss universities.

A digital portfolio for life

E-portfolios can be used in many different ways. On the one hand, they can serve students as learning diaries that allow them to reflect on and consolidate what they’ve learned, create group works and demonstrate their learning progress – in blogs, for instance. On the other hand, an e-portfolio can also be used as a career tool – as a job application portfolio to show potential employers. It may include CV, transcripts, achievement certificates, and work samples.

What at first might seem like extra work soon reveals its advantages: students who regularly use them report that e-portfolios help them to better consolidate and recall what they have learned. E-portfolios facilitate a learning process that has a much more lasting effect. It also be makes this process tangible.

E-portfolios are used by students over the long term, making life-long learning a reality.

Moreover, e-portfolios promote collaborative work. Students learn to work in groups, come up with solutions together and give each other constructive feedback – the kind of soft skills which are essential in their professional lives later on. And working with e-portfolios improves students’ digital skills. Students who regularly work with e-portfolios also learn to plan their own studies and develop their own learning strategies.

E-portfolios are used by students over the long term, making life-long learning a reality. So naturally an e-portfolio remains the property of the student – private property. Students are free to decide for themselves which parts of their e-portfolios to share with colleagues, lecturers, or potential employers. They retain their e-portfolios and continue maintaining them after their studies, by pursuing further training, for instance, incorporating digital certificates (e.g. from MOOCs) and listing their other certificates.

Numerous questions and new solutions

This year’s "National event e-Portfolio" focused intensely on how an e-portfolio used as learning diary during one’s studies can be transformed into a useful career tool. The SIG illuminated this point with various presentations, workshops, and round-table discussions. To achieve this goal, e-portfolios must become more user-friendly and offer life-long accessibility with the SWITCH edu-ID. Students who have completed their studies or switched universities can already have their e-portfolio manually transferred by SWITCH from their institutional email address to their SWITCH edu-ID. In a year’s time this step could be automated, allowing students themselves to transfer their e-portfolios with just one click. 

Keynote speaker Dominique-Alain Jan from the Open University stressed that the use of e-portfolios in universities must be a fixture of course programmes to ensure that students actually use them. Students should also have the option of transferring their e-portfolios simply from one field of study to another. They should have access to their e-portfolios all throughout their studies, from bachelor’s through to master’s right up to doctorate, and even after their studies. One important factor here is regular feedback on the student’s e-portfolio work from lecturers and fellow students. Students are far more motivated to work on their e-portfolios when they receive regular feedback. It is also important to remember that e-portfolios are primarily designed to support students and their learning processes. That means the focus should be on the process of e-portfolio work rather the end result.

The use of e-portfolios in universities must be a fixture of course programmes to ensure that students actually use them. Students should also have the option of transferring their e-portfolios simply from one field of study to another.

At the heart of the event was the question of how to increase acceptance of e-portfolios in university learning overall. How do we motivate lecturers and students to use e-portfolios? After all, they can be a bit tricky at first. Like any new e-learning tool, e-portfolios have their quirks and create plenty of challenges for new users. And it’s not just technical questions that have to be sorted out, but legal and other issues as well. Just a few examples:

  • What happens to e-portfolios when students switch universities or complete their studies?
  • Where is the data kept?
  • What about disk space?
  • How do you make learning more interesting using e-portfolios?
  • Which working methods have proven effective so far, and which haven’t?
  • How can students’ document their accomplishments using e-portfolios?

By tackling these questions together, participants develop new, joint solutions to overcome the challenges that come with the digitalisation of university teaching. To successfully incorporate e-portfolios into university studies, it is important that both management and faculty of universities are trained in working with e-portfolios. Only when users truly understand how e-portfolios work can they better appreciate the benefits they add to university learning.

About the author
Nathalie   Roth

Nathalie Roth

A qualified translator and interpreter, Nathalie Roth has worked for SWITCH since 2009. She looks after the Swiss e-learning community eduhub. Before joining SWITCH, she worked as an e-learning author at a Swiss IT firm

E-mail

SWITCHportfolio

The SWITCH e-portfolio is based on the open source project Mahara and has a number of advantages over other electronic portfolios:

  • Secure access via AAI or SWITCH edu-ID
  • Option to continue using, even after completion of university studies
  • Intuitive use
  • Extensive configuration options
  • Data stored in Switzerland
  • Guaranteed data protection

Further information on SWITCHportfolio

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