Early Experiences With ePortfolio-based Learning In An Open Distance eLearning Environment In The Philippines

ABSTRACT

Over the years, electronic portfolios have been studied and used extensively by institutions of higher education for the benefits they bring on multiple fronts. An ePorftolio is a powerful tool for assessment and reflection for students and faculty alike. But unlike other assessment tools and methods that are confined within a single course, provided with an appropriate system, an ePortfolio is able to help facilitate an integrated academic program-level assessment of students. It also becomes an avenue for which content can be showcased at the individual or institutional level to the public.

This paper covers the initial stages of building an ePortfolio system, modifying the lesson plan and assessment policy, and apparent impacts of the learning experience in pilot courses of an undergraduate online academic program offered by the University of the Philippines Open University. These steps have been taken in an attempt to take advantage of the mentioned benefits, focusing on establishing an ePortfolio culture and developing students’ ability to become reflective learners. This paper is also intended to be a foundation for additional research in enhancing teaching and learning outcomes.

Keywords: UPOU, Philippines, online learning, e-Portfolio, BA Multimedia Studies

Background of the Research Problem

The Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies (BAMS) program drives students to become adept with the theoretical and practical aspects of multimedia. However, for an online university that supposedly embraces the essence of Web 2.0, UPOU has little in the way of allowing students and faculty alike to publicly showcase their research and creative work. Reflective learning off one’s own work as well as others’ is not innate even in the BAMS program.

These shortcomings can be addressed directly by putting an e-portfolio system in place. An e-portfolio system allows for a number of benefits on different fronts – possibilities a typical course management system cannot provide (Wilton, 2004).

Objectives

This project aims to:

  1. Explore and evaluate the feature set of Mahara, an open-source ePortfolio system
  2. Conduct an initial assessment of ePortfolios as a tool for learning and teaching effectiveness.
  3. Develop an appropriate general framework for the adoption of an ePortfolio-based assessment for BAMS courses.

Research Framework

Lorenzo and Ittelson (2005) reported how a number of higher education institutions have used ePortfolio systems for assessing student learning. Of note among the case studies is that of Portland State University, which implemented a program-wide e-portfolio system back in the 1990’s in order to a) enhance student learning, and b) help assess the program for which it is under.

While technologies available back then are now considered obsolete, the purpose of the system remains directly in-line with meeting the current needs of the UP Open University, especially with the emergence of new degree programs. An ePortfolio system can benefit the BAMS program on three fronts.

Students – an ePortfolio system provides students space outside courses they are enrolled in, but still within the university’s system. It is a means to make sense of academic and even personal expression beyond the online classrooms. This helps further increase overall learning effectiveness as the tendency is for students to do so with a holistic perspective. When used in education, e-portfolios are capable of making students more active and meaningful participants in the learning process (Buzzetto-More, 2010)

Faculty – an ePortfolio can act as an assessment tool which can be more ideal for skills-oriented courses where it is more appropriate to evaluate students based on how they are able to apply what they learned than through more traditional tools such as examinations. The benefit of a holistic viewpoint is not limited to students.

Institution – Reese and Levy (2009) enumerated five primary uses an institution for higher education would have for e-portfolios: academic advising, institutional accreditation and departmental review, curricular development at the program level, career planning and development and alumni development (lifelong learning). Just like a general content management system, an ePortfolio system can also act as a repository of content exclusive to the university. But more importantly, an e-portfolio system promotes transparency not just among students and faculty, but also to external parties. Should the university deem it necessary, this transparency provides the opportunity to promote its students as well as faculty. This exposure of e-portfolios to the outside world, so to speak, is an opportunity for students to showcase their work to prospect employers, and for faculty who would like to establish linkages to other organizations.

Implementing the system itself, however, is only the first and arguably simplest part of the process. The system will be judged by the quality and quantity of its content, as well as the traffic and activity generated. Users must have a compelling reason to share their content beyond course requirements.

The key to finding that reason may lie within having an ePortfolio culture. By taking a look at how everything connects, one can have a clear view of the big picture and see all the reasons applicable to the stakeholders. The problem in UPOU’s case is that there is no existing ePortfolio system  to begin with. There is not even an institutional mandate to adopt the use of one. Its continued absence means the continued missing of opportunities on multiple fronts in the university. 

However, the lack of any mandate does not mean that there is no existing foundation to build on. This study is predicated under the observation, or at least the assumption that students under the BAMS program would do well to undergo a cyclic reflective learning process as he or she takes the different courses progressing from entry to graduation. As evidenced by studies conducted by Doig, Illsley, McLuckie, and Parsons (2006), as well as McIntyre (2011), ePortfolios have proven to be effective in enabling that process.

Figure 1. Projected multi-faceted set of benefits of ePortfolios in the university.

While by no means should exploration be limited to it, Mahara remains the obvious first choice for research in UPOU, as it is already a popular open source ePortfolio system. Mahara also has the advantage of being able to fully integrate with Moodle (Librero, 2011), should the need arise in the future. Initial trials have been conducted in the past. However, they have been limited to use in one course with students no longer having any inclination to maintain their accounts after they have passed the course. In order to build an ePortfolio that encompasses their entire tenure in the university, students must actively maintain their accounts and continuously post artifacts from the time they start their first course until they graduate. An ePortfolio system must be as integral to the learning experience as the course management system, itself.

Setup

Mahara is a fully featured open-source content management system specially designed for building ePortfolios. The system was relatively simple to set up in a cloud-based LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP) server, which will also allow for on-the-fly upgrades if and when necessary. As a pilot test, the system was set up independently from UPOU’s other Web services. Integration with MyPortal is outside the scope of this project and will be considered at a later time.

Pilot Run

This study will be conducted within the Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies (BAMS) program. It is an ideal springboard as students are expected throughout their residency to produce a wide array of material. Students will have the opportunity to showcase much of their output as ePortfolio artifacts.

This pilot run focused on four courses that serve as possible entry points of new BAMS students:

  • MMS 100: Introduction to Multimedia Studies
  • MMS 111: Gender and Multimedia
  • MMS 112: Multimedia and Society
  • MMS 120: Communication and Culture

The use of the system was to be integrated as a course requirement, most notably for MMS 100, being a course directly facilitated by the author. However, the system was also open to continuing students willing to contribute content through their own initiative.

Assessment and Reflective Learning

Assessment methods of each of the four courses varied, and were modified as seen fit by their respective faculties in charge. In MMS 100, the course focused on, students were previously assessed entirely through regular quizzes. This was modified in order to accommodate ePortfolio building. The lesson plan was also appended to include instructions and guidelines that can help students perform ePortfolio-related tasks.

Table 1. MMS 100 requirements

Old setNew set
Nine quizzes/short examinationsFour quizzes/examinationsStarting ePortfolio profileTwo or more reflective blog entries  

EPortfolio profiles were meant to get students share information about themselves, as they would with other social networking sites but with more focus towards what are relevant in lieu of being students in the BAMS program. This exercise was also meant as a basis for assessing the students’ current grasp of the field of multimedia and ability to apply the initial lessons tackled in the introductory course.

Another key component of the ePortfolio is reflective blogging, wherein students articulate their thoughts on their learning experiences throughout the course. This served as a means of evaluating not just academic performance, but also the value of the ePortfolio as part of the learning process in the course, which is an introduction to the large field of multimedia.

Further Research and Development Opportunities

While this particular proposal only covers a single trimester’s worth of data gathering, it is meant to be extended and expanded. The ePortfolio system to be established is meant to persist and be available for succeeding trimesters for further use as a teaching and research platform. Below are some facets which may be looked into.

  • Systems integration

While not necessarily a research by itself, Moodle integration and single sign on presents a new set of academic and operations research opportunities that may be of great value to the university. Another promising field to explore is the incorporation of digital badges, which have been indicated to work well with ePortfolios and gamified assessment methods.

  • Program-wide reflective learning

Applying what has been learned to practice is an important virtue that students are hoped to espouse. It can happen in a course, through a few cycles of reflection that can be illustrated either by the Gibbs (Figure 2) or Kolb cycle (Figure 3). But it becomes challenging to deduce whether or not a student is able to continue a cycle across multiple courses. The adoption of an ePortfolio system can help in this challenge and allow the university a clearer view of the big picture, so to speak.

Figure 2. Gibbs’ reflective cycle (Gibbs, 1988)
  • Authentic Assessment

Being a platform for showcasing student output based on what a student has synthesized from his or her studies, there is evidence of ePortfolios as an effective medium for authentic assessment, which in turn can help curb the incidence of cheating.

  • Learning community building

An ePortfolio-based method of assessment promotes transparency, which can, in theory, allow users to openly learn from each other without the stigma of cheating or plagiarism. The effect of an ePortfolio on learning effectiveness is a field worth investigating.

  • Participatory OER development

Students and faculty alike have the potential to produce high quality educational resources. This can, however, be taken a step further. With student output across an entire degree program encapsulate in a single freely accessible repository, bodies of work and knowledge can be cyclically cited, re-used and improved upon by succeeding users. As long as there is an inflow of constituents in the program, this class-sourcing can keep content sustainably updated without additional effort on the part of the faculty.

  • ePortfolio Culture

In order to ensure long-term sustainability of the adoption of the system, users must have compelling reasons beyond course requirements. Whatever those reasons best suited for the university may be, it will be important to study and attempt to imbibe upon students and faculty alike.

Figure 3. Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning

References

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Carson, A.S., S. McClam, J. Frank, and G.G. Hannum. (2014). ePortfolio as a catalyst for change in teaching: an autoethnographic examination of transformation. International Journal of ePortfolio, 4:1. 73-83.

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