Teaching Hub

Piloting ePortfolios in the First-Year Writing Program

Students working on ePortfolios in Dr. Kidd's classroom.
Students working on ePortfolios in the classroom.

by Jessica Fordham Kidd, Department of English

On February 22, 2019, Natalie Loper, Brooke Champagne, and I participated in the Faculty Technology Showcase with a presentation on the First-Year Writing Program’s (FWP) ePortfolio Pilot program, which is in its second semester. This ePortfolio initiative was inspired by Dr. Kathleen Blake Yancey’s visit to UA in February 2018 when she presented “EPortfolios for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.” Her faculty website lists her recent scholarship, much of it related to ePortfolios.

The FWP wanted to try out a different system of directly assessing our student learning outcomes. The existing assessment model relied on teachers submitting multiple electronic files that had to be organized and redistributed to readers. This ePortfolio pilot model involves students creating a website that curates their course work. These websites can now be provided to portfolio readers by simply passing along the URLs. In both iterations of portfolio assessment, readers specifically evaluate how student writing achieves program outcomes; assessment results are not linked back to individual student grades or individual teacher performance.

While the ePortfolio Pilot may have had its origins in our desire to assess efficiently and effectively, those of us engaged in teaching with ePortfolios have been most pleased with the resulting student engagement. In my EN 101 class last semester, students personalized their class portfolios with portraits of themselves, photographs they had taken, and .gifs that related to the subject matter of their essays. They were taking creative license with their websites, and they were envisioning a real audience for their work. My students studied online publications and used headings, white space, images, and hyperlinks to engage their audience in ways similar to online magazines.

I found a new purpose in the comments I provided students as I graded their class essays. In previous semesters, my grading comments were an attempt to explain my grading process and provide advice applicable to subsequent assignments, but during this pilot course, I graded assignments thinking about how students could use my feedback to refine their papers for their online portfolio publication. Take a look at my semester-long ePortfolio assignment.

In short, the ePortfolio pilot made writing more real for my students and me. Students had an audience now that they were writing for the web, and I had a more receptive audience for the feedback I was providing.

An additional (and incredibly successful) element of our pilot was the end-of-semester showcase. We reserved a room in the Ferguson center for two days during study week, and all students involved in the pilot program (approx. 330 students) took turns displaying their portfolios in 20-minute slots and then completing an activity (hyperlink) that asked them to talk to other presenters outside of their composition class. The energy throughout the showcase was incredible — I walked around the room and heard students truly engaging with their peers and being the real audience these first-year writing students deserved.

Spring Showcase

I encourage you to check out this semester’s showcase event on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, from 9am-1pm and Thursday, April 25, 2019, from 9:30am-2pm in the Ferguson Center room 3111.