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Designing Successful ePortfolio Practices
A Review of High-impact ePortfolio Practice: A catalyst for student, faculty, and institutional learning by Bret Eynon and Laura M. Gambino

By Anita Samuel / July 2020

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This book is divided into four parts. The first part lays the groundwork for a high-impact ePortfolio practice and introduces the Connect2Learning project; the second part deconstructs the catalyst framework; the third part considers the impact of ePortfolios done well; and finally, the last part looks to future directions.

The C2L project aimed to study the effect of ePortfolios on student learning and success and was implemented across 24 institutions of higher education spanning R1 research institutions to community colleges representing a diverse student population. All 24 institutions in the C2L project used a uniform survey instrument to measure student learning and success. However, the deployment of ePortfolios across these campuses varied as the ePortfolios were designed to address institution-specific needs.

The lessons learned from the large-scale C2L project are captured by Eynon and Gambino in this book. Eynon and Gambino admit their research lacked the rigor to draw causal connections; however, the implications for best practice cannot be ignored. Three core propositions about effective ePortfolios arose out of the C2L project:

  1. ePortfolios advance student success;
  2. ePortfolios make learning visible through reflection, integration, and deep learning; and,
  3. ePortfolios catalyze learner-centered institutional change

These three propositions frame the book as they are presented in the first chapter of the book and they are revisited in the eighth chapter of the book. Before delving into specific high-impact ePortfolio strategies, the authors lay out the importance of ePortfolios, giving us a reason to continue reading. They bring it back full circle by reminding us of the importance of well-designed ePortfolios toward the end of the book.

The findings from the C2L project led to the design of the catalyst framework which, as the authors describe, is a “set of precepts for doing ePortfolio well” (p. 4). While the three propositions provide the ‘Why’ of ePortfolios, the “Catalyst Framework for Effective ePortfolio Practice” provides the ‘How’ of effective ePortfolios.

The catalyst framework is comprised of five interlocking sectors: integrative social pedagogy, professional development, outcomes assessment, technology, and scaling up. These five sectors are guided and enhanced by the design principles of inquiry, reflection, and integration. Chapters 2–7 explain the sectors of the framework and provide concrete examples of how these sectors have been operationalized in the various institutions that participated in the C2L project.

While the book provides numerous examples of interesting ePortfolio activities, it is not intended for use by individual instructors as it is not a teacher’s handbook. Rather, it is an administrator’s handbook as the framework is intended for use at the institutional or programmatic level by faculty, staff, and administrators.

Each of the five interlocking sectors of the catalyst framework are explained in individual chapters. However, rather than explaining the sectors as discrete elements, Eynon and Gambino explain a sector and then discuss how it relates to the other four sectors in the framework. This approach reinforces that the sectors work together. The authors also present the sectors of the catalyst framework in a style that is immediately appealing to practitioners. As they explain the theoretical underpinnings of the sectors, they also provide short, practical, “Getting Started” tips for immediate and effective implementation.

To further appeal to practitioners, the chapters are interspersed with case studies from various institutions that exemplify how the sectors of the catalyst framework were operationalized. These examples are drawn from a wide range of disciplines and institutions making the book appealing to a broad audience. By presenting the stories from different institutions—from community colleges to R1 universities—the authors show implementation of the catalyst framework is possible in a wide variety of environments. These examples also lend credibility to the catalyst framework as they are tried and tested practices that have been refined over the research period.

Technology and the digital landscape play a large role in ePortfolios since these are electronic portfolios. One sector of the catalyst framework is technology and chapter six focuses on the concept of technology. This chapter broadens the scope of ePortfolios by introducing issues of access by different populations such as potential employers and important concerns of privacy. What is overlooked is the issue of sustainability of the ePortfolio? What happens when a learner leaves the institution? Do they continue to have access to their ePortfolios? When potential employers are introduced into the conversation, it’s surprising that the sustainability of ePortfolios is not considered.

The C2L project and the book only consider ePortfolios within the narrow bounds of the traditional conceptualizations of education: traditional undergraduate learners, ePortfolio artifacts drawn from within the educational program, and ePortfolio processes informed by accreditation concerns. So, the ePortfolios are presented in the context of undergraduate learners. While many universities and programs use ePortfolios with their graduate learners, this learner group is overlooked by the authors. Increasingly, college students are non-traditional learners who often are a part of the workforce. Incorporating artifacts from their work environment would make the ePortfolio more relevant for learners. The last chapter of the book looks at the changing landscape of higher education and explores the place of ePortfolios in this scenario. The authors provide an example of how badges have been incorporated into ePortfolios. Yet, these are institution-specific badges. ePortfolios could be a good venue to showcase all educational achievements of learners but that scope is limited in this book.

The Bottom Line

This book is an important addition to the body of literature on ePortfolios. Eynon and Gambino have provided, in this book, a road map for the implementation of ePortfolios at the programmatic and institutional levels. All administrators in undergraduate education should include this book in their personal libraries.

About the Author

Anita Samuel, Ph.D., is currently an assistant professor in the Health Professions Education program at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. She received her doctorate in adult and continuing education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she now teaches courses on distance learning, instructional technology, and organizational change. She has also worked, for more than a decade, in Malaysia serving an international student population. Her current research interests include faculty experiences in online learning, faculty development, online education in health professions, and instructional design.

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