Academic journal article Education

ePortfolios: Using Technology to Enhance and Assess Student Learning

Academic journal article Education

ePortfolios: Using Technology to Enhance and Assess Student Learning

Article excerpt

A paradigm shift in the past decade has changed the focus in education from a teacher-centered instructional environment to a student-centered one (Brooks, 1997; Terheggen, Prabhu, & Lubinescu, 2000). As a result, universities are held responsible for and expected to provide evidence of the process and growth in student learning over time. Grades are no longer proof enough of learning; multiple stakeholders in education want documentation that demonstrates the entire process of learning (Heaney, 1990; Terheggen, Prabhu, & Lubinescu, 2000; Villano, 2005). Ruhland and Brewer (2001) call attention to the increased demands for accountability that emphasize assessment of student learning. To answer these calls for change, universities have begun to focus on student learning outcomes as a way to measure what students have learned and are able to do when they complete their degree. Outcomes assessments "include the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that determine what students know now that they didn't know before their college experience" (p. 142). Learning outcomes may be evaluated through various measures depending on the academic program, the philosophical beliefs of assessment practices on the part of the faculty, college and/or department, and measures whether students have reached the learning expectations. Due to the assessment emphasis alternative processes to the traditional test are being developed as a means to meet accreditation and accountability expectations (Ruhland & Brewer, 2001).

Multiple researchers concur that the best learning, which is retained, occurs in the context of an active learning experience. For example, learning is best facilitated in environments that provide for hands-on, experiential opportunities, accentuate student participation and interaction with peers, and encourage student-teacher communication (Astin, 1985, 1996; Tinto, 1987; Davis & Murrell, 1994; Kuh, 1996). Astin (1985, 1996) provides a foundational framework that states students learn as a result of their involvement level and demonstrated ownership. Astin states that quality educational programs have a learning environment that includes students actively engaged, high expectations, and continuous assessment and feedback (Astin as cited in Skawinski & Thibodeau, 2002).

A regional university in North East Texas, in partnership with a local independent school district, used Astin's framework as a guide when planning a new and unique cohort master's degree program in Secondary Education. The goal was to provide the best system for documenting student learning outcomes and ways to assess the overall program quality. It was important to be able to use an outcomes assessment process that would actively engage students where they would be responsible, reflective learners and provide assessment information for feedback to guide the student learning process and inform program goals, objectives and field-based learning experiences for quality enhancement. Current investigations emphasize the value of "student effort and involvement as decisive elements in promoting positive college outcomes" (Davis & Murrell, 1994, p. 2).

Since research shows that ePortfolios can "enhance teaching, learning and assessment practices", this method of assessment was selected as a way to document and highlight the process of student learning and to measure student learning outcomes during their master's degree program of study (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005, p. 3). The EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative definition of electronic portfolios was used in order to have a collective way of thinking (University of British as cited in Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005). This definition describes ePortfolios as "personalized, Web-based collections of work, responses to work, and reflections that are used to demonstrate key skills and accomplishments for a variety of contexts and time periods" (p. …

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