In its last edition, The Globe published a student’s opinion piece targeted against Salt Lake Community College’s new ePortfolio requirement. Since that editorial contained sweeping generalizations and condemnations, we are writing to set the record straight.
What is the point of the ePortfolio? That is a good question. The College did not create this requirement lightly. Indeed, it was implemented only after years of piloting ePortfolios in a number of courses, after much research into how hundreds of other colleges and universities were implementing similar requirements, and after thorough investigation into the pedagogical benefits of having students archive and reflect upon their best work throughout their college experience.
Let’s talk about that last bit. Students who are only interested in “jumping through hoops” on their way to a degree are cheating themselves out of the key benefits of higher education. Indeed, one of the primary aims of the ePortfolio requirement is to encourage students to get out of the hoop-jumping mentality.
Our motto for ePortfolios is “collect, reflect, connect,” because faculty ask students to collect significant assignments on their educational journey, reflect upon them, and thereby make connections between one assignment and another, between one assignment and the student’s intellectual growth, and between one assignment and the key learning outcomes the College wants all students to achieve.
Those are the kinds of behaviors that allow students to “own” an education as opposed to merely collecting a degree after jumping through a sufficient number of hoops.
The opinion piece also confused the ePortfolio requirement with social networking sites like Facebook. This is a false analogy. While personal Facebook sites are great for sharing events, personal updates, and thoughts with a circle of online friends, an ePortfolio is a professional representation of one’s educational experience–excellent evidence for your claim to be an educated person.
Faculty at SLCC want to help students make that claim, so we work in our respective classes to help students build a little piece of their ePortfolio. And we encourage students to keep us on our toes by telling us, “Hey, help us make the best ePortfolio possible by giving us a rigorous assignment and then asking us to put our work on that assignment into a broader context by having us reflect on its personal, intellectual, or real-world significance.”
The author of the anti-ePortfolio Manifesto falsely assumes that ePortfolios are only suitable for some majors. Across the nation, ePortfolios in higher education are being required for almost every major imaginable. About half of all universities in the United States use ePortfolios and about a third of all community colleges do so.
Salt Lake Community College happens to be the first institution in Utah to fully implement ePortfolios, but that state of affairs won’t last long. The governing body for Utah’s higher education system has recommended for all students that, “In addition to typical course and grade information, transcripts should include work-place certifications and links to portfolios of a student’s work, based on demonstrations of mastery of skills.”
Aside from all the teacher-talk about the educational benefits of ePortfolios, what else are they good for? Students can use them to impress scholarship committees. Faculty like to see a student’s ePortfolio before writing a killer letter of recommendation. Students with an ePortfolio are often better prepared to talk about their strengths in a job interview. Students who can create an effective Gen Ed ePortfolio can create a more specific job-seeking ePortfolio as well – an important consideration in a labor market that has many more applicants than it has jobs. Students can use them to share their college experience with distant friends and family. Additionally, ePortfolios have been known to cure shyness and irritable bowel syndrome.
Okay, maybe that last one was an exaggeration. Nevertheless, we authors of this rebuttal encourage students to see the ePortfolio requirement as an educational step-up rather than a hoop. Indeed, as Michael Sharifi, a student majoring in English, wrote to us after reading last week’s editorial, “The ePortfoliois not going to help students get a job at McDonald’s, but when they aspire a tad higher in the job market, it makes a difference — especially when a resume and online representation is how most applications are reviewed today.”
Michael Sharifi (student)
Joe McCormick (Student)
Michael Miranda (Student)
Yu Wiberg (Student)
* Members of SLCC’s ePortfolio Task Force