Web Portfolio Program Case

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Penn State University provides an interesting case on Web portfolios. David DiBiase leads the E-education Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Professor DiBiase has initiated a policy for all of his students in the Earth and Mineral Sciences Program (EMS) to create a Web portfolio of assignments in his geographic information sciences undergraduate course. Dibiase (2003, p. 1) requires students in the course to “publish” assignments in e-portfolios because he believes that “the information technology skills and reflective attitudes they develop in the process are both valuable learning gains”.

Dibiase has taken his e-portfolio rationale and fosters it through the E- Education Institute which performs research on student Web portfolio usage throughout Penn State University. Because of the large number of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) Student Web portfolios, the recently published quantitative research on undergraduate Web space usage published by the institute provided findings on EMS and non-EMS student within the Penn State undergraduate population.

In the 9 Survey of Undergraduate Student use of Penn State Web space accounts, the researchers created a survey instrument consisting of a content database which recorded the presence or absence of evidence of different Web site characteristics. The list of characteristics was updated from a 2000 survey to reflect a simpler, academic-focused Web portfolio content structure. The 2005 survey categories included academic content which provides the student a place to reflect on formal and tangible learning and project experiences. The academic content section included course projects and assignments completed by students in formal coursework. The following section in the survey was supporting content.

This section contained work that was not specifically targeted solely to academic experience or work within a specific discipline. Supporting content subcategories included résumés, personal information, and co-curricular information. A third and final category within the 2005 Penn State Web usage survey was reflection. This third section was previously defined in the 2000 survey instrument as a list of portfolio assets. That changed in 2005 with the goal of providing a space for publishing reflective thoughts and commentary throughout the life of the portfolio. Reflections in the study were defined as “activity that occurs within a comprehensive approach” and consid- ered reflections or reflective evidence as important when focusing on direction within specific course outcomes.

An example of this might be a daily journal compiled by an elementary schoolteacher which could be included in a Web portfolio reflection category. Survey data collection was carried out on both EMS and non-EMS students from the undergraduate population. Results were divided up to list survey data that showed a higher number of EMS students activating Web space and more importantly using it for academic content. The study explained that this is very possible due to the fact that many EM courses require students to publish work online. Of the non-EMS students, only half of the population activated Web space accounts and at the time of the 2005 survey, less than half had used the Webspace to publish some form of academic work online.

However, the study did show that non-EMS students’ content increased in the quantity of reflective writing, which is a process that the study declares as “central to most general definitions of what is included in an exemplary in the portfolio” (Johnson 2005, p. 6). This case vividly illustrates the trend in using Web publishing to support academic achievement. It is critical to explain that faculty involvement in facilitating student Web publishing of assignments has tremendous residual value to students and faculty. Students in the earth and mineral sciences program at Penn State had always been more likely to activate Web portfolio space because of the pedagogy employed by instructors like David DiBiase. Faculty in disciplines such as education and art require portfolios and use them in their pedagogy, but we expect that. Making Web portfolios a part of curriculum in the hard and soft sciences as well as other areas including humanities will help to bring the Web portfolio to a higher level and ultimately it make it a standard part of assessment and learning within all disciplines.

The Penn State case is a comprehensive view of a flourishing Web portfolio program. This is not just seen in the yearly increase of student Web usage for portfolio purposes. But more importantly the program is exemplary because it has tackled administrative and technical hurdles which cripple faculty involve- ment. As well, the processes defined in the Penn State Web portfolio Web site are clear and are not intimidating. The process does allow for autonomy in technical development and software application training. There is no stock Web portfolio building application as is seen at many other institutions who have established a Web portfolio program.

The Web site for the Web portfolio does however provide a wealth of tutorials and resources to help students get up and running using Web development applications such as Microsoft FrontPage and Macromedia Dreamw eaver. The Web portfolio development program at Penn State works to empower students to gain the technical skills needed. I think this is in incredibly important in the Web portfolio development process.

Another important feature to be noted about the Penn State program the ease of use built-in to the interface of the Penn State e-portfolio Web site. There is a clear path towards publishing a Web portfolio for the student to follow. The site guides the student to collect first evidence, also known as content or assets, and then leads them towards “crafting their message”.

Crafting their message is a step in which students define their concept and audience for the Web portfolio. It is in the crafting a message section the site notes that there are no hard and fast rules to creating a vision for the Web portfolio. I feel this is really important because it is getting students in a mindset and arena for free flowing conceptualization and expression while integrating creative thoughts outside of someone else’s perceived criteria. After ideas are brainstormed and assets are collected, then students are guided towards creating pages.

Students get linked to a Web space application in which they acquire the server space needed to post the Web portfolio. As mentioned earlier, the site offers numerous resources and tutorials to help students create Web pages and post them using industry-standard software including Macromedia Dreamweaver.

There is even a section on design of Web pages. This is coupled with numerous resources to help students create visually compelling, well designed Web portfolios. Web portfolio examples are pro- vided, but no templates are available.

I agree with this methodology. When templates are the exclusive method of design, all the Web portfolios look the same and lose their creative punch as well as the individuality of the author. Lastly, students are encouraged to reflect continually on the artifacts exhibited in the Web portfolio. Sharing the author’s thoughts with the user/reader of the Web portfolio with regards to projects, processes, and positive attributes is highly recommended on the Penn State a portfolio Web site. I feel that making reflection a priority is important to any Web portfolio program.

Reflection should be constant throughout the life of the portfolio. Students need to think critically about their work, academic discipline, and own success to be able to explain to others why and how it is important. The Web portfolio provides a great platform for a reflection and therefore is justified throughout the life span of any person’s professional career.

Student Web portfolios do not have infinite life at Penn State. The university provides a disclaimer in their technical section on the Web that informs students that their pages will only be up six months past graduation and they are warned to create a backup of the Web portfolio on CD-ROM or another removable media. Unfortunately, this is common at most institutions. To maintain a lifelong connection to the Web portfolio space needs to be provided after graduation. This is difficult due to cost and security concerns. Students need to be encouraged and guided towards Web portfolio space after graduation. Sites such as GeoCities and Yahoo provide free space.

Low-cost space can be acquired at sites such as www.portfoliovillage.com and qfolio.com. The Penn State e-portfolio program is exemplary in how it has evolved into a strong successful Web portfolio program model that has provided important resources to students in establishing content, developing a solid message, understanding technical and software issues, and reflecting on their own growth and learning.

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