This tenth issue of JITP is a special issue on electronic portfolio platforms, commonly known as “ePortfolios.” Educational organizations increasingly embrace ePortfolios as tools for reflection on the learning process, for self-directed paths to degree completion, and for institutional assessment. In fact, as of 2013, 50% of colleges and universities across the country have already adopted an ePortfolio platform. We wanted to consider how JITP’s commitment to critical pedagogy and innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship could help develop an understanding of the scope of ePortfolios for academic work. For students who create ePortfolios, instructors who design portfolio assignments, and institutions that implement ePortfolio programs, educational philosophies and priorities come to the surface in a tangible way. But the authors featured in this issue go one step further. They confront, reconceive, and subvert technological, institutional, or pedagogical boundaries in order to design ePortfolios that feel organic to their unique teaching and learning situations. By making pedagogical decisions visible, and recognizing the limits and possibilities of ePortfolio practices, the articles in this issue demonstrate that process and reflection are vital to innovation.
Portfolio pedagogy is process-oriented. As students gather work from different classes and semesters, there is an opportunity for every student, as well as their instructors, to assess how their ideas and interests have evolved over time. In this issue, we present an unfolding of these processes rather than a display of products. The first two articles in this issue, “Learning and Reflecting with ISUComm ePortfolios: Exploring Technological and Curricular Places” and “ePortfolios and Individualized, Interdisciplinary Learning: A Case Study,” offer examples of the trials and errors that programs have to negotiate as they create an ePortfolio system to fit their unique needs, rather than adjusting their institutional environments to fit a pre-made platform. Bryan Lutz, Barbara Blakely, Kathy Rose, and Thomas Ballard describe a three-year, iterative process of building an ePortfolio system for Iowa State University’s Foundation Communication courses (ISUComm). They offer a heuristic framework for reconciling expectations from multiple stakeholders and transcending boundaries related to security, permissions, support, and development in order to build a platform that can help students to cultivate reflection as a “habit of mind” from the beginning of their university experience. They are building an ePortfolio that will become a central part of the learning environment, both physical and virtual, to “encourage students to view their ISUComm ePortfolios, like the museums and buildings they research, as a space to curate, showcase, and contextualize their work.” For programs and institutions that are in the earlier phases of implementing an ePortfolio system, this article offers a model for making context-specific choices and underlines the role ePortfolios play in multimodal literacy and learning.
Similarly, in “ePortfolios and Individualized, Interdisciplinary Learning: A Case Study,” Jenny Kijowski and Nicholas Likos chronicle the process of selecting, testing, and implementing various ePortfolio platforms to match the learning objectives at the Gallatin School of Individualized Learning at New York University. The authors claim, “[o]ur primary purpose was to equip students with a tool with which to reflect on their progress, map out the next steps in their plan of study, and build towards future milestones. And to that end, the pilot succeeded.” For anyone seeking to assess platforms, including faculty members and administrators, this piece offers a thoughtful and thorough perspective from educational technologists charged with matching a tool to the pedagogical aims of an interdisciplinary program. Their conclusion resonates with our mission at JITP: the authors have refocused their energy on “prioritizing user experience over technical sophistication; focused, purposeful design over broad, generalized application; and, most importantly, pedagogy over technology.” These are goals echoed throughout many of the submissions in this issue.
Composing in a digital space changes the rhetorical situation, whether that be for students creating ePortfolios or authors publishing in an online, open access journal. In our call for submissions we urged potential authors to utilize the affordances of the JITP platform to produce interactive scholarship. Both “I Lit: An E-Poetry, E-Portfolio Exhibit” and “More Than Assessment: What ePortfolios Make Possible for Students, Faculty, and Curricula” answered the call with digital exhibits that showcase scholarship and practice in tandem. In “I Lit: An E-Poetry, E-Portfolio Exhibit,” professor Dan Anderson and undergraduate student Emily Shepherd worked together to curate student work and teaching materials from a course that focused on reading, creating, and reflecting upon electronic poetry. They frame the student-created videos at the center of this piece with a discussion of the theoretical and pedagogical approaches that informed the scaffolding of the assignment. Electronic poetry is very specialized content; however, the exhibit uses tools such as writing, reflection, and multimedia relevant to many disciplines. This piece presented an interesting set of challenges for the journal: it required us to rethink our editorial workflow to consider how to format, edit, and archive an ePortfolio submitted as an academic article. We would be remiss in not mentioning our use of hypothes.is as a copy editing tool for this unique set of artifacts; we were able to create a private group that made it possible to insert and share content and style suggestions between the editors and authors. We found this method to be an effective solution to the problem of editing web-based submissions, and we recommend using this social annotation tool in the classroom as well.
“More Than Assessment: What ePortfolios Make Possible for Students, Faculty, and Curricula” similarly employs the format of an ePortfolio to demonstrate its potential. Lesley Erin Bartlett, Heather C.W. Stuart, Justin K. Owensby, and Jordan R. Davis argue that their university’s ePortfolio implementation found success by allowing departments and faculty to tailor the platform to their students’ needs. In particular, they demonstrate how reflective writing—a central tenet of ePortfolio pedagogy—can be adapted across the curriculum. With pages highlighting how students in Biosystems Engineering, English Education, and Nursing each found uses for the portfolio, this ePortfolio-as-article highlights the ways students process discipline-specific learning and develop their professional identities through ePortfolios. The article also offers insights into effective support for students, and raises questions about how to better teach web accessibility, visual literacy, and digital ethics.
One theme that emerged in all of the work included in this special issue on ePortfolios was the importance of reflection. In “RePort_Bot: A Computational Approach to ePortfolios and Reflection” Ryan Omizo remixes the reflective nature of portfolio work through technological intervention. In this piece Omizo asks: “how does the digital nature of ePortfolios affect composing and reflection practices and how can we leverage the digital affordances of ePortfolios in the service of better writing and design?” For digital humanists seeking experimental methods of utilizing technology to shape writing pedagogy, this article is likely to excite you. Omizo puts these theoretical questions into practice by creating and testing an automated bot intended to aid in the reflection process. The RePort_Bot “returns individualized and cumulative measures of rhetorical velocity of ePortfolio content to writers in a way that humans would have difficulties replicating,” which Omizo claims has the potential to “provide an anterior perspective on that ePortfolio content.” The interactive data visualizations in this article offered another opportunity to redefine the capabilities of this journal. By including his treemaps as responsive images, we invite the audience to explore the results in multiple modes.
In addition to these articles, we include a conversation between Laura M. Gambino, Bret Eynon, Joseph Ugoretz, and issue editor Dominique Zino. This interview aims to capture the evolution of ePortfolio practice at the City University of New York (CUNY) over the past two decades under the leadership of three thoughtful practitioners and administrators at three different CUNY institutions: Stella and Charles Guttman Community College, LaGuardia Community College, and Macaulay Honors College. As our readers may know, JITP was founded and is still largely affiliated with the CUNY system, which has a long and rich history of ePortfolio use at all levels. From the community colleges to the honors program, CUNY has been one of the national leaders in the experimental and large-scale implementation of ePortfolios. At a sprawling urban university system like CUNY, it can be difficult to see how the nuts and bolts of student and faculty work facilitate a broader institutional vision. We hope that the interview offers practitioners insight into the context for making choices that affect huge numbers of students and faculty, and that have the potential to shape the learning culture of an institution.
We also welcomed short form submissions related to our theme, and are happy to include an Assignments piece, edited by Assignments editor sava saheli singh. In “Design for Transformational Learning with an ePortfolio,” Beata Jones and Daxton Stewart share how they conducted a course built around the South by Southwest conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, in which students used the Digication ePortfolio platform to report on their experiences and learning at the conference.
In a moment when the corporatization of higher education undermines people’s agency (especially, but not exclusively, that of students and contingent faculty), we want to examine the technological infrastructures we use in higher education, and consider how they might hold possibilities for greater access, equal opportunity, and creativity. The pieces collected in this issue of JITP suggest some directions for future work. Thank you to the authors who, taking risks with us to promote new forms of scholarly work, produced engaging, innovative pieces for our readers. This issue also pushed the boundaries of the journal in process, form, and content. As such, the issue was a collaborative effort that could not have been accomplished without the entire Editorial Collective and all of our reviewers. A special thanks goes to our managing editor Laura Kane, the head of our staging team Ben Miller, and CUNY Academic Commons developer Boone Gorges who helped us tackle the more difficult technical developments this issue demanded. We hope this issue encourages others to experiment, explore, and collaborate in an effort to extend the definitions and boundaries of ePortfolio scholarship.