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Ramping Up E-Portfolios at U Cincinnati

Even with backers among the faculty, e-portfolio initiatives can be slow to take hold across university and college campuses. What does it take to encourage adoption? One professor who's championing a faculty-driven e-portfolio initiative at the University of Cincinnati shares some of his insights.

The University of Cincinnati's College of Engineered and Applied Science kicked off its e-portfolio project about six years ago with a simple template designed in Dreamweaver. The process was a bit cumbersome, but it got the job done.

When cloud computing took hold in educational circles, UC moved to a hosted system. Since then, a committee of seven faculty members has helped to spread the good word about e-portfolios and their ability to record and retain a student's coursework, projects, progress, skills and experience via the Web.

George Suckarieh, a professor at the college, said the initiative has grown to include the university's construction management, architectural engineering technology, and honors programs. In fact, e-portfolios are mandatory for honors students, who must use them to demonstrate successful completion of the university's graduation requirements.

E-portfolios in Practice
The university uses both LiveText and iFolio, the latter of which is used mainly by the honors program. Construction Management (CM) students are required to sign up for LiveText's online platform when they take their first freshmen seminar, said Suckarieh, whose team developed a "personal portfolio template" that all new students use to set up their e-portfolios.

Students pay a one-time fee to use the e-portfolio platform and to store their data for a period of five years. They're able to export their portfolios at any time, according to Suckarieh. Every faculty member using the system receives a free account with unlimited storage to build templates, share them with the students, and assess their work.

Students design their personal portfolios utilizing a basic template. Using the template, students record information about the programs they've entered, the classes they are taking, the length and the descriptions of those classes. They can also use the system to find students with similar interests, and to showcase their high school achievements and higher educational goals.

"Personal and course portfolios present the students with opportunities to enhance their learning, archive coursework and knowledge and showcase their skills," he said. "The portfolios also exhibit the maturity and growth of the students through their years in college."

Suckarieh said several faculty members of the CM program worked together to implement the university's e-portfolio learning platform, which serves as more than just a repository for student information. "E-portfolios are not just demonstrations of student progress; they're also great for classroom use," said Suckarieh. "They help to form a collaboration between student and instructor."

In his own classes, for example, Suckarieh has transferred Blackboard-based lecture and assignment information into an e-portfolio. Students are able to review the information, have their questions answered and collaborate with one another and with their teacher. "It works out really well," he said. "The system is far superior to any other type of collaboration system we've used in the past."

E-portfolios also encourage early intervention, and can be particularly useful with students who are struggling in specific academic areas. These online portfolios allow academic advisors and counselors to take the initiative to reach out to students to offer advice, support and assistance, rather than waiting for pupils to seek help. "Advisors can pinpoint deficiencies before those issues impede student success," said Suckarieh.

Encouraging Adoption
The advantages of e-portfolios may be hard to ignore, but getting faculty members to embrace this new way of displaying student work--and then collaborating with them about it--hasn't been easy for UC.

"Implementing e-portfolio requires a change in culture that takes time," said Suckarieh. "For the experience to be successful, implementation must be faculty-driven, and it must address the needs of a critical mass of that faculty."

To encourage use of e-portfolios on campus, Suckarieh and a small group of faculty members handle the professional development related to the initiative. Through it, the advocates "repeatedly explain and demonstrate the benefits of e-portfolios to all involved," said Suckarieh, who pointed to full administrative support and an easy-to-use platform as two additional must-haves for any e-portfolio initiative.

"You really have to make sure the technology is easy to access and utilize, or no one will use it," said Suckarieh. And once the e-portfolio system is in place, he added, universities must give faculty members adequate time to warm up to it and use the technology with students.

Suckarieh said UC's e-portfolio initiative is slowly taking hold on campus, albeit not as quickly as he'd like. "It took us five to 10 years to get to the point where everyone was using Blackboard on campus," remarked Suckarieh. "I suspect the same thing will happen with electronic portfolios."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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