eFolio platform since 2005: accessible and economical

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Summary:

Beginning in 2005, SF State has used the hosted platform, eFolio, for its ePortfolios. Its accessibility features, good price point, and easy-to-use platform has made it an efficient solution to use across our large campus. We believe this ePortfolio technology has helped build and support a culture of integrative student learning.

Authors: Ruth Cox, Angie Portacio

E-folio

Part I: Our Technology Story

Platform — Introduction

  • We have used eFolio since 2005, http://www.myefolio.com/ which has provided a flexible, easy-to-use web-based platform for building a broad range of electronic portfolios. Because SF State has made accessibility a priority, this was an important factor. Other key features include:
  • The ability to introduce students to sign up for accounts and get started working in 90 minutes or less.
  • A simple, Microsoft Word-like text editor
  • A variety of design, color options, and themes that dynamically display portfolio content in a professional, attractive website format (Our institution has several univ. and dept. level “branded” designs)
  • HTML editing tools for users with more advanced technical skills
  • A quick and easy system for uploading and embedding images, video (e.g., Flash, WMV, YouTube), audio, or documents (e.g., Office, Google Docs)
  • An ability to enable social networking (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin) tools on a public site
  • “Best Practices” formats to provide guidance on what to include and how to display information
  • An ability to easily link to external websites and databases
  • Wizards and online ‘Quick Tips’ to provide users 24/7 assistance
  • An alternative, text-based interface, designed to support text- or vocal-based browsers, legacy browsers (Internet Explorer 6 and earlier, for example), and mobile devices
  • An ability to create alternate versions of an eFolio for different target audiences (from one account)
  • An ability for visitors to provide feedback in response to content

Overall evaluation of our current platform. We’ve been very happy with the eFolio platform. It has successfully supported our student-centered ePortfolio approach for the past 9 years.

Strengths: Ease of use, portability (any computer/web-based), inexpensive (in tight CSU budget times); very durable, and dependable, little downtime, very good customer relationship with eFolio

Weaknesses: Difficult to transfer artifacts directly across platforms, rosters of portfolios are still created by hand.

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Features most useful for strengthening inquiry-based social and reflective pedagogies.

  • The portfolio project is run from within the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT)  team in Academic Technology. We conduct approximately 50 workshops a semester (within existing class times in those departments requiring portfolios) by a team of 5 Instructional Designers. All have been cross-trained on the eFolio system and can conduct Introductory or Refresher workshops.
  • eFolio pages have the option to enter full text, additional resources and reflections as well as to tag any item/image with a keyword. Obviously the required content from each discipline is what strengthens social and reflective pedagogies—the reflective writing prompts and other exercises faculty guide with students.

There is a built-in “Reflection” block, ability to link to google docs, videos, enable feedback on any page in portfolio.

Features that work well in our professional development work. A real strength of eFolio has been the ability to showcase work in a variety of forms. Students have reported that the eFolio has led to getting jobs and being more visible to graduate programs. Having a gallery of student examples has been very useful.

Outcomes assessment process—issues or problems. eFolio has a flexible assessment “questionnaire” feature that we have not fully utilized, primarily due to lack of pressure/need from the institutional/departmental levels. Nursing has indicated interest in setting up these features, but we have not yet piloted it. The only department that has gone through a full assessment cycle using data from portfolios is Health Education (MPH, Metro), and Liberal Studies using a random selection process and applying existing rubrics (a somewhat faculty labor intensive, yet informative process.)

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Platform selection process. We first conducted a needs assessment, polling the Chairs of departments in 2006 to discern how widespread the use of portfolios for formative/summative assessment of student work was.  (See attached Needs Assessment Document).

  • In 2006, 25 departments indicated that they already required some form of portfolios (paper-based or digital), or expressed interest in using electronic portfolios at the course or department levels in the next 12 months (62% of all respondents). 17 departments (68% of those already using portfolios) were already using some form of digital portfolios [Hosted software solutions: Taskstream, E-folio, I-CAP, as well as CD, DVD, and websites.] We were tasked with trying to narrow the number of solutions on campus.
  • We had a small committee comprised of 2 faculty, 1 Dept. Chair, and 1 Academic Technology manager who began experimenting with a variety of platforms (in 2005/6). Our goal was small, primarily to help those departments who were interested in transitioning from paper-based to electronic portfolios.
  • In addition, because we use an open-source learning management system (Moodle), we were given a mini-grant by the CSU Chancellors office conduct a case-study review of potential open-source ePortfolios platforms (identifying Mahara as promising, but not yet mature enough for our needs) The report is available here.
  • eFolio stood out as the most affordable and easiest to navigate web-based portfolio platform.  eFolio, Minnesota was also appealing, as it was hosted by the MNSCU system, a “sister” state college system, not a high-cost/pressure proprietary company. We are not in a position to host our own system, and MNSCU was very accommodating in price and start-up costs. We began the pilot project(s) with very little investment–$5,000 from Academic Affairs (who was interested in finding a common solution).

Since 2005, eFolio, Minnesota has had several incarnations, from eFolio to efolioworld and now myefolio. The platform has evolved, but basic feature sets have remained, making our trainings and materials easy to update.

eFolio allowed us to purchase “blocks” of sites and set up a very reasonable 3 year contract.

We have remained with the same platform since the program’s inception. We hope to be able to continue now that eFolio is hosted by Avenet (the original developer).

Connecting with the field. We’ve been able to share our model and resources with many organizations and present our “getting started steps” and creating an “eporticulture” ideas at conferences, share resources. It’s been useful to be able to experience different approaches and get access and information from other organizations about the pros and cons of other platforms. We’ve learned from others experiments, which in turn has helped us to refine our model.

Support and Collaboration

Budget. Academic Affairs/Academic Technology pays for our ePortfolio platform, we are currently under a 3 year licensing agreement with eFolio (using CA Lottery funds).

Project planning, vision and implementation is done by one faculty liaison (Lecturer: @.80), Academic technology dedicated staff (Instructional Designer @ .60) and Acad. Tech Director.

Campus IT is not involved; this is a hosted solution. IT on our campus is separate from AT (Academic Technology).

Our platform does not interface with other applications on campus. We chose a stand-alone ePortfolio system on purpose. There is an API available between our LMS (Moodle) and eFolio. However, we have chosen NOT to integrate at this point, as we are most concerned with students having their portfolios beyond the university, to benefit beyond graduation into career. All SF State email accounts and access to the systems are wiped out within 6 months of graduation, which would defeat the primary purpose of the portfolios.

Our platform and scaling up.

  • We are focused now on department level implementations (gateway/capstone, required) and our platform has been good for this.
  • Our team of trainers are all cross-trained.
  • We moved from singular (class level requests) to plural (full department).
  • Our strategy is showcasing through website, featuring examples and doing some presentation outreach, benefits to departments.
  • Our campus impact: Serving 22 departments (5,000+ students), more departments are requesting for services.

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Part II: Pedagogy Drives Technology

Particularly with the Metro Academies program and the Liberal Studies department, the ePortfolio technology has helped build and support a culture of integrative student learning. The ePortfolio project along with the Metro Academies program is playing an important role in a campus-wide discussion about creating more opportunities for integrative learning, especially with low-income freshmen and sophomores.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst 

Pedagogy

Affecting pedagogy on campus. Each department using portfolios has a unique approach, however a few threads are consistent such as the prominent use of peer to peer review/critiques, portfolios for Gateway/Capstone classes, plan of study/mapping assistance for students within portfolios; Faculty have developed handbooks for reflective writing; Within the Metro Academies and Liberal Studies programs, clear evidence of Integrative learning can be seen through the portfolios. 

Challenges across curriculum. Challenges we have faced include: getting faculty in a curricular sequence on board with using the portfolios, changing lecturers, lack of consistency (“I was hired this minute to teach this capstone course, asked to use portfolios, what do I do?”). Also, often the department doesn’t communicate to instructors the overall purpose of the portfolios or clearly outline the Class objectives and how they connect with the >Dept. objectives>Institutional objectives.

The “e” in ePortfolio. The digital technology allows us to use media (videos, blogs), makes the work portable (across the world), and is flexible—can be changed from anywhere anytime, it’s not static. The technology accommodates different audiences (multiple portfolios possible from one account, “re-purposing” of content).

Classroom strategies developed by faculty—working with the strengths and limitations of your platform.

An example:

Intellectual Autobiography assignment (Liberal Studies 300) In this assignment, students are asked to reflect on their personal and academic identities. Looking through several (randomly selected) examples will give you an idea of the range of images and words students used to represent their ideas/selves:

Professional Development

Faculty are not the primary focus of our efforts, but many do set up accounts and follow along their students. There is not a policy at SF State for faculty to use ePortfolios for their own RTP or research purposes, but some have been experimenting with this.

Resources and workshops for faculty. Information available here: http://eportfolio.sfsu.edu/faculty_land.php

Tutorials and handouts. We rely heavily on our website and refer faculty directly to this. We have also developed a series of webcasts based on our eFolio trainings.

Direct support is available by appointment, phone consultation, or email.

Outcomes Assessment

The eFolio platform can support complex assessments, but most departments have not asked to use this dimension. If institutional research begins to request more data, we feel that the tool can offer this. However, more dedicated set-up time, staffing and funding will be needed.

Student Engagement

Student learning and enhancing ownership. Students own the accounts and have total control over the sites, beyond graduation. At sign up, they own the account and are legally responsible for it.eFolio has allowed us to keep all portfolios alive and well since 2005.

Students’ view of the platform. It’s been suitable with the majority of students. No complaints, rarely anything that can’t be fixed or adapted. All students are successful in getting started within one workshop. We provide a range of resources for help, (email and links to help documents), and encourage students to help each other. Surveys within departments (Metro Academies) have indicated successful use by students.

 “eTerns” to help faculty and/or students. Developing a more widespread student program is a dream for us. General space and dedicated lab space has been an issue from the beginning of the project. We currently have 2 student assistants offering direct service to faculty and students. As demand increases, we know that a more formal “eTern” program will be essential, and have drafted a groundwork proposal. We are now in new workspaces that hold potential for such a program.

Conclusion

Overall we have been happy with our platform. We would change a few things if we could. These include:

  • Improve its mobile functionality (editing on tablets, smart phones) with additional editing functionally
  • Improve web 2.0 capacity
  • Build ability to aggregate and view multiple portfolios (for faculty and campus use)
  • Update design templates or be able to modify them
  • Create a clearer assessment tool, one that is easier to use and meets our needs

We hope that the platform is alive and well 10 years from now!

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