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Evaluating e-portfolios in law: 2006-07

UKCLE’s Using e-portfolios in legal education project piloted the use of e-portfolios in three institutions – Glasgow Graduate School of Law, Oxford Institute of Legal Practice and the University of Westminster. In autumn 2007 the project team undertook an evaluation of student reactions to the use of e-portfolios – a second evaluation was undertaken in autumn 2008.

Data on the students’ experiences with e-portfolios was collected via a combination of interviews, structured focus groups and questionnaires. Below is a selection of quotes from the respondents (in italics) with some analytical comment, grouped by the twelve questions used in the evaluation.

What did you enjoy about doing the e-portfolio?

Respondents enjoyed being able to make comments and receive feedback on their work. They appreciated the flexibility and interactivity of an e-portfolio and the ability to write your thoughts. One respondent said it gave him the opportunity to express how you feel about your work, and another said it gave me a chance to express/give feedback on what I thought.

In particular respondents recognised that reflection was an important element of the e-portfolio, and that they could benefit from the reflective process. Reflection helped them to identify their own abilities – reflecting upon one’s own work is not something that is done regularly.

Further comments:

  • it helped me reflect on my strengths and weaknesses
  • I enjoyed taking a step back and analysing both the task and my efforts and completing it
  • [it was] a chance to identify weaknesses and focus reviews
    One respondent commented that breaking down into sections was good for reflection. A mentor commented that it was good to see development and progress – better than paper version.

Respondents also commented that it was something different, and that they had enjoyed learning a new technique.

What did you not enjoy about doing the e-portfolio?

Negative comments emphasised technical issues:

  • just another IT system
  • security aspects
  • impractical
  • submission was a little tricky
  • was not compatible with Works
  • it should have accepted more Word documents

Respondents were also concerned about the time it took, for example time consuming and more form filling, too much detail to input.

What would have made the process easier for you?

Respondents indicated they would have preferred more training, in particular more hands-on experience. However one respondent noted that just the experience of completing the process makes it easier…the first couple of times…it is difficult but…[it] would become easier as you become more familiar with it, suggesting that the application was reasonably intuitive.

Respondents also would have welcomed more direction, in the form of deadlines and templates.

What advice would you give to a student who is about to start compiling an e-portfolio?

Answers related mainly to when and how the respondents completed the e-portfolio. Respondents advised that regular entries were important, and keeping the e-portfolio up to date was crucial:

  • keep up to date, time/plan efficiently
  • do it little and often!
  • don’t leave it till the last minute
  • keep up with posting your assignments and feedback

Students should think about the e-portfolio format:

  • think about how you want to structure your final portfolio
  • keep collecting assets
  • don’t worry too much about it – it’s easier than you think, just give it a go

Reflection was identified as key:

  • you don’t need to spend hours on [it], but if you do spend a few minutes to evaluate each piece of work you do, you’ll come to better understand the areas that could use improvement

Taken together the last two quotes are quite powerful – the respondents have realised that the e-portfolio is not something to agonise over to ensure every entry is perfect. If you ‘worry’ about it you may not make any progress at all, but if you spend even just a short time thinking about what you have done you can reap disproportionate benefits.

What advice would you give us to help us improve the e-portfolio experience?

Many responses related to technology, training and direction:

  • more user friendly
  • more practice/time to mess about with the programme
  • clearer guidelines on how to submit

Others related to feedback:

  • feedback on journal was good
  • it is vital that [the portfolio] is linked with respondent feedback otherwise the task may appear to some as pointless…for the masses to get involved, it may be worth using the same system for all tutor feedback
    It is clear that the respondents valued feedback, essential in order to ensure that the students engaged with the portfolio process. Receiving feedback rewarded their involvement and helped them see the value of what they were doing.

In what way will you take what you have learned into your career?

Many responses related to the ability to reflect on previous activities and to be able to learn from that process. Respondents felt that an ability to assess work and tasks would be important in their future career, and the ability to reflect and analyse was valued. They acknowledged the discipline of stopping to reflect and appreciated the importance of this. In some ways they had begun to realise the benefit of reflection only when they were obliged to do it.

One respondent indicated that an e-portfolio helped control professional development as it gave a structure by which to measure development.

The enhanced ability to give and receive feedback was also valued – the e-portfolio helps to accept criticism better and gave respondents a better idea of how to give feedback on problems…experience[ed] or…seen. Thus the portfolio is enhancing a holistic approach to feedback.

What advice would you give employers who are thinking of introducing e-portfolios?

Respondents could see the benefits of e-portfolios in the workplace. One benefit highlighted was the feeling of inclusivity given by an e-portfolio, encouraging a stakeholder mentality among users:

  • it’s a really good idea which would make employees feel more involved and thus boost morale and productivity

Respondents recognised there was scope for portfolios to allow continual self appraisal, which in turn would encourage greater development of individuals and sort out issues at an early stage. It was also seen as a less threatening way for employees to be more honest about how they rate their work.

Other advice related to more practical issues, with a need identified for:

  • more time to work on the portfolio
  • more structure, regular reviews and monitoring
  • [a] training scheme on how to use it
  • keep[ing] it simple

Was the experience mostly positive or mostly negative, and why?

Overall the respondents said the experience was mostly positive. One respondent valued being able to take a step back and analyse my approach to my work which can be no bad thing. Another indicated the process had identified strengths and weaknesses for the first time. An unexpected positive for one respondent, and the researchers, was that it gave her the opportunity to be heard – she felt that what she said might make a difference and help improve the course.

Should the e-portfolio be compulsory?

Respondents were fairly evenly split on this question, although one respondent, who had used a system of activity and personal logs as well as an e-portfolio system, said that if it was to be compulsory then a recognised e-portfolio tool should be used.

Last Modified: 6 July 2010