Portfolio as a tool for academic education and professional development: problems and challenges

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4.2. ‘E’-problems

In four sources problems on ICT aspects (‘e’-problems) were found. Fournie and Van Niekerk (1999) mention technological problems that impede completing some of the activities of students and lecturers. According to Van Tartwijk et al (2004) an inappropriate IT-infrastructure can become an excuse to postpone or avoid investing in working with portfolios.

Two authors focus on the ‘E’-problems of portfolios.

DiBiase (2002) describes the following potential costs, obstacles and challenges:

  • Time consuming to create, maintain, and evaluate ePortfolios (especially when ICT-skills of students and teachers need some improvement).

  • Difficulty of evaluating ePortfolios in a reliable way. DiBiase quotes Lin and Gronlund (2000) who conclude that in respect with a reliable evaluation sufficient planning, specification of portfolio guidelines, refinement of scoring procedures, and rater training are needed. (By the way: this is also applicable for portfolios in general).

  • Unequal access to technology and skills by students and teachers.

  • Cyber-plagiarism. The availability of students’ assignments in ePortfolios will increase the number of sources of on-line material from which students may be tempted to copy illicitly.

  • Privacy. There is a risk that personal information will be improperly revealed, when this information is available online. Even in a secured environment there is the risk of hacking.

  • Free speech. The question is if students are allowed to express controversial viewpoints in a portfolio.

Acker (2005) describes three obstacles to institutional uptake of ePortfolio:

  • Lack of easy ways to protect the intellectual property rights of students. If someone has access to an ePortfolio, he or she can download and misappropriate the work of a student. Maintaining ownership of the original work cannot be accomplished in a technical way, only through social norms and policy expectations.

  • Time consuming to provide explicit feedback on an ePortfolio of students and grading these portfolios. Furthermore if teachers have to learn new skills to use ePortfolio, this leads to an increased workload.

  • Inverted value of the work and commitment of students as they move from freshman status toward graduation. “Most students are outcome, rather than process, oriented. They want to graduate, rather than track their academic growth between early and late educational experiences. (...) As important as final outcomes are, students’ insights into their own unique learning and work processes are ultimately more valuable. At the beginning of the journey, however, students typically are concerned only with meeting a requirement, perhaps unrelated to their ultimate career goals. Without seeing the value at the beginning of the process, many students only superficially contribute to their ePortfolios. Lacking baseline data, the ultimate learning process improvements are invisible and the potential of ePortfolio is diminished."

Not all the problems, mentioned in 2.1 and 2.2, are real obstacles. The lack of good research evidence (Wright et al 1999) is not a problem as such, but it may influence the acceptance of a portfolio in academic institutes. Furthermore some of the problems, which are described previously, are very specific (e.g. privacy; DiBiase 2002) or may depend on a certain (cultural) context. The obstacle “free speech” (DiBiase 2002) does probably not occur in liberal countries, while an inadequate IT-infrastructure (Van Tartwijk et al 2004) will not be an issue in high-developed countries.

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