Published on 2013/02/04

Using an Electronic Portfolio as a Capstone Project: The Rationale, Logistics and Reflections (Part 4)

Co-written with: Beth Wrenn-Estes | Instructor, San Jose State University; Genna Buhr | Research Student, San Jose State University; Sylvie Rusay | Research Student, San Jose State University; Alejandra Saldana-Nann | Research Student, San Jose State University and Donna Zick | Research Student, San Jose State University.

Using an Electronic Portfolio as a Capstone Project: The Rationale, Logistics and Reflections (Part 4)
While there were some challenges in implementing an e-Portfolio approach to capstone projects, the successes for the program were overwhelming.

In the first of this series of short articles about the use of e-Portfolios as a capstone project for the Master of Library and Information Science degree in the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University, we provided an overview of the purposes, the structure and the content of the e-Portfolio. In the second and third parts of the series, we showed the range of technologies we have used since we implemented the e-Portfolio as a requirement for our students in 2006.

In this final part in the series, we will explain the challenges and successes we have experienced in the six years since we implemented this assessment tool in our program.

Challenges

While the e-Portfolio process has been overwhelmingly positive for our school, we have encountered a range of challenges that we continue to try to resolve.

Privacy

One of our main challenges is privacy. Our students complete a wide range of assignments in our program, including analyses of existing programs and services. Additionally, most of our classes include some type of collaborative work and, so, some of the artifacts students submit are assignments they completed with a partner or a group. We need to be sure that no matter which interface our students use, they protect the privacy of any individuals or institutions included in their artifacts, and the privacy of any SLIS students or instructors with whom they might have worked. Thus, we require that all students include the affirmation statement at the end of their e-Portfolio indicating they have password-protected their site and made a good-faith effort to protect the privacy of other individuals and institutions. We take privacy issues very seriously, and even though we work hard to deal with them, they remain a challenge that we are always dealing with.

Academic integrity

A second challenge is the issue of academic integrity. We work with many students every semester, and it is difficult to be absolutely sure all students’ work is their own original creation. We manage this challenge in a few ways, albeit imperfectly. First, the affirmation statement includes a statement indicating the student was the original author of all work included, except when it is stated that there was collaboration. Secondly, as advisors, we get to know students’ writing quite well because we read so much of their work throughout the semester, both in the competency essays and in the artifacts. If one person’s writing style were to change dramatically from one document to the next, most of the advisors would likely notice and question the student.  Finally, as previously mentioned, there is the option in Desire 2 Learn of using the anti-plagiarism software Turn-It-In. We are exploring the possibility of making use of this tool for our e-Portfolio submissions.

Digital storage

A third challenge we face with the e-Portfolio is simply storage of the students’ digital assets. With 14 competency essays and three or four artifacts for each, these e-Portfolios can consume a lot of server space. Additionally, many students’ e-Portfolios include huge multimedia files that consume even more server space. We are very explicit from the start of the program that we don’t have the server space to keep students’ e-Portfolios indefinitely and that they should make alternate hosting plans. Because we are teaching people who will become information professionals, we feel it is actually a good opportunity for students to think about the challenges of digital archiving in a very real way as they think about the storage of their own e-Portfolio.

Consistency in assessment

Another challenge we face as a school is that we have about 28 different, full-time faculty members who are e-Portfolio advisors. Managing the balance between consistency throughout the program and academic freedom is challenging. As a way to temper this variability, we have developed Competency Statement Rubrics that guide the advisors in their assessments to ensure a degree of consistency (http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/downloads/289_compRubrics.pdf). Additionally, the e-Portfolio coordinator oversees the whole program and works with each of the advisors to ensure there aren’t widely-differing expectations and procedures for students who are assigned to one advisor instead of another.

We also have guidelines all advisors are expected to follow, for example, that the advisor must provide feedback to a student within five days after a submission of a competency essay. Some of the e-Portfolio advisors manage the workload in different ways, with some allowing students to submit competency essays at any point throughout the term and others allowing submissions only on a few set deadlines throughout the term. Because students are randomly assigned to advisors, these differences in approach can be understandably frustrating to students.

Successes

Now that we are several years into the e-Portfolio process, we can proudly say it has been a great success, both for our program as well as for our students. The e-Portfolio provides data every semester that we can aggregate for our program assessment, both for our university’s accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and for our program’s accreditation through the American Library Association (ALA). In addition to program assessment, we feel that building around the 15 competencies is helping us to have a more consistent and comprehensive curriculum.

The e-Portfolio as a capstone project has been overwhelmingly positive for our program. It is an immense amount of work for both students and advisors, but it provides a true culminating experience that prepares students for entering the profession of library and information science. As one graduate of our program expressed, “Completing the e-Portfolio was like having a three month-long job interview!”

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Readers Comments

Tawna Regehr 2013/02/04 at 9:34 am

Of all the challenges listed, only digital storage and privacy seem to apply specifically to the e-Portfolio. The other two, academic integrity and consistency in assessment, could be said of all higher education programs. I think that speaks well for the e-Portfolio assessment as an innovative alternative to other capstone projects.

    Michelle Holschuh Simmons 2013/02/06 at 6:17 pm

    Thank you, Tawna! Yes, you are right. We feel like the successes far outweigh the challenges. Thank you for your interest.

    Michelle

Ryan Loche 2013/02/04 at 1:46 pm

Privacy might be a difficult challenge to deal with, particularly if students choose the option of an external web platform (Google Sites, WordPress). It would be interesting to read more about how the school has dealt with this.

    Michelle Holschuh Simmons 2013/02/06 at 6:24 pm

    Thank you, Ryan, for your interest. Yes, privacy is an ongoing challenge for us. For students who are using external platforms, we ask them to restrict access either through a password or by setting access privileges to individual people (such as in GoogleSites). We also specify that the content cannot be searchable by web browsers; we don’t want someone’s e-Portfolio to come up in web search results (only the preview would be visible since access to the site would be restricted, but we obviously don’t want even an excerpt of the content visible). Students are required to include an affirmation of academic integrity at the conclusion of their e-Portfolio (see the very bottom of this page: http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/current-students/courses/289-e-portfolio-handbook/content-and-process/required-content). Of course, our safeguards are not perfect, but we have had very few problems since we instituted these practices. Let me know if you have other questions. Thank you!

    Michelle

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