Using an Electronic Portfolio as a Capstone Project: The Rationale, Logistics and Reflections (Part 4)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
Author Perspective: Educator