There is a considerable investment involved in putting together an effective learning community, in terms of effort, emotion, and money. This may involve, for example, resolving conflicts or at least soothing tensions before they can become overly severe. It may involve a good deal of coaxing of nominal members who are, for some reason, reluctant to become involved. If the community is disbanded before the full benefits are achieved, that effort will be partially wasted. It is not realistic to expect a community to last indefinitely, but it seems wasteful to cultivate a cooperative spirit, only to abruptly disband the group at a time that is predetermined, regardless of whether it has fulfilled its potential or not.
In traditional classes, students and instructors barely had time to bond, when their classroom community was disbanded. The result of so many transient relationships may well have contributed to loneliness and insecurity of students, and it was also a squandering of energy and accomplishments. If knowledge is socially constructed, as most models of e-learning maintain, learning must be held not only by isolated individuals but also collectively, and e-portfolios can help preserve that knowledge by enabling communities retain some cohesion after a semester ends. This practice is the assignment of constructing an e-portfolio as a capstone project for juniors at Mercy College as a means to reflect on their college careers, preserve knowledge held communally, and prepare to apply for graduate school or employment.
As a semester-long project for three sections of a junior capstone course during spring 2011 at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY, a total of 60 students were assigned to create e-portfolios using the application Taskstream. This was a course, taken by all students at the college, intended to document the proficiency of students, prior to their year of graduation, in what the college considered the six fundamental academic competencies: written communication, oral communication, critical reading, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and information literacy. A capstone project was intended to verify that students were not only competent in each of these skills considered in isolation, but could also integrate their various skills into a larger endeavor. Previously, the project had usually been a written work such as a term paper. This time students were asked to display assignments that documented their proficiency on the Web, whether these had been done for this course or any other taken in their college careers.
At the end of the semester, students filled out a questionnaire designed to evaluate the implications of e-portfolios for the classroom community. Asked whether e-portfolios encouraged collaboration, students responded as follows:
Yes, but only moderately
Definitely, it encouraged a strong spirit of sharing and collaboration
When asked how they would use their e-portfolios, students responded as follows:
For professional networking
For applying to graduate school
For applying for jobs
For keeping records of work
Other (Write-in Response)
Asked whether they would use e-portfolios to keep in touch with fellow classmates, students responded as follows:
About an even chance
Very probable or almost certain
This practice relates to the pillars of Learning Effectiveness, since it intended to help students extend and preserve the knowledge that they have
gained, not only in the individual course but in all of their college careers. It relates to Student Satisfaction since it addresses the social aspect
of online learning, which is generally a source not only of knowledge but also enjoyment.
All students must have access to the Internet and must be given a template for the construction of an e-portfolio, which may be either rented or
The program for the e-portfolios was rented by the institution from Taskstream, but other potentially effective applications are open source.
They may also be designed from scratch by somebody with moderate computer skills. Niether the students nor the institution need, therefore,
incur any charge to implement this practice.
Helen C. Barrett, Electronic Portfolios - A chapter in Educational Technology; An Encyclopedia to be published by ABC-CLIO, 2001,
2000, Available: http://electronicportfolios.com/portfolios/encyclopediaentry.htm, 10 August 2011.
Helen C. Chen and Tracy Penny Light, Electronic Portfolios and Student Success, Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Energy (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2010).
Amitai Etzioni, The New Golden Rule: Community and Morality in a Democratic Society (New York: Basic Books, 1996).
Boria Sax, "All that Knowledge and So What? Scholarship in the Digital Age," On the Horizon 13.4 (2005).
Peter Shea, Karen Swan and Alexandra Pickett, "Teaching Presence and Establishment of Community in Online Education,"
Elements of Quality in Online Education, Emerging Communities: Wisdom from the Sloan Consortium, ed. Janet Moor (Newham,
MA: SCOLE, 2005).
In many ways, applications for e-portfolios resemble the learning management systems that are used in online courses. Both e-portfolios
and learning management systems contain means by which instructors and students communicate, as well as features designed for the
submission, criticism, grading, and archiving of assignments. The major difference is that the learning management systems more closely
duplicate the structure of a geographically based classroom in an online setting. They make the classroom into a largely self-contained
unit, where the manifold distractions of the Internet are, so far as possible, shut out. Since E-portfolios incorporate material generated
outside of class and are centered on eventual publication to the Web, they are more open to the outside world.