Student engagement with an ePortfolio : a case study of pre-service education students

Emmett, David John (2011) Student engagement with an ePortfolio : a case study of pre-service education students. Professional Doctorate thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The emergence of ePortfolios is relatively recent in the university sector as a way to engage students in their learning and assessment, and to produce records of their accomplishments. An ePortfolio is an online tool that students can utilise to record, catalogue, retrieve and present reflections and artefacts that support and demonstrate the development of graduate students’ capabilities and professional standards across university courses. The ePortfolio is therefore considered as both process and product. Although ePortfolios show promise as a useful tool and their uptake has grown, they are not yet a mainstream higher education technology. To date, the emphasis has been on investigating their potential to support the multiple purposes of learning, assessment and employability, but less is known about whether and how students engage with ePortfolios in the university setting. This thesis investigates student engagement with an ePortfolio in one university. As the educational designer for the ePortfolio project at the University, I was uniquely positioned as a researching professional to undertake an inquiry into whether students were engaging with the ePortfolio. The participants in this study were a cohort (defined by enrolment in a unit of study) of second and third year education students (n=105) enrolled in a four year Bachelor of Education degree. The students were introduced to the ePortfolio in an introductory lecture and a hands-on workshop in a computer laboratory. They were subsequently required to complete a compulsory assessment task – a critical reflection - using the ePortfolio. Following that, engagement with the ePortfolio was voluntary. A single case study approach arising from an interpretivist paradigm directed the methodological approach and research design for this study. The study investigated the participants’ own accounts of their experiences with the ePortfolio, including how and when they engaged with the ePortfolio and the factors that impacted on their engagement. Data collection methods consisted of an attitude survey, student interviews, document collection, a researcher reflective journal and researcher observations. The findings of the study show that, while the students were encouraged to use the ePortfolio as a learning and employability tool, most students ultimately chose to disengage after completing the assessment task. Only six of the forty-five students (13%) who completed the research survey had used the ePortfolio in a sustained manner. The data obtained from the students during this research has provided insight into reasons why they disengaged from the ePortfolio. The findings add to the understandings and descriptions of student engagement with technology, and more broadly, advance the understanding of ePortfolios. These findings also contribute to the interdisciplinary field of technology implementation. There are three key outcomes from this study, a model of student engagement with technology, a set of criteria for the design of an ePortfolio, and a set of recommendations for effective practice for those implementing ePortfolios. The first, the Model of Student Engagement with Technology (MSET) (Version 2) explored student engagement with technology by highlighting key engagement decision points for students The model was initially conceptualised by building on work of previous research (Version 1), however, following data analysis a new model emerged, MSET (Version 2). The engagement decision points were identified as: • Prior Knowledge and Experience, leading to imagined usefulness and imagined ease of use; • Initial Supported Engagement, leading to supported experience of usefulness and supported ease of use; • Initial Independent Engagement, leading to actual experience of independent usefulness and actual ease of use; and • Ongoing Independent Engagement, leading to ongoing experience of usefulness and ongoing ease of use. The Model of Student Engagement with Technology (MSET) goes beyond numerical figures of usage to demonstrate student engagement with an ePortfolio. The explanatory power of the model is based on the identification of the types of decisions that students make and when they make them during the engagement process. This model presents a greater depth of understanding student engagement than was previously available and has implications for the direction and timing of future implementation, and academic and student development activities. The second key outcome from this study is a set of criteria for the re-conceptualisation of the University ePortfolio. The knowledge gained from this research has resulted in a new set of design criteria that focus on the student actions of writing reflections and adding artefacts. The process of using the ePortfolio is reconceptualised in terms of privileging student learning over administrative compliance. The focus of the ePortfolio is that the writing of critical reflections is the key function, not the selection of capabilities. The third key outcome from this research consists of five recommendations for university practice that have arisen from this study. They are that, sustainable implementation is more often achieved through small steps building on one another; that a clear definition of the purpose of an ePortfolio is crucial for students and staff; that ePortfolio pedagogy should be the driving force not the technology; that the merit of the ePortfolio is fostered in students and staff; and finally, that supporting delayed task performance is crucial. Students do not adopt an ePortfolio just because it is provided. While students must accept responsibility for their own engagement with the ePortfolio, the institution has to accept responsibility for providing the environment, and technical and pedagogical support to foster engagement. Ultimately, an ePortfolio should be considered as a joint venture between student and institution where strong returns on investment can be realised by both. It is acknowledged that the current implementation strategies for the ePortfolio are just the beginning of a much longer process. The real rewards for students, academics and the university lie in the future.

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ID Code: 40957
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Supervisor: Danby, Susan & Davis, Julie
Keywords: higher education, portfolio, electronic portfolio, ePortfolio, student engagement, learning, assessment, information systems, web-folio, psychological attachment model, technology acceptance model, employability, graduate capabilities, graduate attributes, case study, reflective practice, researching professional, university, HERN
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 25 Mar 2011 04:55
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 20:01

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