The e-Portfolio story

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Last week at Learning Design Summer Camp 2009, I made an offhand comment about how we (I) don't do a very good job of telling our stories. I've been thinking a lot about this. My sense is that as a tenure track faculty member, publishing these kinds of narratives may not be in our best interest. However, in terms of building capacity to do interesting work and having a serious impact on the change process, it is essential.

So with that said, I am migrating some content from the Blogs as Portfolio wiki to this space (written in summer 2008). The story is one of the history of e-portfolios in teacher education at Penn State. The purpose is to demonstrate how the current work has been shaped by a wealth of prior experiences.


In the College of Education's Elementary & Kindergarten Education (EKED) Program, we have been using paper portfolios as a vehicle for students to demonstrate their developing understandings, abilities and dispositions associated with becoming a professional educator for many years. When I joined the faculty in 1997, I had already spent some time exploring electronic portfolios with teacher education students at The University of Michigan (Wisnudel-Spitulnik, Zembal-Saul, & Krajcik, 1998), and was interested in continuing the work here. My first attempt was in Spring 1998 using HyperStudio with SCIED 458 students. I developed a template and they selected artifacts from the course to demonstrated their learning (e.g., lesson plans, video of teaching, written reflections on teaching, etc.). These were burned to CD and given to students at the end of the semester to take with them.

With the help of Leigh Ann Haefner (now a professor at PSU Altoona), we attempted our first web-based portfolios in Summer 1998 with a small group of SCIED 458 students. This time, we gave students broad guidelines about the kinds of things they needed to demonstrate through their portfolios, and let them design and make decisions about the layout and organization. We used Claris HomePage and students published to their Penn State personal space. We integrated web=based teaching portfolios into all sections of SCIED 458 in the 1998-99 academic year. In this way, we were able to reach all 300+ EKED majors prior to their student teaching experience. During the early years of the project, we learned that we could trace the development of student learning using the e-portfolios, and that it was possible to differentiate among students on the basis of evidence provided in the portfolio (Avraamidou & Zembal-Saul, 2006, 2003, 2002, 2001; Zembal-Saul, Haefner, Avraamidou, Severs & Dana, 2002).

While working in the Elementary Professional Development School (PDS) Partnership [1] I was able to collaborate with a team of teacher educators, and we refined portfolio tasks to capture key aspects of learning and development. The portfolio tasks that we currently use make full use of what we have learned over our years of work together. These are the basic components of our e-portfolios as they exist today:

  • Collection of Evidence - In this section of the portfolio, students collect and organize their electronic artifacts, which includes course assignments, field observations, lesson plans, multimedia resources, and video of teaching.
  • Performance Framework - The performance framework is based on the conceptual framework for the teacher education programs at Penn State. The framework is organized around 4 main domains -- A. Planning and Preparing for Student Learning; B. Teaching; C. Analyzing Student Learning and Inquiring into Teaching; D. Fulfilling Professional Responsibilities -- with indicators in each domain articulating desired learning outcomes. Students revisit the framework several times throughout their program and use artifacts from their evidence collection to demonstrate learning. Justification for their selection is part of the task and engages students in reasoning about the alignment of evidence with particular indicators. This is coupled with a reflective writing task that asks students to discuss their growth in each of the domains (and over time). This is the central task of many teacher education programs that require e-portfolios.
  • Teaching Platform - Evidence-based Argument about Learning and Teaching - This is perhaps the most powerful of the portfolio tasks that we have developed. Students are asked to construct an evidence-based argument about teaching and learning. They generate a series of claims about supporting meaningful student learning, link and justify supporting evidence, and revisit and revise their arguments over time. As with the framework task, students are asked to reflect on prior iterations of their arguments and comment on their growth and development over time.

When Claris HomePage became a dead product around 1999, we migrated to Dreamweaver and quickly felt the consequences. For our students, the emphasis shifted from portfolio substance to the technology and making it work. We provided frequent and intensive support sessions where we focused on solving technical issues versus engaging in portfolio conversations about the quality of artifacts and the strengths of teaching and learning arguments. After 3 years with DW, it was time for a change.

We had evidence that our portfolio tasks were effective for supporting learning and set out to find a tool that would allow us to achieve our goals without the steep technology learning curve. We talked with out friends at Apple about what was on the horizon (this was prior to iWeb). You can imagine what that conversation sounded like. We explored the e-Portfolio tool in Angel and arranged demonstrations with LiveText and TaskStream. In the end, we settled on TaskSteam [2] for a variety of reasons. It's use has now spread from the PDS to the entire EKED program. In 2008-09, secondary education also will be experimenting with the tool.

In addition to a variety of powerful pedagogical tools for teachers (e.g., lesson and unit planning tools, standards tools, rubric wizard), TaskStream allows us to run reports on students performance for artifacts submitted and graded within the system. These reports are customizable and powerful in that you can dig down to the level of an individual students' work and associated evaluation. This type of data is useful in demonstrating program outcomes for accrediting agencies.

The first time I saw the Blogs and Penn State platform, I was intrigued by its potential to achieve many of the goals we have for e-Portfolio (and much more). In particular, I am drawn to the notion of having students participate in a professional discourse community that interacts around entries and artifacts, which both contributes to their thinking and learning about what it means to be a professional in their chosen field, as well as allows them to monitor their learning over time.

Sample e-Portfolios

Amy's e-Portfolio (developed using Dreamweaver)

Brittany's Performance Framework (developed using TaskStream)

Morgan's Teaching Platform (developed using TaskStream)


Avraamidou, L. & Zembal-Saul, C. (2006). Exploring the influence of web-based portfolio development on learning to teach elementary science. AACE Journal, 14(2), 178-205.

Avraamidou, L. & Zembal-Saul, C. (2003). Exploring the influence of web-based portfolio development on learning to teach elementary science. Journal of Technology & Teacher Education, 11(3), 415-442.

Avraamidou, L. & Zembal-Saul, C. (2002). Making the case for the use of web-based portfolios in support of learning to teach. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 1(2).

Zembal-Saul, C., Haefner, L.A., Avraamidou, L., Severs, M. & Dana, T. (2002). Web-based portfolios: A vehicle for examining preservice elementary teachers' developing understanding of teaching science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 13(4), 283-302.

Avraamidou, L. & Zembal-Saul, C. (2001). Web-based philosophies: Making prospective teachers' personal theorizing visible. Science Education International, 12(4), 2-5.

Wisnudel-Spitulnik, M., Zembal-Saul, C., & Krajcik, J. S. (1998). Using hypermedia to represent emerging student understanding: Science learners and preservice teachers. In J. Mintzes, J. Wandersee, and J. Novak (Eds.) Teaching Science for Understanding. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

Leave a comment

Recent Entries

Welcome to the profession
Tonight, the teacher education programs at Penn State will welcome several hundred education majors to the profession. We will be…
Another sandy path
We spent our morning a year ago on the red sand beaches of Rabida. The soil color results from oxidized…
On risk and survival
A year ago today we spent the morning on a "panga" (dingy) exploring a mangrove lagoon on the north side…