Professors Begin E-portfolio Research at Mason

Posted: April 7, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Mason has long been known as an innovative university, interested in the latest and most advanced ways of teaching and learning. Carrying on that tradition, an interdisciplinary group of professors and administrators at Mason have joined the National Coalition on Electronic Portfolio Research to explore both undergraduate and graduate portfolio creation.

College of Arts and Sciences members Mary Zamon, director of undergraduate academic programs; Lesley Smith, assistant professor in New Century College; and Darren Cambridge, assistant professor in New Century College, in partnership with Debra Sprague of the College of Education and Human Development, were selected to join the American Association for Higher Education-funded coalition. Their participation will continue for three years, and their research will involve both a campus-based electronic portfolio research project at George Mason and a collaborative research investigation with 10 other universities and colleges.

“The portfolio is a self-conscious attempt to assess knowledge and learning,” says Smith. “It can include projects completed, papers and essays written, and an analysis of that work.”

Although the concept of a portfolio is not new, the electronic version (e-portfolio) is quickly becoming a choice. Currently several units at George Mason use portfolios as part of course requirements and many are looking to switch to electronic versions. New Century College students, for instance, are required to create a portfolio—which can be electronic or not—before graduating. Master’s and doctoral students in the Graduate School of Education also complete portfolios, and other departments across the university are interested in adding this technique to their curriculum.

“We’re all pretty excited about this, as we’ve been researching e-portfolios for some time,” says Smith. “Our partnership with the coalition will bring together units and colleges from across the United States and will help us understand how e-portfolios can contribute to student learning.”

Zamon, who is working on her PhD in GSE, has completed an electronic portfolio that brings together not only her course work, but also her professional work projects. “The portfolio allows people to integrate knowledge and see links between courses and work that they wouldn’t otherwise,” she says.

However, electronic portfolios still have their problems—issues that group members hope to look at in their research through the coalition. Although there has been increasing interest in electronic portfolios, not much research has been done on just how they contribute to student learning. Another issue, Zamon points out, is privacy. Because an electronic portfolio is often a web page on a university server, sensitive data about courses and research can be accessed by anyone. Some portfolios may need to be password protected. Also, portfolios can take up a lot of space on a server, and that issue must be considered if students are required to compile one as part of their academic work.

When these problems are worked out, electronic portfolios could be very useful. Some students choose to use their portfolios in job interviews or to apply to other degree programs. Some administrators require their staff to do portfolios for unit evaluations and planning, and other universities use portfolios in part of their promotion and tenure processes.

Zamon, Smith, and the others are planning a meeting in the near future for anyone at the university interested in e-portfolio research. Their first meeting with the national coalition will be in June.

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