What we know and where we’re going: In medias res on self-representation and identity in university use of ePortfolios
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ePortfolios are slowly gaining credibility in Canadian universities as useful vehicles for a number of learning activities. In both graduate and undergraduate programs, ePortfolios are used to house and share the repertoire of students’ work. Sometimes, such portfolios are a necessary part of completing a program, or may replace other types of assessment, such as comprehensive exams. ePortfolios are also used for assignments in individual courses, both as a topic of study and as a presentation tool. In recognition and assessment of prior learning practices (RPL, APL, APEL), ePortfolios serve as the 21st century platform within which students bring forth or demonstrate, for assessment, their prior learning. To date, ePortfolio use has followed on the heels of older, paper-based portfolio models, providing university students with a more flexible means of demonstrating their learning, as well as contributing to their sense of self and the creation of self-identity. Extended, long-term ePortfolio use, coupled with social networking and media sites, provides continuous opportunities for learners to both engage in identity-building activities and to reflect on those types of activities, both privately and collectively, within designated collaborative groups or learning communities. This paper examines ePortfolio use with three questions in mind: 1) what lessons, relative to ePortfolio use and self-representation and identity, have already been learned at one progressive ODL Canadian university? 2) what research directions and initiatives arise from this history? and 3) what continuity with or relationship to the more established use of portfolios can practitioners and researchers draw upon for the same purposes? The Canadian distance education university in question uses ePortfolios in a number of ways: as formative and summative assessment mechanisms within masters programs in nursing and distance education; as the assessment vehicle for learners engaged in recognized prior learning (RPL) practice; by students in professional programs in the areas of communication studies and heritage resource management, who use ePortfolios in the compilation of their work for display and assessment; and by partnering professional development associations for the on-going certification needs of their members. Each of these uses has transitioned, or is transitioning, to ePortfolio use from more traditional, paper-based strategies. Developing and using paper-based strategies over many years has yielded extensive experience as well as the insight and accompanying wisdom to create “new ways” of practice for reviewing and assessing the efficacy of the new products. The shorter history of ePortfolio use has added to this body of knowledge. Although the uses of ePortfolios vary, each targets precise outcomes and holds at its central core the importance of learners’ self-representation and identity. Data to support this presentation will be brought forward from across the populations noted above in various ways: through examination and analysis of historical practice; through qualitative questioning of current learners’ experiences; and through anecdotal recollections from distance educators using ePortfolios for RPL, assessment, and pedagogical purposes.