The role of E-portfolios in higher education: The experience of pre-service teachers

October 2021

Source: Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 37:4, 247-261

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

An e-portfolio-based unit in the Faculty of Education in an Australian University was investigated.
Students used e-portfolios to address four of the eight focus areas from the AITSL (Australia Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) standards from the graduate level.
Each e-portfolio included students’ information, professional knowledge, professional practice, and professional engagement.
The e-portfolios lacked social media features and students mainly met four AITSL standards and added some links to artifacts from their placements.
Evidence could consist of unit planning, lesson planning, some images of students’ work, and links to literature.
Students used e-portfolios to address 4 focus areas from the Australian Graduate Standards.
They started creating their e-portfolios in Week 1 and they continued developing them based on the theoretical knowledge they gained during 12 weeks of their study and their reflection on their placement experiences.
Therefore, they needed to focus on theory and practice simultaneously to be able to address the standards.
They were required to write 400 words per criteria (a total of 1600 words for the task).
Finally, these e-portfolios were used for summative assessment and professional development purpose.

Research aims
This paper argues that even with the provision of a well-designed and implemented e-portfolio-based teacher education unit, significant variation in the students’ experience of this e-portfolio-based context takes place.
Therefore, this research aimed to explore:
1. Variations in and relationships between PSTs’ conceptions of e-portfolios, their perceptions of the teaching and learning context, and the effect of these on PSTs’ approaches to learning and their learning outcomes.
2. Why a number of PSTs were more successful than others when using e-portfolios.
3. How students use e-portfolios to achieve learning outcomes (Babaee et al., 2014).
Existing literature has not discussed the theoretical framework for teaching and learning through e-portfolios.
The research is based on constructivism and is a combination of students approaches to learning (SAL) and the 3P model of learning (Presage, Process, Product).

The participants
The Bachelor of Education and Master of Teacher education programs at an Australian university has a stable and well-established e-portfolio-based unit titled “Preparing for the Profession” already in place.
Seventy-three PSTs enrolled in this unit, who were using e-portfolios for the same purpose, with the same level of support, responded to the questionnaire and participated in this research.
An online learning platform within the Desire to Learn (D2L) learning management system (LMS) called MyLO (Desire to Learn) was used as the e-portfolio platform.

Research methodology
This research quantitatively examined how conceptions of the e-portfolios may affect the participants’ experience of the teaching and learning context, and also the adoption of particular approaches to learning.
The main purpose of the questionnaire was to examine the role of the participants’ conceptions of the e-portfolio and its relationship to perceptions and learning outcomes.
The current investigation stressed the importance of the teaching and learning context as students entered the learning environment with individual conceptions toward e-portfolio-based learning.
It is expected that these conceptions were key factors in the adoption of a deep or surface approach to learning.
In order to develop a questionnaire compatible with the theoretical framework in this research, three questionnaires were combined.
Part A, the demographic section, asked a number of questions related to the participants’ background, for example, their gender, degree, and level of familiarity with e-portfolios.
Part B included seven items related to the participants’ conceptions of e-portfolio implementation and their prior knowledge.
Part C was a modified Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) adopted from Wilson et al. (1997), and the items of this instrument were modified to fit into an e-portfolio-based context.
This section examined the participants’ perceptions of their learning in the unit.
Finally, Part D, adopted from Biggs et al. (2001), asked the participants to provide information about their approaches to learning.
After the participants’ had nine weeks of exposure to the e-portfolios, they were surveyed to share their experiences toward aspects of their learning environment including their conceptions of the e-portfolios, their perceptions of the teaching quality, clarity of goals, appropriate assessment, workload and their approaches to learning.
Having collected the responses from a sample of 73 final year students in both Master and Bachelor degrees, quantitative analysis was undertaken to investigate empirical associations among the participants’ conceptions of the e-portfolios, their perceptions of their learning environment and the e-portfolio-based unit as well as their approaches to learning.
Finally, their responses appeared as variables, which could be organized and analyzed using statistical methods and tools.

Findings and discussion
The research design used in this study quantitatively investigated the participants’ conceptions of e-portfolios, their perceptions of the e-portfolio-based teaching and learning context, and the effect of these on adopting a deep or a surface approach to learning.
This article sheds light on the ways in which participants perceived, conceived, and approached their tasks including developing their teaching philosophy and addressing the teaching standards.
Hence, this research examined why a number of students were more successful than others in teaching capacity- building when using e-portfolios.
Common aspects of the participants’ learning, which end in the adoption of a deep or surface learning approach, were identified.
A deep approach to learning is associated with higher learning outcomes (Trigwell & Prosser, 1991).
The current article indicated that the results of the study are consistent with both prior research and the theoretical framework which the study developed for the research.
It confirms that in this research, similar to the findings of the previous research, a better understanding of the context of teaching and learning encouraged most of the participants in this research to adopt a deep approach to learning, and appropriate workload and appropriate assessment had negative associations with surface learning.
The result of this research showed that there was variation in the academic achievements of the PSTs when using e-portfolios.
The result of the analysis confirmed that the learning outcomes in the surface or deep approach of learning responded to the participants’ conceptions of the e-portfolios, and their experience in the course depended on their perceptions of good teaching, clarity of their goals, appropriate workload and assessment in the unit.
Therefore, these factors deeply influenced what they did, and the strategies they used when using the e-portfolio.
In particular, the correlation analysis indicated that the participants reported a variation of high and low conceptions of e-portfolios.
The correlation analysis also showed that the participants, who showed higher-level conceptions of e-portfolios, reported high quality of teaching, clarity of goals, and more appropriateness of workload as well as the appropriateness of assessment.
It confirmed the associations between higher conceptions of the e-portfolios and a higher quality of experience in the unit, and, as a result, adoption of a deep approach to learning.
In contrast, the participants whose conceptions of e-portfolios and perceptions were low lacked awareness of associations between the role of their prior knowledge and higher-level perceptions and conceptions on their learning outcomes of the course or purpose of the task.
The evidence suggesting this is the scales scores for conceptions of the e-portfolios, and perceptions of the teaching and learning context, and their associations with approaches to learning. If the students did not understand the purpose of the e-portfolios including reflection, revision of their ideas, and conceptual change they tended not to approach learning in ways likely to improve their understanding.
This would mean that any reflective aspects of the experience in the use of e-portfolios would be lost on these students.
Therefore, this article provided reasons behind the variation in the quality of the experience in the e-portfolio-based unit, and it also clarified why some students were more successful than others.
Identification of these reasons may contribute to quality assurance and higher learning outcomes in an e-portfolio-based learning environment.
The implications from the results of the research suggest that the teaching staff need to help students through introducing activities enabling them to understand the difference between lower and higher conceptions of the teaching and learning context and conceptions of the e-portfolios through providing activities to help them transition.
Further to this, the teaching staff need to apply the type of e-portfolios which best fits the requirements, objective and nature of the unit or course.
The identification of common aspects of the PSTs’ experience of e-portfolio programs may contribute to those who are concerned about the quality of e-portfolio based learning in the context of higher education.
By using the knowledge identified in this article, PSTs can draw on evidence of key variables, which are likely to affect the quality of experiences of an e-portfolio-based unit in which they are being educated.
The role of PSTs’ perspectives on their e-portfolio based learning at the selected University in Australia can be applied to national and international contexts.

Babaee, M., Swabey, K., & Prosser, M. (2014). A theoretical framework for use of e-portfolios: A combination of constructivism, SAL and the 3P model. Proceedings of the International Academic Conference on Education, Teaching and E-Learning (pp. 1–8), Prague.
Biggs, J., Kember, D., & Leung, D. Y. (2001). The revised two-factor study process questionnaire: R‐SPQ‐2F. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 71(1), 133–149
Trigwell, K., & Prosser, M. (1991). Improving the quality of student learning: the influence of learning context and student approaches to learning on learning outcomes. Higher Education, 22(3), 251–266
Wilson, K. L., Lizzio, A., & Ramsden, P. (1997). The development, validation and application of the Course Experience Questionnaire. Studies in Higher Education, 22(1), 33–53. 

Updated: May. 11, 2022