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High-Impact ePortfolio Practice: A Catalyst for Student, Faculty, and Institutional Learning

reviewed by Eugene Lyman - June 20, 2017

coverTitle: High-Impact ePortfolio Practice: A Catalyst for Student, Faculty, and Institutional Learning
Author(s): Bret Eynon & Laura M. Gambino
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620365057, Pages: 256, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

Fully online courses and on-campus courses incorporating eLearning tools have opened up the potential for more affordable, accessible and personalized college learning experiences. At the same time, many post-secondary students are not following a traditional path through two- or four-year colleges. Transfer students and students engaged in full-time employment during school are increasingly common. Colleges and universities have come under increasing pressure to demonstrate a “return” on monies spent: in increased student enrollments, graduation rates, and alumni employability.

In this environment, which trends increasingly towards “unbundled” and potentially disconnected learning experiences, post-secondary institutions are in need of both on- and offline teaching practices that provide students with opportunities for deep, reflective, and integrated learning. The Association of American Colleges and Universities has assembled a set of high-impact educational practices (HIPs) “[that] have been widely tested and have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds, especially historically underserved students, who often do not have equitable access to high-impact learning”1. These are, however, most often used as “on-campus” practices. While many HIPS can be, and are, deployed using digital tools, the question of the most effective digital tools and methods for High Impact Practices is still open.

Eynon and Gambino’s new book High-Impact ePortfolio Practice: A Catalyst for Student, Faculty, and Institutional Learning presents the hopeful premise that ePortfolios may be the first truly High Impact Practice that can be developed and deployed fully in the online realm. ePortfolios provide learners of all types the tools to track, showcase, reflect on, and assess their own learning, both over time and across curricular and co-curricular learning environments. Like all eLearning tools, however, ePortfolios are only as effective as the context in which they are deployed. High Impact ePortfolio Practice is a research-based introduction for faculty, administrators and academic technology experts exploring ePortfolio practices and how to use them as a tool to promote cohesive, reflective and integrated pedagogy.

In 2011, 24 post-secondary learning institutions formed the Connect to Learning project (C2L) to explore how ePortfolios might improve student learning. From this four-year effort emerged an operational framework (the Catalyst Framework) for successful ePortfolio implementations. The Catalyst Framework brings together integrative social pedagogy, professional development, outcomes assessment, technology integration and techniques for scaling ePortfolio initiatives. High Impact ePortfolio Practice is a “best of” compilation that curates and linearizes the information about ePortfolio practices available on the Catalyst for Learning site2.

Eynon and Gambino refer to the Catalyst Framework to structure the remainder of the text, so a brief summary is in order: Deploying ePortfolios successfully starts with current students, faculty members, programs and majors at the level of local campuses. By basing technology applications on the needs of pedagogy, instructors develop teaching practices using ePortfolios that enable social, reflective and integrative learning. Instructors are in turn supported by ongoing professional development, strong coordination with administration and campus technology staff, as well as comprehensive and holistic outcome assessment. The Catalyst Framework also provides multiple paths for institutions to scale up ePortfolios across programs and departments. The entire framework works as an iterative set of processes guided by cycles of inquiry, reflection and integration by practitioners.

Part One provides an historical context for ePortfolios, describing their roots in the non-digital portfolios compiled by students in Fine Arts and Architecture and tracing their evolution into a digital tool more widely applied in learner-centered pedagogy. This chapter also describes the history of the C2L project and the emergence of the Catalyst Framework. The Catalyst Framework, rooted in local campus environments and guided by cycles of inquiry, reflection and integration, enables the concept of ePortfolios “done well.”

The core of the book is Part Two, Chapters Two through Seven, which provides a description of the Catalyst Framework and examples of ePortfolio applications within it, drawn from colleges across the C2L project. Though occasionally repetitive, this is the most useful section of the book for practitioners. Readers are able to select from a range of successful ePortfolio applications across a variety of implementation models. The extended discussion of the Catalyst Framework in Chapter Two is a highlight of the text. Although specific to ePortfolios as a High Impact Practice, the Catalyst Framework provides a model—albeit with suitable adaptations—for institutions implementing other eLearning practices as well. Eynon and Gambinos’ discussions of integrative pedagogy, faculty development and outcome assessment (Chapters Three, Four, and Five respectively) point at several effective ePortfolio strategies. Chapter Six is concerned primarily with decisions around selecting and deploying a specific ePortfolio platform, and Chapter Seven provides examples of different approaches C2L member institutions have used to scale up their ePortfolio programs. Taken together, these chapters examine contributions made by faculty members, departments, administrators, and campus technology staff. Synergies between and among these groups are crucial to maximizing the potential of ePortfolios as “a space for students to make connections among their different learning experiences” (p. 132).

Part Three, “The Difference ePortfolio Makes,” discusses ePortfolio practices in light of their impact on student performance. This section, though comprised of a single chapter (Chapter Eight) features an extended discussion of how ePortfolios can advance student success, support reflection, integration and deep learning, as well as catalyze learning-centered institutional change. This section is based on a large cross-institutional body of data from the C2L project that demonstrates the positive impact of ePortfolio practices when actively applied in the context of the Catalyst Framework on student success. Enyon and Gambino are careful not to overstate their argument: the diversity of institutional types and ePortfolio applications across the C2L project makes it difficult to link specific practices to specific student outcomes in all cases. Nonetheless, overall outcomes for ePortfolio practice, as measured by C2L participants, supports the authors’ assertion that ePortfolios can stand as a High Impact Practice in their own right.

Part Four examines ePortfolios in conjunction with other High Impact Practices and offers a look at some of the future directions ePortfolio practices might take in combination with other emergent eLearning practices. In Chapter Nine, the authors discuss ePortfolios as a method for connecting and integrating multiple HIPs such as learning communities, student research and summary capstone projects. In addition to being a High Impact Practice in its own right, ePortfolio practice can also act as a as a “Meta-HIP” that integrates other High Impact Practices throughout a student’s academic career. Chapter 10 looks forward to possible future elements of ePortfolio practice. These might include incorporating digital badging systems, using social websites such as Twitter or Instagram to develop dialogic models for ePortfolio presentations, and using ePortfolios to support academic advising. Another interesting potential of ePortfolios is that they might allow students to apply “big data” analytic practices to better understand their own learning processes and progress. Ideally, from a teaching and administrative standpoint, ePortfolio practices based on the Catalyst Framework will enable a “re-bundling” of eLearning practices that currently seem to be pulling students in multiple, potentially uncoordinated directions.

Enyon and Gambinos’ distillation of the Connect to Learning project assembles a strong body of research-supported practices that encourage further research on how ePortfolios can promote student engagement, reflection, and achievement. Another topic worth further research and development is the Catalyst Framework itself, which might have applications in deploying other eLearning technologies. As a final observation, and in keeping with the authors’ wish to “[contribute] to an ongoing dialogue” (p. 5.), interested practitioners are encouraged to extend their evaluation of the book’s contents by reviewing the online essays and ePortfolio examples provided by the Catalyst for Learning website.


1. https://www.aacu.org/resources/high-impact-practices

2. http://c2l.mcnrc.org/).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 20, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22054, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 7:41:21 AM

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About the Author
  • Eugene Lyman
    University of Arizona
    E-mail Author
    Eugene (Gene) Lyman III holds an MS in Educational Technology and is currently a doctoral student in the Language, Reading and Culture program at The University of Arizona College of Education. His research interests include: holistic versus directive applications of technology in education, uses of educational technologies in humanistic pedagogy, maker culture, and the sociology of online cultures. He has published previously in Tech Trends with Dr. Betül Czerkawski.
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