During the deliberations we had about making eportfolios a requirement for all Westminster undergraduates, I was excited by the prospect that all of our students would be developing the skills and attributes required for success in tomorrow’s world. I was excited, as well, by the intellectual value the exercise would have for our students. I saw it as a way for them to understand, perhaps for the first time, how to fit the subjects they studied into a larger framework. They would, I hoped, begin to see how chemistry was a creative activity as well as an analytical one; and as a result, they would develop a new appreciation for the way scientists work. I envisioned students developing a wide range of valuable insights as they grappled with the connections between what they were learning in their courses and our College-Wide Learning Goals.
The Value of Eportfolio Learning
My experience creating my own eportfolio, while different than the one a student will go through, reinforced my belief that there is great intellectual value and validity in the process. But it also helped me to understand and appreciate what all the “eportfolio experts” had told me when we first started exploring the question of eportfolios on campus. “The process,” they told me, “will help students gain new insights into their own character and behavior because it encourages them to make connections between their personal attributes, lived experiences and the explicit learning they receive in the classroom. In fact, the act of collecting artifacts and reflecting on them in terms of the college-wide learning goals provides students with a larger and more holistic perspective on their education. They come to recognize the emerging themes in their lives as well the values and experiences which influence how and what they learn.”
"The process will help students gain new insights... because it encourages them to make connections between their personal attributes, lived experiences, and the explicit learning they receive in the classroom."
Kerri Carter, Eportfolio Coordinator, Westminster College
At first, I was skeptical about this sort of grandiose potential. But as I went through the process myself I began to recognize that there were new things I was coming to understand about myself. Having new insights at any age is a wonderful experience—having them at my age is close to a miracle.
Here's One Illustration
If I had not gone through this eportfolio process, I'm convinced I would not have understood the way two of my traits -- my competitive nature and the value I place on quality -- have shaped my thinking and my behavior. If I had understood this dynamic earlier, it might have changed the way I did some of my work as President. And I'm confident that my new insight will change my behavior in the future. Here is one example.
I had always wanted to be an artist. I took art lessons throughout all of my years as a student but, as I was graduating from college, I wasn't sure how good I was and, since I had no interest in becoming a starving artist, I became a professor. Now that I'm about to retire, I'm planning on taking art lessons again. But without the insights about quality and competitiveness that I learned from the eportfolio process, my reentry into the world of art might not have been a very happy one. That's because I'm likely to discover that the best art I'm capable of making isn't up to my high standards of quality. So instead of quitting, as I did after college, because I'm not the best artist around, my new insights may give me the patience I need to stick with it and to be content with just enjoying the process of continuing to improve.
Learning which can help us understand and modify our behaviors is incredibly valuable. Because it encourages one to reflect so thoughtfully about one's experiences relative to a number of lofty goals, the process of creating an eportfolio can be a powerful device for helping us learn more about ourselves and how to use what we have learned to improve our lives. After forty years in higher education, I'm hard pressed to identify an activity that has more educational value than building an eportfolio in the way it's being done at Westminster College.