Lessons from reflective journaling in undergraduate eportfolios
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Although eportfolio practice has become almost ubiquitous across higher education, only a small body of empirical research exists in relation to the practice in Ireland (Donaldson 2018, Farrell 2018). As Chen and Black (2010) pointed out, eportfolio is a multifaceted concept and the eportfolio can be used to fulfil many functions. Some limited research has demonstrated its use as a tool for reflection, including exploring broader aspects such as developing self-reflection and self-regulated learning, and exploring identity (Alexiou & Paraskeva 2010, Bennett et al 2016, Slepcevic-Zach & Stock 2018, Farrell & Seery 2019).
This article explores and critically reflects on the use of the eportfolio as a space for student reflection within individual modules, demonstrating its utility as a T&L tool for both students and educators. It draws on the author’s experience of using eportfolios for assessment purposes, incorporating a reflective component, over a four-year period. Particular emphasis is placed on the experiences and outcomes of two groups of approximately 35 students each who undertook undergraduate modules between February and May 2020.
The discussion develops three aspects of the eportfolio experience. First, asking how eportfolio can be most effectively used to encourage reflective learning within a module, the article discusses both highs and lows of student engagement, evidence of critical thinking and necessary tweaks in order to enable meaningful learning to occur. It also shows how the reflective journals can provide a feedback mechanism to assist educators in enhancing their modules.
Second, the role of eportfolio-based reflections for weaker students is examined. In some cases, these reflections help to show the ways in which less-academically-able students have benefitted from their experiences in the module, such as building skills or enhancing their knowledge base. Typically, the learning achieved by weaker students is not reflected in their overall grade, as grading scales tend to reward students of greater academic ability. Careful reading of student reflections can demonstrate their progression in a way that may not be captured by the final product (exam or project). The author asks how best to capture and assess this evidence of progression over the course of a module.
Third, the unanticipated outcomes of student reflective journaling during the Covid-19 crisis are tentatively explored. This section specifically draws on the experiences of students who began their modules in face-to-face mode and completed them online. During lockdown, their journals served an additional purpose, offering a ‘safe space’ for students to work through their experiences of the pandemic and its impacts on their lives. The article asks how these positive engagements can best be replicated in the future.
The conclusion draws together the larger implications of the three elements explored in the main body of the article, suggesting ways in which these experiences can be integrated into future module design.
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