ISUComm ePortfolios teach where modern communication happens most — on the web

From handwriting to typewriters to computers and now the web — Iowa State teaches communication where it happens.

"Almost everything gets published online so [we teach writing] within that discursive space," said Derek Hanson, doctoral student in English and member of the Online Learning Team (OLT).

The OLT is a group of graduate students committed to developing multimodal technologies for ISUComm, Iowa State University’s communication-across-the-curriculum initiative, with the direction of Barbara Blakely, an associate professor of English and director of ISUComm foundation courses, and the support of Engineering and LAS Online (ELO). The newest and most exciting addition to the foundation courses curriculum is the ISUComm ePortfolio. Blakely notes that the American Association of Colleges and Universities identifies ePortfolios as a "high-impact practice" for their ability to enhance student learning.

ISUComm ePortfolios have brought the multimodal communication learning together on today’s modern communication platform — the Internet.

ISUComm ePortfolios are webpages developed by each student in English 150: Critical Thinking and Communication and English 250: Written, Oral, Visual, and Electronic Composition. Using a WordPress platform, it is customizable by the student. Students can post their classwork in written, audio, or visual formats.

ISUComm ePortfolios are part of ISUComm’s use of the WOVE (written, oral, visual, and electronic) curricular model to strengthen student communication and enhance students’ critical thinking skills across multiple modalities.

"ISUComm ePortfolios have helped to flesh out the E in WOVE by emphasizing the synergy among the written, oral, and visual modes in a way that is interesting and helpful to students," Blakely said.

Unlike a paper portfolio or an electronic filing system, an ePortfolio is more than just a collection of a student’s work. Instead, it is a tool that provides a space for students to represent their learning, reflect on it, and show their skill trajectory. Students are encouraged to post reflections on their work and review, reflect on, and revise their content.

"The real value of it lies in the reflective component," said Blakely. "It's a discursive space in which students are doing their work, sharing it with their instructor, sharing it with their classmates, and standing aside from it regularly to think about their learning, articulating and representing that learning to themselves."

Thanks to a privacy plugin, ISUComm ePortfolios are also completely private, viewable only to the student and the instructor, with a built-in option to make it viewable to other classmates.

"Even though the students are building a website, it's not open for everyone in the world to see," said Blakely. "They don't have to worry about just anybody stumbling upon their site."

ISUComm ePortfolios are now being used in all sections of the ISUComm foundation courses, serving more than 7,000 students per year. This has meant professional development for instructors of the foundational courses to learn how to make the most of the benefits of ePortfolios.

Importantly, it also means that, once set up, students have their ISUComm ePortfolio available for use in any other ISU class and even in co-curricular settings. Just by adjusting the menu, which the students learn how to do in ISUComm foundation courses, students can add sections for new material from any course to their ePortfolio.

If instructors, or students, need extra help, the OLT offers a wide range of support for working with ePortfolios.

"We support students who are struggling on their individual assignments; we support instructors as they're trying to think through how to integrate the technology in their classes," said Bremen Vance, doctoral student in English and member of the OLT. "We do workshops. We do class visits. We have office hours. We're constantly checking our emails. Any way that we can support, there's a program or a way that we're doing it at various times in the year."

In addition to ePortfolios, the OLT maintains eProjects and eProfiles. EProjects facilitate collaborative classwork on the web, while eProfiles are similar to ePortfolios except that they can be made public for students who want to show them to a prospective internship or employer. On an eProfile, a student can present their best work, their resume, and additional information related to their career goals.

"Students are already familiar with the system because they've had it in their classes," Vance said. "It doesn't take much more for them to take what they've already learned and turn this into a more professional website."

The experience of using ePortfolios builds lasting skills for students that they carry with them into their professional careers.

"The ePortfolio has allowed me to familiarize myself with designing/building a website," said Brooke Drezek, sophomore in public relations. "Recently I was asked to build and maintain a website for a couple who are starting their own business. Because of the ePortfolio and our frequent use of it, I was already comfortable with designing and updating a website which better prepared me and gave me the confidence to take this job."

The OLT welcomes inquiries from students and instructors regarding any of these WordPress-based ISUComm ePortfolio platforms. Anyone interested is encouraged to email the OLT at sites@iastate.edu.