The digital showcase

15 May 2014

Image of Professor Kim Watty

E-portfolios are the 21st century tool that enables students to collect, curate, reflect and share evidence of their learning; Deakin's Faculty of Business and Law is leading the way for their integration within business education.

Each day, most of us are immersed in varying degrees of e-technology. Whether it's sending a simple email, downloading the latest blockbuster, or bagging an online bargain, 21st century life demands that we're not only switched on, but savvy, in the fast-paced online environment.

In higher education, digital know-how is an expectation. In the last decade it has revolutionised teaching and learning, and for diverse student cohorts, it has opened previously unimaginable pathways for creating and sharing knowledge.

Creating and sharing knowledge is a passion for Professor Kim Watty, the Acting Head of School, Accounting, Economics and Finance. Currently, she is heading up a national, OLT- funded (Office for Learning and Teaching) project that will not only enhance the way students share knowledge but –importantly – boost employment prospects.

'We are working on the development of framework that will incorporate e-portfolios into a student's learning. An e-portfolio is not simply a collection of evidence of student learning. It is also about students reflecting on their learning, their strengths and challenges. The "e" means it's evidence kept on a website, or a particular resource, using digital technology and it provides the professional and learning capabilities of our business students,' she explains.

Conducted in partnership with Macquarie University and the University of Southern Queensland, the project focuses on students developing a greater understanding of what they're learning, why they're learning it, and how they can provide evidence of that learning.

An e-portfolio may include documents, text, video and audio files, projects, extra-curricular activities (that, for example, demonstrate leadership skills), presentations, evaluations and recommendations. It's an electronic and accessible snapshot of a student's achievements, knowledge and reflections that is easily shared with teaching staff, peers and employers.

Professor Watty says student learning is more than final grades.

'It's not just about the end result of three or four years of work. Distinctions and marks are important but they won't get you the job in a highly competitive employment market. It's about your ability to effectively communicate what you can bring to a position, and what value you can add, that's going to get you the job'   she says.

While e-portfolios have been established in courses with an inherently practical focus (such as nursing and teaching), Professor Watty says they are relatively new within business education and Deakin is leading the way with this research.

'E-portfolios for business students are not widely used in Australia, which is why we're undertaking this project. We believe if they're designed and embedded into a course appropriately, they're a very powerful learning tool.'

She says it's the ability of an e-portfolio to reflect the whole picture of a student's capabilities that makes it so powerful.

'It gives students the opportunity to think about what they do, why they do it, and how they can improve. It's demonstrated in reflective papers and videos … they tap into existing electronic and social technologies. The written word is only one way of reflecting on learning.

'Improving a student's communication skills is also a high priority and Professor Watty says that employers often direct criticism towards graduates' communication abilities in the business environment.

'Communication skills, and the ability to work in a team, are generic skills. They're unlike discipline skills such as, how to do balance sheet or how to prepare a cash-flow statement. While discipline skills are important it is essential students provide evidence of generic skills development that embody professional learning capabilities to enhance their employability,' says Professor Watty.

For example, she says that instead of feeling pressure in a recruitment interview to recall evidence of their skills development and application, a graduate who has prepared an e-portfolio throughout their course has not only already thought of examples, but documented and reflected on them.

'It's actually a completely different way for students to think about their learning…a student who has been involved in collecting evidence of this through an e-portfolio should be  a more prepared and articulate interviewee,' she explains.

The project will seek feedback from a range of key stakeholders and Professor Watty says student input is critical.

'Students must see that it adds value to their learning and also enhances their employability prospects. Students are a key stakeholder and will be highly engaged on what's working, or not working, in regard to e-portfolios,' she says.

Professor Watty says Deakin has a strong strategic agenda based around digital education and the use of e-portfolios reflects this.

'Even though every unit may not have e-portfolios embedded into them, we see value across the whole program, and the principle is still the same for the student: what have I done, how can I evidence it, and how can I improve?  As academics, we're always evolving our approaches to teaching that enhances student learning and improves a student's opportunity for employability in a highly-competitive environment. That's what we do.'

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