Lorraine Stefani, Robin Mason, and Chris Pegler.  The Educational Potential of E-Portfolios: Supporting Personal Development and Reflective Learning.  New York City : Routledge, 2007. 186 pages.
Reviewed By Brittany B. Cottrill
Bowling Green State University

The Educational Potential of E-Portfolios Cover


In the introduction to their book, The Educational Potential of E-Portfolios: Supporting Personal Development and Reflective Learning , Lorraine Stefani, Robin Mason, and Chris Pegler explore electronic portfolios (e-portfolios) both in theory and implementation. The authors, instructors and directors of educational technology and academic development at two different universities abroad, examine e-portfolios for individual classroom settings, entire departments, across universities, and beyond, as well as what e-portfolios mean for students, instructors, administrators, and other stakeholders outside the university. While they cover a wide range of uses for e-portfolios, one of the underlying themes of each is how such a document can become a map of life long learning. The book has practical applications and explores the issues surrounding such implementation, with an eye towards what e-portfolios may do in the future for educators and students.  

This book comes at a time when assessment and accountability in higher education is being brought to the nation's attention after the Spellings Commission Report. While the book does not speak directly to this report, the nature of the topic makes it relevant and timely. Even though the authors create a current and extensive examination of e-portfolios, they begin by addressing the limitations of their book because of other works with concurrent publication dates, specifically Jafari and Kaufman's (2006) Handbook of Research on ePortfolios (Idea Group Publishing). Stefanie, Mason, and Pegler's book considers scholars both in and outside of writing studies, but the continuous theme of life long learning through writing indirectly speaks to writing across the discipline scholarship as well as traditional writing studies.                                                        

This book begins by defining e-portfolios. The authors first explore how the term has been defined and used in the past as well as what role e-portfolios play in assessment, presentation, learning, personal development, collaboration, and students' futures (pp. 13-14). While never truly defining e-portfolios in one way, the first chapter sets up the context for the following nine chapters to view e-portfolios broadly and as applicable to various settings that are not limitted to only the writing classroom.  

Much of the book focuses on this ideas of how e-portfolios can be used as tools for learning, the contrast between the traditional, paper-based portfolio and the electronic counterpart, and the flexibility, connectivity, and portability of e-portfolios (pp. 17-18). The second chapter addresses the five elements of portfolio development: collection, selection, reflection, projection, and presentation (p. 19). The connections between these components and lifelong learning are supported bthroughout the book with brief case studies that examine specific programmatic uses of e-portfolios to create realistic expectations of transitioning to and sustaining e-portfolios.

In addition to creating a broad picture of electronic portfolios, the book explores issues of course design and assessment. Specifically, chapters four and five extend many of the issues and cases for e-portfolios including how to motivate students and instructors to see the value in portfolio keeping (pp. 58; 85), how to incorporate portfolios into established classrooms (p. 59), how to see portfolios as more than a repository for information (p. 67), and creating authentic assessment through e-portfolios (p. 74).   Additionally, the eighth chapter includes a discussion of the four types of softwares used for e-portfolios including, commercial software, proprietary systems, open source software, and open source common tools (pp. 118-121).   The authors critique each type with a pro and con list and include institutions that currently use the different types of softwares.   These discussions help to provide an overview for the implimentation of and uses for e-portfolios.

The book concludes by bringing the topic of e-portfolios not only to the forefront of current educational scholarship, but also by exploring the role of e-portfolios in the future. Focusing first on the short term and later on long term goals, these chapters assess opportunities for small changes, such as using blogs or wikis as e-portfolios, to more significant changes, such as the fictional scenario of "Moira", an elderly woman creating an "e-portfolio documenting the major events and thoughts of [her] life" to be left for future generations (p. 163).       
The early chapters of this book are useful in not only laying the ground work for the book but also for immersing the reading in e-portfolio scholarship. Although the text itself never claims to be completely inclusive, the setup allows for less experienced educators to enter into conversations regarding e-portfolios without extensive knowledge of traditional portfolios. At the same time, the book doesn't limit the discussion to a single discipline; the use of brief case studies help show how e-portfolios can truly work in all disciplines rather than only writing programs or programs that have historically embraced portfolios.

Because specific programs are not discussed at length in text, the true flexibility of e-portfolios comes through. The focus on what the portfolios can do to enhance classroom practice and assessment is especially useful for those that do not currently use traditional portfolios or that are considering transitioning to electronic versions. Furthermore, the discussion of the impact on various groups, including students, instructors, program and institutional administrators, proves useful for preparing the reader who may be bringing about such a change.  

The book's focus on both real and fictional scenarios of how e-portfolios are being used and may be used in the future helps illustrate the authors' overall argument for the possibilities of e-portfolios.   While at times their hope for life-long learning seems idealistic, the book itself focus on issues of practicality to support this expectations. The important point that guides the last two chapters, and indeed the entire book, is the possibility that e-portfolios have to offer students, educators, and even those outside the university. The use of examples and analysis of e-portfolios currently in use makes the book a worthy resource.

While our field has long supported paper-based portfolios, and many programs move to incorporate e-portfolios, this book seems especially useful for those that have not yet moved their portfolios online.   Because the book focuses on multiple disciplines and ultimately supports that e-portfolios should be used for all students across an institution, the book is a way for those inside and outside our field to understand how e-portfolios might be used. Although the book is based on scholarship and previous research, it creates a means to generate discussion while providing questions to consider, steps to take, and options for those beginning or considering a transition to an electronic portfolio system.