Improving Student Writing: Digital Portfolios

by Colleen A. Reilly, Associate Professor of English

By creating digital portfolios to present their compositions, broadly defined, students can learn valuable skills related writing, revision, reflection, composing in electronic environments, and audience analysis that are beneficial in all disciplines and contexts within and beyond the university. Within specific courses, digital portfolios can provide a useful means for students to collect their work completed throughout the semester, revise that work for inclusion in the portfolio, and compose reflections upon the progress and growth over the semester that is supported by and represented in the work incorporated into the portfolio.

In developing a digital portfolio, students gain additional expertise in digital composing, developing skills in managing and uploading files including texts and other artifacts such as graphics, presentations, websites, and videos; determining how to make all files clear and accessible online; and learning how to use available applications, such as the propriety TaskStream and the freely available Google Sites, to design a structure for their unique content within the constraints of the applications’ templates while also fulfilling the requirements for the course assignment.

Within courses, digital portfolios help students focus on process, audience analysis, design, and reflection in relation to their composing activities. Digital portfolios work best in courses when a process approach to writing to emphasized throughout the semester; when students receive instruction, practice, and feedback on reflection; when assignment criteria for all assignments and for the portfolio are clearly articulated and connected to the student learning outcomes for the course; and when students are taught how to view their portfolios as useful for the course and beyond it for personal and professional development.

Digital portfolios are also important outside of specific courses to help students to collect and reflect on the evidence of their learning over their academic careers while simultaneously aiding faculty to assess students’ progress as writers and learners within particular programs or majors. However, this focus on the use of portfolios for assessment should be balanced by an attempt to help students to see the value of designing their portfolios to help them achieve their personal goals to develop as communicators and designers in digital environments.

As more of the work of communication, the dissemination of information, and the activities related to professional networking and development move online, teaching students to compose effective digital portfolios to showcase their writing and other compositions and create effective depictions of themselves for a variety of potential audiences increases in importance.

Resources for Digital Portfolios


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