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 ePortfolios and collaborative dialogues between professionals and
      graphic design students enhance educational outcomes
                               Mary-Jane Taylor and Coralie McCormack
  School of Design and Architecture and Centre for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching & Scholarship,
               University of Canberra, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2601, Australia
ABSTRACT                                                           innovation that facilitated professional involvement with
  During 2005 and 2006 electronic media—Omnium and                 design education. Students’ questionnaire responses
Gravitron software—were used to trial ePortfolios in an            suggested they valued the opportunity to see each other’s
online graphic design learning and teaching environment.           work. The lecturer’s reflections noted that ePortfolios were an
Links between students and professional practice were              effective tool to develop and capture student learning, and to
established via an online site where students displayed their      facilitate collaboration with the profession in an online
individual visual portfolios and engaged with prominent local,     educational environment. The paper concludes with a
national and international design professionals in design          discussion of these outcomes and the questions emerging for
dialogue and critique on their ePortfolio project work. This       on-going investigation.
paper reports graphic design practitioners’, students’ and their
lecturer’s perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of
                                                                                      I. LITERATURE REVIEW
ePortfolios. Postings from the profession suggested this
approach was a positive innovation that facilitated                   The advantages of portfolios have been championed across
professional involvement with design education.                    disciplines and across learning contexts (Chang 2001, Abrami
Benchmarking their work against the work of their peers was        & Barrett 2005, Carliner 2005, Challis 2005, Lorenzo &
the advantage of ePortfolios most frequently reported by           Ittelson 2005, Milman & Kilbane 2005, Wade, Abrami &
students. The lecturer’s reflections noted that ePortfolios were   Sclater 2005, Butler 2006, Lane 2007, Wilson 2007).
an effective tool to develop and capture student learning, and        Portfolios can foster authentic professional learning. Butler
to facilitate collaboration with the profession in an online       (2006:2) notes portfolios are seen by some tertiary education
educational environment. All stakeholders felt that the visual     researchers as more authentic because “they rely on more than
ePortfolios established collaborations with a global               one piece of evidence, show development of thinking, and
professional graphic design community which enhanced               more accurately represent student ability”. Pereira de Eca
educational and professional outcomes for students.                (2005) suggests portfolios provide authentic assessment tasks
                                                                   that respect the voices and personal styles of students.
                                                                   Portfolios motivate students to become more involved in
   “Digital convergence, affordability, and ease-of-use are        their learning, increase their sense of ownership of their work
creating portfolio opportunities for more disciplines while        and provide opportunities to reflect on their learning. Students
enhancing the opportunities for fields with long portfolio         can showcase their work and document their credentials.
traditions” (Greenberg 2004:30). Portfolios are not new to         Portfolios can also act as a catalyst for on-going professional
design assessment. Portfolios showcase design students’ work       development.
for teachers, other students and prospective employers.               ePortrolios offer particular advantages for design students.
However, “simply collecting work without getting feedback          They can integrate multimedia materials, foster multimedia
is unlikely to offer new perspectives that will help the student   literacy and so demonstrate technical as well as design skills.
develop and evolve” (Greenberg 2004:30). This paper reports        ePortfolios are easy and efficient to store, easy to maintain,
graphic design practitioners’, students’ and their lecturer’s      edit and update and portable beyond the life of the course.
perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of                 They place students’ work in the public domain where it is
ePortfolios. Students displayed their individual ePortfolios       immediately accessible to others (particularly prospective
and engaged with prominent local, national and international       employers) across time and across place (local, national and
design professionals in design dialogue and critique of their      global spaces). ePortfolios can also facilitate social
work.                                                              interaction and design dialogues between students and
   The paper begins by contextualising ePortfolios within the      experienced practitioners to strengthen the connection between
“emerging field of design research” (Friedman 2007:3) and the      teaching and learning in the classroom to the real world of
research literature reporting the use of portfolios and            design practice.
ePortfolios as authentic assessment. A description of the case        The enthusiasm for the opportunities afforded students,
study context, and the sources of data which provide the basis     teachers and employers by ePortfolios has been accompanied
for later discussion, is presented in the following section. The   by considered calls for caution (Smith & Tilleman 2003,
results section reports that the analysis of feedback from the     Carliner 2005, Tosh et al. 2005, Wilson 2007). Butler
design professionals suggested ePortfolios were a positive         (2006:4) suggests that there is an “inherent conflict between

the goals of students and the goals of their supervisors in        graduate with a professional and high quality design
constructing portfolios”. Students focus on the use of             ePortfolio that showcases their graphic design capabilities
portfolios to gain employment while teachers focus on              developed over the whole course.
professional development (Zeichner & Wray 2001). Concerns            A trial of Omnium and Gravitron software provided the
around the purpose, pedagogy and assessment have raised            online environment for the ePortfolios. Links between
questions such as: What are the goals (expected learning           students and professional practice were established via an
outcomes) of ePortfolios and are these outcomes achieved?          online site where students displayed the individual visual
Should ePortfolios be simply an electronic version of paper        portfolios and received feedback on that work from prominent
portfolios? How can we assess ePortfolios? How is evidence         local, national and international design professionals.
in an ePortfolio authenticated? and Could some students be
unfairly disadvantaged by lack of technical knowledge?
                                                                                       III. DATA COLLECTION
   Resistance from teachers who feel nervous about requiring
students to use technology with which they themselves are            The focus of the investigation reported in this paper is
not comfortable has been noted (Pereira de Eca 2005). Tosh et      graphic design practitioners’, students’ and their lecturer’s
al. (2005) argue that issues of student ‘buy-in’ and motivation    perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of
also need to be addressed. Concerns around teachers’ workload      ePortfolios. Data was gathered from three sources (the
(Lind 2007) and students’ readiness to take on the level of        international group of professional designers, students and the
independence required to produce and self-assess (and reflect      teacher) using three methods: questionnaires, analysis of
on) their portfolio (Pereira de Eca 2005) have also been raised.   online postings and analysis of reflective journal entries of
   Published accounts of portfolios in the field of art and        the teacher.
design education are few and tend to focus on learning               Interstate design professionals (eg. Adelaide, Melbourne,
contexts other than higher education: elementary school (Lin       Sydney, Wollongong), and overseas designers (eg. China,
et al. 2006); secondary school students (Blaikie, Schonau &        London, Netherlands, New Zealand, USA, UK) as well as
Steers 2004, Pereira de Eca 2005); and community college           local graphic design professionals, provided feedback to
students (Wilson 2007). Indeed, Butler (2006:9) noted “only        students on their ePortfolios. The results section reports:
one or two articles…could be readily accessed”. Friedman
                                                                     •   thematic analysis of professionals’ online feedback
(2007:4) suggests this could be because “[u]ntil now, most
                                                                         postings (12 professionals in 2005, 15 in 2006), and
design research…results are accessible only on a local level
and often lost when projects are finished”.                          •   responses of nine professionals (6 who participated in
   The use of ePortfolios in design courses in higher                    both 2005 and 2006; 3 who participated in 2006 only)
education contexts has received little attention. Though, the            to an online survey (Figure 1).
potential of the online environment (and ePortfolios) to
address “a perceived growing dislocation between                    Thinking back, what were the best aspects of being involved
contemporary design education and professional practice” has        in this project for you?
recently been noted (Bennett & Dziekan 2005:2). Bennett and
                                                                    What was the most surprising thing for you about the project?
Dziekan (2005) have explored the role of online collaboration
                                                                    Why was this surprising?
in the creative process and Conanan and Pinkard (2001) have
used Studio Zone, a website where students present digital          What do you think were the advantages of this site/project for
images of their designs and post asynchronous comments to           the students? What were the disadvantages?
each other.                                                         Was it worthwhile for you?
   This paper adds to this small but growing literature on the
use of ePortfolios in design education contexts. It confirms        What do you think the on-going usefulness is for students of a
                                                                    site like this?
the potential value of the ePortfolio as a context for students
to showcase their work and the appreciation of potential            What do you think is 'value added' of ePortfolios for the
employers of the electronic context for reviewing student           profession and employers?
work and for matching student competencies with employer
requirements.                                                      Fig 1. Online survey questions sent to design professionals,
                                                                   February 2006.

                     II. COURSE CONTEXT                              Students’ perceptions of the unit were gathered in an end of
  The University of Canberra, School of Design and                 semester paper survey (in 2005 and 2006) and then three
Architecture, Bachelor of Graphic Design program’s                 months following course completion using an online
exploration of visual ePortfolios for assessment of final year     questionnaire (2006 cohort only). Response rates are shown
students in the final semester unit Graphic Design 4.2, begun      in Figure 2.
in 2005, continued in 2006. The purpose of the ePortfolio
was to showcase students’ competencies and achievements.
                                                                    Source of student data             Number           Response
Learning outcomes for this subject included the expectations                                         responding           rate
that students would complete projects to a standard ready to        End of semester paper           GD 4.2 2005=36       64.3%
enter the profession of graphic design and that they would          survey                          GD 4.2 2006=35       60.3%

 Online survey 3 months                                                  becomes a work of art, rather than a piece of design). Try
 post-course completion*              GD 4.2 2006=11            91%      putting a short standfirst under the headline to help sell an
*surveys could only be sent to those students whose 2007 emails were     article, or grab a pull-quote to provide another access
known ie 11 of the 58 students.                                          point for the reader. Make these ‘real world’ elements
                                                                         work in an exciting way and your design will really stand
Fig 2. Student response rate by source of data.
                                                                         out to any potential employer! (2005 professional)
  The teacher was an experienced educator with considerable              The designers engaged with students as design professionals
industry experience. She had taught the subject Graphic                and saw them as members of a community of designers. They
Design 4.2 (GD 4.2) over a number of semesters. Her end of             addressed students personally, sometimes as a group, other
semester reflections were analysed for emerging themes in              times as individual designers.
                                                                         Last words to the graduates. A great designer is also a
relation to the ePortfolios.
                                                                         great thinker, always think broadly and laterally, your
                                                                         passion and endeavors for creativity will definitely make
                             IV. RESULTS                                 you stand out. (2005 professional)
                                                                         Comments, if taken up by the students, could facilitate
  This section presents three perspectives on the use of
                                                                       their entry into the design profession and tips included in the
ePortfolios for final year graphic design students. Firstly,
                                                                       comments provided support for on-going success as a design
analysis of design professionals’ feedback revealed both the
benefits and limitations of online feedback on ePortfolios.
                                                                         I too would have liked to see some more experimental
Students’ questionnaire feedback and the teacher’s reflections
                                                                         work. It is all very well being 'work ready' so you can fill
on ePortfolios and feedback in the online learning
                                                                         a desk space in someone else's studio (what happened to
environment of Omnium follow this analysis.
                                                                         the last person?) How will you feel in six months, two or
A. Feedback from Professional Designers                                  five years into your professional career? You will
                                                                         probably ask yourself ‘there must be something more to
  Analysis of professional designers’ online postings and
                                                                         being a graphic designer’. Experiment, make a bold
survey responses suggest three benefits of ePortfolios for
                                                                         statement show an edge - but also don't loose your
students: showcasing designs to potential employers, an
                                                                         professionalism. Remember to ask yourself ‘why am I
opportunity to receive constructive and supportive feedback,
                                                                         special and why should they hire me?’ (2005 professional)
and recognition of students as a member of a professional
                                                                         Students were able to observe expert designers in
design community. National and international benchmarking
                                                                       conversation with each other. Professionals read previous
of designs benefited both students and the teacher.
                                                                       postings and engaged with each other in professional
  ePortfolios enabled students to showcase their work to
                                                                       conversations through their postings.
local, national and international designers. gives the students a quick and simple way of getting             While the design experts valued the opportunity to
  their work to studios that they may not normally be able to          comment on students’ work some also commented on the
  reach. (2005/2006 professional)                                      demand on their time. To save time the professional designers
  Someone…literally anywhere in the world can get an idea              sometimes provided feedback across the portfolios rather than
  of their work and literally decide to invite them to an              on an individual’s portfolio.
  interview based on something they wouldn't otherwise                   There is quite a lot of work to get through-more than I had
  have ever seen. (2005/2006 professional)                               imagined. (2005 professional)
  Students (and the teacher) were able to benchmark their                …time to go through all the work, I didn’t to be honest.
work. They gained a sense of the quality of their designs in             (2005/2006 professional)
relation to standards both nationally and internationally.               The professionals also noted that many students missed an
  By any standard the work you have shown on this site is              important learning opportunity by not including written
  impressive and well executed. Nearly all of the projects             comments on their designs.
  would stand out in major international student shows.                  Make sure you have the 'why' and the 'what for' stated on
  Some of it would win deserved awards and plaudits. (2005               your details about your pieces of work - it gives guys like
  professional)                                                          me a much better idea about where your creativity springs
  …they have exhibited significant sophistication way                    from and the motivations for your executions. (2005
  beyond what I’m accustomed to seeing anywhere in                       professional)
  student work (I am fortunate in that my job takes me all               I agree with many of the other reviewer’s comments
  over the world several times a year to look at design from             regarding the designer’s writing about their work. Not
  schools and professionals in the biz)…and of a high                    only does it offer context for evaluation, it demonstrates
  professional standard. (2005 professional)                             the ability of the designer to communicate their intentions
  A lot of the work here is equal if not better than what I've           and knowledge of the brand, content and process. This is
  seen from students in the UK. (2005 professional)                      quite valuable when you are competing for a job or selling
  Professionals’ feedback provided constructive and                      the design internally or to a client. (2005 professional)
supportive ideas for on-going development of individual                  …it was also difficult viewing so much work out of
student designs.                                                         context. The lack of explanation on the student’s part
  It is one thing to design a beautiful page but you should              means work gets passed over as there is little
  also consider the person who'll be reading it (otherwise it

  understanding in terms of the brief, the process and the       C. Teachers’ Reflections
  solution. (2005/2006 professional)
                                                                    A journey through and initial phase of resistance followed
  The design professionals felt their feedback could have been
                                                                 by phases of growing acceptance emerged from the analysis of
better targeted if it had been constructed with the background
                                                                 the teacher’s end of semester reflections.
knowledge provided by such comments. They also felt
                                                                    The introduction of ePortfolios began with many
students would have benefited from practice in written
                                                                 challenges. Both students and tutors initially resisted this
communication provided through compilation of these
                                                                 innovation as they considered this direction challenging and
comments. They saw this as a skill immediately transferable
                                                                 additional work. The ePortfolio included additional authentic
to the professional design context.
                                                                 assessment activities and the important, but generally avoided
B. Student Feedback                                              task of writing about the project work, and the new and
                                                                 different task of putting work online. Many students had only
   Benchmarking their work against the work of their peers
                                                                 experienced online learning through the university’s learning
was the advantage of ePortfolios most frequently reported by
                                                                 management system (WebCT) in a variety of non-core
students in their responses to the end of semester surveys:
                                                                 subjects. They felt WebCT was an inadequate environment
you can see other people’s work, it helped me improve (2005
                                                                 and the interface was perceived as generally flawed and so were
                                                                 uncertain of what lay ahead in the new online environment.
   Most students also felt the unit was relevant to their
                                                                 Some students and tutors resisted the online environment and
professional practice (91% in GD4.2 in 2006). ePortfolios
                                                                 ePortfolio because they were not confident with a
were: good for self-promotion (2006 student) and relevant to
                                                                 technological environment, while other more advanced design
industry (2006 student). ePortfolios allowed me to undertake
                                                                 students and tutors felt the site would be restrictive in its
projects that suited the type of graphic design that I want to
pursue (2006 student), to learn more about the skills needed
                                                                    By the end of semester students and tutors seemed
to be more professional (2005 student) and to communicate
                                                                 particularly impressed with the benchmarking aspects of the
work from the entire course (2006 student). I can see how it
                                                                 ePortfolios and the added convenience and administrative
is useful to prospective employers outside the university
                                                                 functions provided by the online software. Students and tutors
(2005 student).
                                                                 across all six tutorials were able to view all the student
   The positive comments made by students in the end of unit
                                                                 project submissions online with visual representations and
surveys were reflected in their responses to the online survey
                                                                 supporting text components. A greater consistency and
completed by the 2006 cohort some three months after course
                                                                 transparency of project work, reassurance that they are on or
                                                                 off track, learning from others’ examples, and a greater sense gave me a great way to evaluate myself against other    of belonging to a wider group were observed. Tutors
   students and made sure that my standard of work was on        acknowledged in teaching team meetings that this led to a
   par with other students...within the comfort of your own      greater consistency and cohesiveness in teaching across the
   space and home..                                              whole cohort, benchmarking of results across all tutorial
   You can get instant feedback from professionals in the        groups, increased opportunities for feedback to students and
   field, you post your work up, they post their feedback and    awareness of other tutors’ opinions and approaches. Improved
   comments (good or bad) and you take that into                 administrative functions, such as tracking of progress and
   consideration for future projects.                            submissions in a central location, was another advantage for
   A great way for employers looking for junior designers to     tutors.
   see the level of work out there and also a great way for         As the initial resistance was overcome an interesting new
   employers to find an employee whose design style will         challenge did emerge. A key benefit of ePortfolios—the
   suite their studio.                                           feedback dialogues with professionals—has also been
                                                                 experienced as a disadvantage. Approaching busy colleagues
   …it was a great way for my peers and myself to
                                                                 across time zones across the globe, and then maintaining
   individualise the layout and display of our work (that we
                                                                 these contacts from semester to semester, has been time
   may not be able to do with the hardcopy portfolios).
                                                                 consuming. In 2005 approaches to twenty professionals
   Few students commented on the software environment in
                                                                 elicited twelve participating design professionals. Of the
their end of semester survey responses. Across both year
                                                                 thirty professionals approached in 2006, 15 agreed to
groups the number of students who commented favourably on
                                                                 participate. Small irritations with the software, such as too
aspects of usability (8 students) equaled the number of
                                                                 many places to leave feedback, emerged and were overcome.
students who mentioned a difficulty or limitation of the
                                                                 Other challenges, such as balancing ease of use for ‘digital
software (8 students). Students from GD 4.2 (2006) post-
                                                                 novices’ with providing sophistication for advanced students,
graduation comments were similar to the end of unit
                                                                 remain. The project continues to be ‘under development’.
comments. For example some were positive Omnium
was…functional and displayed the students’ work in a
number of useful ways and some were negative the omnium                     V.   DISCUSSION AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
site was a little restrictive in terms of what could be
                                                                   Students’ feedback on ePortfolios reported in this paper
displayed ie very small thumbnails and each student page
                                                                 reflected the benefits of ePortfolios discussed in the literature
looked the same.
                                                                 including benchmarking against the work of other students

and showcasing work to prospective employers. The                 software were contradictory. Some students felt it was
additional benefit for this group of graphic design students      “simple to use” while others said “it wasn’t easy to use”. The
was that the prospective employers who were viewing student       software was both “easy to navigate” and “easy to get lost
portfolios, and giving feedback on their designs, were from       in”. Interestingly, Lane (2007:2) suggested students’
workplaces across Australia and overseas as well as from          experience of ePortfolios was influenced “by their experience
‘down the road’. As noted by the teacher in her end of            with other online presentations forums”. Similarly,
semester reflections:                                             experience with WebCT was suggested by the teacher as a
  The power to reach out to the international design              possible factor contributing to GD 4.2 students’ experience of
  community became very convincing when a graduating              their ePortfolio software. While some students participating
  student secured employment at a leading design                  in this research did comment on the Omnium and Gravitron
  establishment in New York as a direct result of the             software systematic data was not collected on the use of the
  ePortfolios site and the involvement of the alumni in the       software in this stage of the research project.
  feedback process.                                                 While professional designers saw the value of ePortfolios
  The postings and survey responses from the design               for the students and for themselves, and were eager to
professionals indicated the two learning outcomes for the unit    participate, they were disappointed when they could not
aligned with the ePortfolio assessment tasks—‘complete            engage with the conceptual basis of each student’s work as
projects to a standard ready to enter the profession of graphic   not all students accompanied their design with a written text.
design’ and ‘graphic design graduates will graduate with a        Thus some students missed the opportunity to engage in a
professional and high quality design portfolio’—were              dialogue about their work. More students may have attached a
achieved.                                                         textual rationale to their visual design presentation if they had
  Achieving these outcomes was however, not without its           been provided with information about how to use an
challenges. Researchers implementing ePortfolios in other         ePortfolio to their advantage. As the teacher noted, writing for
disciplines have also encountered issues of resistance and a      design students is “a generally avoided task”.
lack of ‘buy-in’ by students and concerns about increased           Perhaps the public nature of ePortfolios led some students
workload. Analysis across the experiences of design               to focus on presentation at the expense of the professional
professionals, students and the teacher reported in this paper    skill of being able to explain their design concept to others.
suggest a number of tensions within each of these challenges.     Positioning the online environment as a space for academic
  On the one hand, GD 4.2 students were highly motivated.         and professional interaction, as well as being the much more
They were in the final semester of their final year and           familiar space for social interaction, may be needed for
expected that within a few months time they would be              students to fully engage with the potential for dialogue offered
employed as ‘real’ designers, possibly by some of the             by ePortfolios.
professionals giving feedback on their ePortfolios. Students’       Some existing studies (see for example, Lind 2007) have
survey responses suggested that they felt able to choose          suggested that workload can increase with ePortfolios. The
assessment tasks for inclusion in their portfolio that suited     responses of 2005 students in the end of semester feedback
their interests. Receiving feedback online was valued by the      indicated that 95% felt ‘the workload was appropriate for a
students. Previously reported research with the same student      unit at this level’. The high workload associated with giving
cohort (McCormack & Taylor 2006) suggested these students         feedback on both paper and ePortfolios noted in the literature
felt the advantages of electronic recording and delivery of       was mentioned by the teacher and by some of the
feedback outweighed the disadvantages and supported their         professionals (it was very time consuming and demanding
learning preferences.                                             process with so many students and so much work, 2006
  On the other hand, the GD 4.2 teacher’s reflections noted       professional). Yet, there was a tension for some professionals
both student and tutor resistance to putting portfolios online.   as illustrated by the following comment: The scale of the site
She recalled that students had previously experienced             with the numbers of students was a bit unwieldy…and yet I
difficulties with the University’s learning management            wanted more! (2005/2006 professional). Rewarding busy
system (WebCT) which seemed to flow over into a lack              professionals, especially if you want them to give feedback to
confidence in the new Omnium/Gravitron software. There            future student cohorts, needs to be considered. The best way
were new multi-media and technical skills to be learnt by         of course is with high quality work (I do love it when I see a
some students and tutors while those whose skills were more       really beautiful piece from a student, 2006 professional) and
advanced felt restricted in the new online environment.           highly skilled students they will be keen to employ. If
  On-going research will need to consider how the                 students do not participate fully in the online environment
characteristics of the software used to create the ePortfolio     and use it to their advantage the value of ePortfolios for both
environment can constrain or enhance the product and the          students and professional designers could be lost.
learning process. Student concerns about the ePortfolio             The use of ePortfolios for graphic design students in their
software have been reported in the literature, though no clear    final year of study reported in this paper represents the
picture is emerging. MacDonald (2004) warns of the potential      beginning of our investigations. Yet to come is investigation
of ePortfolio software to both constrain and enhance              of questions such as: How did the use of ePortfolios influence
outcomes. Tosh et al (2003:12) noted students’ comments           students’ acquisition of generic skills? Did students change
ranged from “too complicated” to “lacking functionality”.         their designs as a result of the feedback from professional
Similarly, GD 4.2 students’ comments on the ePortfolio            designers? Did they feel more like a ‘designer’ at the end of

the unit? What strategies best prepare students and tutors to            Innovations in Education and Teaching International 38(2):
work effectively and efficiently in the ePortfolio                       144-155.
                                                                     Conanan, D and Pinkard, N. 2001. Students’ perceptions of
environment?                                                             giving and receiving design critiques in an online learning
  The authors acknowledge the research presented in this                 environment. A paper to the Second European Conference on
paper is a one-classroom-based study with a small number of              Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. 22-24 March
participants, and as Carliner (2005) reminds us, single case             2001, Maastricht, The Netherlands, viewed 3 February 2007,
studies limit the generalisability of findings. However,                 <>.
                                                                     Friedman, K. 2007. A new year for design research news. Design
research must begin somewhere. Incremental accumulation of               Research News 12(1), viewed 3 February 2007,
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