Summary for Carl Whithaus’s “Eportfolios as Tools for Facilitating and Assessing Knowledge Transfer from Lower Division, General Education Courses to Upper Division, Discipline-Specific Courses”

29 Oct

Whithaus’s chapter makes an intriguing case for using ePortfolios as an assessment of knowledge transfer.  Drawing upon research performed at Ohio State University, the University of Wllongong in Australia, and the University of Georgia, Whithaus effectively demonstrates the vast potential of using ePortfolios for not only classroom-based assessment and the development of students’ writing abilities, but as a large-scale assessment tool as well.  Crucial to Whithaus’s argument is the notion of thirdspace, which Whithaus refers to as “…institutional openings or locations where writing faculty engage what Jonathan Mauk (2003) has called ‘the spatial and material conditions that constitute the everyday lives of students…’” (206).  Essentially, Whithaus sees these thirdspaces as potentially demonstrating discrepancies between learning outcomes for general education courses and those of discipline-specific courses.

As a result of ePortfolios being tethered to learning outcomes, Whithaus sees them as beneficial large-scale assessment tools that can be used for “…the assessment of the knowledge transfer that occurs when students take particular writing skills developed in general education courses into discipline-specific upper division courses” (213).  Since transfer is a rather nebulous subject for researchers to tackle, Whithaus advocates broader uses of ePortfolios that are institution-wide, enabling for a wider-range of data to be collected across contexts, which is essential to appropriately assessing transfer.

Conspiculously absent from Whithaus’s discussion, in my estimation, are the ethical considerations of designing ePortfolios for the purpose of collecting data and assessing transfer.  While I admire the ambition of these institution-wide assessments, I was troubled by Whithaus’s tacit assumption that modifying ePortfolios in such a manner to collect data would not have any adverse effects on the instructional value of these ePortfolios.  When we design ePortfolios with large-scale assessments in mind, are we doing the students in our classrooms a disservice?  Or can you have your cake and eat it too?  I tend to side with the former line of thinking.

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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Uncategorized


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