The Cart Before the Horse? Exploring the Potential of ePortfolios in a Western Australian Medical School

February 19, 2017

In 2014, the School of Medicine Fremantle of the University of Notre Dame Australia initiated a study to explore the curriculum underpinning portfolios used by first-year medical students. The School had used portfolios since 2005 and judged it timely to consider digital technologies as a mechanism to enhance student learning and improve efficiencies. A qualitative approach was adopted that investigated how the curriculum intersected with two ePortfolio platforms: Blackboard and Mahara. Data pertaining to the way in which Blackboard and Mahara ePortfolio platforms supported existing curriculum were collected from students through focus groups and tutors via interviews. As a measure of comparison, data were also collected from students and tutors who used the existing paper-based portfolio system. Findings confirmed that the curriculum should shape the way in which technology solutions are interpreted and implemented. It is posited that low-tech solutions are sometimes most appropriate for the curriculum context. However, exploring the potential of digital technologies helped the School to imagine other possibilities for curriculum renewal. Indeed, one outcome of the research was the development of a plan to re-invigorate portfolios, shifting the current task-based emphasis to one which recognizes the key role of reflection. The study may be of interest to teachers and managers seeking to explore ePortfolios as part of broader curriculum renewal initiatives.