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ePortfolio Practice and Transfer of Learning Within a First-Year Writing Program

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ePortfolio Practice and Transfer of Learning Within a First-Year Writing Program Center for Writing and Rhetoric Guy Krueger and Karen Forgette. go. RESEARCH STUDY CONTEXT. RATING SESSIONS. RESEARCH QUESTION. INTERVIEWS.

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ePortfolio Practice and Transfer of Learning Within a First-Year Writing Program

Center for Writing and Rhetoric

Guy Krueger and Karen Forgette






Students in the first-year writing sequence compose an ePortfolio reflecting on their first- and second-semester courses.

First-semester ePortfolio reflection prompt excerpts invoking Salomon and Perkins’ conditions:

“Which one (1) course learning outcomewould you identify as being the most significant in your personal learning experience this semester? Which one (1) assignmentcompleted for this course would you point to as most significant in your progress toward this outcome?”

“As you compose your response, be sure to consider how your work toward this outcome may help you in other contexts outside of this class. You might consider what this learning experience means to you now or what it might mean to you in the future. You might consider if this experience has led to a change in your thinking.”

Second-semester ePortfolio reflection prompt excerpts invoking Salomon and Perkins’ conditions:

“The text should convey careful reflection on your learning and explain the significance of the artifact (or artifacts) in your ePortfolio.”

“You may select more than one artifact and these additional artifacts may come from anywhere (WRIT 102, WRIT 101, other classes at Ole Miss, high school, or personal writings). However, your ePortfolio reflection should discuss the significance of each artifact.”

In Spring 2012, we rated a random, multi-section sample of 146 student ePortfolio reflections to assess evidence of transfer. Within each reflection, raters looked for language suggestive of transfer, and when such examples were found they categorized the references according to where the learning originated: high school, a CWR course, a non-CWR University of Mississippi course, or some other setting. Each identified example was assigned one origin source from among the four possible. Furthermore, each example of transfer was examined for the particulars it might contain, and these were categorized in terms of origin, destination, details, and evaluation. These particular components were not to be considered mutually exclusive, and most examples were found to contain two or more. In addition to completing a rubric for each paper, raters were encouraged to mark the reading copies to identify the examples. These marked-up texts were retained along with the rubrics for follow-up analysis.

  • This study examines the connection between (1) transfer of learning and (2) ePortfolio practice in a first-year writing program utilizing the foundational work of Salomon and Perkins (1992), who establish five conditions that facilitate transfer of learning, including:
  • explicit abstraction
  • active self-monitoring
  • arousing mindfulness
  • Because the composition of an ePortfolio may invoke these conditions, we asked the question, “Does the use of the ePortfolio process in composition classrooms create a condition for the transfer of learning?”
  • Nine students who were identified as having rich responses in the rating sessions agreed to be interviewed. Three students were sophomores and juniors and six were second semester first-year students.
  • Findings
  • Sophomores and juniors were able to make deeper connections than first-year students between the skills they had acquired in their first-year writing classes and other writing situations. The first-year students provided responses that revealed their relative inexperience as college writers. Though these students made suggestions of larger applications, the suggestions were superficial. They didn’t provide concrete examples that would suggest transfer.
  • Sophomores and juniors discussed transfer of learning in relation to three CWR program outcomes and in relation to the ePortfolio emphasis on reflection.
    • Outcomes – Purposes and Audience, Conventions and Mechanics, and Writing Process: Students discussed consideration of audiences and purposes in their first-year writing classes as distinctly different from their high school writing experiences and identified specific writing situations in their sophomore and junior years in which they considered the audience and purpose of the assignment and made rhetorical choices in response. One student spoke about how poor wording and mechanical errors damaged credibility and noted that her work with ethos in her first-year writing classes transferred into her composition of her Artist Statements. Students also discussed viewing the writing process as a skill they took with them to other writing situations. One student noted that his understanding of the recursive nature of the writing process transferred not just to other writing situations but also to his approach to each course during the semester.
    • Reflection: All three students discussed reflection within the ePortfolio as a skill that transferred into other aspects of their lives, academically and beyond. They described the process of examining their own learning as valuable.



Observations by composition scholars Anne Beaufort and Jeff Sommers were of particular interest to our study. Beaufort (2007) grounds her discussion of transfer of learning in composition classes and makes three recommendations for facilitating transfer :  

Teach learners to frame specific problems and learning into more abstract principles that can be applied to new situations;

Give students numerous opportunities to apply abstract concepts in different social contexts; and

Teach the practice of mindfulness, or meta-cognition, to facilitate positive transfer of learning.

Through the insights of Beaufort we began to conceptualize ePortfolios as spaces where teachers could use these practices in their work with students and establish conditions supporting the transfer of learning.

But as we sought to envision our ePortfolio practice--with its emphasis on reflection,--as a space supportive of transfer of learning, we also understood that working with these broad concepts in the composition classroom has been questioned by some scholars. Critics have argued teaching practices based on reflection – specifically those that encourage and reward through academic credit learners’ identification and self-expression of transfer of learning – could result in students merely approximating what they believe teachers want to hear.

In response to these types of criticisms, Jeff Sommers (2011) argues:

it does not matter that they might be telling me what they think I want to hear because if they are smart enough to explain the transfer of learning in concrete, specific terms, then whether they have actually done as they say is not really of paramount importance.  What matters, I would argue, is that they have learned what might transfer and how and when - and that explanation itself is, I believe, a meaningful transfer of learning expressed in a reflection-on-action (117).

In almost 55% of the 146 papers (147 minus one incomplete record), we found at least one example suggesting transfer:

We found the majority of transfer examples described learning that originated from within the CWR curriculum:


We believe a longitudinal study will yield results that might be valuable for other institutions interested in using ePortfolios. We plan to follow the students whom we have interviewed with the long-term goal of publishing findings that situate ePortfolios among the pedagogical approaches to promoting the transfer of learning.

We are also interested in conducting a comparison study with undergraduate students who use ePortfolios in the UM School of Pharmacy. We are particularly interested in learning if those students’ ePortfolios reveal evidence that the collect, select, reflect process invokes the conditions identified by Salomon and Perkins.