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Pedagogy before Portfolios (Part One)

It is easy to be distracted by shiny new toys. Post-secondary instructors are no more immune to the latest and greatest in digital learning tools than their students are to the latest iPhone release or social media platform. But be warned – slick interfaces and pretty graphics are just fancy wrappings over an empty box if sound pedagogy is not contained within.  

Well-presented professional development events can make new digital learning tools appear all the shinier. Attendees leave feeling inspired and eager to adopt, or rather, shoehorn these new tools into their practice without full consideration of the pedagogical practice needed to make them effective. Such hastiness can quickly lead to trouble whereby the tool becomes an obstacle to teaching and learning rather than an aid.

When adopting a new digital learning tool, one has to be careful not to become consumed by how it looks and ignore the bigger question of how it can help students achieve prescribed learning outcomes, then adoption should be abandoned. If, however, the answer does relate to student success in meeting outcomes, then adoption should be considered, but not without careful planning and putting pedagogy first. Penny Light et al. (2012) put it simply, yet emphatically, “pedagogy MUST lead the technology.” (Light, Chen & Ittleson, 2012, p. 3)

Case in point: ePortfolios and KPUs Access Programs

In Fall 2020, KPU implemented the use of PebblePad as an institution-wide digital education strategy to enhance student-centered, experiential learning opportunities. As part of the launch, the Teaching and Learning Commons delivered the PebblePad Rollin’ Stones Tour where Folio Thinking was introduced as the pedagogy informing the use of ePortfolios and how it was supported by the Pebblepad platform.

With the pivot to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty in KPUs Access Programs joined the Rollin’ Stones Tour series with the intent of including ePortfolios as a capstone project in an upcoming class.  They eagerly learned what the tool had to offer and how to use it but didn’t allow themselves the time to develop a fulsome learning strategy that included folio thinking or why PebblePad was good tool to put into their practice.

The lack of attention to pedagogy resulted in ePortfolios being used intermittently as a place to store artifacts rather than as an engaging reflective process for the students. Some of the insights learned from this teaching and learning experience include:  

  • Take time to understand the pedagogy informing the tool and consider how this approach aligns with your teaching practice
  • Practice, practice, practice – complete your own ePortfolio so you can share the pros and cons with students
  • Keep the process (constructing knowledge) at the centre of the learning
  • Make sure students understand the benefits and risks of using the tool – connecting learning strategy between their classes and showcasing skills when looking for employment, protecting themselves in a digital environment
  • Consider the social and cultural context of students by building on their identities as learners: How can students develop a better sense of themselves as learners?  How can this experience prepare students for life-long learning?
  • Challenge assumptions about learner competencies surrounding technology use – ensure students are clear on the expectations of assignments and that instructions are presented in manageable steps

Now what? Folio Thinking Moving Forward

As recommended by Dr. Alison Egan (2020), “Technology should not be introduced to an educational environment if the pedagogical reasons for it are not clear.” (Egan, 2020, p.43) In the case of adopting ePortfolios and the PebblePad platform into KPUs Access Programs, the importance of Folio Thinking has been placed front and centre. To ensure pedagogy remains the primary focus, faculty have collaborated with the Teaching and Learning Commons to include folio thinking as a pedagogical strategy for ePortfolio adoption into a program revision project that will enhance student learning by developing new skills, scaffolding learning, and acting as a catalyst for institutional change.

Lessons learned by KPU ASE faculty could be transferred to the adoption of most digital tools. So, the next time something new and shiny catches your eye, consider the following:  

  • Leverage institutional-supported technology tools to ensure faculty and student support, resources and privacy concerns.
  • Go slow; integrate the tool where it will make the most impact for teaching and learning
  • Participate in ongoing training; one PD session will not an expert make. Get support from your Teaching and Learning department.
  • Test and gain proficiency with the tool before you introduce it to your students, allowing you to predict and troubleshoot potential issues.
  • Dedicate class time and resources to support learning as a process; scaffold when and where needed.
  • Engage in dialogue/feedback with students throughout teaching and learning process.
  • Engage in a process of staged implementation and reflective practice (Deploy – reflect / adapt and adjust / re-deploy /reflect / add on – repeat).

Despite challenges to initial implementation, ASE faculty learned more about the value of ePortfolios and Folio Thinking for ASE programs and students. So much so that it has become a focus of their program revision, but in a much more purposeful way going forward. More on this in an upcoming post.


Egan, A. (2020, June 30). A Review of Technology in Teaching and Learning. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://issuu.com/educationinternational/docs/2020_ei_research_technologyteaching_eng_final

Light, T. P., Chen, H. L., & Ittelson, J. C. (2012). Documenting learning with ePortfolios: A guide for college instructors. Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.


The authors work at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). Gillian Sudlow teaches English Upgrading in the Faculty of Academic and Career Preparation and is an Educational Consultant for Learning Design and ePortfolio Advancement with the Teaching and Learning Commons. Dr. Teresa Swan is a faculty in the Access Programs, Adult Special Education.

Gillian Sudlow
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Gillian has been supporting learners in their journey to develop their skills and obtain their educational goals for over twenty years. She is a fierce advocate for open access to education and her scholarly interests include competency-based assessment, micro-credentials and open pedagogy. She is excited to work with the inspiring and dedicated team in KPUs Teaching and Learning Commons and is looking forward to supporting faculty with consultations on instructional design and assessment, particularly in blended and online formats.

Teresa Swan
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