Michael Griffin in Classics & Philosophy uses ePortfolios

Michael Griffin

I think some of the really good ePortfolios do something we’re not expecting at all.

–Michael Griffin, Associate Professor of the Philosophy Department

Back Story

I use ePortfolios in CLST/PHIL 211 and 212 (80 students each). After reviewing the results of Classics and Philosophy alumni surveys, my motivation to bring in ePortfolios stemmed from two desires:

  • to integrate community-oriented learning in the classroom, via the Centre for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL), and
  • to enable students to practice applying philosophical concepts and argumentative or expressive skills to the kinds of situations that they might actually face outside of school.

I chose ePortfolios because they make visible to students the learning and work place skills they are developing–especially the skills that our alumni have identified as useful in their careers.

How do you use ePortfolios in your course and what made you decide to do this?

I built the ePortfolio as a project with two parts:

  1. Students create an online presence for themselves, which represents them to an extra-academic audience. I worked with Arts ISIT to provide the students with content and technical support, to make their ePortfolios strong.
  2. Within the ePortfolio, the students were required to submit a writing assignment, responding to real ethical dilemmas taking place in Vancouver–scenarios developed in conversation with the CCEL. The students explored one ethical dilemma and reflected on possible solutions in terms of the philosophical concepts developed in the course. The students studied those ideas in theory in the course, and then applied them to a real world housing challenge, or a small business accused of gentrifying a neighbourhood. They wrote a response, addressed to a public, non-academic reader, and uploaded it to their ePortfolio.

What has been the result?

I found it interesting to compare the ePortfolio project with the essay, as, with some student writing, the essay can be like jumping through a hoop. You can say, “a good essay has features X, Y, and Z,” whereas I think some of the really good ePortfolios do something we’re not expecting at all. A lot of the time with the philosophy essay, if a student goes outside the structure of what a good argument is supposed to look like in the artificial form of the essay, then that might just not be a good essay. But an ePortfolio that’s not anything like you predicted could be a great ePortfolio. I love that. I really like that the ePortfolio is expressive of the students’ strengths, rather than expressive of a rubric that’s somewhat artificially developed for the course. So they’re complimentary in a way, I think.

The quality of the ePortfolios I have seen has surprised me. There are a few that are really basic, but there are lots that really are creative and seem to express something of who the person is.


I felt that some of these ePortfolios really were doing what I took to be their job: incentivizing a self-reflective exercise.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and is there anything about your approach you would improve or change?

One of the most substantial challenges I faced the first time I used this assignment was encouraging progress in regular work through the whole term, not leaving everything to midnight in the last day, which really defeats the purpose of building something like this out. In my second semester using ePortfolios, I brought in additional steps, including the scavenger hunt, to get students to think more seriously about the assignment throughout the whole term.