As pressure builds on educators to improve student STEM proficiencies (e.g., National Science Board [NSB] 2015; NSB-2015-10), content knowledge proficiency may be insufficient to meet growing STEM workforce needs. As that NSB report highlights, "[a]ssessing... workforce pathways is essential to the mutually reinforcing goals of individual and national prosperity and competitiveness." Digital storytelling and electronic portfolios (hereafter "DSeP") can serve as media-rich repositories of student work while incorporating several elements of high-impact practice. For example, ePorfolios are purported (e.g., see Bryant and Chittum 2013; ijep108.pdf) to offer advantages of: (i) developing practical skills; (ii) facilitating problem-directed and collaborative efforts; (iii) building metacognitive awareness through reflective blogging; and (iv) accommodating traditionally marginalized voices. Unfortunately, the subtitle of Bryant and Chittum's review is telling: "An (ill-fated) search [across 118 peer-reviewed articles] for empirical support" (of evidence that ePortfolios improve student learning outcomes). If DSePs improve student learning, the evidence is weak. Thus, we implemented a DSeP pilot assignment in a large-format (n=249), undergraduate, introductory soils/environmental science course to answer the question: What impact do DSePs have on student learning outcomes? Here we summarize these results, including pre- and post-surveys, reflective blogposts, peer-evaluations, and instructor evaluations.
The ePortfolio option was completed by 32 students (+eP) from 14 different majors, though 45 students completed the initial pre-survey. Final course grades for +eP students were significantly higher than final grades of -eP students, although -eP students who completed only the pre-survey self-reported (i) being less excited about the class, (ii) less perceived value in course content, but, ironically, (iii) better content understanding. Pre- and post-survey analyses showed participation in the eP pilot boosted self-reported content understanding of soil, skills (comfort with digital media production, website design and construction), and confidence in story telling. Nearly 94% of students reported they would be likely or very likely to recommend eP to other teachers. Native Language Toolkit technology, as well as peer and instructor evaluations were used to assess ePs, and together suggested +eP students had better learning outcomes and were more engaged. These results, however, depend on their associated assessment rubrics, for which there is no established ‘best practice.’ Areas for further improvement identified in this study were overall assignment roadmaps and tutorials, ‘return-on-investment’ optimization of logistical and analytical workflows for instructors, sentiment analysis refinement, peer-review process streamlining, and validity and reliability of assessment tools.