Barbera (2009) provides an interesting study comparing the performance of two groups using ePortfolios: one in a classic, individualised sense (Group A n=15), the other using a 'netfolio' system that required peer review of ePortoflios (Group B n=16). The difference in performance between the two groups is considerable, with Group A students in the B to C grade range, Group B students in the A to B grade range.
The difference between Group A and B performance is ascribed to collaborative peer feedback that is formative in nature. However it is not a simple case of requiring peer feedback on ePortfolios to improve student performance. These results may or may not be transferable to other situations. Note the caveats that apply to this study:
- All students were enrolled in PhD studies (and so were interdependent, highly motivated learners with high levels of expertise).
- Group B required "more attention to the dynamic of the class and more complex grading on [the lecturer's] part" (2009, p.350).
- There are hints in the article that Group B had to invest far more time in the course (even though students did not seem to mind this, based on the overall satisfaction they reported).
- Peer review was a required aspect of assessment.
So, technology in this case leads to improved learning... but not on its own. The learning system here requires more energy however the learning outcomes more than justify it. The key for other practitioners is how to adapt the netfolio concept in ways that are realistic for students who are emerging as scholars - and ensuring that adequate learning time is allocated to the peer exchange.