Students' perceptions on the use of portfolios in pre-registration nursing education: a questionnaire survey

Mirjam McMullan
International Journal of Nursing Studies 2006, 43 (3): 333-43

BACKGROUND: Portfolios encourage both personal and professional development through the process of reflective practice and critical analysis. In clinical placements portfolios are used both as a learning tool and as an assessment tool.

OBJECTIVES: To determine nursing students' perceptions on the use and effectiveness of portfolios in their education as well as their perceptions on the use of the portfolio as both an assessment and learning tool in clinical placement.

DESIGN: Postal questionnaire survey.

SETTINGS: Higher Education Institute in the UK.

PARTICIPANTS: 90 first and 84 third year pre-registration diploma of nursing students.

METHODS: Postal questionnaires were sent to 131 first year and 122 third year students, with a reminder 3 weeks later. The total response rate was 69% (174/253), with a response rate of 69% (90/131) for first year students and a response rate of 69% (84/122) for third year students.

RESULTS: Students felt that portfolios were very time-consuming, causing them a great deal of anxiety, and were not very effective in developing and assessing their learning and competence. Using portfolios for both assessment and learning creates a conflict. Any assessment reduces the honesty and learning value of reflective writing and of the portfolio. Additionally, students become increasingly demoralized with portfolio use over time with experience. The study suggested three main linked reasons for this, namely the conflict between using portfolios for both assessment and learning, the design of the portfolio and the amount of support and guidance students feel they receive with their portfolio use.

CONCLUSIONS: Portfolios can be very effective as an assessment and learning tool, but it is essential that both students and mentors receive clear guidelines on and comprehensive support with their use. They should be designed in such as way that they are relevant, clear and user-friendly for both students and mentors.

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