Electronic Faculty Portfolios Can Streamline Personnel Matters

Personnel review binders used for retention, promotion, and tenure decisions may go the way of the typewriter as electronic portfolio systems continue to gain ground as effective, paperless solutions. For the past three years, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse used electronic faculty portfolios for all retention, promotion, and instructional academic staff rehiring decisions. The web-based system has not only simplified the process for faculty, but committee members find the system more convenient and efficient.

That’s not to say there weren’t some bumps along the way as the school transitioned from the traditional 1-inch binder approach to the e-portfolio platform. In the online seminar Developing Effective Faculty Activity Electronic Portfolios, Betsy L. Morgan, a professor of psychology at the UW-La Crosse, and Bruce May, an associate dean and professor of management at the school, shared their experiences in getting the system up and running, including factors to consider when evaluating solutions and implementation pitfalls to avoid.

To get started, May recommends looking at the Three U’s – users, uses, and usability – and then creating primary and secondary categories for each based on what’s important for your institution. The potential “users” could include department chairs, faculty, department and college committees, deans and associate deans, and promotion, tenure and retention committees. The potential “uses” go beyond promotion and retention and might include annual reports, faculty vitae, accreditation reports and more. The potential “usability” requirements might include customizable templates, the ability to create customizable reports, and a robust search functionality.

UW-La Crosse used a cross-disciplinary team to research vendors, and second cross-disciplinary team to develop and roll out the project once the vendor was chosen, says Morgan, who led the conversion to electronic portfolios when serving as the faculty assistant to the provost. She noted the importance of gaining support from senior administrative and faculty leaders, and involving the IT department early-on in the process.

Of course there was some opposition, especially from those faculty members who largely resist technology, fear a security breach, or who’ve already achieved tenure and feel it’s a waste of time to upload past information. To address this last concern UW-La Crosse required senior faculty to enter only the last three years of work into the system; with the rest of the work
contained in an uploaded CV.

“The process certainly benefits new faculty members the most,” says Morgan. “They have a single interface with a program that allows them to enter information and upload documents once, and that can then be compiled over time and drawn on for a variety of personnel-related reports.”