Several individual technological theories exist which may be applied to eportfolios, most dealing with the idea of instrumentality (i.e., the use of eportfolios essentially as tools) and most alluding to the autonomy of these technologies (i.e., tools exist for the their sake and not just our own purposes). Although, because this discussion will try to lend itself to the more practical implications of teaching eportfolios, let me just say that a few theories of technology (perhaps simple in their orientation) which have made a significant impression on my use of eportfolios:
First, eportfolios are, in some respects, “labor-saving,” like any other machinery, and create efficiency. Consider Marx’s view of technology, as a labor saving device. Eportfolios are labor saving devices in most senses: They eliminate the need to print materials. Similarly, they eliminate the waste of paper and ink. Moreover, they eliminate the time and energy of writing on a note pad only to revise and use more paper. On a computer we simply waste power (a readily generated thing at this point in human development); however, we conserve other material things. From a Marxist perspective, eportfolios may, in fact, reduce some of the labor involved in assessment (for example, there is no need to physically collect "portfolios" from students; there is no need to print; and, there is no need to "lug" around binders full of papers, which is an essential practice of using portfolios).
While some will admit that portfolios may be anything but labor saving, they economically eliminate the expenses of test taking and administration. Portfolios themselves exist as an alternative to assessment testing. For example, Elbow & Belanoff (1986) have concluded that "an exam can't give a valid picture of a student's proficiency in writing: we need at least two or three samples of her writing--in two or three genres at two or three sittings" (p.336). As they suggest, "The portfolio process uses a very different model of evaluations" (p.337). George Pullman (2002), author of "Electronic Portfolios Revisited: The Efolios Project," admits, "The English Department decided that portfolios were a plausible exit requirement, one preferable to a standardized test. The logistics of keeping that paperwork around, developing methods for inter-rater reliability, and keeping an archive of past work got me thinking about alternatives to paper..." (p.159). In these cases, eportfolios were indispensible tools.
A technology, such as eportfolios, may allow us ways to cut labor, materials, and, most importantly to the instructor, time. Students simply save the works they have completed as a link to be visited on the World Wide Web. Again, no printing! No shuffling! No stapling! And, no handing in papers to the teacher with all the microbes imaginable (my neurotic tendencies asserting themselves here). This notion is important since illness reduces the ability of the teacher to labor. Moreover, there is no need for the teacher to organize the papers. There is no need for the teacher to make space on his/her desk for papers. We neglected to discuss "space" as a convenience of using eportfolios. While space on a hard drive or external drive is negligible. The space saved in an office is "priceless." Honestly, I can remember "carting" about eighty portfolios to my office every semester. Now, I barely lift a thumb (drive). Pardon my pun, but it is, indeed, appropriate.