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Trent Batson says, "The Batson Blog provides occasional commentary on eportfolios, technology and learning. This blog is not an official AAEEBL announcement but instead includes perspectives and opinions that are my own and not necessarily those of the Association. I've been writing about technology and education since 1985, so I bring history to my commentary. All my writing arises from the rich conversations I have with you and your colleagues, in academia and in the industry." All registered AAEEBL Community Online (ACO) participants are invited to join in the conversation. If your institution is not already an Institutional Member of AAEEBL, you may register for free as an Individual Site Participant by going to the homepage: Click on "Register," and then log into the Community through your ACO Profile. Comments and questions are welcome, and Trent Batson will reply in the blog conversation.

 

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The Historical Significance of ePortfolios: Realizing the Move to Personalization

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, September 29, 2014

Batson Blog 9-26-14

 

The Historical Significance of ePortfolios:  Realizing the Move to Personalization

ePortfolios may serve as the bridge from the industrial era of “one-size-fits-all” education to the knowledge era of personalized learning.  Historians may look back decades hence and describe this era of educational transformation as a move from undifferentiated teaching to personalized learning.  And the major enabler for this transformation may be eportfolios and those who understand eportfolio learning. 

Definition of ePortfolio?

Many have offered definitions of “eportfolio.”  It is hard to get agreement as to which definition is the definition.  Is it a genre?  A learning space?  A resume? A collaborative space? An owned space?  A record?  A repository?  A website? 

And what is its purpose?  To advance reflective and integrative thinking?  To support the authentic and experiential high-impact practices as described by George Kuh?  To get a job?  Fulfill learning outcomes? Support competency-based learning?  Or self-paced learning?  Or adaptive learning?  Or workforce development?

Are we too close to the trees to see the forest?  Perhaps we need a larger context to better understand the essence of eportfolio. 

A Larger Context to Better Understand ePortfolios

In the first two decades of this millennium, there has been a coalescence of many trends to improve learning based on studies in anthropology, linguistics, cognitive science, psychology, education and other fields:  active, real world learning results in personal experiences that can be reflected upon is one way to describe this coalescence.  This learning approach seems to result in engaged and deep learning.  As we learn, collectively, more about learning, at the same time, the demand to learn throughout life has intensified.  As knowledge changes more quickly, it is hard to keep up. 

Culturally and economically, we humans have had to face more challenging economic times that seem permanent:  “work” has permanently changed and will continue to change as we tap the unlimited potential of the digital age.  In a breath-taking short decade or so, we became the knowledge economy and the “social” culture while we also became a predominantly urban nation. 

At the same time, in almost all ways in our culture, we have moved from the “mass” of the industrial age to the “individual” of the digital age.  According to some scientists, we are now in the “anthropocene” geological era where humans are the predominant force of global natural change.  How does one take all this in and adapt to such deep changes?

Personalization

In all of education, K-16 and throughout life, we are moving gradually from “one-size-fits-all” to personalization.  The concept of personalization helps us understand the historical meaning of the eportfolio phenomenon.  “Personalization” as a disciplinary term refers to learning experiences that are or can be tailored to the individual needs of the learner:  either an algorithm adapts content to fit the learning needs of the individual or the learner herself or himself discovers, over a semester or more, information that is used to create disciplinary content (that is, complete an assignment).  Personalization is either done for you or you do your own personalizing in a system that allows and supports an individual personalizing initiative.

The Role of ePortfolios in the Cultural Shift to Personalization

I think ePortfolios will be seen, historically, as the platform that instantiates and makes permanent the move to personalization, not only in educational institutions, but in all of life.  We may be able to look back decades in the future and see that the move to personalization was realized through the universal adoption of eportfolios.   This is because if learners are finding their own paths to learning outcomes, they need to show evidence that they have reached the outcomes.  ePortfolios are essential in the move to personalization.

Most references to “personalized learning” assume a technology that replaces a teacher or a tutor – adaptive learning applications, for example, such as The Khan Academy provides.  This machine-based approach continues the decades-old quest for automated teaching and assessment.  Intelligent tutors caught our attention in the mid-1980s only to quickly fade away.  Those being offered now are far superior and actually have a place in the mix of learning opportunities today.  But only in the mix. 

Curricular Design to Incorporate Personalized Learning

“Personalized learning” has also become the basis for entire colleges or universities to organize learning experiences for their campus, not offered by technology alone but as an over-arching understanding of how humans learn best.  

Sometimes “personalized learning” is named competency-based or self-paced or outcomes-based learning but they are all varying names for the over-all cultural move to personalization in learning and in many cultural and economic areas as well – you can build your own car these days, including the options you wish to have, for example – what we might call a personalized car.

How to Best Understand ePortfolios

Perhaps the best way to describe eportfolios is as the historical enabler for the move to personalization in education. Understood this way, the conflict between assessment management (learning outcomes eportfolio systems) and student learning eportfolios disappears:  you need learning outcomes to free eportfolios to become the primary work done in all learning contexts.  Using an assessment management system within a learning-outcomes framework can then enable the personal eportfolio to move to the center of the educational enterprise.   This might be called a personalized learning environment – a slight but important variation on a “personal learning environment.”  We might say the personal learning environment (the platform) is at the center of a personalized learning enterprise. 

The learning outcomes that serve to organize the personalized learning enterprise need to be pointed toward the thinking skills, attitudes and experiences needed in the knowledge economy.  Then, learning and employability as eportfolio functions are also unified since the outcomes are complimentary.  Framing the eportfolio phenomenon as a move to personalization encompasses all the various definitions I mentioned at the start of this blog.  It is a unifying concept and can help all of us better explain and understand what it is we are doing. 

The concept of the personal learning environment has been with us all along but has been limited to describing a technology platform.  Personalized learning, as a distinct term, has come forward in currency along with “adaptive learning” in the past few years.   If we can think of “personalized learning” as a whole new context for learning inside and outside the academy, both automated and learner-initiated, then the purpose and significance of eportfolios becomes clearer.  ePortfolios support and make possible the move to personalized learning. 

Tags:  Adaptive Learning  ePortfolio  Personalization 

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How to Get Institutional “Buy-In” for ePortfolio Adoption: The "Why" of ePortfolio

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Wednesday, August 20, 2014

 

 

Those who talk about eportfolios often note how many different uses eportfolios are put to.  Some say, in reaction, “if everything is an eportfolio, then nothing is an eportfolio.”  And, most also say “it is not the technology, but how the technology is used.”  We seem to most often talk about eportfolio uses as if that is all we need to say.

ePortfolio Uses

If we look just at how eportfolios are instrumented (i.e., used), we can indeed become quickly confused.  Are these uses about learning?  Or assessment?  Or identity?  Or recognition of prior learning?  Or?  At the recent AAEEBL conference, the planning committee found it a challenge to limit the number of tracks to a workable number because eportfolios can add value to the educational experience in so many ways, from institution-centered to learning-centered or career-centered.

Not How? but Why?

But, in light of the sometimes baffling profusion of uses eporfolio users have developed, maybe we are asking the wrong question.  Instead of asking “how are eportfolios used?,” we should be asking “why are eportfolios used?”  Maybe that question would lead us to a common thread, an underlying goal, in all eportfolio uses.

Any one of the uses referred to above might be sufficient for educators to explore eportfolios.  Each use has value in and of itself.  But, what really drives this community?  What inchoate notion drives people to put so much energy, time and risk into advocating for or supporting eportfolios?

An ePortfolio Hope

The source of my own hope about eportfolios is my experience using computers to teach writing in 1985.  The first instances of local area networks (LANs) had been released.  At the same time, some creative people wrote code for what was called, variously, cb (for citizen’s band radio, popular with not only truck drivers in the early 1980s but with all drivers), xxyyzz, and one or two other variations on what we now call “chat.”  When I and my collaborators installed a LAN in a computer lab and programmed it with cb (reportedly written by an IBMer on a weekend and offered for free), we then launched the first network-based classroom for teaching writing, a project called ENFI (English Natural Form Instruction). 

The Project went on to get major funding from the Annenberg CPB Foundations and won an EDUCOM (predecessor to EUCAUSE) award for best application for basic writers.  A company was formed to market a product that supported the ENFI idea and we published a book with Cambridge University Press about network-based classrooms.   

Why did ENFI catch on?  Because the “natural form” referenced in the project title was about learning to write as humans learn to speak:  through conversation.  Linguists and philosophers had recognized the power of dialog for learning years before 1985, but the LAN made it possible to finally apply dialog learning in a writing class with 20 to 30 students.  We saw the irony of technology allowing the writing classroom to apply natural forms of learning – a dialogic approach – to the learning enterprise.  Machines restoring natural forms of learning?? 

A Way to Understand the Cultural Phenomenon of ePortfolios

And the irony continues.  Behind all the talk of reflective thinking, of metacognition, of integrative thinking, folio thinking, assessment for learning, social pedagogies, digital story-telling, and even career success; behind all of the excitement about eportfolios to the point where more than half of all U. S. higher education students use eportfolios at some point in their college career; behind the growth of the eportfolio industry, the establishment of the Inter/National Center for ePortfolio Research, the Making Connections Center at LaGuardia Community College, EIfEL (now ePIC), the Centre for Recording Achievement, AAEEBL, The Generative Knowledge Project, ePortfolios Australia, the International Journal of ePortfolio, the AAC&U annual eportfolio forum, and all the other conferences and funded projects and eportfolio campus efforts, is a tangible sense that something important is happening around eportfolios, something monumental, a watershed phenomenon. 

It is this tangible sense that drives me and probably drives others in the eportfolio community as well. 

This sense of eportfolio demarcating a watershed moment in the history of education, I believe, is an awareness that we are slowly moving away from an educational structure created not based on how humans learn but how an institution could practically educate thousands of learners within a sustainable business model.  We are slowly moving away from that monolithic structure that requires big words to rationalize it and to a simpler but multi-faceted educational structure that requires only everyday words to explain:  learners need to be active; they need to learn in a real-world context; they learn by cooperating with others.  Or, even simpler:  they learn best by engaging in learning as humans have for thousands of years.  They learn best by using natural forms of learning.

How do eportfolios support natural learning forms? 

The term “natural learning” has some currency among K-12 educators and leaders but those who use the term seem to see it as “unschooling.”  This is not at all the sense of the phrase I’m using in this blog.  “Natural learning forms,” to me, means using those activities and interactions that people choose to use.  Build on what people already do.  People are already curious, already want to explore, already social, already interested in collecting artifacts (souvenirs, photos) from experiences, already interested in stories, and on and on. 

An educational structure built on what young people already want to do and are good at is building on natural forms of learning.  Montessori schools use some natural forms of learning.  The cluster of high-impact educational practices George Kuh identified and analyzed in a 2008 publication in many cases are compatible with “natural forms of learning” as I am using the term:

1.     First-year seminars and experiences:  small groups.

2.     Common intellectual experiences:  learning communities focusing on a few key ideas.

3.     Learning communities:  students in the community take courses together over time.

4.     Writing-intensive courses:  writing within a disciplinary context for a purpose in multiple “content” courses.

5.     Collaborative assignments and projects:  cooperating and learning from peers.

6.     Undergraduate research:  real-life research on openly contested problems.

7.     Diversity/global learning:  sometimes, experiential learning on site; understand yourself and your culture better by understanding others.

8.     Service learning; community-based learning:  getting connected to a community; addressing real-life problems.

9.     Internships:  authentic, real-world learning. 

10. Capstone courses and projects: revisiting your own experiences and publishing your discoveries.

These ten practices emphasize learning in teams or groups and real-life learning experiences.  Each, therefore, aims to use a natural form of learning – social learning and experiential learning.

An eleventh high-impact practice, informally recognized by the eporfolio community, is the meta-high impact practice of using eportfolios in any of the ten HIPs list above.  ePortfolios add a personal and longitudinal dimension to each of the ten.

Change in Higher Education is Underway

Educators have recognized for decades that the educational enterprise needs a fundamental restructuring, a re-thinking of basic assumptions, and a move-away from the business-mandated course/curriculum/grades/degree structure.  The HIPs and many other initiatives such as competency-based learning or self-paced learning and so on, are underway.  However, for many, change seems far too slow given the challenges of adjusting not only to a new economy and work culture, but also to constant rapid change.  Does the current educational experience align with the new economy and work culture? 

ePortfolios facilitate change.  This is their power.  Fundamental to that power is a very simple phenomenon:  the learner, in his or her eportfolio, has a private space that they own and that stays with them.  Learners rarely, if ever, believe they “own” the classroom or the knowledge in a field.  But, they can and do believe they own their own learning documented in their eportfolio.  Not only do they usually control permissions in the eportfolio, but the eportfolio stays with them after the course and often for the course of their college career and sometimes beyond. 

A course, a course of study, a college or a university can use eportfolios to change the fundamental dynamics now employed.  Once educators understand the why of eportfolios, they might see more clearly how to transform a course or a campus. 

What’s in Store?

It would be possible to attend a number of colleges and universities in the U. S. and internationally and see no differences between now and 50 years ago.  Or, what differences you see are scattered and scarce.  Despite rapid change almost everywhere in our culture, higher education is, in general, changing by tweaking the legacy educational enterprise.  What was a Rube Goldberg “machine” to begin with has become ever more so. 

ePortfolios are in use throughout U. S. higher education but only in scattered courses or programs on most campuses.  If more educators understood how eportfolios promote and support natural forms of learning, eportfolios might seem more attractive.  But, it is hard for educators to understand eportfolios by hearing or reading about the multiple uses of eportfolios. 

Perhaps if we in the community communicate more about the “why” of eportfolio – moving education away from a structure that is showing wear and tear to a structure closer to what we now know are human ways of learning – more of our colleagues would grasp the eportfolio value proposition.

 

 

 

 

Tags:  Natural Forms of Learning; ePortfolio 

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The Unique Power of ePortfolio for Institutional Transformation

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Unique Power of ePortfolio for Institutional Transformation

This blog post is anti-hype. We have heard enough about the IT revolution, or maybe not nearly enough that is helpful. No doubt we are in the midst of a watershed moment for humanity – the sapiens part of us is on shifty ground – but maybe only one technology can claim to be universally transformational: the Web itself as an application on the Internet.

Those of us working in the global learning enterprise have heard, for example, that word processors will lead to students revising their writing, or that multi-media presentations will double learning, or that intelligent tutors will make novice writers into experts, or that the MOOC will replace higher education, and so on. ePortfolios, alas, have not avoided the hype trap, either.

This tendency to believe technology will do the tough work of transforming how we think and learn has led us to be skeptics of technology claims and for good reason.

My claim is just the opposite. For some few educators, eportfolios have proven to be just what they were looking for. That’s rare, and institutional support for transformation around eportfolios is even rarer. What I am claiming, after 30 years of working with technology and learning, is that eportfolios are unique in that they provide baby steps toward big changes. Early adopters and pioneers may make giant leaps (ouch! I’ve made a few leaps myself), but most faculty members and administrators need incrementalism not giantism. Institutions usually need incrementalism.

ePortfolios can support early adopters, middle adopters and late adopters, even laggards. ePortfolios in combination with other corollary technologies, can allow for gradual change in a course, in a program, a college or a whole university. At AAEEBL conferences, we hear about eportfolios at every stage of incrementalism or giantism. We don’t need apocalyptic language to describe change around eportfolios.

ePortfolios support either a slow revolution or a fast one. Right now, the slow eportfolio revolution in higher education is predominant partly because eportfolios can play so many roles, some transformational and some conservative (such as providing data for annual institution research reporting).

In my heart, I have not changed my view that learning of the future will be represented in and will occur in eportfolios. But perhaps the most important thing about eportfolios is that they can support any approach to learning and can support any pace of change.

Tags:  AAEEBL Annual ePortfolio Conference  ePortfolio 

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Do ePortfolios Have to be Mediated by Institutions?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, June 26, 2014

Do ePortfolios Have to be Mediated by Institutions?

 

The question in the title of this blog – why we in the AAEEBL Community talk almost exclusively about eportfolios embedded in higher education – might seem innocent or even trivial.  It is not.  If we do believe, as many of us in the eportfolio community say we do, that valuable and important learning can occur not only in curricular and moderated settings but in co-curricular and non-curricular settings as well, then that belief and my title question suggests what will be the next phase of the eportfolio movement.

That next phase is perhaps eportfolios designed for certification outside of institutions.  Educators are looking for ways to expand learning opportunities outside of the normal institutional boundaries through online learning – MOOCs and the array of online learning models already in operation – and also looking for certifying opportunities other than a college degree – badges as one example of “micro-credentialing.”  Already, the movement out of traditional institutional settings is well underway and has been for some time.

In the case of electronic portfolios, one important factor is that they are equally appropriate and essential for learning either within institutional hegemony or without.  In fact, as we all recognize, they are a robust bridge between the traditional world of formal learning and the emerging world of informal learning. 

In theory, then, a natural evolution would seem to be a growing use of eportfolios both during times of enrollment and during times of no enrollment.  During enrollment, institutions can assist with the management of learning portfolios but during times of no enrollment, who assists, especially in the U. S. where government agencies, at any level, do little or nothing to assist?

Each eportfolio provider does offer some way for students to keep their eportfolio accounts after enrollment but what about the millions of learners who must learn how to learn in this economy but who are not in college?  Seventeen million higher education students in the U. S. may have access to eportfolios through our current system of providing U. S. students with eportfolios while they are in college, but surely there must be tens of millions of others -- college graduates, college “dropouts” (a new prestige term?), or those who have not attended college -- who also need eportfolios. 

The AAEEBL Community, including our Corporate Partners, must recognize that eportfolios should be available and supported for all who need them; not only because that’s a good idea for society but also because selling to individual learners is the ultimate market.

Despite the good news of the spread of eportfolio use in higher education, we in the AAEEBL Community know that only some uses of eportfolio technologies are what we might call transformative.  Good use of eportfolio requires, in most cases, re-thinking and change.  We all know how resistant to change people are and especially people backed by institutions no more eager to change than they are. There is still great progress to be made in higher education by spreading the eportfolio word and that will be true for decades.

But, what if individuals arrived at college, or re-entered college, already with eportfolio in tow?  What if eportfolios became a powerful way for learners to get ahead in the world even without formal enrollment?  Then, might we not see a societal push with eportfolio technology just as we have seen with the BYOD movement?  IT offices on campuses always preferred to limit the number of technologies they must support, so BYOD would not have arisen spontaneously within the IT establishment in most cases.  BYOD, I would guess, was simply recognizing reality.  If everyone is already bringing their own devices, requiring them to buy yet another device in order to standardize on campus became inconceivable. 

What if the average young person could not only buy their own devices and apps but one of those apps was an eportfolio along with support from the eportfolio provider?  I know that some of our corporate partners do consider the consumer market as a next step for eportfolios, but beyond it being a large market commercially, how would that benefit the quality of learning in our society?  And what dangers would selling to the consumer market present?

As an aside, it is very interesting that we can think of eportfolios as a consumer product.  I suspect very few of you reading this would scoff at that idea.  Yet, no one would think of an LMS as a consumer product.  

The advantage of selling eportfolios as a consumer product from the perspective of the AAEEBL Community, dedicated to human development, is that a market developing outside of academia could push academia to speed up accommodating eportfolio-necessary structures.  We could see a BYOP movement developing. 

The disadvantage of selling eportfolios as a consumer product is we could see a stripping down of eportfolio functionalities.  To set a price point in the consumer market that would be aligned with pocketbooks, we would probably see the usual model of a basic eportfolio that could then be beefed-up with premium services.  Someone arriving on a campus with a “basic eportfolio” might find that it does not suit the purposes demanded on the campus. 

Within academia, the AAEEBL Community works to advance eportfolio research and practice.  The AAEEBL Community also works with Corporate Partners to assure the technology continues to support good eportfolio practice.  It may be that the Community also will need to look beyond academia if and when eportfolios become a consumer product. 

Tags:  ePortfolio 

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Badges and the Gravitational Pull of Teacher Control

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Badges and the Gravitational Pull of Teacher Control

 

Information technology is the ultimate control technology; it is also the ultimate distribution-of-control technology.  It is both centralizing and democratizing.  Higher education, then, lives on the horns of this particular dilemma:  should we expedite “delivery” or should we hand power to learners?  Should higher education organize around delivery of content or distribution of control? (We can do both, of course). 

 

Technology compounds the significance of this choice for higher education.  It pushes out the limits of the continuum between delivery of content (for example, MOOCs) and distribution of control (for example, self-paced, evidence-based learning).

 

There is money in delivery of content; distribution of control is a harder sell.  To the extent LMS’s are used in support of delivery of content, they are an easy sell; to the extent that eportfolios support distribution of control, they are a hard sell. 

 

That centralizing (delivery of content) is more attractive and profitable is the challenge the AAEEBL community faces:  the best learning occurs when students have the most control of their own learning.  But institutions run most efficiently and profitably through centralizing.

 

Now, if all students, or even most students, wanted control of their learning, the challenge would be easy to meet.  In truth, having control of your own learning is hard work and is scary.  Some students thrive when they control their own learning but most prefer to be guided, scaffolded and taught.  Therefore, the AAEEBL community and others seeking good learning opportunities run against not only inevitable vectors of profit and efficiency but of human nature as well.

 

And so it is with badges.  I was at a session on badging in Ann Arbor recently.  I hasten to interject that AAEEBL has been working on badging within AAEEBL for two years, is part of an international funded project on badging led by Deakin University in Melbourne, and sees badges as a natural complement to portfolios.  Still, as encouraging as it was to see several institutions talking about badging programs already in full swing, I was concerned about what seemed like a given regarding badges. 

 

Here’s why I was concerned:  badges were a hot topic just before the MOOC tsunami of 2013.  But, in that quiet badge year, badges and their proponents did not fade away but instead made progress.  That’s good because even though MOOCs may seem historically more significant, in actuality, they probably won’t be seen as more than a hiccup in the development of online learning over time.  In contrast, badges and the move to micro-credentialing could challenge how grading is done, how credit is awarded (even influencing the disappearance of grades), and could challenge the whole idea that students have to actually have a diploma for any of their work to count.  Randy Bass said recently that eportfolios won’t challenge the business model of higher education institutions; but portfolios with badges could well do so.  So, badges are potentially a very powerful new element.  But only if they are used in particular ways.  And, during the session in Ann Arbor, I was not certain those particular ways were faring well. 

 

Badges have a number of potential values that are important to education right now. 

 

  • As context for a course grade.  Digital badges display on a screen and can be clicked to reveal metadata about the granting of the badge:  who issued the badge and based on what criteria?  There’s more data, but these two metadata categories are very important.  A course grade is usually given by an instructor who has reasons for granting a particular grade.  Those reasons are lost in the highly abstracted single letter grade. But, in a badge, we see the reasons for one part of the final course grade. 

  • As a micro-credential.  If, during several courses, during co-curricular activity, and even in non-curricular learning experiences, a student/learner builds up badge evidence of an important skill that is job-related, the badges themselves may convince an HR officer to hire that student before she or he receives a diploma.  Badges have been talked about as an alternative to formal education.  That could be a future possibility but I think the hybrid badge, formal courses with institutionally certified badges combined with life experience badges, will be the first step. 

  • As a valuable kind of evidence in a portfolio.  Badges in portfolios make sense.  Badges make good evidence:  they are granted in recognition of ability in a certain discrete skill that might be part of a college course, part of a unit in a college course, or one element in a particular assignment during that unit. 

  • As a peer-granted recognition.  Instructors generally can’t be present in student team meetings, especially if they are held out of class.  Students that work on a problem in a group over several weeks get to know their peers quite well.  If the assignment to work on a problem is structured to distinguish between roles in the team, then each student team member will most likely have a deliverable.  That assignment structure allows each team member to show their capabilities and allows the team to decide whether to grant a badge or not. 

 

Within AAEEBL, the CEO, Judy Williamson Batson, leads AAEEBL’s badge efforts.  We granted some badges last year at the Annual Conference, so we know the system works.  We know, in general, that learning designs are strongly influenced by assessment designs:  students will pay attention to what “counts” toward their grade.  If we want students to be engaged in learning, we need to think of not only learning opportunities but how we assess the results of those opportunities.  Badges are one way to increase engagement in the process of learning.  This is one reason why AAEEBL has a badge initiative.

 

I was concerned in Ann Arbor because it seemed the attendees at the badges session assumed badges would be granted by teachers.  But if students are working more independently and out of sight of the teacher, doesn’t it make sense to emphasize peer-awarded badges?  To pick up on the theme of this blog, badges may be most effective when they reinforce not the control of the teacher but the distribution of control to the learners. 

 

Nevertheless, colleges and universities are adopting badges, some eportfolio vendors are making it possible to include badges in personal portfolios, and one more thread in the slow evolution of the nature and process of learning is getting stronger. 

 

 

 

 

Tags:  Badges  ePortfolio 

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Comments on Randy Bass' "Reality Check" in Peer Review Issue on ePortfolios

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, May 01, 2014

 

Comments on Randy Bass’s “Reality Check” in
AAC&U’s Peer Review article.

 

AAEEBL is, right now, responding to questions from the IRS about AAEEBL’s 501c3 application.  We are finding how hard it is to explain “eportfolio” to those who know little about technology or about the sweeping changes in higher education and the knowledge economy.  In the eportfolio community, we know that “eportfolio” is a heavily packed term.  We know it has layers of meaning that are only unlayered or unpacked in the context. 

 

Randy Bass, about the most eloquent person I know, wrote “The Next Whole Thing in Higher Education,” published in Peer Review from AAC&U this week (Winter 2014, Vol. 16, No. 1:  http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-wi14/RealityCheck.cfm).  His comments about eportfolios are spot on. 

 

“Eportfolios are decidedly not the hottest thing in higher education.”  This opening declaration gets our attention and I had difficulty deciding what my own reaction is:  it is good in some ways not to be the hottest thing because of burnout; but then, what is the current state of eportfolio? 

 

We are reassured of Bass’ belief in the eportfolio movement, however, as soon as he points out that, after all, the eportfolio movement is not about the technology but about “a set of pedagogies and practices that link learners to learning, curriculum to the co-curriculum, and courses and programs to institutional outcomes.”  Bass is making it clear that when members of the eportfolio community use the word “eportfolio,” they are thinking primarily, or exclusively, not about the actual technology but about a whole approach to learning and development.

 

Bass does make the case that despite not being “hot,” eportfolios “are change agents; they belong to an emergent learning paradigm and, as we argue in the Connect to Learning Project, have the capacity to catalyze change toward that paradigm.” 

 

In other words, eportfolios are now in that phase of technology infusion in our culture that features steady growth, quiet but deep change, when the technology becomes simply part of the landscape, and therefore is steadily growing in influence. 

 

Susan Kahn of IUPUI, in the lead article in the Peer Review issue cited above, says:

 

According to the 2013 survey from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR), use of e-portfolios has increased sharply since 2010, when the survey first asked about them: 57 percent of US postsecondary institutions say they have made some use of e-portfolios in the past year, and 53 percent of responding students report engaging with e-portfolios in at least one course in the past year (Dahlstrom, Walker, and Dziuban 2013) (Peer Review).

 

The comments in the ECAR survey, taken as a whole, however, offer some qualifiers to Kahn’s initial rosy comments, as she later points out.  While eportfolios are widespread in U. S. higher education, adoption on most campuses is “sparse.”  In fact, only 7% of students reported using eportfolios in more than one course.   Sounds tiny until we remember that last year total enrollment in U. S. colleges and universities was over 17 million.  The seven percent, therefore, represents 1,190,000 students.  We can estimate that over a million students are using eportfolios in at least two courses.  That’s not really reassuring to us in the eportfolio community who understand that eportfolios succeed best when entire programs adopt eportfolios. 

 

The industry and movement started its quick growth phase around 2003-2004, and in the IT adoption world, eportfolios have been around long enough that we should expect higher adoption rates.  Learning management systems, only 5 or 6 years older that eportfolios, enjoy a 100% adoption rate. 

 

Will eportfolios ever enjoy a similar adoption rate?  As Bass might say, only if faculty adopt new practices.  We therefore cannot expect eportfolios to become as ubiquitous as LMS’s, based on that disclaimer.  Now, should employers require an eportfolio in the hiring process, that would change everything.

 

What do we know about eportfolios?  We can now say, confidently, that using eportfolios as a central element in learning designs does in fact improve student learning by almost any measure.  LaGuardia Community College research over the years, LaGuardia’s Making Connections project, and the Connect to Learning FIPSE project as reported in the Peer Review issue, taken together, and in line with research reported in The International Journal of ePortfolio, allows us to unequivocally claim that using eportfolios improves learning.  The qualifier, as always, is that eportfolios must be used intelligently. 

 

Learning management systems cannot make that same claim. 

 

But, are eportfolios always used for learning purposes?  And, is there a danger of eportfolios actually going tech?  No and yes.

 

In fact, eportfolios are mostly sold in the U. S. to help institutions track student learning progress toward learning goals.  This is using eportfolios rather indirectly to improve learning:  an imposed coherence in the curriculum is just more institutional coherence building (“scaffolding”), but there is learning value if students can better see how everything fits together and what the goals are. 

 

But, another use of the eportfolio concept presents us all with a new challenge:  “eportfolio is only a website (or a domain).”  We know that a number of institutions have adopted web authoring tools as part of an eportfolio initiative. The eportfolio community has understood that eportfolio practices can be carried out without the whole process occurring within an eportfolio system.  But, if a company is interested in entering the eportfolio market and all the examples that company sees on the web are in fact just websites, how can we not pardon them for believing eportfolios are only websites?  This is not hypothetical.  AAEEBL deals with this issue regularly. 

 

Only a minority of eportfolio users use eportfolios directly for learning.  The industry depends on other uses to generate revenue.  ePortfolios for career advancement, eportfolios used in the corporate sector for employee review, eportfolios for institutional assessment in higher education, eportfolios for workforce development supported by governments and other non-pedagogical uses far outnumber eportfolios for learning from a global perspective. 

 

Yet, there is no question that if eportfolios were not ideal for learning, none of these other derivative uses would have as much value.  The eportfolio community is cohesive because it does understand the essential metacognitive power of eportfolios.  This recognition goes back to paper portfolio research and practice. 

 

Institutions are established to preserve something.  They cannot change very fast.  But institutions no longer enjoy a monopoly on knowledge.  They do still enjoy a monopoly on the prestige of the credential.  But, once eportfolios, micro-credentialing and other means of authentically crediting learning that are recognized by employers get established, even that monopoly will dissipate.  (Still, the college experience itself will always provide a life passage without comparison for value throughout life). 

 

As credentialing learning begins to move outside of educational institutional purview, all is possible, even likely.  Or, institutions will reach out to preserve their monopoly by creating systems to authenticate badges or other forms of micro-credentialing.  Either way, eportfolios could become the new learning management systems in a disbursed learning world.

 

When the EDUCAUSE annual survey surveys not just undergraduate students enrolled in colleges and universities but encompasses all learners, we may find a much higher percentage of eportfolio users using eportfolios for all the work they do.  The LMS will persist as a management and delivery instrument but as learning becomes much more disbursed, the eportfolio model – learners owning the instrument of their own learning record – becomes much more vital.

Tags:  AAEEBL  eportfolios 

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Batson Heart Surgery and Return to Work

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, February 10, 2014

 

 

 

Batson Blog

February 9, 2014

An Open Letter to the AAEEBL Community

Hello all – In December, I learned that I had blocked coronary arteries and would need heart surgery to bypass the blocked arteries. I had the surgery on January 14, almost four weeks ago.

As many of you know, this kind of surgery has become common and low risk. Since it is such a serious operation, it seems odd to call it "common” and "low risk.” But, it is. For most of those who go through the surgery, decades of life are added. And, in fact, after recovery, many of those who undergo this surgery experience improved life.

I am now recovered enough to return to AAEEBL work. My surgery has put us a bit behind our normal schedule at AAEEBL. For that, we apologize. Judy Williamson Batson, our CEO, had not only AAEEBL to direct during my recovery, but had to manage my recovery as well. This was quite a challenge and I am deeply thankful for her efforts on behalf of AAEEBL and on behalf of me.

Meanwhile, we have three conferences planned between now and the end of July. Because of my absence and the demands of my recovery, we now have slightly foreshortened deadline periods for submitting proposals for our conferences:

· April 8-9, 2014 in Long Beach

· May 18-19, 2014, University of Michigan

· July 28-31, 2014 in Boston

We are getting back on track. We expect our operations to return to normal in regards to our Conferences, our Webinars and The AAEEBL Learner. We also expect to see conferencing on our Website take on a life of its own. I am happy to be back at work and look forward to many more years of my personal involvement with AAEEBL. ePortfolios remain, to me, one of the most hopeful technologies, produced by a vital and creative industry, and supported and used by a wonderful global community of scholars and practitioners.


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Three Common Illusions About Technology and Learning

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, January 13, 2014

Three Common Illusions About Technology and Learning

Educators have fallen for three illusions that are standing in the way of the educational enterprise changing in productive ways.

The Three Illusions

The first illusion is that no change in teaching approaches is needed when technology is added into the mix. The technology alone will change learning behavior. "Word processing will lead to more student revision of their writing.” "PowerPoint will increase learning by making it visible.” "Adding an eportfolio to a standard course will lead to greater student engagement.” This illusion has played out in many ways, depending on the discipline.

Even though most of us, or all of us, nod at the phrase, "it’s not the technology,” we continue to somehow hope it will be the technology that makes the difference.

A second illusion is that, because technology hype so often proves overblown and mistaken, technology itself can be ignored and we can continue doing things as we always have. Since the hype itself is often based on an illusion, we fall into the trap of being deluded by an illusion.

A third illusion is that education will evolve to a new kind of singularity: we will replace "talk and test” with some other monolithic model of education. Because we have been following one narrow set of practices for a century, it is logical to believe we will simply move to a new narrow set of practices. The MOOC madness last year was only the latest example of this illusion: MOOCs, we feared, would replace everything. This third illusion is especially dangerous because it prevents us from clearly seeing the reality all around us: we are not moving to one completely new model of teaching and learning but to many new models of teaching and learning. And this process is already underway: colleges and universities are constantly adding new options, new pathways, new experiences for learning. Technology and the Internet have opened almost infinite opportunities for learning and for building knowledge. Our challenge is not to find the one new dominant model but to deal with the many new models.

Technology Widens the Horizons of Learning

Technology is not always at the center of the new models but technology does allow them to become more valuable: technology connectivity adds value to learning outside the classroom because students can demonstrate their learning outside the classroom, for example. Technology does not define new models of learning but it does widen the limits of those models, it does enrich those models, it does open those models to assessment, it does allow these new models to be collaborative, and it does allow learners to add to their resume because students have tangible evidence of their learning. Technology also allows students using these new models of learning to produce evidence of learning that can then be credentialed.

Multiple and Varying Learning Experiences, One Mode of Documentation

Higher education is moving toward an almost unimaginable multiplicity of learning experiences that may not be not pre-unified or pre-standardized by a curriculum for all, but unified instead by how the results of these learning experiences is demonstrated. If all students in a course make a similar kind of showcase eportfolio, then this act of producing the eportfolio is the unifying effort. The students may have had many more kinds of learning experiences than students had before in the same course, but they can still document how well they have arrived at learning goals through their portfolio. Students can "make visible” their own learning experiences via many kinds of technology, in visual format, graphics, audio, text, and other media formats, and all combined in various ways.

Learning, like science, is moving to the need to use "big data” to find significance and meaning. Big data is perhaps the most significant aspect of knowledge development and transmission today. An individual learner will not collect big data about their learning in the same way that scientists gather big data, of course, but the concept, the process, is similar: limitations are not imposed on how the learning occurs, or how the data is collected, but left open. It is in the interpretation of the data that science finds what to investigate; it is in the interpretation of the data that learners find what to demonstrate through their portfolios for course evaluation, a job interview, an application for graduate school, for a promotion, or any other life opportunity.

Let Students Construct the Content of the Course

This distinction, organizing after the fact instead of before the fact, is a difficult concept for those of us who have been planning courses for years or decades. It is hard to allow students to work on a task or a problem and proceed in multiple ways, follow different paths toward a solution, without intervening. It is hard not to over-define the task so that the outcome is pre-determined.

It is also hard to have trust that students might find solutions we teachers had not thought of before. And, it is hard in many cases to trust that our students will care enough to work toward an imaginative solution or that they will engage sufficiently with the project to find even a satisfactory solution. But this is a real life test. Employers have complained that graduates often cannot work on unstructured problems; they have not been given the chance to work in that way.

But Maintain Disciplinary Standards

Still, however, we can maintain disciplinary standards of knowledge representation as our students choose evidence of their work, individual or group, and make a case for their solution to the problem or task or assignment. Instead of pre-defining the outcome, we educators can judge the varying outcomes to see how well our students understood disciplinary concepts.

Going from lockstep to variability can be uncomfortable; we are not telling our students the three points we want them to remember; instead they may come up with five points that are not quite what we wanted but which may equally well express the same important disciplinary concept.

This more constructivist approach to learning may seem messy compared to talk-and-test. But more learning may occur. The other illusion we educators have labored under is that, when we talk, students are learning. Both we educators and our students fervently wished for this illusion to be true because it is so easy to talk and it is so easy to pretend to learn.

A Scenario

Below is a list of actions a department or program or college could undertake to move to portfolio learning, one way to work productively in this confusing new age of multiple ways of learning:

1. Move away from course-centric to learning centric: the course starts and stops, learning does not.

2. Create learning goals for whatever courses learners do take that can help them arrive at a degree-level learning outcome.

3. Put the learner’s eportfolio at the center of the course: it is the teacher’s responsibility to aid the development of the ongoing learning portfolio of all students in the course (they come into the course with an eportfolio and they leave with an enhanced eportfolio).

4. Work with a larger scope of learning experiences (high-impact educational practices), relevant co-curricular and non-curricular experiences as well, that can be included in the portfolio.

5. Make the portfolio the basis for evaluation of the student’s learning during the course.

6. Include colleagues in the discipline in the evaluation of the student portfolio

7. Base faculty evaluation on the quality of the portfolios produced in the faculty member’s courses over time.

8. Make the measure of learning outcomes be how well graduates do in their careers over the first 5 years after graduation.

A business model based on the development of a student's portfolio – not credit hours -- would complete the transformation of an institution from a teaching academy to a learning academy. This new business model would change the institution’s goal from knowledge acquisition to knowledge creation, from memory to learning, and from rote to real.

The Scenario is Already Happening

It is no longer uncommon to see aspects of the above suggestions incorporated on a number of campuses today, as variations on this list, or as a fully developed program.

From this list, however, it should be clear that the "magic” is not in the technology – although the technology makes it all possible – but in the re-imagining of education, in reminding ourselves what is important today, and in facing the reality of how learning best occurs. The magic is not in the technology, but in how we use it.

---

Go to http://aaeebl.org to learn about our first Midwest Regional Conference at the University of Michigan May 18 and 19.

People sometimes tell me they are not sure they should join AAEEBL "because we are not doing eportfolios.” AAEEBL has been identified with eportfolios because eportfolios help educators and learners take advantage of the many new ways of learning and of documenting learning. AAEEBL has also been identified with eportfolio technologies because there is a defined eportfolio industry. But AAEEBL is really about educational transformation, about new forms of learning, and about all the implications of changes in education and learning.

The AAEEBL community is made up of people interested in new ways for educators to work, new ways for learners to learn, new ways of learning to be assessed and new ways for learning to be credentialed. This is a community rich in ideas about the challenges to educators today. Though eportfolios are a common thread in this community, the community is really about educational change and not just about one technology.

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Tags:  Technology Learning eportfolios 

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ePortfolios at a Crossroads

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Wednesday, October 30, 2013

ePortfolios at a Crossroads

Trent Batson

 

EDUCAUSE released the findings from its annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology in September 2013. While EDUCAUSE had kindly offered AAEEBL the opportunity to read and edit a sidebar in the report regarding eportfolios, the report as whole, in its design, revealed an odd understanding of eportfolios.

The following quotation from the Report suggests that students were led to believe that eportfolios fit into an odd category of something they call "experimental experiences.”

In investigating the magnitude of use of open educational resources, e-texts, simulations and games, and e-portfolios, we found that these are experimental experiences for most students; they typically have used them in one class or on occasion rather than as part of their education resource ecosystem. We also found that students are not telling us they want these resources used more – in fact, interest is either flat or decreasing.

p. 39, ECAR Report

In the same report, however, we find that 52% of all students used eportfolios at some point in their undergraduate career. Therefore, we can surmise that ePortfolios may be implemented, to one degree or another, on over half of the 4,000 or so U. S. institutions of higher learning. How can they be so common and yet referred to as "experimental experiences”?

AAEEBL’s 2013 Annual Conference was "ePortfolio Coming of Age.” For us in the eportfolio community to see more evidence of Casey Green’s finding in 2010 that over half of U. S. institutions then had eportfolios on their campus, the ECAR Report was gratifying, despite its odd characterization of eportfolios. ePortfolio adoption is indeed spreading in U. S. higher education and in higher education around the world.

In our field, we are aware of the multitude and disruptive ways that eportfolios can be used. We can envision an educational enterprise built around evidence-based learning and assessment. That enterprise (institution) could be more aligned with learners’ needs today after their transformation. With our sense of the potential of eportfolio technology, in concert with mobile computing in a multi-modal world, ECAR’s characterization of eportfolios borders on bizarre. It reflects a shallow perception of eportfolios.

AAEEBL and the community need to do more to open eyes. Yet, we find ourselves in a chicken and egg situation: does transformation come first or do eportfolios come first? In the report, we find that three-quarters of those students using eportfolios use them in only one class. ePortfolios, on most campuses, therefore must seem "experimental” since only one or a few faculty members are using them. (Note that the ECAR Report is based on student responses, and not on reports from administrators who might have also included institutional use of eportfolios for institutional research and tracking student progress toward learning outcomes. Since this kind of data was not included in the Report, we can assume the spread of eportfolios in higher education is under-reported).

Since Kenneth C. Green’s report in 2010 that half of all institutions had eportfolios, the ECAR Report shows a sky-rocketing of student use of eportfolios up through 2012, leveling off in the last year. Combing the Green data with ECAR’s, we can suggest that eportfolio penetration of U. S. higher education could easily be 60 or 70%. Reports from the industry add credence to this supposition.

But, there is another incipient movement that could be encouraging for us eportfolio advocates. Some eportfolio providers who offer both an LMS and an eportfolio platform, have integrated the two or are considering doing so. Other providers offer both an assessment management module (for tracking student progress toward learning outcomes) and a student eportfolio module. It is not hard to imagine the LMS, which has saturated higher education, adding eportfolio capabilities and eventually altering how eportfolios are marketed and used.

If we consider that nearly 100 percent of faculty and students use an LMS, adding eportfolio capabilities to the LMS would result in a much quicker uptake of eportfolio use than using the current marketing of LMS and eportfolio as separate enterprise products. If faculty members already are familiar with how an LMS works – its ethos, terminology, structure – they would find added eportfolio "spaces” easier to navigate than they would in a brand new and separate eportfolio platform.

Right now, of all courses or classes taken on campuses in the U. S., again according to ECAR, most students only encounter one or two eportfolio courses. At the same time, 100% of students encounter an LMS course. The best way, from an industry perspective, to enter the market ambitiously could then be to offer a better LMS and then make it even better by adding eportfolio capabilities.

There are of course real complications to overcome since the LMS is owned by the institution and its faculty while eportfolios are supposed to be owned by students. The LMS is course-based and the eportfolio is learner-based; one is vertical, the other horizontal. The gestalt of each platform is a polar opposite.

Yet, it is very possible that this is exactly how the market will begin to swing: LMS companies developing eportfolio capabilities and eportfolio use then grows as an adjunct to LMS use.

The eportfolio stack might then look like:

· Learning eportfolio

· Assessment management system

· Learning management system (LMS)

And all of it will be called an LMS.

I am not saying I believe this is how things will play out. But I do know that this scenario will be part of how things play out.

Does this scenario mean that the values our community sees in eportfolios will be championed and supported? It would seem that the danger would be, instead, that the market may drive eportfolios away from learning-centered and back toward teaching-centered, at least within the academy.

Our Association and the community need to advocate for eportfolio values. We need to continue to demand that our providers understand the purpose and the transformational power of eportfolios. The new website that AAEEBL has launched (not fully provisioned with content yet, alas), can help in this advocacy: you can add your own voice as part of AAEEBL’s advocacy via the forums and blogs and groups at the new AAEEBL site.

As a global community, we have a potentially strong voice. We are at a crossroads; eportfolio use is spreading but we find very little understanding in general of how eportfolio can best be used; the enterprise-transformation power of eportfolios is even less understood; the LMS providers seem to be looking at the eportfolio market as a new growth path. The crossroads, then, presents two dangers:

1. ePortfolios continuing as an "experimental experience.”

2. ePortfolios growing in use but strongly flavored by the LMS ethos.

As the market grows, it becomes more attractive to investment. Let’s make sure that investment moves us in good directions.

Tags:  ePortfolio  evidence-based learning  LMS 

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AAEEBL's Site -- A Milepost for ePortfolio Community?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hi, everyone -- I am writing this as the countdown to launch of AAEEBL's new website platform is at 6 days and counting.  And I am wondering what a year's worth of work, expense, and anxiety will deliver. 

What is a 5-year old non-profit with only 121 institutional members and 17 corporate sponsors, with a full-time staff of two plus some part-time staff, doing with such a large enterprise-scale platform? 

But, at the same time, eportfolio advocates are always looking ahead, imagining what great changes and what wonderful new worlds of learning are down the road.  Would the eportfolio community want AAEEBL to be modest in expectation, plan on modest growth, look for modest impact on education? I doubt it because implementing this new site is anything but modest.  Judy Williamson Batson, AAEEBL's Vice President, devoted almost a year to creating this site, as much an engineering undertaking as a design undertaking.  At times she must have wondered if we should have opted for "modest."

But, AAEEBL has always had an imbalance between the size of its staff and its aspirations.  The times do seem to demand leaps of faith.  What was AAEEBL doing in its second year hosting a world-class conference on Boston Harbor?  And, now, what is it doing in its fifth year launching a website platform with such a huge capacity and so much functionality?

However, AAEEBL leaders do not see size or ambition as an end unto itself.  I have heard our Board tell me that our impact, our influence,and what kind of influence we have as an Association is more important than numbers or revenue. 

But, and this is very important, in this new website, our dozens of groups, networks, blogs, forums will be created by the Community.  AAEEBL members and the ePortfolio Community can create the "story" of this website.  This site, a grand eportfolio, belongs to the Community, as it should.  This site is like The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul:  all under one roof but managed by hundreds upon hundreds of individual shop keepers. 

Our ambition may have been for the Community to create an eportfolio even though we were not aware of that until now when we reflect on what this site actually calls us to do.  In each group, the group members and administrator can collect artifacts, discuss ideas, reflect, and, in essence, create a group eportfolio.  The group space is owned by those who join the group. You will discover all the ways you can socialize and work within this site and see if it seems like a grand eportfolio to you.

See you around the site . . .

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The Quality Agenda and ePortfolios

Posted By Administration, Monday, September 02, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

September 2nd, 2013

Trent Batson


Why does education need a "quality agenda”? Haven’t we educators always focused on "quality”? Or is there an event prompting the need for emphasis on quality in higher education? Is the new emphasis on quantity via online education part of that prompt?

Did xMOOCs, the Khan Academy and other forms of online learning turn the presentational mode against higher education institutions by saying "if you want the lecture form as the primary form of teaching, we’ll give you the lecture form writ large”?

The only reasonable response to an online lecture hall of hundreds of thousands is to point out the quality failings of such scale. Carol Schneider put it this way:

"When we create incentive systems for enhanced degree production, with no questions asked about the sufficiency of learning, the door is literally wide open to choices that deplete rather than build educational quality…The real key to economic opportunity and advancement depends not on whether the student possesses a credential, but rather on whether students actually leave college with that rich portfolio of learning that employers seek and society urgently needs.”

Carol Geary Schneider, AAC&U President
Where Completion Goes Awry: The Metrics for "Success” Mask Mounting Problems with Quality, 2012: http://www.aacu.org/meetings/studentsuccess13/

It seems to me that the eportfolio community is at the point when eportfolio use in U. S. higher education is now so quantitatively successful that we need to focus increasingly on the qualitative use of eportfolios as part of the quality agenda.

Do the 52% of higher education students who use eportfolios in U. S. higher education use eportfolios for deep learning? For career preparation? For their own independent learning purposes? Or do most of them simply fulfill one course requirement, using their eportfolio as an assignment archive? Do they build their eportfolio over time in their college career? Or simply use them sporadically with no continuity or integrative work?

It is gratifying to see the field and the market expand, to have a sense that eportfolios are now a permanent part of the learning process in higher education and perhaps beyond higher education into the workplace (and in K-12), but I am sure many of you share that nagging feeling I have that we have a lot more work to do. That the quality of eportfolio use is not where we would like it to be.

We know that eportfolios used in certain ways can deepen learning by developing reflective and integrative thinking; we know eportfolios used in certain ways can increase students’ feeling of ownership of their own learning process and therefore increase their engagement in learning; we know that eportfolios used in certain ways can make the college experience more coherent and therefore valuable for employment. Yet, we all know that few institutions have created a multi-year coherent plan to use eportfolios consistently, across the disciplines, and on to graduation. We may be past a tipping point quantitatively but far from it qualitatively.

A quality agenda for eportfolio use can be quite clear on a campus once academic leaders understand how learning experiences can be re-organized to take advantage of the power of eportfolios. It is not just the technology, of course, but the growing expectation among all participants – faculty and students and professional staff – that we do more and more of our work online. It is a good time to be re-thinking how online and traditional learning designs can interact with each other and how eportfolios can create coherence (integration) within that field of more widely varying learning experiences.

I’ll be interested to see examples of quality uses of eportfolios at scale this academic year. The FIPSE-funded Connect to Learning Project led by LaGuardia Community College is in its final year and ready to begin enriching the community with its results. Some of you got a taste of what is to come from Bret Eynon’s and Randy Bass’s keynote address in Boston at the AAEEBL Annual Conference.

In November at Virginia Tech on the 4th and 5th, AAEEBL will hold its Southeast Regional Conference in partnership with Virginia Tech and Clemson University. "It Begins with the Learner” as the theme, and the presence of students as participants, as panel presenters, and as showcase presenters, will turn our eyes to where we need to start with the quality agenda: how are students themselves using their eportfolios for their own quality agenda? (For more info and to register click here).

Another FIPSE project, led by the University of Michigan, The Integrative Knowledge Collaborative, is also in its third year. From the Website of this project:

"The collaborative creates, shares, tests and refines innovative practices in teaching, learning and assessment and utilizes ePortfolios to foster the integration of different types of knowledge.”

Some of you heard Melissa Peet, Project Director, speak at the AAEEBL Annual Conference and learned more about the methodology used in this project. This project is also contributing to what could become "the quality agenda for eportfolios.”

I am sure other projects, other campuses, other individuals are developing quality agendas for eportfolio use. I hope we will hear more about these efforts during this year. We now can be relatively certain of the ongoing growth of eportfolio use over the coming years but now the community, I believe, needs to develop designs for quality.


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Georgia Tech, Udacity and AT&T: A Claim Too Far? Why ePortfolios Are Necessary to Big Learning

Posted By Administration, Monday, May 20, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

May 20th, 2013

| Trent Batson

Georgia Tech, Udacity and AT&T: A Claim Too Far? Why ePortfolios Are Necessary to Big Learning

Inside Higher Education published an article last week, "Massive, Not Open,” that adds another layer, another model, and another business partnership to the already multi-layered MOOC phenomenon, or "Big Learning,” a more encompassing term for what’s happening in and beyond education. Here are some excerpts from that article:

  • "The Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a $7,000 online master’s degree to 10,000 new students over the next three years without hiring much more than a handful of new instructors.”
  • " . . . University officials said the new degrees would be entirely comparable to the existing master’s degree in computer science from Georgia Tech, which costs about $40,000 a year for non-Georgia residents. [italics added]
  • "Georgia Tech expects to hire only eight or so new instructors even as it takes its master's program from 300 students to as many as 10,000 within three years, said Zvi Galil, the dean of computing at Georgia Tech.”
  • "At the moment, we’re just doing this in computer science,” said Provost Rafael Bras. "We’ll wait and see. I believe this is quite appropriate for professional master’s degrees but I also believe it is less appropriate for non-master’s degrees and certainly for other fields.”

And, Udacity will hire mentors itself to offer more individual attention to the 10,000 online students. In addition, Georgia Tech will be seeking the kinds of prospective students, such as those already in a career or in the military, who would be motivated to advance their careers.

The course, in addition to inviting enrolled students, will also be "open” to any learner as a regular MOOC – free to those students but with only a certificate of completion in recognition of visiting the course.

What Does this Announcement Mean?

This course represents what Georgia Tech calls "MOOC” 2.0. But, if it is not "open” as MOOCs have been up to now, why call it a "MOOC”? As MOOCs evolve rapidly, they seem to represent a new phase in education that I call "Big Learning.” Big Learning is aimed not just at the traditional undergraduate learners, but at all those affected by the knowledge economy – in other words, Big Learning is for the Big Market – that is, all of us. And not just all of us in the U.S., but all of us in the world who can get access to the Web. "Education” is becoming "learning,” a simple enough change in wording but, in reality, a profound change in everything.

The word "education,” as we have known it, is associated with stable knowledge: knowledge as a commodity, as a thing, parceled out by the credit hour. When knowledge is stable, it makes sense to teach and to create something called "education.” When knowledge is rapidly changing, it makes sense to learn and create learning organizations. There is no doubt knowledge is rapidly changing, and the MOOC movement, or "Big Learning” as the umbrella term, is simply an adaptation to a new reality. It may or may not be an appropriate adaptation. MOOCs have been around for 5 years, but only in the past two have they become big business.

Already, we see bumps and hiccups in Big Learning. Will Big Learning find a viable set of models? Will Big Learning find a way to incorporate the values of traditional liberal arts education? Will Big Learning find a way to incorporate eportfolio values of learner-centered learning, documenting authentic (real life) learning, of longitudinal reflection and integrative thinking, or of creating an online deep identity for career success? Or will it fall into the "trough of disappointment” (Gartner) and need a second try?

This statement by Zvi Galil, the Dean of Computing at Georgia Tech, suggests an answer:

"’You know there is a revolution going on, right?’ Galil said in a telephone interview. ‘And we have been a part of this revolution, but I thought we could be leaders in this revolution by taking it to the next level, by doing the revolutionary step.’ That step, he said, is using technology to radically increase the scale of a for-credit offering while sharply reducing the price.”

If current institutions that are still called "educational institutions” can indeed scale up, reduce cost, and help learners advance in life (at least through this masters-degree offering), then Big Learning is here to stay. After all, addressing the cost issue in higher education is very compelling.

How Will This Course Be Comparable to an On-Campus Course?

This is the question of the day. If higher education has found the answer to scale up at cost to meet the pressing need for learning today, then we are in a new era. However, if higher education has merely found a new way to degrade the value of a college degree, then Big Learning is a self-defeating movement. Will the course at Georgia Tech provide the same learning value as a traditional master’s level course in computer science? Will a degree from Georgia Tech earned entirely through Big Learning, as opposed to online or on campus, be as readily accepted?

How derivative can a course be and still retain the prestige of the University brand? Will students be as driven and as engaged when they are separated from the instructor by one more layer of bureaucracy? Will the involvement of for-profit entities (Udacity and AT&T) compromise valid assessment of the success of this program? After all, "non-disclosure” and "for-profit” go hand in hand.

As these Big Learning graduate students view videos, take tests, do readings, engage in the forums, interact with peers in the course, complete assignments, and enjoy their limited time with mentors, how can they pull together the various parts of this experience? How can they maximize their mentor time?

Big Learning may be meeting the challenge of the Big Demand for learning that will only grow in our current time of shortening cycles of fundamental change, but it is not meeting the challenge of integrating learning.

In the MOOC course I took earlier this year, all my comments in the forum were in Coursera digital space and all my quiz results remain their record. It feels as though I was not "there.” I never got to know anyone. Was the course a dream? Was I really there? I did not finish the course, as most open enrollees do not, so I don’t even have a certificate of completion. I don’t remember even one name of an instructor or fellow student even though I did participate to almost the end of the course.

Now, what if I had been keeping an eportfolio record of my learning experiences, had used my eportfolio space to capture elements of the course or as a potential collaboration space with other students? What if the eportfolio was a required part of the course and, had there been mentors in my course, I could then have communicated with my mentor via the eportfolio and maximized my one-on-one time with her? What if, in my eportfolio, I included photos of work I did that was relevant to the course, or video, or gifs or voice memos, etc., and catalogued my evidence for easy retrieval? And, finally, what if I could produce a great website, using my eportfolio application, with links to relevant stuff in my eportfolio repository?

In other words, what if Coursera had offered us a chance to augment the course with our own work related to the course: work that might have been required or might have just been at my own initiation? How could Coursera have added the element of social constructivism that was the original idea behind MOOCs?

Big Learning Courses: Some Adult Assembly Required

Big Learning must face the issue of who is the active agent, who is at stake in these courses or programs? Even more than in traditional online learning the teacher’s role is diminished. If the Georgia Tech graduate students in computer science taking the new MOOC program want their degree to have lasting value in their career, they will need to extend their own self-initiated learning activities related to the course and document those activities. If Georgia Tech wants to support the prestige of the MOOC degree and make it truly comparable to the regular degree, the institution must look beyond what Udacity offers to see how higher order learning can reliably occur at this scale and how the students can demonstrate the results of their higher order learning. What does Georgia Tech need to do in addition to what they have planned?

The onus for learning is unquestionably much more on the learner in this planned new program. But this is the order of the day. The learner, a label that can justifiably be applied to all of us, is at stake in everything she or he does or is involved with, to stay up on the latest.

Is Big Learning not then in step with the times? By placing much more responsibility for learning on the learner, isn’t Big Learning inviting, almost requiring active, learner-centered learning?

Udacity and Georgia Tech should both recognize the need to add more validity and substance to their Big Learning offerings. Adding such big numbers while reducing costs must mean something is missing in this new program. If the learner has more responsibility for learning, then the learner must have guidance and support to add their own value to the courses. Students in these courses need more opportunity for social connectivity, working groups, documentation of their work, integration of their work that can be displayed on Web pages with links to evidence, and therefore validation of the value of their work for career success. Or, in other words, they need an eportfolio arranged for by Udacity or Georgia Tech.



This blog post does not necessarily represent AAEEBL policy or positions.



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“Big Learning:” Can the ePortfolio Movement Survive The Great MOOC Shift?

Posted By Administration, Monday, May 06, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

May 6th, 2013

Trent Batson

Wikipedia - Looking Back and Forward

MOOCs are the buzz, and the buzz this time is so loud it drowns out everything else. How will MOOCs affect the eportfolio community?

Not a Fad

The MOOC, in hindsight, was probably inevitable. We had "big data” as an example of the paradigm-changing power of scaling up massively. "Big Learning,” a term used by companies, initiatives, and conferences already, is perhaps a good parallel descriptor of how learning may be changing in every constituent paradigm (even high impact practices) within the large universe of "learning.” Big data is changing how research is done and now may be changing how learning occurs at an equally deep level.

MOOCs are not a fad. How the MOOC idea is applied may morph quickly. Maybe even the term itself will evolve. But the enabling technology applications are there, the backbone, the storage, the bandwidth for high resolution, the companies and investments, the promise and, perhaps most importantly, the demand, are all there. What at first seemed overblown and flawed has quickly become a broadly transformational movement. MOOCs are big learning.

The knowledge economy needs big learning. College graduates still do better in the job market than those without a degree, although the jobs may not be at the level the graduates hoped for. The unemployment rate for college grads in general is more or less back to normal while the unemployment rate for those without any college at all continues to rise. Jobs that previously did not require a college degree now do. No matter how flawed we educators may realize our current system is, education still is the life blood of our society.

Diverting Attention

We in the eportfolio community have confidently described eportfolios as transformative up until now. They support DIY learning and active learning and learner-based learning and all the trends we believe are appropriate for today’s economy and culture. Yet, on many campuses, whatever attention was dedicated to eportfolios, in teaching and learning centers, in faculty development offices, in academic computing, among campus leaders, and so on, is now to some extent or another diverted to the MOOC idea and to online learning.

I cannot read this diversion as a dismissal of the eportfolio idea, but just as postponement. Yet, postponement is loss of momentum and memory. It is one thing to say that those now striving to get MOOCed will necessarily return their focus to eportfolios in the changed landscape, but it is another to say they will easily pick up where they left off.

The effect on the eportfolio industry is even more profound than in academia. This period is, once again, for better or worse, all about delivery of course content. But, not in the classroom. In the Cloud. What does this new fully-featured virtual classroom offer? What are its dynamics and needs? What business models work in big learning? What is the relationship between campuses and MOOC companies, for profit and not-for-profit? These questions and many more are being worked out as the ground continues to shift and new questions come up.

The Great MOOC Shift; Whither Credits?

Companies that provide both an LMS and eportfolio must focus on the LMS as a delivery platform and how to re-architect the entire enterprise to adapt to big learning. MOOCs deal with thousands of individuals who are not registered students at any one particular institution. This is like the Oklahoma land rush – racing to stake your claim in a large territory. Can the industry deal with millons of individual accounts that are not brokered through institutions?

Is this the Great MOOC Shift from institutionally-centered learning to learner-centered learning? Is this what big learning will mean? Or will our powerful higher education establishment find a way to keep the institution as the arbiter and deliverer of even open education resources, including MOOCs? Will degrees and credits remain viable and in control as the business model in the world of big learning?

A core reason why credits, at least, may be untranslatable into the world of big learning: at the core of whatever justification there is for credits is the idea that all students get the same "treatment.” They all undergo the same learning experiences in the same way. If the experience is different from a lecture, as in a lab, higher education has traditionally offered one more credit. So, there is a tiny recognition in the credit system that different learning experiences should be valued differently.

But, what if, as is becoming obvious in big learning, learners have very different learning experiences, or even unknown learning experiences, but are all aiming for certification of their learning? This conundrum, that the credit system has lost whatever validity it had, is recognized formally in the emphasis over the last decade on outcomes. Outcomes show real achievement, right? Outcomes are "real world”?

In reality, however, "outcomes” often simply mean that a student has received credit in a particular unit of a course, or in a series of courses of increasing complexity over years. How can outcomes be an antidote to credits when credits validate outcomes? Are we running around in circles? Or did the credit monster eat outcomes?

If, even within the current rather structured educational environment, the business model of higher education is beginning to look like only a business model with no credibility as a measure of learning (do a certain number of credits really reflect how much every student has learned?), how is this business model doing in big learning? In big learning, "delivered” in the cloud, or in the cloud plus on the ground, the myth that all students have the same learning experience evaporates.

Absurdity Extended in Online Learning

This problem of knowing that learning is occurring for the registered student has always been a problem for online learning. So, testing centers are set up, and biometric technologies employed to be certain the person "on the other end” is really that person. This is an effort to extend the myth that the true measure of learning is to be present for a certain amount of time and then prove that you can at least remember something on the surface of what was "delivered.” This is behaviorism carried to its logical absurdity. It would seem that since big learning’s first instinct is to extend the traditional classroom, it would also try to extend the myth that presence equals learning. And therefore, that learning can be measured in hours.

The ameliorative of MOOC supported group work, local mentors and other on-the-ground activities is a powerful counter-measure, of course. But, in the end, certification of learning boils down to credit hours in the current picture.

For now, big learning – on campuses and in the MOOC companies and in our culture -- has to focus on the logistics, politics and finances of learning at such a scale. In the rush to "get out there,” is there the luxury to address issues of evidence of learning? It might seem that on many campuses, among the MOOC companies, and in the industry, there is no time for eportfolios at the moment.

The ground is shifting and people are grabbing for solid structures based on decades of practice. Can we just survive the Great MOOC Shift? Can we find opportunities? On the business side, the ground may be shifting even more than in higher education. Many campuses may be unaffected, after all, but probably all technology companies serving learning will be affected.

AAEEBL’s Role in The Great Shift

AAEEBL cannot ignore "the Great Shift.” In theory, this is the time eportfolio advocates, researchers and practitioners have been waiting for. AAEEBL is dedicated to a particular kind of learning, whether realized through eportfolio technology or not. In the Great Shift, thinking may change. The value of eportfolios may suddenly be recognized. But, AAEEBL cannot wait for this to happen but must advocate in whatever ways are open to us.

AAEEBL must encompass this move to big learning in specific ways. AAEEBL must be as much about MOOCs and MOOC technology as about eportfolios. It is the real-world learning, valid assessment, and career success that is important to the AAEEBL community and not what the enabling technology is called. As the Great Shift occurs, entirely new parameters, vectors, relationships, business models, and opportunities of all kinds open.

Home Base

The eportfolio industry is adapting. Some in this industry may build out their LMS’s in ways to accommodate big learning and may find a new need to focus as well on their eportfolio offering. They may find that the two are inseparable in the world of big learning. Some in the industry may offer neither a full LMS or eportfolio but only some important features of one or the other. But with open architecture and APIs, functionality may be found in a number of places – that is, you may have a "home base” interface but the back end may be borrowing functions from a number of applications. You may not need a platform but just a fully-connected home base application.

This idea of a home base in the virtual world of big learning may apply not only to your technology but to your home institution. Your home institution may also become your "home base” for finding learning resources borrowed from other institutions. To some extent both "home base” situations are already happening. Some institutions have traditionally allowed their students to take courses at equivalent nearby institutions when they did not offer that course themselves. Now, the courses are available online, but the principle is the same. Big learning, by extension, could make the "home base” idea the default, or the normal, situation: your home institution helps you choose learning opportunities from the universe of open learning resources to supplement what you take on the campus itself.

AAEEBL must broaden the scope of its conferences, publications, and projects to encompass big learning topics and issues. Authentic, experiential, and evidence-based learning – the words that give rise to "aaeebl” -- may require eportfolios but eportfolio deep learning may fully play out in the arena of big learning. The eportfolio community has embraced change right from the start and now must itself change.

--

Notes: AAEEBL.org is moving to YourMembership during the spring and summer months. This is a community-growth online site, a social site where some of the work of the organization can occur; it is our association management environment. We see this as a way for AAEEBL to grow and the eportfolio community to gain visibility and influence. Only with an environment like YourMembership can AAEEBL truly scale up. Judy Williamson Batson, our Vice President, is leading the migration and is trying to focus almost exclusively on this very complex process.

Note 2: the cost of registration at our annual conference in Boston for members has gone down: the discount for the first three member registrations from an AAEEBL institutional member has increased to $250. Also, the conference is located in the middle of Boston where dining choices are much more numerous than at Seaport.

AAEEBL is negotiating new alliances with other associations for events in 2014. We are happy to be adding more services for the whole community.


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The ePortfolio Idea "Forking"?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

March 27th, 2013

Is the eportfolio movement about creating transformation or increments? Do we value eportfolio implementations that (merely) enhance current practice? Can the movement be satisfied with slow change? Is any kind of eportfolio use, as long as the term "eportfolio” is used, good?

These are questions I wrestle with. My whole being wants a new world of learning where all learning designs reflect what we know about how humans learn. Yet, my whole being is also happy when I hear any story at all about academic use of eportfolios. But, what if all we end up doing after many years is just adding another kind of assignment (incrementalism)? What if eportfolios, in the end, are not any different from LMS’s and, in fact, the two kinds of applications become one – the "LMSio”(subsumation)?

I hear the term "project creep” and I think about "eportoflio creep.” Do most people think of "eportfolio” the same way as they did 5 years ago? Is purity slipping?

AAEEBL

AAEEBL is about developing learners and transforming institutions. AAEEBL is an association that is not "of” something but is "for” something – in our case, authentic, experiential and evidence-based learning. It is an association geared to support change.

The challenge, then, is to "keep our eyes on the prize,” but value whatever incremental eportfolio uses occur. Increments cannot become the all; nor can transformations.

I am regularly faced with this issue not just in theory but in the moment. The general concept of "eportfolio” is hot not in the sense of headlines right now, but in the sense of eportfolios being attractive as a business venture. In my role as President, I talk with eportfolio providers and potential providers weekly. The trends are quite fascinating right now.

Two companies, one of whom is a new AAEEBL Corporate Affiliate, and another that may become an AAEEBL Corporate Affiliate, follow what seems to me a new business model. Both of these companies grew directly out of universities as graduates of those universities themselves faced the job market and exquisitely felt the emotions of finding a place in today’s economy. They are products of the recession job market.

They used this first-hand experience to create companies that help students get jobs through eportfolio technology. Interestingly, the eportfolios are free to students but access to the eportfolios – companies looking for job candidates – is limited to companies that pay. Revenue is from the candidate seekers, not from the candidates. The students, of course, provide access for potential employers only to their showcase eportfolio. Employers then get to search a database of student eportfolios to find candidates. (The eportfolios are fully-instrumented eportfolio platforms to use while in college).

This is not unlike other employment or jobs sites, such as Monster or LinkedIn. But these two companies do not provide eportfolios to students in college. It seems to me the genius of these two new eportfolio companies I'm writing about is their reaching out directly to students on behalf of companies.

One of the companies is Seelio, out of the University of Michigan. Seelio is a new AAEEBL Corporate Sponsor.

I know that all eportfolio providers are focused on employability. In fact, we recognize that one of the chief values of eportfolios is to meet the demand that has arisen forcefully in the past few months to "show me evidence of what you can do.” Seelio is not distinctive in focusing on employability, then, but they are distinctive in their business model.

In the U. S., the eportfolio community rides two horses – learning and assessment. When AAEEBL has held conferences that include tracks on employability, we don’t find a great response. But, we should. I am encouraged to see a new push to advance our community’s interest in employability. It is also good to see a concrete bridge between students and employers – beyond internships and temporary employment – to perhaps help campuses better align learning with the current economy.

Back to the Terminology

As I talk with new potential Corporate Affiliates, I do have to answer for myself, for AAEEBL and for the potential Corporate Affiliate, the question of whether that company is offering technology that can benefit learning and education. For example, another new Corporate Affiliate has a large Web-hosting business. They are interested in eportfolios?, you might ask, as I did.

Turns out, they do have a group within the company that has a strong interest in education and their efforts are in fact to improve learning. BlueHost has become one of our newest Corporate Affiliates in part so they can understand the needs of learners better.

The same transformative story can be said of many eportfolio providers, as they themselves modified their business strategy: they may have offered just an educational tracking system that evolved into an eportfolio system, or just an assessment platform that added a learning module, or a creative eportfolio that added an assessment module. Or they may have been a well-known publisher that saw an opportunity to enter the eportfolio business within the community they have published for over decades. Or, broadened their market space to K-12 or from K-12 to higher education.

In other words, the concept of "eportfolio” is not abuzz amongst the blogerati, but it is abuzz among those looking for a good business opportunity. AAEEBL’s job is to help guide them toward recognition of providing value for academia and for learners everywhere.

The Value of AAEEBL for the ePortfolio Concept

As AAEEBL is increasingly known to represent the global eportfolio community, albeit in collaboration with all other eportfolio initiatives in the world, it is also increasingly apparent how important our Association is to sustain the core eportfolio idea.

We cannot dictate terminology. But, terminology follows experience. If all those coming to the eportfolio community learn why eportfolios are valuable – the core eportfolio idea -- then they themselves will be the guardians of our terminology. Their experience at eportfolio conferences, at webinars, through reading publications, and through email and phone and Skype and all the communication mediums within our community, their experience within this coherent community will determine terminology.

The community, organized around your Association, AAEEBL, has a strong voice. The eportfolio idea is suddenly very attractive as a business venture. We now need our Association more than ever, so that the eportfolio idea does not "fork.” The word "fork” usually refers to open source where the reference code gets left behind by derivative code and the community goes off in all directions. The value of collaboration is lost.

We can help prevent the forking of the eportfolio concept through our Association. We are here because of what we see as value for learning and we are here, all of us, to reinforce each other’s efforts. This works as long as we are a cohesive community.


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Common Misperceptions of MOOCs and Open Learning

Posted By Administrator , Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

February 20th, 2013

We read in a New York Times lead editorial --http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/opinion/the-trouble-with-online-college.html?hp&_r=0 -- that online learning does not work very well. Or we read or hear, from numerous sources, that MOOCs (as one form of online learning) are either the wave of the future or, maybe, the end of college as we know it. Confusion reigns. How should we think about the accelerated growth in online learning opportunities and MOOCs -- Massive Open Online Courses?

A widely-held but false assumption about education can perhaps help explain the confusion: many people seem to believe that, because we have had essentially one dominant model for formal learning (with slight variations) for centuries, we will similarly continue with a new, single, dominant model of learning once the dust settles. MOOCs come along, draw massive numbers, receive significant venture capital, are associated with a number of elite universities, and commentators make it seem this is the next silver bullet, the next singular model of learning. Part of the near hysteria about MOOCs may be grounded in either/or thinking: we either have the traditional classroom model of today or we all do MOOCs. We may be laboring under the false assumption that learning can happen only one way; no matter what direction we go in with formal learning, we will have just one dominant model.

As you may remember from a blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I am taking a MOOC course, offered by Coursera and Johns Hopkins University called Introduction to the U. S. Food System. We are in the fourth week of the course. By taking the course and doing the required work, I have learned much about the MOOC experience and how it might evolve.

MOOCs are showing us something significant but unless we understand what it is they are showing us, attempts to replicate MOOCs will falter. Creating a MOOC is not easy. Nor is it easy to understand the general idea of "open learning,” the hallmark of MOOCs. In fact, the only way to understand MOOCs and much of what is going on in the general learning landscape today is by first understanding "open learning.”

Open learning is generally associated with the Web and in particular with the phase of the Web (roughly since 2004) called "the social Web.” The social Web is social in more than one way: first, the popular interpretation is of "social” as people being able to hook up and post and make friends and "like” and so on. But there is a technical sense of the "social Web” as well: data and functionality "socializing” with each other. On many Web sites, you’ll see the icons for Twitter and Facebook and a few other icons. You can link to Facebook from the Web site you are on without having to actually go to Facebook. This inter-linking of applications is the second social aspect of the social Web.

You can "be” one place but use data from another "place” on the Web, or use functionality from another place. The term "Web” is appropriate because both people and applications can connect in many ways not possible before the Web.

Another way to understand the social Web and open learning is that people now have almost infinite opportunities to interact with other people and with knowledge sources. The social Web set the stage for "open learning.”

Open learning is a profound concept and phenomenon. Though the phrase sounds simple, the implications are so complex it takes a while to understand.

The one implication I am concerned with regarding MOOCs is just this: with open learning, all connected humans have multiple sources of learning. This is true right now. But because most learners are not yet adjusted to guiding their own learning, they cannot yet take advantage of the riches of open learning. To be your own learner/researcher is not easy, nor are students in formal learning situations usually taught to be their own researchers. They know one way to learn in most cases and so do most academics. This legacy "one-way” mindset limits awareness of the multiple ways that learning can occur and how new learning designs can be varied and enticing.

The notion that learning depends on passive reception of formed knowledge is so deep in our cultural consciousness that the idea of open learning must seem like a chimera – a vision with no substance.

The MOOC comes along, is a familiar lecture and quiz model, but is open to all, and thousands leap at the chance to take a MOOC course. MOOCs are nowhere near as good as those thousands think, nor are they as bad as commentators say. We cannot miss the lesson of the MOOC or we will have missed the chance to further develop a major vector of learning.

MOOCs are "bad” in these ways (I am basing my analysis on my one MOOC course experience and on the dozens of articles I’ve read about MOOCs):

  • They are the standard passive learning model of lecture and quiz.
  • Students have only online contact with each other
  • The "massive” numbers of students means there is little chance of developing even the usual online friendships.
  • Most students do not complete MOOCs.
  • And, they do not engage learning as researchers would advise: MOOCs seem to ignore the discoveries from research into how humans learn best.

These are the obvious negatives about MOOCs. But I have found some very positive aspects of the MOOC I am enrolled in as well:

  • Though the course I am taking is in fact lecture-based, the lecturers are very good. They "deliver their content” (pardon this antiquated and anachronistic phrase) very well. The visuals are helpful. The technology is smooth and transparent; the videos have good production values. As an advanced learner, I am learning.
  • The video lectures are only around 20 minutes long, indicating that Coursera and Johns Hopkins are aware of the limits of attention span for online lecture. One lecture may be broken into 2 or 3 coherent segments. The short time for lectures may also reflect Coursera’s awareness of students having to catch a lecture between other tasks of life.
  • The lectures have interspersed quizzes so we students cannot just run the lectures while we do something else and get credit for "watching” the lecture.
  • The associated reading materials are varied and engaging; they were chosen wisely. I am reassured that a lot of work has gone into course preparation. The materials are not textbooks, but PDFs or Websites related to the course subject.
  • The quizzes do test memory but they also point to what the lecturers believe are important pieces of knowledge to understand. We students can take the quizzes three times so we can learn from the quizzes. Using quizzes in this way is a step up from the usual "one and done” model.
  • The forums are fairly active. Different people start topics that relate to each week’s general topic. Students can see which topics are most popular and then go to that topic, so in effect there is a moving conversation from week to week, organized around the topic of the week.
  • When students comment about a problem, the course staff responds quickly and appropriately. The negative is that technology problems did crop up, but the positive is that they were attended to almost immediately.
  • The knowledge presented in the course is complex, no holds-barred, and wonderfully assembled with charts and graphs and visuals to help with understanding.

In other words, I’ve been lucky to be in a well-organized MOOC, well run, with excellent material and lecturers. I have been able to get a taste of the Johns Hopkins experience.

In general, the technology in this MOOC is more sophisticated than I expected. It is also easier to use than I expected. I am using broad band so I cannot judge how my course would have deployed over a modem; however, I did have a chance to indicate what connectivity I had as I registered, so I can only assume an adjustment was made so that those with slower connections were able to receive the course satisfactorily.

But MOOCs obviously do not, alone, represent the formal education of the future. For young learners, this course could only be an appetizer to encourage enrollment in a more active-learning course.

We cannot judge MOOCs based on the false assumption of singularity I mentioned at the beginning of the article. They don’t have to be the wave of the future to be important. MOOCs, however, may well be one more key part of the new panorama of multiple learning options. MOOCs have proven that technology can support a learning opportunity for tens of thousands of people. This is no small achievement.

MOOCs can be modified over time to make it easier to include some social pedagogy or experiential learning, and of course the MOOC organizers can offer eportfolio technology to transfer more of the authority and activity in the course to the students. MOOCs, as they are now structured, seem thin and retro in learning design. Still, they demonstrate at the very least how powerful our media are now. They have pushed out the envelope in an important way, opening new territory for learning interaction. That they are not close to perfect yet is no reason to dismiss them.

Thanks to Stephen Downes, Bryan Alexander, Dave Cormier and George Siemans for their pioneering work with MOOCs just a few years ago. http://moocguide.wikispaces.com/1.+History+of+MOOC%27s

As the cited article indicates, the open education movement was given a big boost by the Kumar and Iiyoshi book on Opening Up Education in 2008, published by MIT Press, in which I had a chapter. The book citation: Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, eds. Toru Iiyoshi and M. S. Vijay Kumar, MIT Press, 2008.

The idea in my chapter in Opening Up Education was about the problems of "abundance.” MOOCs are now part of the abundance I wrote about. The chapter, written with M. S. Vijay Kumar and Neeru Paharia, is "A Harvest Too Large? A Framework for Educational Abundance.” This chapter anticipated the overwhelming abundance we now struggle with.

Our problem with abundance has a number of facets:

  • Learning opportunities are growing most rapidly in virtual spaces on the Web. We have yet to fully understand how best to use these virtual spaces. It is hard to develop trust with people we cannot touch and can only hear and see through media.
  • Trust, to some extent, depends on familiarity. We have yet to settle on the usual human "rules” for interaction in virtual spaces; we know these "rules” by what feels right to us. It is hard to know what feels right when the nature of the spaces continues to change.
  • We need to figure out how the various new learning models fit together. Can a curriculum be made up of combinations of learning experiences? Of course it can – but can those combinations include some that are not created by one institution? What about learning experiences not monitored by faculty? Can we develop skills and guidelines to assess learning based on evidence and not based on monitoring?

Can we learn to be comfortable with open learning abundance? Can higher education move away from its legacy of lock-step education and begin to offer self-paced learning and other open learning options on the way to a credential? Can colleges and universities learn to assess learning based on evidence instead of close personal monitoring? MOOCs are shaking the establishment at the moment and will probably continue to do so. They are not the one single indication of where education is heading, but the turbulence they are creating is another indication of how quickly technology can change all parameters and vectors overnight.


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