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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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Everyone Wants ePortfolio on their Campus! But They Don’t Know What It Is

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, October 01, 2015

Everyone Wants ePortfolio on their Campus! But They Don’t Know What It Is 

Casey Green has been surveying IT and higher education trends for more than a decade.  He has just made public his 2014 Campus Computing Survey and we find rather astonishing results regarding eportfolios:  85% of CIO’s think their campus should be offering “eportfolio services.”  But only 52% of their institutions do.

Now, before we learning champions shout hallelujah!, note that the term is “eportfolio services,” so a good share of that 85% may be thinking of eportfolios as a vehicle for tracking cohorts of students toward learning outcomes and not as a vehicle to generate new forms of learning.  After all, Green’s report classifies eportfolios as “ERP services,” that is, enterprise resource planning tools.  That’s ok, because this report is talking about eportfolio technology as an enterprise application, meaning centrally supported for the use of all on the campus. 

And, also, remember that we have another view of eportfolios on campus from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) that tells us, despite eportfolios being on well over half of all campuses (and actually far more than that as I’ll explain in a minute), only 10% of students use eportfolios for most or all of their courses. 

Another data point to add to the complex eportfolio picture:  all institutions spend, on average, $145,661 for Learning Management Systems each year but also spend $31,845 on eportfolio systems.  It’s clear the LMS market is gigantic, but the eportfolio market is also pretty significant. 

How to summarize these various data points?  ePortfolios, as a technology, are established in higher education in the U. S. and around the world; they are now climbing into the expenditure range of other critical enterprise applications.  Use of eportfolios among students grew rapidly from 2010 to 2013 but less so in 2014.  Still, I think we can work with the idea that eportfolio is a permanent part of the campus landscape and that now we in the field need to work hard on the spread of the eportfolio idea – the learning values we have come to associate with eportfolio. 

As we in this field know, few people in academia can actually explain what an eportfolio is or does or why it’s important, so the large scope of adoption is somewhat astonishing:  campuses investing in technology that no one understands? 

The average investment figure is probably a bit higher because what the Campus Computing survey reports is what CIOs know about.  Yet, ePortfolios are often adopted by a department or a major or even for single courses, and not by the central IT unit.  CIO’s at large institutions may not, actually almost certainly DO not, know about all the scattered eportfolio adoptions on their own campus.  My personal impression is that almost all institutions of higher learning in the U. S. have an eportfolio implementation somewhere on campus, or have had, or are planning to. 


And this brings us back to the AAEEBL Field Guide Project that we hope will find its way to the desk of CIOs and other top administrators in higher education not only in the U. S. but worldwide.  AAEEBL asks “What is the ePortfolio Idea?” as the central question the Field Guide is responding to. 

The eportfolio movement – academia and industry – has helped a technology and an idea grow despite the fact that the eportfolio idea does not fit the common university business model (endorse only learning done in courses at the college or university) nor the common university learning model (teaching-centered).  ePortfolio is a revolutionary idea – learners own their own learning??!!?? 

If CIOs want to think eportfolio is just another typical ERP service and therefore safe, at least for the time being, then we in the community can slip in the revolution un-detected. 

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Competency-Based -- Is it Education or Training?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Competency-Based – is it “Education” or is it “Training”?

Competency-Based Education (CBE) is a new model for how to organize learning to fit the needs of a growing number of learners of all ages.  Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), who keynoted the AAEEBL Annual Conference this past July, refers to movements such as CBE as new “eco-systems.”  One College at SNHU – College for America – is a CBE “eco-system.”

CAEL estimates that over 600 U. S. institutions are at some point of adoption of CBE. And it’s not hard to see the sound practical reasons for adopting CBE at an institution of higher learning:

1.     Not all college students are in the 18-22 year range any longer but instead some institutions’ student bodies average age 32 or older.  The needs of older students are much different than those of the traditional age students that our institutions were designed to serve.

2.     Employers are asking for more than a diploma and transcript as our economy has changed radically and “competence” is expected immediately upon hire.  

3.     All students, regardless of age do learn at different paces so having just one pace (one size fits all) never did make sense.  Colleges and universities have adjusted pace a bit by offering some courses that can be tested out of, or by offering an honors program, but CBE is “adjusting” even further by saying students in a CBE program can learn at their own pace. 

4.     Learning at your own pace can save money if your own pace is less than the usual 2 or 4 years toward a degree. 

5.     Online learning has improved, learning on the job is becoming accepted as a legitimate and endorsable form of learning, and the concept of “personalized learning” has grown.  Learning resources are everywhere.  The notion that “seat time” is a magic formula for learning is of course now “quaint” except that it still prevails. 

6.     The stakes for proving that a candidate for a job can do the job have gone up.  Employers do want concrete evidence of competence. 

And there are many other reasons for CBE to be growing so quickly.

CBE is Meeting a Need

At first blush, then, CBE can be seen as a reasonable response to current conditions.  The inevitable question, however, is about the quality of the education and learning in a CBE program (never mind that the same question can be asked about the current state of learning in a traditional learning ecology). 

CBE is the Formalizing of Tracking Student Progress Toward Learning Outcomes 

The eportfolio community has grappled with CBE for years in the guise of “tracking students’ progress toward learning outcomes.”  Years ago, the focus on outcomes seemed antithetical to the kind of learning our community believed in – reflective, integrative, creative, authentic, experiential.  Our community was divided along the line dividing the two uses for eportfolio technology – institutional research (tracking student outcomes) or for improved learning. Now CBE has carried the tracking toward outcomes to a higher degree and also toward a specialized use of eportfolio – not so much a learning space but more so a credentialing space, recording what assessment tasks have been accomplished. 

Contrasting CBE with Liberal Arts

The eportfolio community is energized by a liberal arts oriented extension of learning opportunities (using eportfolios) that furthers a liberal arts agenda.  CBE, instead, while reinforcing some aspects of the eportfolio idea, tends more toward the vocational end of the learning spectrum:  a focus on the job. 

Once the learning outcomes become the goal, learning can become like “studying for the test.”  If one has ONLY the learning outcome to aim for, what about serendipitous learning?  What about chance, invention, curiosity?  It could seem that the learning outcome can turn learning into one-track learning just as the curriculum has done in many cases.  CBE serves the needs of many learners quite adequately and necessarily, so my comments are not meant to be critical. 

In CBE literature, a number of adjectives are used to make the “assessments” that evaluate how well a student has met a learning outcomes seem rigorous and well-designed.  But, occasionally you will read that these assessments may be just tests, or doing a process or, perhaps a portfolio. But these assessments seemingly are ex-post-facto.  This, of course, takes away the reflective and integrative thinking aspect of ongoing assessment that is managed by the learner. 

CBE is here to stay as it addresses the demands for less expensive education, for education designed for older students, for a more concrete body of evidence of competence, and for integrating more technology-provided services.  It is hard to argue with CBE since it is addressing real needs today when people need to keep learning throughout the life of their career. 

CBE Has Limited Applicability

But, it seems to me that CBE cannot be a model for all of higher education as it is implemented now.  The reasons:

·      Traditional age students are rarely ready for self-paced, independent learning, at least when they start college.

·      Learning is social and this is true especially for young students.  Learning with a cohort has proven to be a high-impact educational practice.  CBE seems designed in large part with the individual learner in mind. 

·      The “assessments” that I’ve seen described in CBE programs range from completely authentic – doing moves on a patient simulator as part of a physical therapy program, for example – to questionable – a written test.  And, they seem to be applied only at the end of working on a learning outcome, and therefore missing entirely the learning process.  Did the student improve?  Does the student show promise of being able to learn?  Those and other critical questions go unanswered in the process of assessment I saw in descriptions of CBE programs. 

·      The emphasis on the kind of personalized learning that is computerized – whether well-designed tutorial or traditional education that is on video – is appropriate for those who are already good learners but may not help the majority of learners who have not achieved the ability for engaged and deep learning on their own. 

·      It is tempting to think of CBE as “low-horizon learning.”  You need to only meet the specified learning outcomes and no more.  It is like learning with blinders on.  Or, it can be like learning with blinders on. 

American Higher Education’s Liberal Arts Tradition

American higher education is the envy of the world for many reasons but among those reasons is the notion of liberal arts education.  Liberal arts education, we used to say, was education for life and not for a job.  Well, as the number of graduates who could not get a job in the past few years grew, that phrase came to seem hollow. 

The eportfolio community seems to have blended the ideals of liberal arts education with the practicality of CBE – authentic evidence of learning, including ALL learning as potentially endorsable, providing more control of learning to the learner – and it is important for our community to be aware of that. 

But the eportfolio community, at least in the U. S., is grounded in a liberal arts orientation.  Liberal arts education opens learning to all possibilities; in that sense it is humanistic.  One may become a good programmer because of music classes; a design thinker because of art classes; a great CEO because of learning how natural ecologies work.  It is hard to predict what learning will result in a specific understanding later on.

Good learning does NOT have predictable outcomes; or, good learning will always go beyond the predictable outcomes.  We need high-horizon learning.  Our world now is an open-ended world in which no one, no matter how expert, can predict almost anything.  We need innovative, creative people who always go beyond expected outcomes and see other ways. 

We need CBE today but we also need traditional liberal arts education; it is our strength as a country and culture and let’s not forget that. 

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The ePortfolio as Archetypal Literate Form

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Wednesday, September 02, 2015


The ePortfolio as Archetypal Literate Form

After finishing my Ph.D., I became interested in linguistics and enrolled in enough graduate courses in linguistics for a post-doc.  Part of that study was in discourse analysis while I was serving as a visiting faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University.  At the same time, discourse analysis became important to me for the grant-funded work I did with network-based classrooms:  teaching writing through writing in a networked classroom.  I worked with a scholar from The Center for Applied Linguistics over a period of 8 years using discourse analysis on the transcripts we collected from my network-based classroom.  Discourse analysis enabled us to study and understand the complex discourse in a lengthy group chat session. 

With that background in mind, I began this summer considering eportfolios from the perspective of discourse analysis.  Because discourse – a dialogue with few or many – can be open-ended and extends over time, I began seeing how framing eportfolios as discourse could be a very useful way to understand the phenomenon of eportfolios.

Also, I thought, “discourse” seems to fit the times:  digital interaction has become a constant in the lives of many.  We are living among ongoing conversations. 

Discourse, like genres of literature, can take on many forms.  Some forms are predictable and brief such as a greeting in passing on the campus but others are more complex and not as precisely predictable (“rule- bound”), such as an email thread about a topic that extends over a number of days. 

As I thought more about eportfolios as discourse forms, the more it made sense to see them that way.  What follows is the result of my thoughts over the past month regarding eportfolios and discourse analysis. 


What is an ePortfolio?

The AAEEBL community started discussing “what is an eportfolio?” in April 2015 via a series of webinars.  This inquiry continues in the Field Guide to ePortfolio Project that will continue over the next year but also in the continuation of the webinar series this year.  We have gone beyond the technology definition of “eportfolio” and have begun to identify the meanings of eportfolio, what people use eportfolios for, and what the importance is of this technology and its attendant set of practices at this point in time.

It is of course enough that eportfolios improve learning (and therefore extend the value of using eportfolios for assessment and employability), but there is something else about the eportfolio movement that is important to notice:  by developing well-constructed eportfolios that are maintained over time, learners are gaining skills working in the archetypal literate form of our time.  They are engaging in the literacy practices of this age, and these practices are far different from the literacy practices of the previous millennium.  This is an important value of eportfolios that has not been mentioned enough, I think. 

What is a Literate Form and What is the New Literacy?

Literacy is generally recognized as the ability to decipher, use and understand the secondary code of a language – that is, writing and reading.  The term “digital literacy” has become a catchall referring to skills with digital applications.  But actual literacy in this digital era is more than just being able to use digital applications.  Reading and writing has been linear up until recently.  But, now, with links and multi-modal presentation of information, literacy skills are more varied and challenging, both in interpretation and in creation. 

A “form” is a literacy element such as a genre of literature or a research report or a resume or a political speech or even spoken interaction with an infant.  Each form has predictable elements and also a semi-predictable structure.  An eportfolio is also a form that is often understood as a website.  Yet, as rich as websites can be with links and layers, the eportfolio form is more than a one-off website.  A personal eportfolio is perhaps best understood as a discourse form – a dialogue between the eportfolio owner and the multiple audiences over time for whom the eportfolio is intended.  A discourse form is tied together not so much by structure (as is a genre of literature) as by cohesion elements. 

Cohesion elements are created by repetition of key phrases or words, a consistent viewpoint or tone, a guiding concept or other means of referring to an ongoing purpose.  Since eportfolios are never done (finished), but are open-ended, they can reasonably be seen as a dialog or conversation.  Seeing eportfolios as discourse is closer to what they actually are and seeing them this way avoids the mistaken belief that one website is an eportfolio.  (An eportfolio can have many genres within it, but it itself is probably best understood as a discourse form). 

A personal eportfolio does not have a beginning, middle and end.  It has a purpose but does not have a single conclusion but instead many “conclusions” or presentations over time.  It is a living thing, constantly curated over time. 

One cohesion element in an eportfolio is links to artifacts in the eportfolio, an act of integrative thinking.  In the fluid digital world in which we now work and learn, we can perhaps better understand our literacy forms as discourse forms rather than as static forms. 

Why is it Productive to Think of ePortfolios as Discourse?

The eportfolio understood as a discourse form reveals more of its true nature and is more easily communicated to others:  it is not a website but an ongoing dialogue accessed through a website.

The personal eportfolio is an archetypal form of this age.  Seeing eportfolios in this way frames the work we do in AAEEBL.  ePortfolios are important precisely because they are a new archetypal form.  Creating an eportfolio requires many of the same skills as creating any website:  deciding what to feature, what is important, who is the audience, what is your purpose; but it also requires longitudinal curating toward the end of achieving goals. 

When we are asked “what is an eportfolio?” we might best answer this question by saying it is a new discourse form that is appropriate and important to every variety of learning. It is a way for learners to become adept in the new demands of literacy in this era.



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Announcing AAEEBL Individual Memberships

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Very Important Message to the AAEEBL
and Portfolio Learning Communities

Announcing AAEEBL Individual Memberships, Phase One.


Until now, individuals could become members of AAEEBL only if their institutions joined.  While institutional memberships remain as AAEEBL’s funding foundation, AAEEBL is now introducing a brand new option for the large number of people registered at as “Individual Site Participants,” that is, registered at the site but not actual members of AAEEBL. 

Summary of new individual membership model:

·      AAEEBL Individual Member category of membership in AAEEBL is available immediately.

·      The Individual Member category (“Individual Academic Member” membership) is open only to current “Individual Site Participants,” the category most of you are now in. 

·      Current individual members at institutional member campuses need do nothing as you are already an AAEEBL member.

·      A new model of institutional membership will be phased in after the Annual Conference; it is not yet available.  The current, legacy model of institutional membership will remain open and operational until all institutions have made the transition to the new model. 

·      To make the new Individual Memberships attractive, we are activating a host of capabilities at to build community and increase professional communication within the portfolio learning community.  Non-members will not have access to these new web capabilities and opportunities. 

·      This new membership category provides the professional opportunity for the large number of colleagues who have registered at our site but have not had the ability to join AAEEBL. 

·      How to: 

o   When you login at, and “manage your profile,” you will see one option to click that says “Membership.” 

o   When you click on that, you will see the option to “upgrade my membership.” 

o   When you click on that, you will be presented with many membership opportunities but one of them is “Individual Academic Member.”  That is the new membership option.

·      By joining AAEEBL, you will become a full participant in the Association, able to join in projects, committees, the Board, and also have full access to all the new opportunities for collegial interaction at the AAEEBL website.


Since we launched the new AAEEBL website in late October, 2013, we have had a rich social site to offer to our community, but the social activity (the professional dialog) has not begun yet.  The site has professional communications, career advancement, and collaboration capabilities we have not begun to use.  

We are rolling out the capabilities of the social site that have been kept largely hidden until now.  These capabilities are for members only.  With this rollout, AAEEBL begins to distinguish between “Individual Site Participants” -- who are not members of AAEEBL – and various categories of members, including – now – the new category of member, Individual Academic Member.  If Individual Site Participants wish to continue to participate in all AAEEBL activities, they/you should opt for an Individual Membership. 

Why Will You Want to Join as an Individual Member?

These new capabilities – and other new offerings within the AAEEBL calendar – make membership in AAEEBL more meaningful.  AAEEBL has offered many services for free for a number of years but is at the point where it needs to make most of those services available to members only.  AAEEBL, like other non-profits, depends on memberships for survival and to continue to offer services. 

AAEEBL has been asked to offer individual memberships for a long time and we finally have a web platform that can handle the large numbers that will potentially opt for that category of membership.

Specific capabilities at the AAEEBL Website

Following are examples of what Individual Academic Members (and other member categories) can do on the website (that Individual Site Participants cannot do):

1.     Bulk email other members of any group you are a member of (new activation). 

2.     Search for and exchange messages with other members at the site.

3.     Maintain a blog.

4.     Maintain a member connection list.

5.     Maintain a personal file library.

6.     Post a resume in the Career Center.

7.     Maintain profile pages.

8.     Search job openings in the Career Center (just launched; openings will be posted).

9.     Search resumes in the Career Center.

10. Do blog posts in group homepages.

11. Upload a profile headshot.

12. Upload images to a personal gallery. 

These collegial capabilities, when we all start using them, will build connections within AAEEBL and the portfolio learning field to make us all more unified in support of better learning in higher education. Volunteers from within AAEEBL will help activate and populate these collegial interactions and discussions.

Other Member Benefits Important to Know About

The Batson Blog has been sent out regularly to all who are registered at our website.  In a short while, the Batson Blog will start going to members only. 

The AAEEBL Learner will be sent to members only.  Announcements about this AAEEBL publication will be forthcoming soon. 

Only members can join AAEEBL committees and work groups (for example, the team working on a 2016 publication from AAC&U is for members only). 

The AAEEBL Executive Summit is for members only.  Those of you who join AAEEBL now as Individual Academic Members then become eligible for the Executive Summit, our premier event each year at the Annual Conference, this year on Monday, July 27, from 1 to 5 pm. 

And many more . . .

Why These Changes?

As academics, AAEEBL leaders feel the instinct to share openly and freely.  To a large extent, AAEEBL has done that since it was founded in April, 2009.  But, to sustain AAEEBL past this largely volunteer start up phase, the new membership model is being launched between now and October 1.  This is to assure AAEEBL will continue to serve the portfolio learning community over time. 

This change is also to help AAEEBL add staff to continue to offer more services to the membership. 

Current institutional members and Corporate Partners need do nothing at this point; the legacy renewal model for institutions and companies will remain in effect and each institution will have the option of choosing the legacy renewal model or the new model.  Corporate Partner arrangements will remain the same. This full model will be announced in the next Batson Blog. 

Our Request

AAEEBL has been in operation for 6 years during which time it has become a professional “home” for many people.  AAEEBL, as a non-profit, has been focused on providing services, as is the mission of a 501(c)(3) organization.  Now, to survive another 6 years, and beyond, and to continue to grow, AAEEBL must seek a larger membership base.  We hope you – if you are registered at the AAEEBL site but not yet an actual member of AAEEBL – will decide to join AAEEBL, enjoy the benefits of membership, and help AAEEBL to continue to offer services to the international portfolio learning community. 

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Portfolio Evidence-Based Learning (PEBL)

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, June 15, 2015

Portfolio Evidence-Based Learning (PEBL)

I’ve written a number of blogs related to the ongoing AAEEBL/EPAC/AAC&U/IJep webinars to define the eportfolio idea.  In these blogs, I have been struggling, as we all have for years, to best describe what we do, what we believe, and what we are.  A number of people are beginning to think the term “eportfolio” itself may be the problem.  In this blog, I found myself agreeing. 

Straining to Define “ePortfolio” 

The effort to define “eportfolio” as a model of learning is impaired by naming a learning idea after a technology.  Within the group of people who understand “eportfolio” to be a learning idea, we can succeed in defining “the eportfolio idea.”  It is a bit of a strain and a stretch, but we have learned to live with a concept of “eportfolio” that at least we in the field can understand. 

General Misunderstanding of “ePortfolio”

But, to the mass of educators around the world, the term “eportfolio” evokes a technology. Perhaps worse is that the term may also evoke centralized tracking of student progress and not the positive aspects of personal learning eportfolio our field holds dear. Our whole movement may be hurting itself by staying with a term that is not well understood, and more likely misunderstood, outside of our group. 

Secondly, it is very hard to define a learning theory implied by “eportfolio.”  The term itself does not describe a theory or scholarship but a thing.  We wouldn’t call agronomy “shovel.”  Nor does a set of practices made possible by “eportfolio” become a coherent learning theory.  And, if “eportfolio” is a genre, then, still, it is a thing and not a theory.  And, as attractive as it sounds to call “eportfolio” a “high impact educational practice,” it is not that either, as eportfolio is used in a wide variety of learning designs and so therefore is not just one practice.  The term in widest use that is closest to a workable term for theory building is “folio thinking.” 

Evidence-Based Learning

Some AAEEBL members are suggesting we use the term “evidence-based learning” instead of “eportfolio.”  It was the term I thought best described our field when we started AAEEBL, but “eportfolio” was still a term of interest in 2009 and 2010 and so AAEEBL is described as a “professional association for the eportfolio community” and the scholarly journal in our field is called The International Journal of ePortfolio and AAC&U’s annual event is called The ePortfolio Forum and so on around the world. 

But, as we consider our nomenclature, we probably don’t want to eliminate “eportfolio.”  Using only “evidence-based learning” as our actual academic and research field, would cut away our eportfolio roots and make us seem just one more of dozens of x-based learning movements.  Our community, and AAEEBL, are unusual – maybe unique – in championing both an approach to learning and the technology that enables it.  This is why I think we might want to consider “Portfolio- Evidence-Based Learning (PEBL).”

Constructivist Learning Theories

As a community identified as evidence-based learning, many threads of learning theories that have lasted over a century, and others that have arisen more recently, lead to and are encompassed within PEBL.  As the eportfolio field, we are an oddity, but as PEBL, we are a new and appropriate hybrid field, re-fashioning proven approaches to learning with the affordances of the digital age.  We can, instead of being an oddity, place ourselves within a rich tradition of constructivist learning varieties.

The Centrality of “Evidence.”

PEBL, this proposed term, has “evidence” as its central and most compelling term.  Our field is first about students having a palpable and significant stake in their own learning, an idea that has grounding in learning theory stretching back over a century.  But missing from this century-long experience of employing constructivist approaches in learning designs is the whole collecting of authentic and broad-scale evidence of student work to incorporate into student-centered learning designs.

The “evidence” part of our theory is what our field brings to the tradition of constructivist approaches:  the evidence completes the circle of teacher-student-teacher.  The teacher starts the cycle by helping students frame a problem or project or assignment, the students work in teams or individually and gather evidence of their un-monitored work, and then bring that evidence to the teacher to help the students to connect their evidence with disciplinary concepts.  Evidence then provides a fourth step (teacher-student-teacher-student) that was hard to do without digital portfolios:  reflection on the evidence as it relates or integrates with prior work over months or years.

The collection of evidence therefore adds two dimensions to traditional constructivist approaches:  first, a much fuller, more detailed, multi-modal set of evidence of unmonitored work to link to disciplinary concepts, and, second, access to a personal collection of such evidence gathered over time to integrate.  Making connections to previous ideas and discoveries is at the core of learning.

Portfolio Evidence-Based Learning (PEBL) is therefore both a continuation of such learning trends as problem- or project-based learning, of experiential learning, service learning, co-op learning, internship learning, inquiry-based learning, self-paced learning and on an on and the building out of these trends into their twenty-first century realizations. 

The term “PEBL” allows us to both embed our work into the most promising of learning trends and transform those threads into models for this century.  PEBL is a theory itself – evidence used on behalf of developing the metacognitive aspects of reflection and integration – that also adds enormous dimensionality to existing learning theories and practices. 

Important Note

This blog is not an announcement.  It’s not an AAEEBL policy statement; instead these are my thoughts as a scholar at this moment.  The webinar series to define the eportfolio idea is into its third month and, for me at least, I am seeing very clearly the problems with the term “eportfolio.”  It seems we might be at a watershed moment.

Tags:  ePortfolio  evidence-based learning 

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Toward "The Field Guide to ePortfolio"

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Provisioning Learners to be Stewards of Their Own Learning


What is an ePortfolio?  What is the ePortfolio Idea? 

What is the Meaning of the ePortfolio Movement?

Toward “The Field Guide to ePortfolio”


Technology acts as the hand directs; intentionality directs the hand.  Both the hand and the intention hide behind the technology.  This way, the intention can be realized.  We forgive technology. 

The hand’s acts and the intention driving the acts (practice and theory) are the important considerations for the whole learning enterprise.  The technology must follow both. 

Information technology has two faces:  centralizing control (the machine face) and distributed openness (the human face).  The control face is essential to modern society to organize and manage the complex structure of our society.  It is not bad; it is a continuation of the long process of human co-evolution with technology starting with simple tools and ending with the ultimate tool, information technology (because it controls other technologies).  The other face, the openness face – offering options and opportunities for creativity and imagination -- is also essential as the vital balance to the control face. This face is an amplifier to valuable human energies released by technology, and is therefore of special interest to educators.

The eportfolio community is energized by awareness of the human face of technology and also by the machine face that allows more complex learning designs than ever. Both faces are necessary.  The challenge is to imagine using the affordances of information technology to create new systems around the multitude of human interactions for learning now possible.  The eportfolio community actively works to create these systems, these new learning designs, and this is the special nature of this community. 

This Exquisite Moment

Of all the astounding possibilities that information technology offers to learners now, perhaps the most important is the chance to be stewards of their own learning.  ePortfolio technology, and all its ancillary technologies, provide a learning space separate from the institutionally-owned digital spaces – the LMS as one example.  The eportfolio space is “separate” because learners own the intellectual property within their eportfolio space, because they set permissions as to who can see their intellectual property (their work), and because the eportfolio space stays with the learner from course to course, on and off campus, and after graduation. 

As the transcript and the diploma lose credibility with employers, the eportfolio gains credibility.  It is a fuller and more palpable picture of what learners can do. 

Seizing this Moment

Higher education colleagues:  please recognize this possibility, this chance to engage students more fully because they can be stewards of their own learning.  Let’s seize this moment.  Let’s not use information technology to only extend institutional control into network space but also to enable students to be freer to find their own way.  Let’s not continue LMS thinking (course-, institution- and faculty-centered) but instead get behind eportfolio thinking (learner-centered):  this thinking recognizes the difference between the teacher doing the learning work FOR the learner and the learner doing the learning work for themselves.  ePortfolio thinking is a recognition that the balance between teacher hegemony and student hegemony can be moved more toward the student.

We have that choice now – higher education in the U. S. and around the world – we can accept the fact that knowledge and information are no longer rare but digital and distributed and everywhere and that therefore we have to continue to re-think how we educate.  Otherwise, we will most likely veer too far toward the control face of information technology – doing what we’ve always done but more efficiently.    

We educators don’t own the knowledge garden anymore.  We live instead in a field of infinite learning possibilities.  Knowledge is all around us.  The whole world is the educational space.  And this is good.  We need to learn to operate in this new learning reality.  We need to give up the instinct to control and instead embrace the wondrous abundance of learning sources around us and the chance for learners to grow faster and more fully than ever in history.

Use the ability of new technologies to manage more variable ways of learning. Support constructivist approaches to learning.  Emphasize creativity and exploration as much as the rage for order. 

How Can the ePortfolio Community Convey the Significance of ePortfolios?

As the quote at the beginning of this blog says, the technology does nothing – it is “the hand “ and the intention behind the hand that does the doing.  The significance of eportfolios, therefore, is that a large number of people around the world all understand that eportfolios provide ways for learners to create their own learning paths – beyond the prescribed, beyond the beaten path, beyond the assembly line.

Not all traditional colleage-age learners can create their own learning paths, of course, but a growing number of learners – as the term “learner” now applies to people of all ages -- must create their own learning paths throughout life as life-long learning is increasingly common and necessary.  And, moving more toward personalized and self-paced learning designs may well more fully engage all learners.  The eportfolio community is part of the movement toward a new ecology of learning.

But, the challenge to the eportfolio community is that many if not most people do not understand that “eportfolio” is more than just a technology.  It is not unusual to hear at a conference that “the eportfolio is no longer important; its hype cycle is over.”  This is true, but the inference that eportfolios are passé – because they did not revolutionize education overnight as the hype suggested – is wrong.  Surveys of higher education show a steady and strong growth in the use of eportfolios in higher education. 

How to convey what we know of eportfolio potential?  The key, I believe, is for the community to find consensus on what we all see as the essence of our movement.  We must have a “field guide to eportfolio,” a community framework of knowledge about eportfolios, about the eportfolio idea, and about the meaning of our community.  A shared document that can be referred to by all will help glue together our global community and also help to shed the eportfolio scales from the eyes of educators.  

How We Will Create our “Field Guide to ePortfolio”?

Over the next year, AAEEBL, EPAC, AAC&U and IJeP are conducting webinars each month to gather the thoughts of eportfolio leaders and technology providers working toward a recorded set of comments that will provide one source for a planned publication from AAC&U to answer the questions posed in the title of this blog:  what is an eportfolio?  What is the eportfolio idea? And what is the meaning of the eportfolio movement?

Eyes Beyond the Classroom

Learners can be stewards of their learning because technology gives educators eyes beyond the classroom:  learners are the stewards but they are also collecting mementos and evidence of what they do beyond the classroom for assessment after the fact – eportfolios allow them to do this. 

ePortfolio is not a technology only, nor only the field and community of practice centered around the use of eportfolios. Instead, eportfolio is – essentially – a key part of the move away from centralizing education in the institution toward a more distributed educational structure.  ePortfolios are a key part because they provision learners to be stewards of their own learning.

A Bonus

I include an article in its entirety from the Chronicle of Higher Education, with permission from the author and the Chronicle.  It was published on May 19, 2015.  The article is related to this blog.  Thanks to Kentaro Toyama for his gracious permission to re-post his article. 

Why Technology Will Never Fix Education

In 2004, I moved to India to help found a new research lab for Microsoft. Based in Bangalore, it quickly became a hub for cutting-edge computer science. My own focus shifted with the move, and I began to explore applications of digital technologies for the socioeconomic growth of poor communities. India struggles to educate its billion-plus population, so during the five years that I was there, my team considered how computers, mobile phones, and other devices could aid learning.

Sadly, what we found was that even when technology tested well in experiments, the attempt to scale up its impact was limited by the availability of strong leadership, good teachers, and involved parents — all elements that are unfortunately in short supply in India’s vast but woefully underfunded government school system. In other words, the technology’s value was in direct proportion to the instructor’s capability.

Over time, I came to think of this as technology’s Law of Amplification: While technology helps education where it’s already doing well, technology does little for mediocre educational systems; and in dysfunctional schools, it can cause outright harm.

When I returned to the United States and took an academic post, I saw that the idea applies as much to higher education in America as it does to general education in India. This past semester, I taught an undergraduate course called "IT and Global Society." The students read about high-profile projects like One Laptop Per Child and the TED-Prize-winning Hole-in-the-Wall program. Proponents argue that students can overcome educational hurdles with low-cost digital devices, but rigorous research fails to show much educational impact of technology in and of itself, even when offered free.

My students — all undergrads and digital natives — were at first surprised that technology did so little for education. They had a deep sense that they benefited from digital tools. And they were right to have that feeling. As relatively well-off students enrolled at a good university, they were all but guaranteed a solid education; being able to download articles online and exchange emails with their professors amplified the fundamentals.

But their personal intuition didn’t always transfer to other contexts. In fact, even in their own lives, it was easy to show that technology by itself didn’t necessarily cause more learning. To drive this point home, I asked them a series of questions about their own experience:

"How many of you have ever tried to take a free course on the Internet?" Over half the class raised their hands.

"And how many completed it?" All the hands went down.

"Why didn’t you continue?" Most students said they didn’t get past two or three online lectures. Someone mentioned lack of peer pressure to continue. Another suggested it wasn’t worth it without the credits. One student said simply, "I’m lazy. Even in a regular class, I probably wouldn’t do my homework unless I felt the disapproval of the professor."

In effect, the students demonstrated an informal grasp of exactly what studies about educational technologies often find. So, if my tech-immersed undergraduates could intuit the limits of educational technology, why do educators, policy makers, and entrepreneurs keep falling for its false promise?

One problem is a widespread impression that Silicon Valley innovations are necessarily good for society. We confuse business success with social value, though the two often differ. Just for example, how is it that during the last four decades we have seen an explosion of incredible technologies, but America’s poverty rate hasn’t decreased and inequality has skyrocketed? Any idea that more technology in and of itself cures social ills is obviously flawed. Yet without a good framework for thinking about technology and society, it’s easy to get caught up in hype about new gadgets.

The Law of Amplification provides one such framework: At heart, it affirms that technology is a tool, which means that any positive effects depend on well-intentioned, capable people. But this also means that good outcomes are never guaranteed. What amplification predicts is that technological effects follow underlying social currents.

MOOCs offer a convenient example. Proponents cite the potential for MOOCs to lower the costs of education, based on the assumption that low-cost content is what is needed. Of course, the Internet offers dirt-cheap replicability, and it undeniably amplifies content producers’ ability to reach a mass audience. But if free content were all that was needed for an education, everyone with broadband connectivity would be an Ivy League Ph.D.

The real obstacle in education remains student motivation. Especially in an age of informational abundance, getting access to knowledge isn’t the bottleneck, mustering the will to master it is. And there, for good or ill, the main carrot of a college education is the certified degree and transcript, and the main stick is social pressure. Most students are seeking credentials that graduate schools and employers will take seriously and an environment in which they’re prodded to do the work. But neither of these things is cheaply available online.

Arizona State University’s recent partnership with edX to offer MOOCs is an attempt to do this, but if its student assessments fall short (or aren’t tied to verified identities), other universities and employers won’t accept them. And if the program doesn’t establish genuine rapport with students, then it won’t have the standing to issue credible nudges. (Automated text-message reminders to study will quickly become so much spam.) For technological amplification to lower the costs of higher education, it has to build on student motivation, and that motivation is tied not to content availability but to credentialing and social encouragement.

The Law of Amplification’s least appreciated consequence, however, is that technology on its own amplifies underlying socioeconomic inequalities. To begin with, the rich will always be able to afford more technology, and low-cost technology in no way solves that. There is no digital keeping up with the Joneses.

But even an equitable distribution of technology aggravates inequality. Students with poor high-school preparation will always find it hard to learn things their prep-school peers can ace. Low-income families will struggle to pay registration fees that wealthy households barely notice. Blue-collar workers doing hard manual labor may not have the energy to take evening courses that white-collar professionals think of as a hobby. And these things are even more true online than offline. Sure, educational technologies can lower costs for everyone, but it’s those with existing advantages who are best positioned to capitalize on them.

In fact, studies confirm exactly this: Well-educated men with office jobs disproportionately complete MOOC courses, while lower-income young adults barely enroll. The primary effect of free online courses is to further educate an already well-educated group who will pull away from less-educated others. The educational rich just get richer.

So what is to be done? Unfortunately, there is no technological fix, and that is perhaps the hardest lesson of amplification. More technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is nontechnological: Either resolve the underlying inequities first, or create policies that favor the less advantaged.

Kentaro Toyama is an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, a fellow of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, and the author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology, published this month by PublicAffairs.


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First I Discovered Fire and then I Discovered ePortfolios

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, May 14, 2015

What is the ePortfolio Idea?  Marc Zaldivar of Virginia Tech on the ePortfolio Process.  May 20, 1-2 pm US EDT

AAEEBL and EPAC continue their project to define eportfolio.  This blog provides a framework for the next webinar. 

First I Discovered Fire and then I Discovered ePortfolios


How Did you Change?

One important aspect of eportfolio that is often overlooked and rarely used well is showing change over time.  An eportfolio can produce a website to showcase work, but it can also show the changes behind the work. Sometimes, people want to see what kind of learner you are.  It’s important to show your own learning process.

Why are People so Dedicated to the ePortfolio Idea?

As we go from webinar to webinar asking “what is an eportfolio?,” something nags at me in my mind:  “why are so many people deeply dedicated to the eportfolio idea?”  Maybe that’s where our answer lies:  what is it about the eportfolio idea that is so intriguing, inspiring, or hopeful? 

The Owned ePortfolio Space 

An eportfolio is a private, owned space that is apart from institutional hegemony.  It is hard for a learner enrolled at an institution to feel they “own” any part of the learning process or the knowledge.  If one does not own something, it is harder to get engaged.  But within your own eportfolio, you can control who enters your space or even who sees your space and the work you are doing.  That’s ownership.  Ownership leads to engagement:  eportfolios instrument the learner’s ownership of their own learning process.  

Enabling Learning Designs for how People Actually Learn

Some of us have seen in eportfolios the possibility of creating learning designs that are truly based on the latest theories of how people learn.  The word “pedagogy” has come to mean, in common academic speech, one’s own teaching style or approach;  it is called pedagogy after the fact in most cases.  It usually does not mean a style or approach based on intense study of learning theory.  Given the “built pedagogy” of the classroom, the credit system, the course system, the legacy “content delivery” concept, expectations of students and a century of behaviorism, one’s pedagogy is almost pre-determined.  ePortfolio practices offer a counter-balance. 

This counter balance can be understood in these ways: as an influence on culture in  the broad context of human history, the history of learning and education, and the short history of technology’s re-creation of humanity.

·      Human history:  information technology has distributed information and power broadly, breaking up too closely held hegemonic structures.  Technology is a democratizing force.  ePortfolios can be understood as a democratizing force in education, especially higher education.

·      Learning and education: new fields have taken up the study of learning over the past 50 years, such as cognitive science, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, economics as well as the traditional fields of psychology and education.  ePortfolios can be understood as allowing educators to embody new findings about learning. 

·      Technology’s re-creation of humanity:  humanity is inseparable from the technologies we depend on such as clothing, fire (as contained in internal combustion engines) and tools.  We are human because of the inhuman.  Technology has made learning available anywhere and eportfolios can be understood as native to this new reality.  ePortfolios are the clothing and the fire and the tool in this world of knowledge everywhere. 

ePortfolios have not created these realities but instead they are in tune with and can reinforce these realities.  ePortfolios allow us to make the most of the world of knowledge we now live in. 



Tags:  ePortfolio AAEEBL learning assessment career 

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"What is an ePortfolio?" is the Wrong Question

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, May 04, 2015

“What is an ePortfolio?” is the Wrong Question.

In the AAEEBL/EPAC webinar series that began last month (and continues on Wednesday May 6 at 1 pm US EDT with Shane Sutherland of PebblePad -- register), we have been asking “what is an eportfolio?” because this is often the question we hear and because the field does not have a “reference” definition (the agreed upon standard definition) of “eportfolio.”  However, as many have mentioned as we attempt to settle on a definition, if we don’t frame what we are doing within a broad enough concept space, we face the danger of settling on a definition that misses the point, or that diminishes the importance of the eportfolio.

A Better Question?

A better question to avoid that danger may be “what is the eportfolio idea?”  It is the eportfolio idea that has created a global community, formed associations such as The International Coalition of ePortfolio Research, the Making Connections Center at LaGuardia Community College, AAEEBL, The Centre for Recording Achievement (UK), ePIC, EPAC, ePortfolios Australia and so on.  It is not so much what the eportfolio is but what it enables the world to do and what it signifies. 

AAEEBL Annual Conference

The AAEEBL Annual Conference this year (July 27-30 – register) features the phrase “Beyond One Size Fits All,” referring to the move away from assembly line curriculum to variable learning experiences – high impact educational practices (HIPs), field work, service learning, semester abroad, competency-based education, self-paced learning, and the whole range of more active learning experiences open to undergraduate students today.  Mobile learning (i.e., “out of the classroom”) is hard to assess or evaluate using the same assessment methods appropriate to the assembly line curriculum, however, and even harder to assess or evaluate is students following different learning paths toward the same learning outcomes. 

Why the ePortfolio Idea is Important At This Time

ePortfolios directly address this problem because eportfolios are attached to the learner and not to the instructor.  The eportfolio serves as the eyes of the instructor to see, after the fact, the learning that occurred out of the instructor’s vision.

This is what we mean by “making learning visible.”  This is the eportfolio idea – instrumenting the millennial move from teaching to learning.  ePortfolios are important because of the central role they can play in whole-campus transformation toward variable, active learning.  Defining an eportfolio only as a technology misses the significance of the eportfolio idea. 

In the next phase of the AAEEBL/EPAC webinar series on “What is an ePortfolio,” we will be featuring notable eportfolio leaders who will develop aspects of “the eportfolio idea.”  This week, Shane Sutherland, CEO of PebblePad, will address the question, “What is an ePorfolio?” by offering “some reflections, some suggestions, some questions…”  The webinar is free but you must register.  As you register, you will see a screen confirming your registration that includes the URL for the webinar on May 6 at 1 pm US EDT.  Please make a note of the URL. 






Tags:  AAEEBL  defined  eportfolio 

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Does an ePortfolio have to be Based in an "ePortfolio" Platform?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Does an ePortfolio have to be Based in an “ePortfolio” Platform?

Webinar with Shane Sutherland of PebblePad, May 6, 1-2 pm US EDT.  Register under the calendar list at  You must register to attend. 

This question comes up time and again.  It is an interesting epistemological question but it is also a touchy issue – after all, the eportfolio business sector depends on institutions and individuals using eportfolio technology. 

In practice, the concept of “eportfolio” is new to a lot of academics, and those academics who are choosing a technology to carry out eportfolio initiatives have so little experience choosing an enterprise application (a technology application potentially used by the whole campus), that they have little choice but to adopt an eportfolio technology that will show them, over time, how an eportfolio works. 

We are in that awkward stage, technologically, where demand for eportfolio learning and assessment continues to grow but where the users – students and faculty – are, in many cases, unfamiliar with how to use an eportfolio or what to expect of the technology.  Some institutions have gone through two or three iterations of eportfolio platforms as they try to find the best one for their uses.  Other institutions find themselves with multiple eportfolio platforms on their campuses.  I also hear stories of eportfolio vendors receiving a list of requirements from an institution that is overwhelming and nearly impossible to reply to as part of an RFP process. 

In practice, therefore, the majority of eportfolio initiatives will probably continue to be tied to an eportfolio system named as such.  The broader question for the field is “do we define ‘eportfolio’ by the technology or by the use?”  Defining by the technology allows a precise definition – a core set of functionalities – but is “precise” the same as “useful”?  Wouldn’t a technology-based definition become quickly obsolescent?  Wouldn’t it limit our imaginations regarding the eportfolio idea? 

The persisting vision of “eportfolio” is immune to obsolescence:  “a personal learning space that is owned by the individual who can set permissions, and with an archive of evidence of life experiences in multi-modal formats, that persists over time and can publish showcases to the web.” Or something like that. 

We have a dilemma:  if we opt for a precise technology function definition, we get precise but maybe not useful; if we opt for a more relativistic purpose definition, we get useful but not precise. 


Here is Shane Sutherland’s position that he will present on May 6 at 1 pm US EDT in the AAEEBL/EPAC webinar series on “What is an ePortfolio?”


Putting purpose at the heart of our portfolio definitions


In this screenside chat Shane Sutherland will argue that our failure to distinguish between the portfolio system and its outputs is at the heart of much conversational confusion about eportfolios. How often do we hear learners exhorted to “log into the eportfolio and create an eportfolio” ?

The world is increasingly full of tools purporting to be portfolio systems but what differentiates a good portfolio system from a less good one?  Shane thinks the question is moot. You actually have to start with a clear understanding of what you hope to achieve and you can only do that by understanding the kind of outputs, or portfolios, you require – which in turn is determined by purpose.

In this conversation Shane we will make the case for portfolios to be considered simply as presentational outputs, independent of the tools used to create them. He will suggest two framing characteristics -- format and utility -- along with a series of defining questions related to each and together leading to a tentative taxonomy.

Shane argues that, armed with a clear sense of the kinds of portfolios you want to create, individuals and institutions are much better placed to define the system they need – whether or not that system is labeled as a ‘portfolio system’.



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ePortfolio: A Millennial Cultural Phenomenon

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, April 20, 2015

What is an ePortfolio?  An AAEEBL Project for 2015 in Coordination with EPAC

EPAC was an important early organizing entity for the U. S. eportfolio community.  Many current eportfolio leaders were active in EPAC in the early 2000’s.  Since then, Helen Chen and John Ittelson have maintained EPAC as a service to the eportfolio field.  AAEEBL and EPAC collaborate regularly on webinars, as they are doing for the 2015 series.

[Register for the April 29 Webinar with Geoff Irvine, CEO of Chalk & Wire now].

The Importance of Defining “ePortfolio”

A research and practice field needs to define its core epistemology.  But while “eportfolio” can be understood academically as a set of practices to improve learning or as a genre of self expression to create an identity or as a way to discover tacit knowledge within yourself (as part of a generative knowledge process) or as part of a narrative over a life time interpreted using a hermeneutic approach to discover the “narrator” of your life (a kind of self-exegesis), do any of these important interpretive lenses capture the cultural significance of having a personal space within the cloud in this millennium?  Maybe to really know what we are about as the eportfolio field of inquiry, we need to look beyond academia (in the U. S.) and take a cue from countries where “eportfolio” is an economic and social instrument for workforce development:  eportfolio as a necessary personal space for social and economic mobility in this digital age. 

It is because of the multiple interpretations and uses of eportfolios that AAEEBL and other organizations in the eportfolio field globally that we need the What is an ePortfolio? Project.

This Project has generated interest already through the two webinars offered so far in April – with Steve Handy of Bluehost and with Christopher Sheehan of Arizona State University and Helen Chen of EPAC (recordings available on the website). 

This current document describes how this Project will evolve over the next 9 months and invites participants to join a team working on this Project.  (Contact   

Parts of the Project

1.     AAEEBL Webinar Series, co-sponsored by EPAC.  Monthly “Screen Side Chats” featuring chief officers of AAEEBL Corporate Partners and key academic eportfolio leaders.  Each session is recorded and made available on the AAEEBL website.  (Next one, April 29, is with Geoff Irvine, CEO of Chalk & Wire). 

2.     What is an ePortfolio? Project Team.  A volunteer team to analyze transcripts of the Screen Side Chats, to research other published statements about defining “eportfolio,” and to develop a white paper on the topic that will be made available to the eportfolio community in early 2016.  This Team will be formed by the end of May, 2015. 

3.     Coordination between this team and other eportfolio entities such as EPAC, the International Journal of ePortfolio, the International Coalition for ePortfolio Research, the Centre for Recording Achievement, Europortfolio, ePIC, ePortfolios Australia and others.

Tentative Goals

1.     A definition for the community

2.     A definition for public use

3.     A definition for college and university administrators, and for faculty, who are unfamiliar with the concept of eportfolio.

4.     A definition for students/learners

A simple, reductionist, definition is not useful for any of the above groups since that kind of definition does not convey the importance of the eportfolio idea or of the potential of eportfolio for re-shaping learning in a digital world. 

Interim Thoughts on Definition

The eportfolio field needs a definition because “eportfolio” is still a relatively unknown phenomenon.  The field of “biology,” say, can assume a broad understanding of what “biology” entails and can use that established and broad understanding to create a definition that delimits that broad understanding. The field of “eportfolio” cannot do this.  We do not enjoy the benefits of an established, broad-based understanding of eportfolio but instead face broad-based misunderstanding.  Therefore, our definition must aim to create that cultural understanding of the eportfolio idea and field of study and practice.

With this task in mind – creating a definition of the idea of eportfolio and therefore of the field – we can begin with what philosophical framework is best to use for our purpose.  In a seminal article published by Celeste Fowles Nguyen, then of Stanford University, in the fall of 2013 in the International Journal of ePortfolio, entitled “The ePortfolio as a Living Portal:  A Medium for Student Learning, Identity, and Assessment,” v.3, no. 2, 135-148, Nguyen lays out an approach to understanding the idea of eportfolio:

The eportfolio is presently understood as an online space for students to share and reflect upon learning artifacts and academic experiences.  Traditionally, eportfolios have been studied through scientific or developmental paradigms, where they are often viewed as a tool to measure outcomes or student progress.  This paper contributes to the understanding of eportfolios through a critical hermeneutic approach (Herda, 1999), in which the eportfolio is one medium, among others, for learning . . . This framework highlights the role of the student in narrating his or her own life.  The focus on identity in this research may add an additional dimension to discussion about culture and technology.

The interpretive approach of critical hermeneutics offers new insights into eportfolios within an ontological tradition based on ways of being.  This research, based on the philosophy of Paul Recoeur (1984, 1992), viewed the eportfolio as a medium in which students can learn about self and the world.  New understandings expand one’s horizon, bringing about new ways of living, which Hans-Georg Gadamer (1988/1975) conceptualized as a fusion of horizons.  This approach to eportfolios provides educators with enhanced ways of understanding learning, identity, and assessment in higher education.

The research moves beyond an epistemological approach based on knowledge, where the eportfolios are viewed as an object or linear process, into the ontological world of being, where learning is about living life through a search that has meaning for oneself and others.  As Ricoeur (1991) explained, life can be understood as a “story in search of a narrator” (p. 425).  This interpretive context offers an expanded approach to learning that may complement existing practices to better serve institutions and students in preparing for an ever-changing world that lies beyond the college experience.


ePortfolio, conceived as Nguyen proposes, is then a medium and signifier at the heart of the world as it has become.  The eportfolio idea, then, is itself an artifact and phenomenon of the new millennium.  It is this expression of the eportfolio idea, and others, that suggest why we have an eportfolio field and community: it is an idea bigger and more significant than any one of its uses.   

What, Then, Must an ePortfolio Do to Realize the ePortfolio Idea?

Right from the early years of the eportfolio community – the 1990s – people like Katherine Yancey and Helen Barrett wrote and talked about what eportfolios must be able to do to serve the values they saw in the eportfolio idea. 

·      The space – the eportfolio – must be owned by the student in all ways.  Digitally, this meant that access to the eportfolio must be determined by the student or learner:  literally, the learner could set permissions within the eportfolio as to which specific people or groups could have access to their work – often determined piece by piece – and for how long.  Legally, the learner must be recognized as the owner of the intellectual property within the eportfolio.  Owning one’s own work was seen as greatly increasing the sense of owning one’s own learning process and therefore having more of a stake in the process and increasing engagement. 

·      The eportfolio space (“account”) must remain with the learner during college and after college (or from K-12 and on through life). 

·      The learner must be able to upload any file type to the eportfolio and must have storage capacity to hold (increasingly that capacity is in “the cloud”) work artifacts collected over multiple years.

·      The learner must be able to connect to the eportfolio from anywhere and when using multiple kinds of devices.  

·      The learner needs to be able to archive and curate learning artifacts over time, requiring that the eportfolio have a metadata set and search capabilities to manage a large archive.

·      The learner must be able to easily create current state-of-the-art websites for varying purposes over time, using data from the eportfolio. 

·      The learner must be able to collaborate on team work within the eportfolio space, where, for a particular project, the team can have access to the work. 

·      The learner must be able to use the eportfolio within an enterprise application setting:  the eportfolio may therefore interface with an SIS or ERP or LMS system.  Or it may not need to interface with enterprise applications, but simply be enterprise-friendly and supported on campus.

·      The learner must have the eportfolio recognized as a major part of the work of learning.  The eportfolio, therefore, must be able to facilitate the academic process of assessment and evaluation and, perhaps, of advising as well. 

Other items will undoubtedly be added to this list as the Project proceeds.

Our Project could then create a list of technology functionality, or a taxonomy, based on the requirements. 

The Project will also create a similar set of requirements and functionalities for derivative purposes, such as tracking student progress toward learning outcomes, recognizing or assessing prior learning, digital story-telling, and others. 

And, finally, the Project will create definitions for use in various contexts. 


But, in the end, the field needs to identify why humanity needs to recognize the importance of eportfolio:  there have always been means of learning about oneself, of self-expression, of scrap-booking one’s life, but the new element that eportfolio offers is that these traditional means can now be published and visible to the world. 


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Ontology of "ePortfolio"

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, April 09, 2015


Register for the next webinar in the AAEEBL Webinar Series on "What is an ePortfolio," co-sponsored by EPAC, April 15, 2 pm to 3:15 pm US EDT.  Helen Chen and Chris Sheehan. Those who register will receive the URL to login on the 15th.  All webinars are recorded and can be viewed later. 

Ontology of “ePortfolio”

AAEEBL is undertaking the task of defining the term “eportfolio.”  Is it a genre, or a set of practices, or a showcase, or a technology?  Or all four and other descriptions?  What we see most commonly is a definition of the technology affordances that, as I have argued in a previous blog, tend to be minimalist and therefore misleading. 

Definitions do tend to be minimalist so that all can agree, at least, on the definition as a starting point.  But, a starting point is not sufficient to convey the cultural and historical significance of “eportfolio.” 

At this point, we need to work toward not just a definition but an ontology, a way to specify the entire concept of “eportfolio.”  For example, the term “eportfolio” is often used within our field to describe an entire initiative, as in “eportfolio has changed how we organize learning.”  When we hear or read a statement like that, those who are informed about eportfolios do not think the technology itself has acted but that humans have acted using the affordances of eportfolios. 

Within the discourse in our field, “eportfolio” is used in ways that imply our field shares a deep concept of what "eportfolio" is.  It is this deep concept that makes us a field and drives the interest in using eportfolios.  It is not common for a field of inquiry and practice to grow from a technology in the way our field has developed, so there must be something special about “eportfolio” that drives us.  

But to get to the ontology of “eportfolio,” we need to start with what that deep concept is.  If we continue to postpone coming to consensus in our field, not only will our field suffer from lack of focus but the commercial market for eportfolios will itself fork into eportfolio wannabees that use the term but do not support expression of that deep concept we share. 

The AAEEBL Webinar this calendar year is intended to help us all arrive at the definition behind the definition, or, the ontology of “eportfolio.”  A taxonomy, instead, might just cloud the picture even more because it would be identifying all the uses of eportfolio without getting at the deep concept that is at the center of “eportfolio” in our minds. 

What do we associate with “eportfolio”?  Deep learning, engaged learning, integrative learning, reflective thinking, metacognition and other cognitive attributes.  But also we associate “eportfolio” with identity and personal development.  Personal development can apply to learning while enrolled in a program of formal study, or it can apply to personal development in a career.  We also associate “eportfolio” with life-long coherence, a record; and with life-wide application, multiple websites created for different purposes. 

And more deeply, we associate eportfolio with transformation to forms more appropriate in a technology culture, forms of learning and assessment and self-expression. 

We also associate “eportfolio” with various values in learning, such as the power of having one’s own digital space, of owning our own learning, the mobility of that digital space and its persistence.  In that space, we must be able to find things and re-arrange them and show them.  Just like a physical space, we need to be comfortable in our digital space.

We live in a new ecology of abundance of knowledge that is transient.  To adapt to this ecology, we humans need our own digital spaces, just as in a physical ecology, we need our houses and cars and other interior spaces.  We need an eportfolio.

If our definition does not start with the deep concept we have of “eportfolio,” the definition will not serve us well.  Information technology can be used for control – something we recognize as important but also fear – or it can be used for liberation and creativity.  While institutions may favor the control aspects of eportfolios as assessment management systems that help institutions know how students are progressing toward learning outcomes, most likely the real driving force behind the eportfolio field is not grounded in this control side of eportfolios, but in the personal side of eportfolios.  

An ontology of “eportfolio” can capture the deep meanings (“concept”) we share about “eportfolio,” and should therefore be a big part of our drive this year toward a shared explicit description of “eportfolio.”


The webinar series, plus a series of blogs, are meant to spur on the conversation within our field. 







Tags:  ePortfolio AAEEBL 

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The Definition of an ePortfolio Project

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, April 02, 2015

 "What is an ePortfolio” 2015 Monthly Webinar Series
Co-Sponsored in part by EPAC


Collecting Perspectives for The “Definition of an ePortfolio Project”

 A Year-Long Conversation Toward Consensus
[register for first webinar] 

How do you define something that is both a technology and a range of how humans use the technology?  “ePortfolio” has come to mean both the technology and the range of uses and is also a signifier for the times we live in as well as a “GPS” for humans to find their way in these times.  The eportfolio global community, because of the diverse range of perceptions of what “eportfolio” is, needs to find consensus on a description that encompasses the whole eportfolio landscape but still is easily comprehensible to those unfamiliar with “eportfolio.” 

The Wisdom Collection Part of the Project:  Webinar Series

AAEEBL begins this long-term Project to define “eportfolio” with a webinar to be broadcast on April 8, in just a few days.  You can join in the conversation by registering for this webinar.  It is free, but registration is required.  We will follow the April 8 webinar with another on April 15 and other webinars will be announced in the days to come.  Through these recorded webinars and accompanying blog posts, and through written contributions from members of the community, we will collect knowledge that is shared within the Community working toward concluding statements in early 2015. 

A technical description of an academic eportfolio has been developed by PESC.  This description and many other sources are the foundation on which this project launches. 

The Goal of the ePortfolio Definition Project

We start this Project with trepidation but also eagerness.  The definition cannot be prescribed but must be discovered.  AAEEBL intends to facilitate the conversation to discover the definition over the next 9 months and to participate in analysis of whatever consensus is arising and then, we hope, be able collaboratively to provide a report to be reviewed by eportfolio practitioners, researchers, and corporate partners worldwide during 2015. 

The First Webinar in the ePortfolio Definition Project.

The first webinar in the AAEEBL 2015 series on “What is an ePortfolio?” – the essential question for the ePortfolio Definition Project – will be an interview that I will lead with Steve Handy, leader of Bluehost Education.  This interview will be held on April 8, 2015, at 1:00 pm US EDT and will continue for an hour.  The interview will be recorded and can be viewed after the webinar.  Register for this free webinar that launches the ePortfolio Definition Project. 

Screen Side Chats

This series is called “Screen Side Chats” to best describe the interview form we will follow and to set the tone for these interviews.  This series will not consist of talks driven by slides, but instead will consist of conversations around essential questions related to the goal of better defining what an eportfolio is.  Some Screen Side Chats (SSCs) in this AAEEBL Webinar Series will be with academics and some with AAEEBL corporate partners.  The underlying question of “What is an ePortfolio?” will be at the center of each interview. 

Why This Project?

In 1999, at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, I taught a first-year composition course using a portfolio framework.  My technology at that time was paper but the management of the paper was aided by using digital printers to make multiple copies of one assigned paper (one for the student and one for me) and was also aided by email and the ability to send attachments. 

Now, just 16 years later, we – the AAEEBL community and, by extension, the eportfolio community and research field -- open an investigative series to determine a reference definition, description or proto-taxonomy of what an eportfolio is.  In those 16 years, because of the global move to the Internet and particularly the Web, the concept of “portfolio” has experienced shredding and forking and remixing to the point where only the most minimal definition – a repository on the web with certain technical capabilities designed with an intention in mind – can be generally agreed upon. 

This minimal “definition” sells the movement short.  It may reinforce an impression that the eportfolio movement is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.  A database on the web containing data about learning is like the famous “field of infinite possibilities.” (Chopra)  And therein lies the problem – the reality is far from “minimal” – it is seemingly, in fact, infinite in the varieties of eportfolio uses and designs and meanings that people have developed in a very short time. 

Bluehost as an ePortfolio Provider

The April 8 Screen Side Chat with Steve Handy of Bluehost:  “How do you Create an ePortfolio that is REALLY Your Own”? begins the 9-month conversation. 

We wonder, within academia, and perhaps within the industry itself, what kind of “eportfolio” a web hosting company can offer.  The first reaction I hear from other academics is “a website is not an eportfolio.”  And this reaction provides the challenge for Steve during the interview.

I have given a lot of thought to the question of what Bluehost offers for learners.  I should first clarify that Bluehost has created an interface for WordPress and is therefore offering a suite of technology functionality, including WordPress, that is more than “just a website.”  Bluehost is one of the largest hosting services in the world and WordPress supports a reported 20% of all websites in the world.  Students learning to use WordPress hosted by Bluehost, then, are starting with a technology set that is used widely and will serve them not only during college but for life.  Other portfolio providers do the same but there is a certain value in starting out using what a large part of the world already uses. 

(AAEEBL is platform neutral.  Its goal is to advance good uses of eportfolios educationally and not to champion any one particular platform.  At the same time, the more educators and learners know about the technology offerings, the wiser their choices can be about technology decisions and uses.  And, the more robust the eportfolio industry is, the better the technology we will have available to support our work). 

Bluehost also offers a student or a learner a domain that can be the actual name of the student or learner, and offers also the entire range of functionality that goes with owning a domain.  Bluehost can then claim, with reason, that a student in college, starting out with Bluehost and WordPress, is launching their lifetime digital identity.  This technology option can be used for the learning purposes we identify as eportfolio practices but this option can also allow students/learners to become ambitious in their use of their own domain for purposes in addition to strictly academic uses.  The sense of ownership is reinforced by the learner’s eportfolio being ensconced in a platform not defined by an institution. 

The interview will explore to what extent these claims are true, and will be open to audience questions for half of the time of the webinar.  This series and this project, the ePortfolio Definition Project, ventures into contested territory.  This territory is where the industry and the eportfolio community meet.  Industry is competitive and profit-driven; academia is collaborative and truth-driven.  Industry must maintain non-disclosure while academia is open inquiry.  But, at the same time, both the eportfolio industry and the eportfolio academic community have the same goal:  increase good use of eportfolios for better learning, assessment and career success.

The Screen Side Chats over the next 9 months will be nothing if not interesting.



Tags:  ePortfolio AAEEBL 

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Defining "ePortfolio": Four Ways of Seeing an ePortfolio

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, March 16, 2015

Defining “ePortfolio”:  Four Ways of Seeing an ePortfolio

The Problem of Defining “ePortfolio”

Ever since I started working with eportfolios in 2001, the question “what is an eportfolio?” has come up time and again. It is very hard to agree on a definition of “eportfolio” except at the most basic of educational definitions: “An eportfolio is a digital archive that represents student work over time through a broad range of artifacts.” (

As precise and evocative as that definition is from the Georgetown ePortfolio Initiative, it still does not capture the breadth of significance the eportfolio has for our society today. 

For example, we could define an automobile as “a cabin on wheels with a motor that propels it for people to ride in.”  But that definition would miss how the automobile created the suburbs, propelled social mobility, has deeply altered social patterns and has helped contribute to climate change.  The automobile might best be described as one of the defining technologies of the 20th century.

In other words, a definition can miss the essence and importance of something, so may be more misleading than helpful.  The eportfolio community has struggled with defining eportfolios for its entire existence.  Perhaps that’s because we’ve been trying to see it in only one or two ways.

The Georgetown site also includes a quotation that hints at a larger eportfolio significance beyond the simple definition above:

Conversation around ePortfolios lately has turned to the layered benefits of having students use digital workspaces to think more intentionally about their learning and make connections across the curriculum.

The number one hit on Google for “eportfolios” is a 2005 report from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, “An Overview of E-Portfolios” by George Lorenzo and John Ittelson, edited by Diana Oblinger.  The definition in the abstract to the article from 10 years ago describes “eportfolio” as an academic application featuring three types:  student eportfolios, teaching eportfolios and institutional eportfolios, that have a number of uses.  Somehow, the dedication and excitement I see in the eportfolio community is not because eportfolios are just another educational technology as that 2005 description would imply.  Something else is going on. 

In 2002, I published an article in Campus Technology called “The Electronic Portfolio Boom:  What’s it all About?”  (Retrieved 3-14-15 from 

Toward the end of the article (worth reading to get a sense of how far we’ve come while also recognizing we’ve yet to resolve issues that were pertinent then), I said:

Despite a general recognition of the usefulness of an ePortfolio, the key to success is how well the campus population is prepared for using this new tool. It's not a simple add-on to existing courses; if it is, students may not see the value. Indeed, if ePortfolio tools become just a simpler way to log student work, we've missed the boat.

Experience on one campus shows that, even though 100 percent of the faculty in a program have adopted ePortfolios, students still may not see their value because the faculty have not re-thought their courses to accommodate electronic portfolios.

In the 13 years since this article, despite the spread of eportfolios to a large majority of college campuses in the U. S. and in other countries, and despite a growing percentage of students who use eportfolios for all or most of their courses, (based on the ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduates and Technology) and despite the rapid growth of eportfolio providers, the two statements above are as relevant today as then.  We still have not generally recognized the value of an institutional learning design based on eportfolios, nor do we have an agreed upon definition of or agreed upon statement about the meaning of eportfolios.

Higher education still has not embraced the potential of eportfolios to serve as the basis for a re-thinking of an institution’s approach to learning. 

A Framework for Understanding the Significance of “ePortfolio”

We see, then, that in 2015, we still have to ask “What’s it All About?”  The answer to that, I believe, will differ depending on the context.  Is it only one more teaching practice?  Or do eportfolios have significance not only in but also beyond classroom practices?

If we look at the various contexts in which eportfolios have significance, we may be able, as a field, to agree on a statement about the meaning and significance of “eportfolio” and we may then energize not only ourselves with this new awareness, but become better able to frame our discourse on campus about eportfolios.

Those eportfolios contexts may be stated as these four:

  1. Learning – what is eportfolio’s meaning for learning for both learners and teachers.
  2. Institutional assessment – how do eportfolios affect institutional assessment?
  3. Technology in education – how are eportfolios different form other technologies used in education?
  4. Culture and economy – what is the cultural significance of eportfolios? 

In these four contexts, the lens through which we see the meaning of eportfolios differs, and the lens in number four – culture and economy – differs among countries as well.

To define eportfolios from just one context undercuts the broader importance and implications of eportfolios. 

Context 1, Learning

At the Catalyst for Learning site, created by the Connect to Learning Project led by Bret Eynon at LaGuardia Community College, and involving 24 colleges and universities over a 3-year FIPSE funded project (AAEEBL was an early partner in C2L), we find an excellent summary of eportfolio meaning in the context of learning:


ePortfolio pedagogy engages students in a recursive inquiry into their own learning and their evolving identities as learners. Through sustained collective inquiry in ePortfolio-related professional development and outcomes assessment, faculty, staff, and the broader institution construct new knowledge and understandings about the teaching and learning process.


Reflection is pivotal to meaningful student ePortfolios, which function as sites for prompting, documenting, and sharing students’ reflection on their learning. And reflection helps to move outcomes assessment beyond accountability as individuals and programs reflect on assessment findings and their implications for curricular and pedagogical change.


Students use ePortfolios to bring together work from multiple contexts, to consider the relation between their classrooms and their lives outside of class, and to construct new identities as learners. In ePortfolio-related professional development, an integrative approach prompts faculty to develop and test strategies that help students integrate their learning; and also helps faculty and staff to transfer knowledge and insight from specific instances to broader contexts and applications.

Visit the Catalyst for Learning site to see how rich this site is.  Co-leaders of this project included Randy Bass of Georgetown University and Helen Chen of Stanford University. 

Melissa Peet’s Generative Knowledge work helps us understand the “Inquiry” and “Reflection” processes from the Catalyst site:

Although reflective learning is the pillar of authentic and experiential education, reflection alone is not enough to prepare our learners in any arena for the challenges and complexities they will face in their work and personal lives. In order to be successful in today’s world, people and organizations must know how to continually adapt to change and innovate.  Although change is a significant and constant force in all of our lives, most of us do not understand how it occurs, nor how to effectively facilitate it within ourselves and others.  

Generative Coaching is an inquiry-based method wherein people learn how to recognize the underlying processes of change, and then how to identify and build upon the hidden strengths and sources of intelligence they and others have unconsciously developed simply by adapting to change within their everyday life. (Retrieved from on March 14, 2015)

The Catalyst for Learning site and Melissa Peet’s work both suggest that there’s more to eportfolios than other educational technologies, that there may be epistemological aspects to eportfolios that would carry them to the level of “disruptive technology.” 

ePortfolios as a Way of Knowing Thyself

I heard two students at Boston University at the March 12 AAEEBL Conference express a core meaning of Generative Coaching – getting to know what you already know – in these words:

The former me is telling the now me” what I know -- Salma Yehia at the AAEEBL Boston University conference.  (See her own eportfolio)

“The former me is telling the now me.”  Wow.  Her phrase poetically throws light on the whole grand concept of “reflection.” Her phrase is also at the core of Generative Coaching.  It is all about tacit knowledge; it is all about making learning visible (to oneself!).  It is about integrating your past self with your current self. 

And, another student:

I am the personal editor of my own work.”  This is about owning your own work, also a core eportfolio value – the eportfolio learning space is not owned by the institution. The learner can continue to change her or his work over time, to learn from former work, and to curate that work over time. 

Context 2, Institutional Assessment

To understand this context, it helps to think “portfolio” as in paper portfolio, and about the research and tradition of portfolio.  The “eportfolio” can be traced back only 20 years or so to the days of “webfolios” that depended on hyperlinks instead of an online database.  However, portfolios as such are as old as the first instance of a human collecting related artifacts in a “thing.” In other words, during all of human literacy and pre-literacy, humans have used something that can be called a portfolio. 

How does this side-track into history connect with our inquiry into the meaning of “eportfolio”?  (Word just put a red underscore under “eportfolio” notifying me that Word does not know what eportfolio means, either).  Artists, musicians, architects, and writers have all used portfolios to collect and review and “publish” their work for different purposes for centuries.  Recently, since 1986, according to Kathleen Yancey, writing portfolios became one means of assessing student writing – a more holistic assessment than timed essays or testing. 

Research and theory surrounding writing portfolios was itself a strong current in rhetoric and composition after 1986.  This theory and set of practices preceded the advent of webfolios or eportfolios.  Therefore, many of the early advocates of eportfolios were from rhetoric and composition, a prime example being the Inter/National Coalition for ePortfolio Research led by Kathleen Yancey, Barbara Cambridge and Darren Cambridge, all from the rhet and comp field (as am I).  

Much of the excitement surrounding eportfolio, at first, was grounded in hopes that the values in writing portfolio theory and practice would be energized by eportfolios. 

What actually happened is a typical technology story – in 2007, I wrote an article called “The ePortfolio Hijacked.”

As the article points out, inevitably, when new data about student work, especially in the aggregate, becomes available, the gold rush is on!  Instead of universities spending money on adapting the curriculum to take advantage of the enormous learning potential of eportfolios, instead they saw (and understood) the potential to make the case to accrediting agencies, with eportfolios, that they, first, were collecting data on student learning, and, second, they were doing something about their findings:  identifying learning outcomes and tracking progress toward those outcomes with eportfolios. 

Instead of eportfolios revolutionizing learning, they were being used to reinforce the current curriculum.  Many of us in the eportfolio community saw institutional assessment, therefore, as in conflict with learning.  (Since then, institutions have found it possible to both develop new learning forms and integrate assessment into those new learning forms.)

Technology is two-faced.  It can and is used for control.  Without technology control, at this point, our society would stop operating.  But, it can also liberate individuals and groups and generate creativity.  It is democratizing but also controlling.  At the pace of technology development, any digital enterprise can veer toward control or toward liberation overnight, literally.  To us in the field in 2007, it seemed the eportfolio enterprise had veered strongly toward control – centralized and top-down.

An important note:  during a recent webinar hosted by an eportfolio provider, I was led through the process for faculty assessing their students and you know what?  It occurred to me that another way eportfolios are “making knowledge visible” is to help faculty understand the assessment process!  The eportfolio system was laying out a heuristic for faculty to follow as a way to de-mystify assessment!  This is important learning for faculty members. The apparent conflict between institutional assessment and learning seems to have been resolved.

Context 3: Technology in Education. 

The key question about eportfolios in the number 3 context is How do eportfolio affordances shape practice?  For example, in comparison to the LMS (learning management system), which is organized by courses and is therefore segmented, eportfolios are owned by students, so technologically are continuous and integrated.  It would be hard to understand the meaning of eportfolios if one did not know about this vital and key eportfolio affordance. 

Another key technology consideration:  students set permissions in their eportfolio space as to who can see their work.  This control reinforces the perception (and the reality) that learners own their own work. 

Also, unlike other enterprise (campus-wide) applications, students can retain their eportfolio accounts after graduation.  Just these three examples of how eportfolios are technologically unique and theoretically aligned with learning theory should make it clear how important this third context is to understanding what an eportfolio is. 

To the extent that eportfolios are technologically designed to be a personal space and not a university-owned application, they exist in a wholly different world than other educational applications. 

Context 4:  Culture and Economy.

The upcoming AAEEBL Conference (July 27-30, Boston) uses the word “personalization” in its theme.  Throughout our culture, personalization of everything – websites know you, search engines customize your searches, auto companies personalize your car, ad infinitum – and this is true of eportfolios as well.  Except with eportfolios, you can control your own digital identity, your own personalization.

From the AAEEBL site:

While personalized learning can refer to automated tutoring systems, here we use a more contemporary understanding that affirms the core value of one’s capacity to establish an individual learning pathway and to assume responsibility for active learning.  This connotation of personalized learning is at the heart of eportfolio’s value to custom-fit individual learner needs, but it also serves broadened visions for systemic transformation.  As a movement, personalized learning, paired with eportfolios and holistic assessment, can be sized to fit learning requirements of any scope from individual to institutional.  ePortfolio technologies have sufficiently matured to the point where both personal learning and data-driven institutional objectives can be served with authentic evidence.  (

Or, simply put, you don’t try to get through life on the basis of scaffolded learning when life requires you to build the scaffold.  Or, if someone else is always driving, you never learn the way.  ePortfolios, because they can help you make sense of and be recognized for your own personal learning journey, validate that journey.  They make personalization possible. 

ePortfolios, therefore, are part of a general cultural trend toward personalization.  They are more than an educational technology, they are a cultural meme. 

And also a means to succeed in work and career.  Our culture has changed in its perception of job experience:  decades ago, if you changed jobs often, there were suspicions that maybe you had something wrong with you.  Now, I hear from young people (and statistics back this up), if you stay in a job more than three or four years, people wonder why you lack ambition.    What is the challenge, then?  It is to be able to learn new skills and concepts constantly.  If you were not allowed to discover knowledge yourself while in college, you may not be prepared for work as it has become.

ePortfolios support “off the path” discovery learning, challenging learning, problem-based learning, experiential learning, constructivist learning and other forms of active and social learning.  How?  Because evidence of the off-the-path learning is collected and can be certified using eportfolios. 

What IS an ePortfolio?

An eportfolio is not an automobile – moving us around physically – but it is a “knowmobile” – moving us around virtually.  Seeing eportfolios this way enlarges our conceptual space in thinking about eportfolios and may help us understand and explain eportfolios better.

To extend the analogy:  a car offers an interior space:  in the 1900s it became – unwittingly – a private courting space for young couples, a space they had not had before that thereby weakened parental supervision.  An eportfolio is also a private or personal learning space (whether it is a courting space has not been researched as far as I know).  A car can serve to reinforce a personal identity – a status symbol, or a statement about your youthfulness or spirit; an eportfolio published on the Web also adds to a personal identity; an automobile supports employability in obvious ways; and so does an eportfolio that is kept up to date for getting a job.  A car can help you explore the world and enjoy learning new things, so does an eportoflio.  The comparisons can go on. 

Each research field can and does see eportfolios differently but none can claim their own disciplinary definition applies to the multiple uses and overall cultural significance of eportfolios. At the same time, if, at its core, eportfolios were not extraordinarily effective to improve learning, the broader significance of eportfolios would evaporate. 

The comparisons between one of last century’s most disruptive technologies and the eportfolio is, however, useful to us educators because it helps us understand the broad sweep of contexts in which eportfolios – the aggregating space for knowledge and self and identity and discovery – are important and therefore helps us understand why our eportfolio work is so important:  we are using eportfolios in a set of educational practices to be sure but we are also helping learners be mobile and successful in this digital world.  The knowmobile comes in many styles with many options and has a multitude of uses.  As far as I know, its co2 emissions are negligible.




If you are interested, see and search “Trent Batson” to see the roughly 80 articles I published in Campus Technology between 2002 and 2014, many of which were about eportfolios.

Tags:  Overview of eportfolio;definition eportfolio 

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The Hype Cycle

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Sunday, March 08, 2015


The Hype Cycle

Response to: “What Will Truly Change Higher Education:  Online Degrees That are Seen as Official,” by Kevin Carey, NYTimes, 3-7-15

Carey’s article was adapted from The End of College:  Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Cary, Riverhead Books, 2015.

MOOCs and Badges

Before MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) there were badges dominating the headlines in articles about higher education.  Both MOOCs and badges appear to be a permanent part of the higher education mix, as neither have gone away, and both have continued to evolve and spread.

Kevin Carey, in his article adapted from his book, says that MOOCs have failed to “disrupt higher education.”  This is because MOOCs don’t offer official college degrees, “and that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for.” 

But, he says, “Now information technology is poised to transform college degrees.  When that happens, the economic foundations beneath the academy will truly begin to tremble.” 

He continues, “free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs.  Now technological innovators are working on that, too.”  And then he explains badges.

How are Badges Perceived?

Now, as our community is aware, badges were around before MOOCs.  Badges have perhaps the wrong name: they are associated with the Scouts, with the military and with programmers.  They don’t seem to carry intellectual depth or academic weight.  It is hard to put together the phrase “liberal education” with the word “badges.”  One could, of course, make the same statement about “liberal education” and “grades,” as grades are increasingly viewed:  as inflated, non-predictive and devoid of any useful information.

Or, badges may seem too “micro,” as in the phrase “micro-credentialing.”  Does a collection of badges about micro-skills add up to a conceptual whole?  Do badges indicate that the receiver of the badges has gained the ability to make meaning because of mastering a set of micro-skills? 

That’s the impressionistic challenge to badges, and a challenge that is real as we ponder the place of badges in our assessment process. Are badges passé or still vital?

Searching for “digital badges” on the Web brings you to hits from three or four years ago when The Open Badges Initiative was announced.  However, it you go to, you’ll see that badges – that is, Credly on behalf of badges -- have gained traction with 10 or 15 organizations, including Pathbrite, Instructure, LinkedIn, Moodle, Drupal, uCertify, Haikulearning and others that provide a place to display badges, or an automated system to generate badges.  “Thousands” of organizations also use Credly to confer badges internally, including AAEEBL and EDUCAUSE.  Badges can be displayed via Twitter and Facebook also. 

It would seem that, just below the radar, badges are still vital and becoming part of the new learning ecology.

Badges, MOOCs and ePortfolios

Digital badges can be used and are being used in eportfolio platforms.  It seems from the Credly description of how badges are employed that badges are being granted as grades are granted.  But, in theory, badges can be granted by various organizations. 

MOOCs and online learning in general are growing in numbers of courses offered and enrollees.  But higher education continues drawing steady traditional enrollment.  Digital technology-based learning options are not either-or options.  A trope in our culture has been that some new digital tool or concept or use will completely replace an existing practice.  Time and again, we see that digital technologies primarily add to the options for ways to learn and to be recognized.

Just because we had a largely monolithic learning ecology in the past does not mean we will necessarily have a new monolith based in digital technologies.  The overwhelming evidence is that digital technologies add variety to learning, new opportunities, personalization, inclusion of whole-life learning, or, in short, a much richer learning ecology.  The digital revolution in higher education has already happened, but practice and systems have not yet adapted to that revolution.

The MOOC organizations – for example, Coursera and edX – do not seem to be focused on eportfolios.  My inquiries led me to understand the difficulties of trying to provide access to an eportfolio for thousands of students around the world.  MOOCs offered by a university for its own students would not have that same challenge. 

Badges are more directly tied to eportfolios.  It is logical to consider placing badges in eportfolios (once the provider has made the technical adjustments to allow for such display). 

The Hype Cycle

ePortfolios, we know, are in use on almost all U. S. campuses, at least in a course or two.  We also know that the number of students who use eportfolios in most of their courses has jumped in the last year or two.  Badges, MOOCs and eportfolios (and other ancillary digital technologies) continue to spread despite the headlines that, first, declare that a technology will revolutionize education, and then say no more, leaving the impression that all was hype.  This hype cycle serves no one. 



Tags:  AAEEBL  Badges  ePortfolios  MOOCs 

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Personalized Learning: It’s not the Algorithm, It’s the Learner

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Personalized Learning: It’s not the Algorithm, It’s the Learner

We live in a time of porous boundaries between human intelligence and machine intelligence (rightly called “artificial intelligence”).  We need a Turing Test to decide whether an entity is human or not.  If you apply for something online, you may have to prove, through Captcha, that you are not a machine.  And, when it comes to the challenge facing education -- how to provide quality education for large numbers of students at a reduced cost – the temptation to cross the machine-human boundary and let machines (that is, algorithms) do the heavy lifting is almost irresistible. 

That temptation needs to be resisted.

As much as information technology can bring efficiencies to education, in the end the best learning is not machine-driven but human-driven.  Machines (that is, digital technologies) can remove physical obstacles and provide helpful guiding information but in the end humans learning with other humans in real-life situations is still the best way to learn.

Machines provide information faster than anyone could have imagined but learning is making sense of information and discovering its meaning, the real goal of learning, and something machines can’t do (yet). 

Digital Technologies Provide a Leg Up

Learners can benefit from the guidance of algorithms that point the learner to online tutoring systems, for example, that are proving as effective as human tutors.  learners can learn methods and approaches from the online tutors that then help them along their own learning paths.  Their own learning paths.  That’s the point:  adult learners (that is college-age learners) learn best when they themselves create learning paths; the online tutor can provide a leg-up, but they cannot be the whole of the learning experience.   

The Promise and Peril of Adaptive Learning Technologies

Adaptive learning technologies, online learning analytics used to create learning paths for learners based on their performance, might help some learners but cannot, in most cases, provide the opportunity for deep and lasting knowledge about how to learn.  The machine, in adaptive learning technologies, has taken over:  the algorithm is creating learning pathways, not the learner.  This approach could be understood as an attempt at “semi-passive learning.” This is not to say there are not uses for adaptive learning technologies, but it is to say that this approach can only be one element in a human-driven learning path.  (I did participate, as a consultant, in a project tangentially about adaptive learning technologies that was funded by the Gates Foundation; we are all experimenting with how best to partner with digital technologies but I think the golden rule has to be “thou shalt give the reins to the learner.”)

The Age of Personalization

But personalized learning, in comparison to adaptive learning technologies, is a very broad concept, encapsulating our entire culture’s experience with digital technologies. “Personalization” could describe the major effect that digital technologies are having on our culture. My car remembers how the driver’s seat should be configured for me and how the outboard mirrors should be positioned for best viewing from that seat positioning.  My car is personalizing part of my driving experience.  Our Blue Ray player remembers exactly where we were in a show we were watching the previous night; Google “knows” you and personalizes your search experience.  Personalization affects all parts of our lives. 

But only a human can truly personalize everything she or he does.  It is the age of personalization but that only means assisting each of us to spend less time on details and more time on important human activities, such as imagination, creativity, discovery, integrating, intuition, taking leaps of faith.  Personalization by digital technologies only frees us humans to better personalize our lives (that is, find our own ways).

Personalization in Learning

One of the most important personalizing technologies, maybe the most important of personalizing technologies for learning, is the eportfolio.  Why?  Because not only does it help you create your own personal identify on line, but using an eportfolio frees learners to follow whatever learning path they wish while still documenting (with a smart phone) that personal learning path and making it part of their learning history.  ePortfolios allow learners to take the lead, make their own mistakes, or serendipitous discoveries, and learn as humans learn best.

This may be the age of digital technologies, but it is also the age of unleashed learners:  machines are only good if they enhance the lives of humans.  They are not good is they take over the lives of humans or take over learning experiences.

Our whole effort in using digital technologies to improve learning should not be to impose new restrictions on curiosity and discovery by finding new ways of leashing the learner to the machine, but to free learners from the limitations of previous technologies and of other physical limitations on learning.  Algorithms, like good teachers, need to be guides on the side and not new sages on the stage.

The AAEEBL Annual Conference, July 27-30 in Boston, includes personalized learning as one of the main themes of the conference.

The New Media Consortium Horizon Report and Personalization

This year’s New Media Consortium Horizon Report includes a section on personalized learning. 

From the abstract to this section:

Personalized learning refers to the range of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies intended to address the specific learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.”

So far, so good.  This definition is broad, as it should be, describing personalized learning as a general trend in education, in recognition of the realization that the more active that learners are on behalf of their own learning, the deeper and longer-lasting their learning will be.  But in subsequent paragraphs in this abstract, personalized learning seems to move more and more toward machine-driven and not human-driven.

“While there is a demand for personalized learning, it is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.  The increasing focus on customizing instruction to meet students’ unique needs is driving the development of new technologies that provide more learner choice and allow for differentiated instruction. Advances such as online learning environments and adaptive learning technologies make it possible to support a learner’s individual learning path.” 

Hmmm.  Now, the text is moving toward an implication that support for personalized learning may or should mostly come from digital technologies.   I thought letting the student out of the classroom in itself was supporting “a learner’s individual learning path.”  The report’s abstract goes on to say:

“The biggest barrier to personalized learning, however, is that scientific, data-driven approaches to effectively facilitate personalization have only recently begun to emerge; learning analytics, for example, is still evolving and gaining traction within higher education.”

And, there we have it – if artificial intelligence is not the driver, personalization cannot be fully supported.  I vote for human intelligence as the driver; we don’t want to replace an overbearing teacher with an overbearing machine. 

And, of course, nowhere in this section are eportfolios mentioned.  That is a big error in conceptualizing “personalized learning.”  That is like saying personal mobility depends on the car while ignoring the highway system.  But, I hasten to applaud the report in general for referring to very good examples of colleges and universities who are incorporating personalized learning.  That these institutions may be using eportfolios to support their move to personalized learning was somehow missed in this report. 

The Report, as a whole, is a magnificent survey of technology in higher education.  It gives detail to the general digital environment in which learners use their eportfolios.  We can see, by reading through the Report how pervasively digital technologies have infused higher education with new capabilities for all purposes.  If anything, the Report explains why eportfolios are necessary: in such a digitized ecology of learning, in which the classroom is no longer “the center,” where is the center?  For learners, the new center is their eportfolio.

Let’s add a note that the Report should have included:

In the digitized environment in which learners now work and learn, integration of diverse experiences is newly crucial, and reflection on artifacts from those experiences is the key to learning.  Portfolio evidence is the new learning pathway:  what is collected, curated, analyzed, and published is how a learner makes sense of learning.  The eportfolio process provides personalized coherence and a learning space that replaces the classroom as the center of learning. 

Tags:  Personalized Learning;ePortfolio 

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