The Batson Blog provides occasional personal commentary on eportfolios, technology and learning. This blog is not an official AAEEBL announcement but instead includes personal 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. Over the past 5 years, I've published about 100 articles in Campus Technology (see selected articles at THIS SITE). All my writing arises from the rich conversations I have with you and your colleagues, in academia and in the industry.
The blogs are commentary, not research. You can vote on each blog and also post a comment yourself. Feel free to share these blogs with others.
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AAEEBL Annual ePortfolio Conference
Natural Forms of Learning; ePortfolio
Technology Learning eportfolios
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Monday, September 29, 2014
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Batson Blog 9-26-14
The Historical Significance of ePortfolios: Realizing the Move to Personalization
ePortfolios may serve as the bridge from the industrial era of “one-size-fits-all” education to the knowledge era of personalized learning. Historians may look back decades hence and describe this era of educational transformation as a move from undifferentiated teaching to personalized learning. And the major enabler for this transformation may be eportfolios and those who understand eportfolio learning.
Definition of ePortfolio?
Many have offered definitions of “eportfolio.” It is hard to get agreement as to which definition is the definition. Is it a genre? A learning space? A resume? A collaborative space? An owned space? A record? A repository? A website?
And what is its purpose? To advance reflective and integrative thinking? To support the authentic and experiential high-impact practices as described by George Kuh? To get a job? Fulfill learning outcomes? Support competency-based learning? Or self-paced learning? Or adaptive learning? Or workforce development?
Are we too close to the trees to see the forest? Perhaps we need a larger context to better understand the essence of eportfolio.
A Larger Context to Better Understand ePortfolios
In the first two decades of this millennium, there has been a coalescence of many trends to improve learning based on studies in anthropology, linguistics, cognitive science, psychology, education and other fields: active, real world learning results in personal experiences that can be reflected upon is one way to describe this coalescence. This learning approach seems to result in engaged and deep learning. As we learn, collectively, more about learning, at the same time, the demand to learn throughout life has intensified. As knowledge changes more quickly, it is hard to keep up.
Culturally and economically, we humans have had to face more challenging economic times that seem permanent: “work” has permanently changed and will continue to change as we tap the unlimited potential of the digital age. In a breath-taking short decade or so, we became the knowledge economy and the “social” culture while we also became a predominantly urban nation.
At the same time, in almost all ways in our culture, we have moved from the “mass” of the industrial age to the “individual” of the digital age. According to some scientists, we are now in the “anthropocene” geological era where humans are the predominant force of global natural change. How does one take all this in and adapt to such deep changes?
In all of education, K-16 and throughout life, we are moving gradually from “one-size-fits-all” to personalization. The concept of personalization helps us understand the historical meaning of the eportfolio phenomenon. “Personalization” as a disciplinary term refers to learning experiences that are or can be tailored to the individual needs of the learner: either an algorithm adapts content to fit the learning needs of the individual or the learner herself or himself discovers, over a semester or more, information that is used to create disciplinary content (that is, complete an assignment). Personalization is either done for you or you do your own personalizing in a system that allows and supports an individual personalizing initiative.
The Role of ePortfolios in the Cultural Shift to Personalization
I think ePortfolios will be seen, historically, as the platform that instantiates and makes permanent the move to personalization, not only in educational institutions, but in all of life. We may be able to look back decades in the future and see that the move to personalization was realized through the universal adoption of eportfolios. This is because if learners are finding their own paths to learning outcomes, they need to show evidence that they have reached the outcomes. ePortfolios are essential in the move to personalization.
Most references to “personalized learning” assume a technology that replaces a teacher or a tutor – adaptive learning applications, for example, such as The Khan Academy provides. This machine-based approach continues the decades-old quest for automated teaching and assessment. Intelligent tutors caught our attention in the mid-1980s only to quickly fade away. Those being offered now are far superior and actually have a place in the mix of learning opportunities today. But only in the mix.
Curricular Design to Incorporate Personalized Learning
“Personalized learning” has also become the basis for entire colleges or universities to organize learning experiences for their campus, not offered by technology alone but as an over-arching understanding of how humans learn best.
Sometimes “personalized learning” is named competency-based or self-paced or outcomes-based learning but they are all varying names for the over-all cultural move to personalization in learning and in many cultural and economic areas as well – you can build your own car these days, including the options you wish to have, for example – what we might call a personalized car.
How to Best Understand ePortfolios
Perhaps the best way to describe eportfolios is as the historical enabler for the move to personalization in education. Understood this way, the conflict between assessment management (learning outcomes eportfolio systems) and student learning eportfolios disappears: you need learning outcomes to free eportfolios to become the primary work done in all learning contexts. Using an assessment management system within a learning-outcomes framework can then enable the personal eportfolio to move to the center of the educational enterprise. This might be called a personalized learning environment – a slight but important variation on a “personal learning environment.” We might say the personal learning environment (the platform) is at the center of a personalized learning enterprise.
The learning outcomes that serve to organize the personalized learning enterprise need to be pointed toward the thinking skills, attitudes and experiences needed in the knowledge economy. Then, learning and employability as eportfolio functions are also unified since the outcomes are complimentary. Framing the eportfolio phenomenon as a move to personalization encompasses all the various definitions I mentioned at the start of this blog. It is a unifying concept and can help all of us better explain and understand what it is we are doing.
The concept of the personal learning environment has been with us all along but has been limited to describing a technology platform. Personalized learning, as a distinct term, has come forward in currency along with “adaptive learning” in the past few years. If we can think of “personalized learning” as a whole new context for learning inside and outside the academy, both automated and learner-initiated, then the purpose and significance of eportfolios becomes clearer. ePortfolios support and make possible the move to personalized learning.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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Those who talk about eportfolios often note how many different uses eportfolios are put to. Some say, in reaction, “if everything is an eportfolio, then nothing is an eportfolio.” And, most also say “it is not the technology, but how the technology is used.” We seem to most often talk about eportfolio uses as if that is all we need to say.
If we look just at how eportfolios are instrumented (i.e., used), we can indeed become quickly confused. Are these uses about learning? Or assessment? Or identity? Or recognition of prior learning? Or? At the recent AAEEBL conference, the planning committee found it a challenge to limit the number of tracks to a workable number because eportfolios can add value to the educational experience in so many ways, from institution-centered to learning-centered or career-centered.
Not How? but Why?
But, in light of the sometimes baffling profusion of uses eporfolio users have developed, maybe we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “how are eportfolios used?,” we should be asking “why are eportfolios used?” Maybe that question would lead us to a common thread, an underlying goal, in all eportfolio uses.
Any one of the uses referred to above might be sufficient for educators to explore eportfolios. Each use has value in and of itself. But, what really drives this community? What inchoate notion drives people to put so much energy, time and risk into advocating for or supporting eportfolios?
An ePortfolio Hope
The source of my own hope about eportfolios is my experience using computers to teach writing in 1985. The first instances of local area networks (LANs) had been released. At the same time, some creative people wrote code for what was called, variously, cb (for citizen’s band radio, popular with not only truck drivers in the early 1980s but with all drivers), xxyyzz, and one or two other variations on what we now call “chat.” When I and my collaborators installed a LAN in a computer lab and programmed it with cb (reportedly written by an IBMer on a weekend and offered for free), we then launched the first network-based classroom for teaching writing, a project called ENFI (English Natural Form Instruction).
The Project went on to get major funding from the Annenberg CPB Foundations and won an EDUCOM (predecessor to EUCAUSE) award for best application for basic writers. A company was formed to market a product that supported the ENFI idea and we published a book with Cambridge University Press about network-based classrooms.
Why did ENFI catch on? Because the “natural form” referenced in the project title was about learning to write as humans learn to speak: through conversation. Linguists and philosophers had recognized the power of dialog for learning years before 1985, but the LAN made it possible to finally apply dialog learning in a writing class with 20 to 30 students. We saw the irony of technology allowing the writing classroom to apply natural forms of learning – a dialogic approach – to the learning enterprise. Machines restoring natural forms of learning??
A Way to Understand the Cultural Phenomenon of ePortfolios
And the irony continues. Behind all the talk of reflective thinking, of metacognition, of integrative thinking, folio thinking, assessment for learning, social pedagogies, digital story-telling, and even career success; behind all of the excitement about eportfolios to the point where more than half of all U. S. higher education students use eportfolios at some point in their college career; behind the growth of the eportfolio industry, the establishment of the Inter/National Center for ePortfolio Research, the Making Connections Center at LaGuardia Community College, EIfEL (now ePIC), the Centre for Recording Achievement, AAEEBL, The Generative Knowledge Project, ePortfolios Australia, the International Journal of ePortfolio, the AAC&U annual eportfolio forum, and all the other conferences and funded projects and eportfolio campus efforts, is a tangible sense that something important is happening around eportfolios, something monumental, a watershed phenomenon.
It is this tangible sense that drives me and probably drives others in the eportfolio community as well.
This sense of eportfolio demarcating a watershed moment in the history of education, I believe, is an awareness that we are slowly moving away from an educational structure created not based on how humans learn but how an institution could practically educate thousands of learners within a sustainable business model. We are slowly moving away from that monolithic structure that requires big words to rationalize it and to a simpler but multi-faceted educational structure that requires only everyday words to explain: learners need to be active; they need to learn in a real-world context; they learn by cooperating with others. Or, even simpler: they learn best by engaging in learning as humans have for thousands of years. They learn best by using natural forms of learning.
How do eportfolios support natural learning forms?
The term “natural learning” has some currency among K-12 educators and leaders but those who use the term seem to see it as “unschooling.” This is not at all the sense of the phrase I’m using in this blog. “Natural learning forms,” to me, means using those activities and interactions that people choose to use. Build on what people already do. People are already curious, already want to explore, already social, already interested in collecting artifacts (souvenirs, photos) from experiences, already interested in stories, and on and on.
An educational structure built on what young people already want to do and are good at is building on natural forms of learning. Montessori schools use some natural forms of learning. The cluster of high-impact educational practices George Kuh identified and analyzed in a 2008 publication in many cases are compatible with “natural forms of learning” as I am using the term:
1. First-year seminars and experiences: small groups.
2. Common intellectual experiences: learning communities focusing on a few key ideas.
3. Learning communities: students in the community take courses together over time.
4. Writing-intensive courses: writing within a disciplinary context for a purpose in multiple “content” courses.
5. Collaborative assignments and projects: cooperating and learning from peers.
6. Undergraduate research: real-life research on openly contested problems.
7. Diversity/global learning: sometimes, experiential learning on site; understand yourself and your culture better by understanding others.
8. Service learning; community-based learning: getting connected to a community; addressing real-life problems.
9. Internships: authentic, real-world learning.
10. Capstone courses and projects: revisiting your own experiences and publishing your discoveries.
These ten practices emphasize learning in teams or groups and real-life learning experiences. Each, therefore, aims to use a natural form of learning – social learning and experiential learning.
An eleventh high-impact practice, informally recognized by the eporfolio community, is the meta-high impact practice of using eportfolios in any of the ten HIPs list above. ePortfolios add a personal and longitudinal dimension to each of the ten.
Change in Higher Education is Underway
Educators have recognized for decades that the educational enterprise needs a fundamental restructuring, a re-thinking of basic assumptions, and a move-away from the business-mandated course/curriculum/grades/degree structure. The HIPs and many other initiatives such as competency-based learning or self-paced learning and so on, are underway. However, for many, change seems far too slow given the challenges of adjusting not only to a new economy and work culture, but also to constant rapid change. Does the current educational experience align with the new economy and work culture?
ePortfolios facilitate change. This is their power. Fundamental to that power is a very simple phenomenon: the learner, in his or her eportfolio, has a private space that they own and that stays with them. Learners rarely, if ever, believe they “own” the classroom or the knowledge in a field. But, they can and do believe they own their own learning documented in their eportfolio. Not only do they usually control permissions in the eportfolio, but the eportfolio stays with them after the course and often for the course of their college career and sometimes beyond.
A course, a course of study, a college or a university can use eportfolios to change the fundamental dynamics now employed. Once educators understand the why of eportfolios, they might see more clearly how to transform a course or a campus.
What’s in Store?
It would be possible to attend a number of colleges and universities in the U. S. and internationally and see no differences between now and 50 years ago. Or, what differences you see are scattered and scarce. Despite rapid change almost everywhere in our culture, higher education is, in general, changing by tweaking the legacy educational enterprise. What was a Rube Goldberg “machine” to begin with has become ever more so.
ePortfolios are in use throughout U. S. higher education but only in scattered courses or programs on most campuses. If more educators understood how eportfolios promote and support natural forms of learning, eportfolios might seem more attractive. But, it is hard for educators to understand eportfolios by hearing or reading about the multiple uses of eportfolios.
Perhaps if we in the community communicate more about the “why” of eportfolio – moving education away from a structure that is showing wear and tear to a structure closer to what we now know are human ways of learning – more of our colleagues would grasp the eportfolio value proposition.
Natural Forms of Learning; ePortfolio
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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The Unique Power of ePortfolio for Institutional Transformation
This blog post is anti-hype. We have heard enough about the IT revolution, or maybe not nearly enough that is helpful. No doubt we are in the midst of a watershed moment for humanity – the sapiens part of us is on shifty ground – but maybe only one technology can claim to be universally transformational: the Web itself as an application on the Internet.
Those of us working in the global learning enterprise have heard, for example, that word processors will lead to students revising their writing, or that multi-media presentations will double learning, or that intelligent tutors will make novice writers into experts, or that the MOOC will replace higher education, and so on. ePortfolios, alas, have not avoided the hype trap, either.
This tendency to believe technology will do the tough work of transforming how we think and learn has led us to be skeptics of technology claims and for good reason.
My claim is just the opposite. For some few educators, eportfolios have proven to be just what they were looking for. That’s rare, and institutional support for transformation around eportfolios is even rarer. What I am claiming, after 30 years of working with technology and learning, is that eportfolios are unique in that they provide baby steps toward big changes. Early adopters and pioneers may make giant leaps (ouch! I’ve made a few leaps myself), but most faculty members and administrators need incrementalism not giantism. Institutions usually need incrementalism.
ePortfolios can support early adopters, middle adopters and late adopters, even laggards. ePortfolios in combination with other corollary technologies, can allow for gradual change in a course, in a program, a college or a whole university. At AAEEBL conferences, we hear about eportfolios at every stage of incrementalism or giantism. We don’t need apocalyptic language to describe change around eportfolios.
ePortfolios support either a slow revolution or a fast one. Right now, the slow eportfolio revolution in higher education is predominant partly because eportfolios can play so many roles, some transformational and some conservative (such as providing data for annual institution research reporting).
In my heart, I have not changed my view that learning of the future will be represented in and will occur in eportfolios. But perhaps the most important thing about eportfolios is that they can support any approach to learning and can support any pace of change.
AAEEBL Annual ePortfolio Conference
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Thursday, June 26, 2014
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Do ePortfolios Have to be Mediated by Institutions?
The question in the title of this blog – why we in the AAEEBL Community talk almost exclusively about eportfolios embedded in higher education – might seem innocent or even trivial. It is not. If we do believe, as many of us in the eportfolio community say we do, that valuable and important learning can occur not only in curricular and moderated settings but in co-curricular and non-curricular settings as well, then that belief and my title question suggests what will be the next phase of the eportfolio movement.
That next phase is perhaps eportfolios designed for certification outside of institutions. Educators are looking for ways to expand learning opportunities outside of the normal institutional boundaries through online learning – MOOCs and the array of online learning models already in operation – and also looking for certifying opportunities other than a college degree – badges as one example of “micro-credentialing.” Already, the movement out of traditional institutional settings is well underway and has been for some time.
In the case of electronic portfolios, one important factor is that they are equally appropriate and essential for learning either within institutional hegemony or without. In fact, as we all recognize, they are a robust bridge between the traditional world of formal learning and the emerging world of informal learning.
In theory, then, a natural evolution would seem to be a growing use of eportfolios both during times of enrollment and during times of no enrollment. During enrollment, institutions can assist with the management of learning portfolios but during times of no enrollment, who assists, especially in the U. S. where government agencies, at any level, do little or nothing to assist?
Each eportfolio provider does offer some way for students to keep their eportfolio accounts after enrollment but what about the millions of learners who must learn how to learn in this economy but who are not in college? Seventeen million higher education students in the U. S. may have access to eportfolios through our current system of providing U. S. students with eportfolios while they are in college, but surely there must be tens of millions of others -- college graduates, college “dropouts” (a new prestige term?), or those who have not attended college -- who also need eportfolios.
The AAEEBL Community, including our Corporate Partners, must recognize that eportfolios should be available and supported for all who need them; not only because that’s a good idea for society but also because selling to individual learners is the ultimate market.
Despite the good news of the spread of eportfolio use in higher education, we in the AAEEBL Community know that only some uses of eportfolio technologies are what we might call transformative. Good use of eportfolio requires, in most cases, re-thinking and change. We all know how resistant to change people are and especially people backed by institutions no more eager to change than they are. There is still great progress to be made in higher education by spreading the eportfolio word and that will be true for decades.
But, what if individuals arrived at college, or re-entered college, already with eportfolio in tow? What if eportfolios became a powerful way for learners to get ahead in the world even without formal enrollment? Then, might we not see a societal push with eportfolio technology just as we have seen with the BYOD movement? IT offices on campuses always preferred to limit the number of technologies they must support, so BYOD would not have arisen spontaneously within the IT establishment in most cases. BYOD, I would guess, was simply recognizing reality. If everyone is already bringing their own devices, requiring them to buy yet another device in order to standardize on campus became inconceivable.
What if the average young person could not only buy their own devices and apps but one of those apps was an eportfolio along with support from the eportfolio provider? I know that some of our corporate partners do consider the consumer market as a next step for eportfolios, but beyond it being a large market commercially, how would that benefit the quality of learning in our society? And what dangers would selling to the consumer market present?
As an aside, it is very interesting that we can think of eportfolios as a consumer product. I suspect very few of you reading this would scoff at that idea. Yet, no one would think of an LMS as a consumer product.
The advantage of selling eportfolios as a consumer product from the perspective of the AAEEBL Community, dedicated to human development, is that a market developing outside of academia could push academia to speed up accommodating eportfolio-necessary structures. We could see a BYOP movement developing.
The disadvantage of selling eportfolios as a consumer product is we could see a stripping down of eportfolio functionalities. To set a price point in the consumer market that would be aligned with pocketbooks, we would probably see the usual model of a basic eportfolio that could then be beefed-up with premium services. Someone arriving on a campus with a “basic eportfolio” might find that it does not suit the purposes demanded on the campus.
Within academia, the AAEEBL Community works to advance eportfolio research and practice. The AAEEBL Community also works with Corporate Partners to assure the technology continues to support good eportfolio practice. It may be that the Community also will need to look beyond academia if and when eportfolios become a consumer product.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
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Badges and the Gravitational Pull of Teacher Control
Information technology is the ultimate control technology; it is also the ultimate distribution-of-control technology. It is both centralizing and democratizing. Higher education, then, lives on the horns of this particular dilemma: should we expedite “delivery” or should we hand power to learners? Should higher education organize around delivery of content or distribution of control? (We can do both, of course).
Technology compounds the significance of this choice for higher education. It pushes out the limits of the continuum between delivery of content (for example, MOOCs) and distribution of control (for example, self-paced, evidence-based learning).
There is money in delivery of content; distribution of control is a harder sell. To the extent LMS’s are used in support of delivery of content, they are an easy sell; to the extent that eportfolios support distribution of control, they are a hard sell.
That centralizing (delivery of content) is more attractive and profitable is the challenge the AAEEBL community faces: the best learning occurs when students have the most control of their own learning. But institutions run most efficiently and profitably through centralizing.
Now, if all students, or even most students, wanted control of their learning, the challenge would be easy to meet. In truth, having control of your own learning is hard work and is scary. Some students thrive when they control their own learning but most prefer to be guided, scaffolded and taught. Therefore, the AAEEBL community and others seeking good learning opportunities run against not only inevitable vectors of profit and efficiency but of human nature as well.
And so it is with badges. I was at a session on badging in Ann Arbor recently. I hasten to interject that AAEEBL has been working on badging within AAEEBL for two years, is part of an international funded project on badging led by Deakin University in Melbourne, and sees badges as a natural complement to portfolios. Still, as encouraging as it was to see several institutions talking about badging programs already in full swing, I was concerned about what seemed like a given regarding badges.
Here’s why I was concerned: badges were a hot topic just before the MOOC tsunami of 2013. But, in that quiet badge year, badges and their proponents did not fade away but instead made progress. That’s good because even though MOOCs may seem historically more significant, in actuality, they probably won’t be seen as more than a hiccup in the development of online learning over time. In contrast, badges and the move to micro-credentialing could challenge how grading is done, how credit is awarded (even influencing the disappearance of grades), and could challenge the whole idea that students have to actually have a diploma for any of their work to count. Randy Bass said recently that eportfolios won’t challenge the business model of higher education institutions; but portfolios with badges could well do so. So, badges are potentially a very powerful new element. But only if they are used in particular ways. And, during the session in Ann Arbor, I was not certain those particular ways were faring well.
Badges have a number of potential values that are important to education right now.
- As context for a course grade. Digital badges display on a screen and can be clicked to reveal metadata about the granting of the badge: who issued the badge and based on what criteria? There’s more data, but these two metadata categories are very important. A course grade is usually given by an instructor who has reasons for granting a particular grade. Those reasons are lost in the highly abstracted single letter grade. But, in a badge, we see the reasons for one part of the final course grade.
- As a micro-credential. If, during several courses, during co-curricular activity, and even in non-curricular learning experiences, a student/learner builds up badge evidence of an important skill that is job-related, the badges themselves may convince an HR officer to hire that student before she or he receives a diploma. Badges have been talked about as an alternative to formal education. That could be a future possibility but I think the hybrid badge, formal courses with institutionally certified badges combined with life experience badges, will be the first step.
- As a valuable kind of evidence in a portfolio. Badges in portfolios make sense. Badges make good evidence: they are granted in recognition of ability in a certain discrete skill that might be part of a college course, part of a unit in a college course, or one element in a particular assignment during that unit.
- As a peer-granted recognition. Instructors generally can’t be present in student team meetings, especially if they are held out of class. Students that work on a problem in a group over several weeks get to know their peers quite well. If the assignment to work on a problem is structured to distinguish between roles in the team, then each student team member will most likely have a deliverable. That assignment structure allows each team member to show their capabilities and allows the team to decide whether to grant a badge or not.
Within AAEEBL, the CEO, Judy Williamson Batson, leads AAEEBL’s badge efforts. We granted some badges last year at the Annual Conference, so we know the system works. We know, in general, that learning designs are strongly influenced by assessment designs: students will pay attention to what “counts” toward their grade. If we want students to be engaged in learning, we need to think of not only learning opportunities but how we assess the results of those opportunities. Badges are one way to increase engagement in the process of learning. This is one reason why AAEEBL has a badge initiative.
I was concerned in Ann Arbor because it seemed the attendees at the badges session assumed badges would be granted by teachers. But if students are working more independently and out of sight of the teacher, doesn’t it make sense to emphasize peer-awarded badges? To pick up on the theme of this blog, badges may be most effective when they reinforce not the control of the teacher but the distribution of control to the learners.
Nevertheless, colleges and universities are adopting badges, some eportfolio vendors are making it possible to include badges in personal portfolios, and one more thread in the slow evolution of the nature and process of learning is getting stronger.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Thursday, May 01, 2014
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Comments on Randy Bass’s “Reality Check” in
AAC&U’s Peer Review article.
AAEEBL is, right now,
responding to questions from the IRS about AAEEBL’s 501c3 application. We are finding how hard it is to explain
“eportfolio” to those who know little about technology or about the sweeping
changes in higher education and the knowledge economy. In the eportfolio community, we know that
“eportfolio” is a heavily packed term.
We know it has layers of meaning that are only unlayered or unpacked in
Randy Bass, about the most
eloquent person I know, wrote “The Next Whole Thing in Higher Education,”
published in Peer Review from
AAC&U this week (Winter 2014, Vol. 16, No. 1: http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-wi14/RealityCheck.cfm). His comments about eportfolios are spot
are decidedly not the hottest thing in higher education.” This opening declaration gets our attention
and I had difficulty deciding what my own reaction is: it is good in some ways not to be the hottest thing because of burnout; but then, what is the current state of eportfolio?
reassured of Bass’ belief in the eportfolio movement, however, as soon as he
points out that, after all, the eportfolio movement is not about the technology but about “a set of pedagogies and
practices that link learners to learning, curriculum to the co-curriculum,
and courses and programs to institutional outcomes.” Bass is making it clear that when members of
the eportfolio community use the word “eportfolio,” they are thinking
primarily, or exclusively, not about the actual technology but about a whole
approach to learning and development.
make the case that despite not being “hot,” eportfolios “are change agents;
they belong to an emergent learning paradigm and, as we argue in the Connect to
Learning Project, have the capacity to catalyze change toward that
words, eportfolios are now in that phase of technology infusion in our culture
that features steady growth, quiet but deep change, when the technology becomes
simply part of the landscape, and therefore is steadily growing in
Susan Kahn of IUPUI, in the
lead article in the Peer Review issue cited above, says:
to the 2013 survey from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR),
use of e-portfolios has increased sharply since 2010, when the survey first
asked about them: 57 percent of US postsecondary institutions say they have
made some use of e-portfolios in the past year, and 53 percent of responding
students report engaging with e-portfolios in at least one course in the past
year (Dahlstrom, Walker, and Dziuban 2013) (Peer
comments in the ECAR survey, taken as a whole, however, offer some qualifiers
to Kahn’s initial rosy comments, as she later points out. While eportfolios are widespread in U. S.
higher education, adoption on most campuses is “sparse.” In fact, only 7% of students reported using
eportfolios in more than one course. Sounds tiny until we remember that last year
total enrollment in U. S. colleges and universities was over 17 million. The seven percent, therefore, represents
1,190,000 students. We can estimate that
over a million students are using eportfolios in at least two courses. That’s not really reassuring to us in the
eportfolio community who understand that eportfolios succeed best when entire
programs adopt eportfolios.
industry and movement started its quick growth phase around 2003-2004, and in
the IT adoption world, eportfolios have been around long enough that we should
expect higher adoption rates. Learning
management systems, only 5 or 6 years older that eportfolios, enjoy a 100%
eportfolios ever enjoy a similar adoption rate?
As Bass might say, only if faculty adopt new practices. We therefore cannot expect eportfolios to
become as ubiquitous as LMS’s, based on that disclaimer. Now, should employers require an eportfolio in the hiring process, that would change
do we know about eportfolios? We can now say, confidently, that using
eportfolios as a central element in learning designs does in fact improve
student learning by almost any measure.
LaGuardia Community College research over the years, LaGuardia’s Making
Connections project, and the Connect to Learning FIPSE project as reported in
the Peer Review issue, taken
together, and in line with research reported in The International Journal of ePortfolio, allows us to unequivocally
claim that using eportfolios improves learning.
The qualifier, as always, is that eportfolios must be used
management systems cannot make that same claim.
are eportfolios always used for learning purposes? And, is there a danger of eportfolios
actually going tech? No and yes.
fact, eportfolios are mostly sold in the U. S. to help institutions track
student learning progress toward learning goals. This is using eportfolios rather indirectly
to improve learning: an imposed
coherence in the curriculum is just more institutional coherence building
(“scaffolding”), but there is learning value if students can better see how
everything fits together and what the goals are.
another use of the eportfolio concept presents us all with a new
challenge: “eportfolio is only a website
(or a domain).” We know that a number of
institutions have adopted web authoring tools as part of an eportfolio
initiative. The eportfolio community has understood that eportfolio practices
can be carried out without the whole process occurring within an eportfolio
system. But, if a company is interested
in entering the eportfolio market and all the examples that company sees on the
web are in fact just websites, how can we not pardon them for believing
eportfolios are only websites? This is
not hypothetical. AAEEBL deals with this issue
a minority of eportfolio users use eportfolios directly for learning. The industry depends on other uses to generate
revenue. ePortfolios for career
advancement, eportfolios used in the corporate sector for employee review,
eportfolios for institutional assessment in higher education, eportfolios for
workforce development supported by governments and other non-pedagogical uses
far outnumber eportfolios for learning from a global perspective.
there is no question that if eportfolios were not ideal for learning, none of
these other derivative uses would have as much value. The eportfolio community is cohesive because
it does understand the essential metacognitive power of eportfolios. This recognition goes back to paper portfolio
research and practice.
are established to preserve something.
They cannot change very fast. But
institutions no longer enjoy a monopoly on knowledge. They do still enjoy a monopoly on the
prestige of the credential. But, once
eportfolios, micro-credentialing and other means of authentically crediting
learning that are recognized by employers get established, even that monopoly
will dissipate. (Still, the college experience
itself will always provide a life passage without comparison for value
credentialing learning begins to move outside of educational institutional
purview, all is possible, even likely. Or,
institutions will reach out to preserve their monopoly by creating systems to
authenticate badges or other forms of micro-credentialing. Either way, eportfolios could become the new
learning management systems in a disbursed learning world.
the EDUCAUSE annual survey surveys not just undergraduate students enrolled in
colleges and universities but encompasses all learners, we may find a much
higher percentage of eportfolio users using eportfolios for all the work they
do. The LMS will persist as a management
and delivery instrument but as learning becomes much more disbursed, the
eportfolio model – learners owning the instrument of their own learning record
– becomes much more vital.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Monday, February 10, 2014
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February 9, 2014
An Open Letter to the AAEEBL Community
Hello all – In December, I learned that I had blocked
coronary arteries and would need heart surgery to bypass the blocked
arteries. I had the surgery on January
14, almost four weeks ago.
As many of you know, this kind of surgery has become common
and low risk. Since it is such a serious
operation, it seems odd to call it "common” and "low risk.” But, it is.
For most of those who go through the surgery, decades of life are added.
And, in fact, after recovery, many of
those who undergo this surgery experience improved life.
I am now recovered enough to return to AAEEBL work. My surgery has put us a bit behind our normal
schedule at AAEEBL. For that, we
apologize. Judy Williamson Batson, our
CEO, had not only AAEEBL to direct during my recovery, but had to manage my
recovery as well. This was quite a
challenge and I am deeply thankful for her efforts on behalf of AAEEBL and on
behalf of me.
Meanwhile, we have three conferences planned between now and
the end of July. Because of my absence
and the demands of my recovery, we now have slightly foreshortened deadline
periods for submitting proposals for our conferences:
April 8-9, 2014 in Long Beach
May 18-19, 2014, University of Michigan
July 28-31, 2014 in Boston
We are getting back on track. We expect our operations to return to normal
in regards to our Conferences, our Webinars and The AAEEBL Learner. We also expect to see conferencing on our
Website take on a life of its own. I am
happy to be back at work and look forward to many more years of my personal
involvement with AAEEBL. ePortfolios
remain, to me, one of the most hopeful technologies, produced by a vital and
creative industry, and supported and used by a wonderful global community of
scholars and practitioners.
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Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Monday, January 13, 2014
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Illusions About Technology and Learning
Educators have fallen for three illusions that are standing
in the way of the educational enterprise changing in productive ways.
The Three Illusions
The first illusion
is that no change in teaching approaches is needed when technology is added
into the mix. The technology alone will
change learning behavior. "Word processing will lead to more student revision
of their writing.” "PowerPoint will
increase learning by making it visible.”
"Adding an eportfolio to a standard course will lead to greater student
engagement.” This illusion has played
out in many ways, depending on the discipline.
Even though most of us, or all of us, nod at the phrase,
"it’s not the technology,” we continue to somehow hope it will be the technology that makes the difference.
A second illusion
is that, because technology hype so often proves overblown and mistaken,
technology itself can be ignored and we can continue doing things as we always
have. Since the hype itself is often
based on an illusion, we fall into the trap of being deluded by an
A third illusion
is that education will evolve to a new kind of singularity: we will replace "talk and test” with some
other monolithic model of education. Because we have been following one narrow set
of practices for a century, it is logical to believe we will simply move to a
new narrow set of practices. The MOOC
madness last year was only the latest example of this illusion: MOOCs, we feared, would replace everything.
This third illusion is especially dangerous because it prevents us from clearly
seeing the reality all around us: we are
not moving to one completely new model of teaching and learning but to many new models of teaching and
learning. And this process is already
underway: colleges and universities are
constantly adding new options, new pathways, new experiences for learning. Technology
and the Internet have opened almost infinite opportunities for learning and for
building knowledge. Our challenge is not
to find the one new dominant model
but to deal with the many new
Technology Widens the
Horizons of Learning
Technology is not always at the center of the new models but technology does allow them to become
more valuable: technology connectivity
adds value to learning outside the classroom because students can demonstrate
their learning outside the classroom, for example. Technology does not define new models of
learning but it does widen the limits of those models, it does enrich those
models, it does open those models to assessment, it does allow these new models
to be collaborative, and it does allow learners to add to their resume because
students have tangible evidence of their learning. Technology also allows students using these
new models of learning to produce evidence of learning that can then be
Multiple and Varying
Learning Experiences, One Mode of Documentation
Higher education is moving toward an almost unimaginable
multiplicity of learning experiences that may not be not pre-unified or pre-standardized
by a curriculum for all, but unified instead by how the results of these
learning experiences is demonstrated. If
all students in a course make a similar kind of showcase eportfolio, then this
act of producing the eportfolio is the unifying effort. The students may have had many more kinds of
learning experiences than students had before in the same course, but they can
still document how well they have arrived at learning goals through their
portfolio. Students can "make visible” their own learning experiences via many
kinds of technology, in visual format, graphics, audio, text, and other media
formats, and all combined in various ways.
Learning, like science, is moving to the need to use "big
data” to find significance and meaning. Big
data is perhaps the most significant aspect of knowledge development and
transmission today. An individual
learner will not collect big data about their learning in the same way that scientists
gather big data, of course, but the concept, the process, is similar: limitations are not imposed on how the
learning occurs, or how the data is collected, but left open. It is in the interpretation of the data that science finds what to investigate;
it is in the interpretation of the data
that learners find what to demonstrate through their portfolios for course
evaluation, a job interview, an application for graduate school, for a
promotion, or any other life opportunity.
Construct the Content of the Course
This distinction, organizing after the fact instead of
before the fact, is a difficult concept for those of us who have been planning
courses for years or decades. It is hard
to allow students to work on a task or a problem and proceed in multiple ways,
follow different paths toward a solution, without intervening. It is hard not to over-define the task so
that the outcome is pre-determined.
It is also hard to have trust that students might find
solutions we teachers had not thought of before. And, it is hard in many cases to trust that
our students will care enough to work toward an imaginative solution or that
they will engage sufficiently with the project to find even a satisfactory
solution. But this is a real life
test. Employers have complained that
graduates often cannot work on unstructured problems; they have not been given
the chance to work in that way.
Still, however, we can maintain disciplinary standards of
knowledge representation as our students choose evidence of their work,
individual or group, and make a case for their solution to the problem or task
or assignment. Instead of pre-defining
the outcome, we educators can judge the varying outcomes to see how well our
students understood disciplinary concepts.
Going from lockstep to variability can be uncomfortable; we
are not telling our students the three points we want them to remember; instead
they may come up with five points that are not quite what we wanted but which
may equally well express the same important disciplinary concept.
This more constructivist approach to learning may seem messy
compared to talk-and-test. But more
learning may occur. The other illusion
we educators have labored under is that, when we talk, students are learning. Both we educators and our students fervently
wished for this illusion to be true because it is so easy to talk and it is so
easy to pretend to learn.
Below is a list of actions a department or program or
college could undertake to move to portfolio learning, one way to work
productively in this confusing new age of multiple ways of learning:
away from course-centric to learning centric:
the course starts and stops, learning does not.
learning goals for whatever courses learners do take that can help them arrive
at a degree-level learning outcome.
the learner’s eportfolio at the center of the course: it is the teacher’s responsibility to aid the
development of the ongoing learning portfolio of all students in the course
(they come into the course with an eportfolio and they leave with an enhanced
with a larger scope of learning experiences (high-impact educational practices),
relevant co-curricular and non-curricular experiences as well, that can be
included in the portfolio.
the portfolio the basis for evaluation of the student’s learning during the
colleagues in the discipline in the evaluation of the student portfolio
faculty evaluation on the quality of the portfolios produced in the faculty
member’s courses over time.
the measure of learning outcomes be how well graduates do in their careers over
the first 5 years after graduation.
A business model based on the development of a student's portfolio – not credit hours -- would complete the transformation of an
institution from a teaching academy to a learning academy. This new business model would change the institution’s
goal from knowledge acquisition to knowledge creation, from memory to learning,
and from rote to real.
The Scenario is
It is no longer uncommon to see aspects of the above
suggestions incorporated on a number of campuses today, as variations on this
list, or as a fully developed program.
From this list, however, it should be clear that the "magic”
is not in the technology – although the technology makes it all possible – but
in the re-imagining of education, in reminding ourselves what is important
today, and in facing the reality of how learning best occurs. The magic is not
in the technology, but in how we use it.
Go to http://aaeebl.org to
learn about our first Midwest Regional Conference at the University of Michigan
May 18 and 19.
People sometimes tell me they are not sure they should join
AAEEBL "because we are not doing eportfolios.”
AAEEBL has been identified with eportfolios because eportfolios help
educators and learners take advantage of the many new ways of learning and of
documenting learning. AAEEBL has also
been identified with eportfolio technologies because there is a defined
eportfolio industry. But AAEEBL is
really about educational transformation, about new forms of learning, and about
all the implications of changes in education and learning.
The AAEEBL community is made up of people interested in new
ways for educators to work, new ways for learners to learn, new ways of
learning to be assessed and new ways for learning to be credentialed. This is a community rich in ideas about the
challenges to educators today. Though
eportfolios are a common thread in this community, the community is really
about educational change and not just about one technology.
Download File (PDF)
Technology Learning eportfolios
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
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ePortfolios at a Crossroads
EDUCAUSE released the findings from its annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and
Information Technology in September 2013.
While EDUCAUSE had kindly offered AAEEBL the opportunity to read and
edit a sidebar in the report regarding eportfolios, the report as whole, in its
design, revealed an odd understanding of eportfolios.
The following quotation from the Report suggests that
students were led to believe that eportfolios fit into an odd category of
something they call "experimental experiences.”
In investigating the
magnitude of use of open educational resources, e-texts, simulations and games,
and e-portfolios, we found that these are experimental experiences for most
students; they typically have used them in one class or on occasion rather than
as part of their education resource ecosystem.
We also found that students are not telling us they want these resources
used more – in fact, interest is either flat or decreasing.
p. 39, ECAR Report
In the same report, however, we find that 52% of all
students used eportfolios at some point in their undergraduate career. Therefore, we can surmise that ePortfolios
may be implemented, to one degree or another, on over half of the 4,000 or so
U. S. institutions of higher learning.
How can they be so common and yet referred to as "experimental
AAEEBL’s 2013 Annual Conference was "ePortfolio Coming of
Age.” For us in the eportfolio community
to see more evidence of Casey Green’s finding in 2010 that over half of U. S.
institutions then had eportfolios on
their campus, the ECAR Report was gratifying, despite its odd characterization
of eportfolios. ePortfolio adoption is
indeed spreading in U. S. higher education and in higher education around the
In our field, we are aware of the multitude and disruptive
ways that eportfolios can be used. We
can envision an educational enterprise built around evidence-based learning and
assessment. That enterprise
(institution) could be more aligned with learners’ needs today after their
transformation. With our sense of the
potential of eportfolio technology, in concert with mobile computing in a
multi-modal world, ECAR’s characterization of eportfolios borders on bizarre. It reflects a shallow perception of
AAEEBL and the community need to do more to open eyes. Yet, we find ourselves in a chicken and egg
situation: does transformation come
first or do eportfolios come first? In the report, we find that three-quarters
of those students using eportfolios use them in only one class. ePortfolios, on most campuses, therefore must
seem "experimental” since only one or
a few faculty members are using them.
(Note that the ECAR Report is based on student responses, and not on reports from administrators who might
have also included institutional use of eportfolios for institutional research
and tracking student progress toward learning outcomes. Since this kind of data was not included in
the Report, we can assume the spread of eportfolios in higher education is
Since Kenneth C. Green’s report in 2010 that half of all
institutions had eportfolios, the ECAR Report shows a sky-rocketing of student
use of eportfolios up through 2012, leveling off in the last year. Combing the Green data with ECAR’s, we can
suggest that eportfolio penetration of U. S. higher education could easily be
60 or 70%. Reports from the industry add
credence to this supposition.
But, there is another incipient movement that could be
encouraging for us eportfolio advocates.
Some eportfolio providers who offer both an LMS and an eportfolio
platform, have integrated the two or are considering doing so. Other providers offer both an assessment
management module (for tracking student progress toward learning outcomes) and
a student eportfolio module. It is not
hard to imagine the LMS, which has saturated higher education, adding
eportfolio capabilities and eventually altering how eportfolios are marketed
If we consider that nearly 100 percent of faculty and
students use an LMS, adding eportfolio capabilities to the LMS would result in
a much quicker uptake of eportfolio use than using the current marketing of LMS
and eportfolio as separate enterprise products.
If faculty members already are familiar with how an LMS works – its
ethos, terminology, structure – they would find added eportfolio "spaces”
easier to navigate than they would in a brand new and separate eportfolio
Right now, of all courses or classes taken on campuses in
the U. S., again according to ECAR, most students only encounter one or two
eportfolio courses. At the same time,
100% of students encounter an LMS course.
The best way, from an industry perspective, to enter the market
ambitiously could then be to offer a better LMS and then make it even better by adding eportfolio capabilities.
There are of course real complications to overcome since the
LMS is owned by the institution and its faculty while eportfolios are supposed
to be owned by students. The LMS is
course-based and the eportfolio is learner-based; one is vertical, the other
horizontal. The gestalt of each platform
is a polar opposite.
Yet, it is very possible that this is exactly how the market
will begin to swing: LMS companies
developing eportfolio capabilities and eportfolio use then grows as an adjunct
to LMS use.
The eportfolio stack might then look like:
Assessment management system
Learning management system (LMS)
And all of it will be called an LMS.
I am not saying I believe
this is how things will play out. But I
do know that this scenario will be part
of how things play out.
Does this scenario mean that the values our community sees
in eportfolios will be championed and supported? It would seem that the danger would be,
instead, that the market may drive eportfolios away from learning-centered and
back toward teaching-centered, at least within the academy.
Our Association and the community need to advocate for
eportfolio values. We need to continue
to demand that our providers understand the purpose and the transformational
power of eportfolios. The new website
that AAEEBL has launched (not fully provisioned with content yet, alas), can
help in this advocacy: you can add your
own voice as part of AAEEBL’s advocacy via the forums and blogs and groups at
the new AAEEBL site.
As a global community, we have a potentially strong
voice. We are at a crossroads; eportfolio
use is spreading but we find very little understanding in general of how
eportfolio can best be used; the enterprise-transformation power of eportfolios
is even less understood; the LMS providers seem to be looking at the eportfolio
market as a new growth path. The
crossroads, then, presents two dangers:
continuing as an "experimental experience.”
growing in use but strongly flavored by the LMS ethos.
As the market grows, it becomes more attractive to
investment. Let’s make sure that investment moves us in good directions.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
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Hi, everyone -- I am writing this as the countdown to launch of AAEEBL's new website platform is at 6 days and counting. And I am wondering what a year's worth of work, expense, and anxiety will deliver.
What is a 5-year old non-profit with only 121 institutional members and 17 corporate sponsors, with a full-time staff of two plus some part-time staff, doing with such a large enterprise-scale platform?
But, at the same time, eportfolio advocates are always looking ahead, imagining what great changes and what wonderful new worlds of learning are down the road. Would the eportfolio community want AAEEBL to be modest in expectation, plan on modest growth, look for modest impact on education? I doubt it because implementing this new site is anything but modest. Judy Williamson Batson, AAEEBL's Vice President, devoted almost a year to creating this site, as much an engineering undertaking as a design undertaking. At times she must have wondered if we should have opted for "modest."
But, AAEEBL has always had an imbalance between the size of its staff and its aspirations. The times do seem to demand leaps of faith. What was AAEEBL doing in its second year hosting a world-class conference on Boston Harbor? And, now, what is it doing in its fifth year launching a website platform with such a huge capacity and so much functionality?
However, AAEEBL leaders do not see size or ambition as an end unto itself. I have heard our Board tell me that our impact, our influence,and what kind of influence we have as an Association is more important than numbers or revenue.
But, and this is very important, in this new website, our dozens of groups, networks, blogs, forums will be created by the Community. AAEEBL members and the ePortfolio Community can create the "story" of this website. This site, a grand eportfolio, belongs to the Community, as it should. This site is like The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul: all under one roof but managed by hundreds upon hundreds of individual shop keepers.
Our ambition may have been for the Community to create an eportfolio even though we were not aware of that until now when we reflect on what this site actually calls us to do. In each group, the group members and administrator can collect artifacts, discuss ideas, reflect, and, in essence, create a group eportfolio. The group space is owned by those who join the group. You will discover all the ways you can socialize and work within this site and see if it seems like a grand eportfolio to you.
See you around the site . . .
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