Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Click to register.
Community Search

4/8/2015 » 4/9/2015
AAEEBL Western Conference in Long Beach April 8-9

Screen-Side Chat Truly Your Own ePortfolio April 8

7/27/2015 » 7/30/2015
AAEEBL Annual Conference 2015 -- Moving Beyond “One-Size-Fits-All”

Member Spotlight
Candyce Reynolds, Portland State UniversityLeader Long Beach AAEEBL Conf; co-author eportfolio book; active member of AAEEBL

Batson Blog
Blog Home All Blogs
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.


Search all posts for:   


Top tags: ePortfolio  AAEEBL  evidence-based learning  Badges  eportfolios  AAEEBL Annual ePortfolio Conference  Adaptive Learning  Assessment  ECAR Survey;ePortfolio  eportfolio evidence  LMS  MOOCs  Natural Forms of Learning; ePortfolio  Overview of eportfolio;definition eportfolio  Personalization  Personalized Learning;ePortfolio  Technology Learning eportfolios 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

EDUCAUSE ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2014: Troubling Findings for ePortfolio Field

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, February 09, 2015

EDUCAUSE ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2014:  Troubling Findings for ePortfolio Field

A previous Blog provided information from the 2013 ECAR Survey; this one is about the 2014 Survey.

ePortfolios Continue Their Robust Growth in Use in Higher Education

From 2010 to 2014, the ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology showed impressive, almost breath-taking growth in use of eportfolios on US campuses and others around the world:  around a 500% growth in use from 2010 to 2013 and a doubling of use in two or more courses from 2012 to 2013.  One of AAEEBL’s Annual Conferences called this growth curve “ePortfolio Coming of Age.”

Gratifying, But Wait a Minute

For those of us who have worked with, advocated for, and used eportfolios, the news may seem gratifying:  it suggests that academia is beginning to see the value in eportfolios.

However, in the 2014 survey, when the questions in the survey included more perspectives beyond simple numbers of users, we find disturbing data: 

  • Though the number of students using eportfolios in “most or all courses” hovered around 10% -- continuing the trend of “scaling up” in eportfolio use – 30% of students who used eportfolios “strongly agree they could be more effective if they [students] were better at using them.” 

  • About 30 percent of respondents to another question wish “their instructors would use [eportfolios] more,” but about 40% wish they would use then less.

These two sets of data suggest the growth in the use of eportfolios is coming at a price:  students are puzzled over how to use them and many of them wish they’d use them less. 

LMS findings in the 2014 Survey Report

Even though 99% of institutions have an LMS, the survey indicated that 29% of students use the LMS in only one course or none (17% use the LMS in no courses). 

Students showed they were very interested in adding personalized features to the LMS, particularly to aid them in seeing and understanding their progress toward the degree. 


The 2014 Survey shows much more about student wishes, preferences, and inclinations that add flesh to the raw numbers of this survey and previous ones.  For us in the eportfolio field, we can celebrate that around 10% of respondents said they used eportfolios in most or all their courses – the most startling number we’ve seen about eportfolio use yet -- but we also need to address the resultant confusion and push back indicated in the Survey. [Note that the survey also had responses from 55 countries outside the U. S.]

LMS’s are trending toward becoming a personalized learning analytics system for students within the traditional learning ecology of mostly “one-size fits all” curriculum.  Within that ecology, the LMS is very valuable as a practical tool and, conceivably, as a prompt to reflect on one’s own experience in college.

But to the extent that LMS’s trend toward a tracking utility and toward serving the practical, as opposed to the learning, needs of students, the “learning” part of the LMS name shrinks in importance and the “management system” part grows. 

ePortfolios continue to grow in use at a startling rate considering they are being adopted within, mostly, a learning ecology that is not hospitable to the best use of eportfolios. 

Tags:  ECAR Survey;ePortfolio 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Study Shows Steady Growth in ePortfolio Use; What Does That Suggest?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, February 02, 2015


Study Shows Steady Growth in ePortfolio Use; What Does That Mean?

As a frame for this article, and to offer evidence that eportfolios are important, consider the following:

In 2012, we were able to state reliably, based on the the EDUCAUSE Survey of Undergraduates and Technology, that 51% of students in the U. S. and other reporting countries used eportfolio at one time in their college experience.  That number in the 2013 Report was 54%, an annual increase of 3%. 

In 2012, we had to qualify the good news (to us) that over half of students use eportfolios by adding, “but only 7% used them in more than one course.”  However, in 2013, we see a significant increase in students using eportfolios in more than one course:

·      In 2013, 5% used eportfolios in more than half of their courses

·      9% used eportfolios in “a few” courses

·      39% used eportfolios in one course.

·      In other words, the percentage of students using eportfolios in more than one course went from 7% to 14%, a notable increase. 

·      In that same year, student use of learning management systems actually declined.


What is an ePortfolio and Why Are They Important?

The eportfolio movement is about 20 years old, if you include webfolios as a type of eportfolio in the 90s (on the web but without a database to manage the webfolio).  However, the portfolio (without the “e”) idea is perhaps a thousand years old (or more?) Portfolios created by artists or musicians or writers go back centuries. 

ePortfolio is based, therefore, on an ancient tradition.   But, unlike paper or canvas or blueprint portfolios, eportfolios  -- the technology – live within an online database and the collection is electronic rather than atomic (that is, tangible objects).  The “e” in eportfolio is therefore very important as it designates an amazing liberation from the limits of the physical world. 

So, eportfolios have not caught on as much as they have just because of the technology.  They have that long tradition behind them.  And, fortuitously, they also arrived on the scene just as they were needed.  With the necessary shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning – in a time of relatively stable knowledge, teach; in a time of rapidly changing knowledge, learn – the learner who can show evidence she has the ability to learn quickly has an advantage.  She can show her abilities through concrete evidence in her eportfolio.  It is both the technology native to new ecologies of learning and, secondly, is wrapped in decades-old learning theory based on portfolios to help us understand how to implement eportfolios in these new ecologies. 

The accountability movement also arose as eportfolios developed technologically.  They seemed the perfect answer for the demands of accountability. They could show student progress toward learning outcomes.  ePortfolios with the right “back end” can produce aggregate reports on classes of students to show their progress toward explicit learning goals.  This data is invaluable to many institutions for many purposes – institutional research reports, institutional planning and assessment, re-accreditation, and so on. 

And, a third element also contributed to the growing adoption of eportfolios.That third element is advances in understanding of how adults learn best.  Research into learning in cognitive science, linguistics, anthropology and other fields added to research in psychology and education provided new understanding about adult learning.  It turned out, to generalize, that the “delivery of content” as an entire framework for education was and is deficient to the demands of our times.  Instead, as an example, educational designs in which learners are challenged to solve a discipline-specific problem by themselves or in a team result in deeper and more lasting habits of learning. 

Many cultural, research and technology vectors (energy plus direction) are behind the growth of eportfolios.  Another less obvious factor behind eportfolios:  the idea of students owning their own work and keeping it with them over time is a compelling idea that has galvanized an entire community of educators (including administrators) for over a decade. 

Active Learning Designs Benefit from ePortfolios

Active-learning designs, resulting in learners solving problems in many different ways and with varying results, requires a different means of assessing the learning and the results.  ePortfolios provide this new means:  if learners collect well-constructed and revealing evidence of their learning process, benchmarks, reflection and analysis, then not only is learning deeper but the assessment itself becomes the basis for a resume and for further learning.

But almost certainly the strongest force driving change is the whole panorama of digital technologies, causing our entire culture and economy to change – and they are still driving more change.

Will ePortfolios Continue to Spread?

So, with all these vectors coming together, why haven’t eportfolios been adopted ubiquitously and universally?  It may be that at some point, they will be, but the systemic and fundamental changes educators and their institutions must make are confounded by the business model – credit hours – and longstanding expectations and habits, faculty preferences and priorities, popular images of how learning occurs – the list can go on, but the idea is that such an established and fundamental cultural cluster of ideas and beliefs and patterns about teaching and learning will not change quickly, if ever. 

But those changes must occur before eportfolios can be employed in broadly useful ways.  Attaching an eportfolio to an existing traditional course is like attaching a plow to a car (as people did in the early part of the last century).  The car did not do well, nor will eportfolios if they are only an ornament in a course. 

What Is an ePortfolio?

An eportfolio is an online digital collection of learning artifacts (“assets” in other parts of the world) that form a personal library or museum of an individual’s evidence of learning.  A very important difference from learning management systems is that the learner owns her or his personal eportfolio:  owns both literally as in copyright law, once it is published on the Web, and owns in the sense of the eportfolio collection staying with the learner and not with the institution.  The learner can set permissions as to who can see and have access to the data in her or his eportfolio. 

In this way, eportfolios are longitudinal and continuous, not segmented by courses as happens in LMS’s.  They can stay with a learner after graduation and on into a career.

From an eportfolio database of learning artifacts (text, photos, video, sound clips, diagrams, graphs, and so on), many different web pages can be created.  Like a resume that is tailored for the occasion, eportfolio web presentations can be tailored to fit the occasion, as well.  These are not different eportfolios as many people now say, but really only different faces on one eportfolio collection. 

Do ePortfolios Make Graduates More Employable?

Do employers look at eportfolios?  This question comes up often and often seems to be asked as the “trump” question:  if no one looks at your eportfolio, of what use can it be?  And, to be honest, that was a hard question to answer for a number of years.  But then, a funny thing happened: the death of the paper resume and the birth of HR web searches of job candidates. 

Now that resumes are expected to be online, adding links to your eportfolio within the resume only makes sense:  it tells the HR folks doing the applicant triage that you have more of a story to tell beyond the resume.  The links make the resume three-dimensional.   And, then, there’s the growing trend of search committees and HR doing web searches as part of their “due diligence.”  Wouldn’t it be great to have your eportfolio show up at the top of the results list in the search engine?

In short, reasons to have an eportfolio both within the college years and afterwards as graduates changes jobs to advance are overwhelming.  But, as I’ve already pointed out, the barriers to adoption and institutional deployment are formidable.


As the EDUCAUSE Survey confirms, we can now see a pattern of individual course adoptions across a majority of U. S. higher educational institutions (and a similar pattern in a few other countries as well), and some program adoptions in a large number of institutions, and a few dozen whole campus adoptions in the U. S. 

The eportfolio industry – the companies providing eportfolios to educational institutions – has blossomed, to a large extent to provide a way to report on student progress toward learning goals.  The technology is approaching maturity, with regular updates and a Web 2.0 quality of user interface.  It is a strong industry and is helping educators understand the value of eportfolios. 

The eportfolio movement in the U. S. has its own association – AAEEBL – and a century-old professional association that strongly supports eportolios – AAC&U.  AAEEBL is tied to the Centre for Recording Achievement in the UK and to ePortfolios Australia; AAEEBL has member institutions in the U. S., Canada, the UK, and in Australia.  ePortfolio is a global movement. 

“ePortfolio” is Code for What?

The word “eportfolio” has a broad meaning for those in the movement:  it is a set of practices, not a technology.  But it also describes “evidence-based learning,” a term that some people understand more quickly than “eportfolio.” Employers, in particular, like the sound of “evidence-based learning” because it seems to answer their concerns that a degree and a transcript have lost some of their predictive value.  They ask for concrete evidence of what a candidate can actually do. 

In the end, however, the core value of an eportfolio is for learning.  Being able to reflect on one’s history of learning over a course, or program or college career and therefore integrating learning experiences adds a dimension to college learning that has proven to make a difference not only in the quality of learning for individual learners, but for retention, grades and graduation.  (Catalyst for Learning:

Learning through course designs and programs architected for eportfolios is not only deeper learning, but learning that is more in tune with the challenges of our times.  The growing phenomenon of “high-impact educational practices” suggests change is afoot in the academy.  Adding eportfolios to high-impact practices makes them even more high-impact, making eportfolios a “meta-high-impact practice,” a phrase being adopted in the eportfolio field.    

I have personally been deeply involved in technology in higher education for thirty years.  My experience tells me that no one can predict what humans will do with a technology, so I have learned caution.  We are at a point of moderate eportfolio saturation within higher education in the U. S. and other countries.  Growth has been strong in some years and less so in others, but still steady.  Knowing that fundamental change has to accompany eportfolio adoption, we can understand those slow downs. One does not just purchase an eportfolio system and the campus changes around the technology; change must precede or coincide with adoption of an eportfolio system. 

We know higher education is at a stress point and will be for years.  But we also know that online presence and the quality of that presence, and the need for it, will grow.  We know that employers want to see evidence of achievement, proof of what a candidate can actually do.  We also know that educators do want their students to learn as well as possible.  ePortfolios will continue to grow in usage, will help educators understand the nature of change needed, will help those same educators assess learners who learn outside the classroom and who may not be following a pre-set path but often creating their own paths, and will help institutions meet the demands of accountability and the quality agenda. 

ePortfolios are an integral part of educational change and will continue to be.  The EDUCAUSE survey report on eportfolios called them “experimental.”  Extrapolating from the Survey data, that characterization would suggest that two or three million students in the U.S. are engaged in an experiment.  I’d say we are well past the experimental stage. 







Tags:  AAEEBL  Assessment  ePortfolio 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Hard Questions About ePortfolio Evidence

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hard Questions About ePortfolio Evidence

What is Valid and Reliable ePortfolio Evidence?

As AAEEBL places new emphasis on the “evidence-based learning” part of AAEEBL’s name in AAEEBL conferences this year, the question naturally arises – at least if one adopts a critical perspective – “what is valid and reliable eportfolio evidence?”

ePortfolio literature is rich in accounts, based on various research approaches, about the impact of eportfolios.  It is rich in institutional stories, assuring readers – rightly – that an eportfolio initiative produces many valuable outcomes.  But the literature is not rich about the question posed above about valid and reliable eportfolio evidence.

In The International Journal of ePortfolio archives – IJeP at -- it is hard to find any description in any published article that describes eportfolio evidence, what it is, what guidelines are offered to learners, or what consensus exists in the field of eportfolio studies about the question of evidence – what is valid and reliable eportfolio evidence? 

Do Guidelines for Evidence Exist?

On individual campuses, such guidelines may exist, perhaps embedded in introductory courses about using eportfolios, or in capstone eportfolio courses.  Faculty members using eportfolios in their courses may set standards for eportfolio evidence, or service learning or coop learning or internship offices may also promote certain approaches and standards for collecting evidence and for certification of that evidence. 

The eportfolio field – the field of evidence-based learning or of “folio-thinking,” a Stanford University phrase – is at the point of needing to begin developing consensus on eportfolio evidence – a taxonomy, a theory, guidelines, and other initiatives.  What does a person need as eportfolio evidence in different fields study, at different points in a learner’s development, and for different purposes? 

Badges as Evidence

One form of evidence – digital badges – that can be linked to from an eportfolio, defines the criteria behind the awarding of the badge.  Digital badges reside within a national infrastructure for badges and have a strong following in the eportfolio community.  Clicking on the badge reveals not only the criteria behind the badge but information about who awarded the badge and what pedigree the badge has. 

The knee-jerk reaction among those educators new to badges is to assume that badges are certified by teachers, but that quick reaction imposes a preconception – that learning is only important if it is certified by a teacher – that misses the point of badges.  Badges are a form of micro-credentialing of a specific skill that often is awarded by peers in a working team or others in a supervisory position outside of academia.  If used in this broader curricular and non-curricular manner, badges may be among the most valid and reliable forms of evidence if those viewing the badge feel they can trust the issuer of the badge.  A collection of badges in one field of study can add up to a strong statement of competence in that field. 

Going Beyond ePortfolio Owner Testimony

But, those who search the web for samples of individual learning eportfolios generally find that “evidence” in an eportfolio is often simply testimony by the learner that they did something.  If I was hiring someone or admitting someone to a graduate program, I would want better evidence than just the written testimony of the applicant. 

Certain professions do have standards for eportfolio evidence, notably education, nursing, physical therapy and other “clinical practice” fields.  High-impact educational practices such as undergraduate research or first-year seminars and others may also have standards for valid and reliable evidence of achievement. 

Alverno College, a pioneer in new forms of assessment and in eportfolios, says this on their website about the Alverno portfolio:

This first-of-its-kind, web-based system was implemented in 1999 at Alverno College. The DDP enables Alverno students — anyplace, anytime — to follow their learning progress throughout their years of study. It helps students process the feedback they receive from faculty, external assessors and peers. It also enables them to look for patterns in their academic work so they can take more control of their own development and become more autonomous learners.

The Diagnostic Digital Portfolio (DDP) is built on Alverno's student assessment-as-learning process. It makes the process more transparent to students and others who seek to understand this important educational program. It also provides actual, accessible performance data with which graduates can create an electronic resume for potential employers or for graduate schools.  (

The evidence in the Alverno portfolio may, however, show strong evidence of being able to perform academically and may do this reliably, but is it valid evidence of being able to do something outside of an academic learning model?  The workplace success of Alverno graduates may prove the validity of the eportfolio evidence in the Alverno portfolio. 

Nicole Buzzetto-More advocated the inclusion of a “Commentary on Evidence” section in eportfolios so the eportfolio owner could strengthen the claims made in the eportfolio.  This “Commentary on Evidence” might be likened to an annotated bibliography attached to an article: being able to be objective about your own evidence is a sign of intellectual maturity, pretty strong evidence in itself. (The E-portfolio Paradigm: Informing, Educating, Assessing, and Managing with E-portfolios  2010)

An article published by two researchers at Curtin University in Australia makes the case for collecting evidence of “work-integrated learning” (WIL).  Does evidence from the workplace better convince potential employers than evidence from the classroom?

There is substantial evidence that eportfolios provide an ideal platform to evidence program-wide WIL [work-integrated learning] achievements (Edwards & Burnham, 2009).  It provides a setting for students to clearly demonstrate that they not only ‘know’ discipline content but that they can ‘do’ by applying the knowledge in a professional context.  This opens up authentic assessment task options in preference to traditional assessment methodologies thus providing rich contextual demonstrations outside the limitations of customary assessment paradigms.  Employers have expressed interest in this mode of assessment (Cai, 2012) as they have more confidence in the overt demonstration of the achievement of authentic learning experiences which transcend the classroom environment.

“ePortfolios as evidence of standards and outcomes in work-integrated learning.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2014, 15(3), 269-280. 

Sonia Ferns and Jude Comfort, Curtin University, Australia.

Motivations of ePortfolio Researchers and the Needs of the Field

ePortfolios are in their second decade of national attention and broad-scale adoption but the movement is still faced with the root question of “what is an eportfolio” and “why should we adopt eportfolios.”  But, maybe, instead of continuing to answer these questions, the field needs to move toward aggregating wisdom.  The Connect to Learning Project at LaGuardia Community College did aggregate wisdom from 24 campuses between 2010 and 2014 and produced the Catalyst for Learning site at to share the fruits of their labors. 

In particular, we need to aggregate wisdom about the nature of eportfolio evidence.  I say this as myself but also as a leader of AAEEBL, uncomfortably aware of what agenda I may be setting for AAEEBL as a professional association in the field of eportfolios. 



Tags:  eportfolio evidence  evidence-based learning 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Notes Toward A Theory of Evidence-Based Learning (EBL)

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This year, AAEEBL is attempting to capture and put forward in conferences the evolution of the eportfolio movement in the U. S. and world-wide.  In our Annual Conference, July 27-30, 2015 in Boston, we invite sessions that illuminate how others are seeing this evolution -- "Moving Beyond One Size Fits All."  The CFP is open for the Annual Conference.  In this blog, I offer a personal view of how I see the movement evolving, toward a framework of Evidence-Based Learning Systems powered by eportfolio technologies. -- tb


Notes Toward A Theory of Evidence-Based Learning (EBL)

Trent Batson


(In 2009, AAEEBL chose the phrase “evidence-based learning” as part of its title.  The rare use of that phrase before 2009 referred to using research on learning to guide one’s teaching – learning designs based on research.  A similar usage developed in medicine – “evidence-based medicine.” 


AAEEBL, instead, uses EBL to refer to a system in which learners learn by gathering evidence of their own work and reflecting on that evidence – this way, the evidence and evidence-gathering is the basis for learning. It is an active engagement with your own process.  At this point in the evolution of the eportfolio movement, EBL seems to be a useful term to develop into a theory that encompasses eportfolio uses and which then can be used to re-structure education). 

Evidence-Based Learning (EBL) is a term used to describe what is now possible:  a lesser focus on the end products of learning and greater focus on the process of learning.  The more we can make the learning process visible through gathering step-by-step evidence, the more we can improve learning.

Easier to Collect Evidence of Learning

Before the Web and digital technologies such as eportfolios, collecting evidence of the process of learning was laborious and difficult.  It was easier to just collect the product – the final assignment or report or test results  -- and assume that learning had occurred (or not).  This may have been all that was practically possible at scale, but at the same time, it is hard to adjust the learning process behind the product if there is no evidence left of what that process was. 


But, with eportfolio and other digital technologies, gathering a full picture of the learning process – or the creation process or discovery process or data gathering process – is now possible.  In addition, the “full picture” is itself a source of learning as learners review the evidence in that full picture and decide how their evidence will be useful to make a case for something, be it a capstone assignment or in support of a job application. 

A New Framework for Learning

Evidence-Based Learning, as I see it, can form the basis for a new framework for learning in the academy, within careers, between periods of enrollment and throughout life.  Learners now have access to technologies to make evidence-gathering relatively easy.  ePortfolio technology has advanced and is available not only to enrolled students but to individuals not currently enrolled.  One can now maintain a portfolio online for a number of different purposes, for learning and assessment while in a program or for personal advancement in a career. 

EBL is not just another term for “eportfolios.”  EBL is a framework for learning that is enabled and energized by eportfolio technology.  ePortfolios are a critical part of EBL, but only a part.  EBL implies a system that involves the whole learner and all learning experiences that are perceived as relevant or potentially relevant to life advancement.  Assessment of prior learning, or “recognition of prior learning” in parts of the world or “prior learning assessment and recognition” in other parts, recognizes the power of evidence.  It is not just time in a course that is the coin of the realm but also evidence of what someone can do.  A big part of EBL is holistic assessment. 

EBL, because it involves collecting evidence as learning is occurring, is necessarily constructivist in orientation.  The evidence-gathering is itself a constructivist approach to learning. 

As the world evolves toward new models of learning in this new environment of abundance of information and knowledge, EBL is a logical outcome, a process that fits the time.  Evidence is multi-modal:  of many types --visual, graphic, text, data – reflecting the reality of today and of many ways of understanding and interpreting those types of evidence. 

As we move invariably toward models based on evidence of achievement, or competence, or learning, we need new theories of learning to understand those new models in order to continue to improve them.  What was actually true for a long time but never fully recognized in our teaching/learning models, should be better understood, more explicit, and should be more fully incorporated into our understanding of learning. 

We need a theory of Evidence-Based Learning (EBL).  Below are notes toward such a theory. 


1.     Learning Starts with Experience.  All learning originates in experience.  This is true of advanced learning in college or in a career as well, albeit the starting point for advanced learning could be listening to an expert in the knowledge domain, a familiar enough scenario.  A learner needs some sort of introductory context, whether based on a lecture, or lived learning experience, to begin the process of learning a new skill, a new concept, or anything else.  However, once the “informational” part of the learning process is over, the “transformational” part begins. This is where the learner must become the active agent in learning.

In this transformational part of the learning process, because of mobile digital technologies, activity in any location can be documented in some way.  Evidence can be collected, uploaded to the learner’s eportfolio, and then it becomes part of the “story” of learning around a particular skill or concept.  Reflecting on this evidence results in perceptions about the learning experience, perceptions that may have begun “in the field,” but which can be extended and deepened through reflection and integration.

Once the learner has developed a perceptual insight into the work she or he is doing, then they have a path to seeing how their experience and perceptions of that experience connects with larger concepts in their field of study or work. 

2.     Ownership:  Students Own The Content of the Course.  The content of a course does not precede the course.  The true content (what is important) is the interaction between teacher and learner during the course and what that interaction produces.  The content, then, is what the learners produce, the mutual construction of new knowledge based on existing concept in the field, as interpreted for this particular interaction. 

In any field, a consensus exists within that knowledge domain.  A teacher interprets some part of that consensus by adapting assignments or projects to the level of the learners.  That teacher may interpret discipline consensus in a particular way.  It is that interpretation and then the derivative course design plus what the students produce within that design that is the content of the course.  “Content” is therefore dynamic and variable, not static. 

3.     Process:  Must Have Evidence Showing Process of Developing Content. Evidence must therefore demonstrate concretely the process of learning.  Like evidence in criminal proceedings, evidence of learning is not a conclusion or a product but is the inspiration for further and deeper interpretation and analysis.  Evidence of learning supports the second phase of developing critical thinking:  building perceptions based on the learning experiences, and evidence gathered, while doing the assignment.  Learners assessing the value of their evidence is the first effort at developing perceptions about the evidence – seeing similarities, seeing what the learner missed the first time around, or what the learner should have done at the time, and other perceptions that become apparent when looking back at evidence.

4.     Variability:  The EBL Process Varies from Learner to Learner.  Learners, either working alone, or in teams, vary in their approach and in their experiences as they work.  With a product focus, this variability would not be a factor, because the product becomes the all – a finished assignment or a test.  But, with a process focus, variabiity must be taken into account.  In fact, how an individual or a team addresses a problem, project or assignment, is key to everything.  Learning is about improving your own process but if we don’t capture that process how can we improve it?  This is why EBL is so important. 

5.     Visibility:  Seeing the EBL Process Leads to Improvement.  Because learning is about improving a process – how you think about a problem or an assignment, how you plan your efforts (or your team’s efforts) for doing the assignment, how you break the problem or assignment into parts that are done simultaneously or in sequence, how you learn enough to do those parts, and how you determine what the product will be to complete the assignment – then, in the end, being able to see evidence of that process allows learners to improve the process.  A simple example is golfers watching a video clip of their swing to see what they are doing wrong. 

6.     Assessment:  Assessing Learning is Assessing the Process of Learning.  Assessment of learning is therefore assessment of the process of learning as revealed in the evidence in an eportfolio.  The evidence is made up of artifacts such as notes, photos, video, graphics, reports, summaries and other familiar work artifacts showing a work in progress.  But, the evidence can and perhaps should include digital badges, a form of micro-credentialing that add authenticity and validity to the assessment of evidence-based learning.  Badges can be granted by peers or organizations or teachers to certify a level of expertise in a specific skill such as mastery of a web-authoring tool or interpreting scientific data or summarizing the key points in popular publications about a scientific controversy. (Badges is a large topic unto itself and is an important element in EBL and will therefore be the topic of another Blog). 

7.     Assessing Process is More Holistic.  Assessment of the process of learning as demonstrated in a learner’s eportfolio evidence is a more holistic assessment than simply grading a product produced as a result of that process.  This holistic assessment is more valuable in helping learners know specifically what part(s) of their process they need to work on. 

8.     EBL Assessment is a Personalized Learning System.  This holistic assessment then can be analyzed using rubrics to determine the learner’s progress toward program or institutional learning outcomes.  If the rubrics relate to the process of learning in a field, then they will be useful in determining how learners are advancing in their learning at a micro-level.  EBL, using rubrics this way, is therefore a personalized learning system, able to assess multiple paths toward learning outcomes.  As such, the system would allow for students to complete degree requirements when they have met a specified set of learning outcomes at a high enough level. 


9.     Summary.  Learners have always varied in how they learned but educators did not have the technology to easily “see” those varied processes of learning.  Now, educators do.  Secondly, because it was hard to see the process of learning, educators focused on the products produced by learners to assess their learning.  A product focus led to curricular designs that were not ideally aligned with how humans actually learn – through experience in authentic situations, collaboratively and socially.  If only the product was assessed (graded), and therefore valued, then why put effort into the process of producing that product (especially if the product was only a multiple-choice test)?  There are learning disincentives embedded in a product-focused learning structure (not to mention the lure of plagiarism). 

Now, EBL allows educators to improve learning structures and the assessment process.  EBL supports a move from product focus and all the problems associated with that to a process focus and the greater engagement and personalization that results. 

Tags:  ePortfolio  evidence-based learning 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

The Historical Significance of ePortfolios: Realizing the Move to Personalization

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

Batson Blog 9-26-14


The Historical Significance of ePortfolios:  Realizing the Move to Personalization

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

Definition of ePortfolio?

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

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

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

A Larger Context to Better Understand ePortfolios

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

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

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


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

The Role of ePortfolios in the Cultural Shift to Personalization

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

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

Curricular Design to Incorporate Personalized Learning

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

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

How to Best Understand ePortfolios

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

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

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

Tags:  Adaptive Learning  ePortfolio  Personalization 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

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

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



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

ePortfolio Uses

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

Not How? but Why?

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

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

An ePortfolio Hope

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

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

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

A Way to Understand the Cultural Phenomenon of ePortfolios

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

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

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

How do eportfolios support natural learning forms? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.     Internships:  authentic, real-world learning. 

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

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

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

Change in Higher Education is Underway

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

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

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

What’s in Store?

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

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

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





Tags:  Natural Forms of Learning; ePortfolio 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

The Unique Power of ePortfolio for Institutional Transformation

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

The Unique Power of ePortfolio for Institutional Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags:  AAEEBL Annual ePortfolio Conference  ePortfolio 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Do ePortfolios Have to be Mediated by Institutions?

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

Do ePortfolios Have to be Mediated by Institutions?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags:  ePortfolio 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Badges and the Gravitational Pull of Teacher Control

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

Badges and the Gravitational Pull of Teacher Control


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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





Tags:  Badges  ePortfolio 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

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

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


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


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


Randy Bass, about the most eloquent person I know, wrote “The Next Whole Thing in Higher Education,” published in Peer Review from AAC&U this week (Winter 2014, Vol. 16, No. 1:  His comments about eportfolios are spot on. 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Learning management systems cannot make that same claim. 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Tags:  AAEEBL  eportfolios 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Batson Heart Surgery and Return to Work

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




Batson Blog

February 9, 2014

An Open Letter to the AAEEBL Community

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

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

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

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

· April 8-9, 2014 in Long Beach

· May 18-19, 2014, University of Michigan

· July 28-31, 2014 in Boston

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

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Three Common Illusions About Technology and Learning

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

Three Common Illusions About Technology and Learning

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

The Three Illusions

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

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

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

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

Technology Widens the Horizons of Learning

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

Multiple and Varying Learning Experiences, One Mode of Documentation

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

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

Let Students Construct the Content of the Course

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

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

But Maintain Disciplinary Standards

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

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

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

A Scenario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scenario is Already Happening

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

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


Go to 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)

Tags:  Technology Learning eportfolios 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
Page 1 of 6
1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6
Join AAEEBL Online!

Forgot your password?

Register 1st, then log in.

Latest News