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


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The Two Faces of IT in Higher Education: Supporting “Delivered” Education or Supporting Student Agency ​

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, October 18, 2016


The Two Faces of IT in Higher Education:  Supporting “Delivered” Education or Supporting Student Agency

Centralized Control or Distribution of Authority

Long ago, technology historians recognized that information technology offers to society these two choices:  do you want centralized control or do you want a distribution of authority?  Or both? 

Because centralized control, funded by governments, corporations or large organizations of any kind, is quicker to be implemented, there is a danger that the agency of the individual will be sacrificed.  As law enforcement, for example, employs databases whose data is widely available to officers on the ground, law enforcement becomes quicker, more thorough, more broadly employed and therefore, perhaps not only more efficient but more onerous or extreme.  In the financial industry, centralized data led to excesses that caused the Great Recession. 

The Excesses of Centralized Control in Education

Centralized control in education can, as well, result in excess.  Often, the technology is introduced because it promises to do something that schools already do, but more efficiently.  MOOCs, for example, seemed to appear overnight a few years ago and had global enrollments that exceeded the total number of students at even the largest universities.  MOOCs were and are, mostly, lectures writ large.  The value of MOOCs to provide education to those who do not have access otherwise is not in doubt, of course.  But, creating a lecture hall the size of a football stadium is not exactly what one would instantly assume to be an ideal learning context. 

LMS Hegemony

Another example is the LMS – learning management systems – employing technology to extend on what institutions already are doing.  If you think you know what an LMS is, you might be taken aback at what is envisioned as the next generation LMS:

The next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE) is conceived as an ecosystem—a learning environment consisting of learning tools and components that adhere to common standards. While the traditional LMS provides administrative functions, the NGDLE is intended to directly support learning. To do this, next-generation environments must address five dimensions: interoperability and integration; personalization; analytics, advising, and learning assessment; collaboration; and accessibility and universal design. The NGDLE is conceived as both an ecosystem and a mind-set that will allow students and instructors to benefit from the full range of developments in higher education.   

This is from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI). 

This LMS concept is based, in part, on the belief that institutions will continue to control learning.   From a technology development standpoint, this concept is a logical extension of the LMS as we know it now.  But, will learners (in the new demographic) willingly spend a lot of time in an institutionally controlled learning environment when they have so many other options for learning?

Institutions Losing Monopoly on Knowledge and Learning

Institutions of higher learning had a semi-monopoly on knowledge for centuries but no longer do.  Knowledge is everywhere; courses are everywhere; tutorials are commonly available; a web search can lead to almost any bit of information that a learner would require.  Without the monopoly, then institutional learning environments need to compete with other learning environments; can this LMS vision compete well with the web, as just one example?  (In a previous blog, I wrote about blockchain credentialing which could further weaken whatever is left of the higher education monopoly on knowledge and learning). 

Are Students Ready for Learner Agency?

Just because knowledge and information are so easily available, however, does not mean that learners easily grasp their significance and applicability. For students to have agency in their learning, they need education in the learning process.  How do you find meaning in experience?  How do you then apply that meaning to a new context?  How do you develop your own agency? Helping students address these questions is the business of higher education, not how best to “deliver” education to them.

The next generation LMS, while having some promising features, is still mostly about management (“administrative functions”).  And, of course, there is no portfolio included in this “learning environment.” My guess is that those who developed this vision of the next generation LMS, started with the needs of the institution and not with a vision of student agency. 

Learning Analytics

The description of this new LMS includes a reference to “analytics.”  Learning analytics – gathering data from online learning activities to understand how students are faring – is a burgeoning field complete with conferences and publications.  See the two links to The Society for Learning Analytics Research below, as examples of how this field has grown:

Learning analytics is another use of information technology for centralized control.  Again, there are many positives about analytics, especially if they are used by students to better understand their own learning process.  (I am not trying to say centralized control is bad and distribution of authority is good; but I am saying that the trend in technology development should be balanced – spending millions on central control while spending thousands on active learning applications is not good policy.)

Learning analytics lives in the domain and age of “big data.”  But in the age of big data, there is a problem:

The quantities of learning-related data available today are truly unprecedented. Whether the size comes from the number of individuals involved, such as thousands of learners taking a MOOC, or the fine- grained nature of the capture process, such as second-by-second changes in a learner’s gaze, it provides exciting new opportunities to probe the patterns and processes of how people learn. It is an exhilarating and important time for conducting research on learning. However, there is a danger in falling into the trap of thinking that with sufficient data, the numbers speak for themselves. In fact, the opposite is true: with larger amounts of data, theory plays an ever-more critical role in analysis.

The author, Alyssa Friend Wise of Simon Fraser University, is arguing that having more data can make it more difficult to find meaning.  In another part of her article, she says:

What counts as a meaningful finding when the number of data points is so large that something will always be significant?


Whether it be MOOCs, the next generation LMS, or learning analytics, or any other of the ways that higher education institutions are centralizing functions through information technology, we educators must constantly ask these questions:  “In what way do any of these technology initiatives work for student agency?  How do these initiatives empower students?  How do they open opportunities for students to discover, to explore, to actively learn?” 

Or, put another way, to what extent are any of these initiatives taking away student agency?  To what extent are they making students into objects instead of subjects? 

The Eportfolio Field – An Alternative Vision

The eportfolio field encompasses all uses of eportfolio technology but it is primarily driven by an awareness that student-owned eportfolios free students to learn anywhere.  While eportfolio technology, too, can be used for centralized control as assessment management systems (tracking student progress toward learning outcomes), that use is not what energizes the eportfolio community. 

Eportfolios used to extend student agency, making them less dependent on institutionally “delivered” education, is – I believe – the vision that animates the eportfolio field. 




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Blockchain Credentialing: What Impact Will it Have?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, October 03, 2016

Blockchain Credentialing:  What Impact Will it Have?

We in the portfolio world are accustomed to digital disruption.  We are accustomed to thinking of student evidence of identity and achievement being in digital form.  But, now comes along blockchain credentialing, big news since the MIT Media Lab offered an open source means of credentialing using blockchain technology (the technology behind bitcoin).

At Texas Christian University, during the AAEEBL Southwest Regional Conference in early March, we heard our own Phil Long (member of the AAEEBL Board) speak about blockchain technology and its potential impact on eportfolios.  One of the links listed below is an interview with Phil. 

The idea of a trust network that is not owned by a bank or a government supporting currency exchange was mind-boggling but bitcoin has been sustained over a few years.  You can pay someone in bitcoin and have the transaction be anonymous.  A digital form of cash, in a way.  Blockchain is a very secure network. 

One of the articles below talks of reputation being like money – both have value – and that therefore it makes sense to think of blockchain as a reputation exchange and not just a cash exchange. 

Blockchain credentialing makes verification of credentials much simpler and less time consuming, according to the articles I’ve collected below.  Even IBM has entered the arena. 

As with badges, we in the eportfolio world need to be aware of the trend toward blockchain credentialing.  I’ve sorted through the links below so I could select those I thought would be most useful for you. -- the Phil Long interview 

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The Edinburgh Challenge: If eportfolios are so great, why aren’t more people using them?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Edinburgh Challenge: If eportfolios are so great, why aren’t more people using them?

At the University of Edinburgh last week, at the CRA – AAEEBL International Seminar, we asked the delegates (attendees) to think of “burning questions.”  One of them was the question in the title of this blog – why aren’t more people using eportfolios?  Other questions overlapped, and seemed to get to the core issue we hear so often about “faculty buy-in” and related frustration points among those championing eportfolio use. 

ePortfolio leaders for 15 or more years have talked about eportfolio as a transformative technology, or a disruptive technology, as if the technology itself would bring about fundamental change in higher education.  (I am as guilty as any).  I wondered, this week, when I pondered the paradox suggested in the title of this blog, if our own rhetoric had caught up to us. 

The question is legitimate.  How do we answer it? 

Are People in fact Using ePortfolios?

Results from EDUCAUSE’s annual Survey of Undergraduates and Information Technology – covering students in 55 countries – suggests there is broad use of the technology and that a growing number of institutions use eportfolio for nearly all courses on campus.  And yet, do these uses involve institutions mostly using eportfolio technology to collect aggregated data for institutional research and reporting?  Do these reported uses reflect adoption of the eportfolio idea or just following a mandate?  Or both?  The Survey does not provide enough data analysis to help us know much about the nature or quality of eportfolio adoption.

I am led to wonder if our eportfolio rhetoric of 10 or 15 years ago needs re-visiting and re-examination.  We do say “it’s not about the technology” and that statement always inspires nodding heads showing wide agreement with that sentiment.  But, if it’s not about the technology, what is it about?  And what is “it”?

Re-Thinking our Rhetoric About and Mental Framing of “ePortfolio”

A difference from 10 or 15 years ago, when our rhetoric of disruption began, that we need to take into consideration is that many if not most institutions of higher education, in the intervening years, have been and are making changes to adapt to profoundly different knowledge processes and to equally profound changes in the nature of work in our society:  adoption of learning outcomes often based on rubrics that shows an effort by faculty and administrators to re-examine the curriculum, wide adoption of high-impact educational practices (many of which involve social learning, authentic learning and active learning), the rise of competency-based learning, the quality agenda, and in general a broad recognition of the need to adapt to the reality that information technology has altered this basic fact:  information and knowledge are no longer scarce but available in abundance in many forms. Therefore, “content delivery” cannot be a reasonable higher education mission any longer.  Instead, it may be that higher education is realizing that “helping students learn how to learn” is a better and more appropriate mission. 

If indeed, initiatives are underway within higher education that are aligned with the education needs of today, eportfolios should be framed as instrumenting those initiatives, not necessarily inspiring them.  And the eportfolio idea should be framed as deepening those initiatives with meta-cognitive development processes to strengthen those initiatives.

In other words, if colleges and universities want their 21st century initiatives designed to improve student learning and career development to succeed, they should consider adding eportfolio technology and the eportfolio idea (evidence-based learning) to those initiatives.

To me, this is what we mean when we say “it’s not about the technology.” 


We need to be more clear in our rhetoric about eportfolio that a successful learning initiative does not necessarily or even very often start with an eportfolio implementation.  Instead, a successful learning initiative should start with a “flipped epistemology” about the nature of learning and education in this century.  A flipped epistemology is that learners may well need an “informational” phase in a course (teacher-centered, most likely) but that the heart of the course is the “transformational” phase of the course (learning – centered).  This phase is where the learner – in teams or alone – takes more responsibility for learning through one form of engaged learning or another (Robert Kegan). 

We can call the transformational part of the course “authentic learning,” but let’s look more at the word “authentic.”

“Authentic” is often referred to as real-world learning and that is a good way to frame the concept.  In addition to “real-world” (actual work for a real purpose with real-world stakes), we are reminded by the situated cognition researchers that learning is, in fact, always in a context – social, cultural, professional, geographic, etc.  Therefore, designing a course of learning so that most of the time spent in the course is transformational will usually mean that the learning is authentic and therefore is situated.

This statement from a 2004 paper points to our challenge:

“The greatest difficulty to our minds of situated cognition is in the implementation.  Educators need to understand the fundamental emergence epistemology [emphasis mine] of situated cognition before they can attempt to implement situated cognition in their respective contexts.  Such an epistemology is non-dualistic [objectivist and relativist] and the prevalent practice of strictly speaking “mirroring or “transferring” objective knowledge from one individual to another is a contradiction in terms (oxymoron).”  (Hung, D., Looi, C.-K, & Koh, T.-S. [2004]. “Situated Cognition and Communities of Practice:  First-Person “Lived Experiences” vs Third-Person Perspectives,” in Educational Technology and Society, 7 (4), 193-200; found at on June 14, 2016.)

To understand this statement by Hung, Looi and Koh, it’s important to see that “situated cognition” is not referring to how learning should occur but how learning does occur.  In other words, learning designs should take into account the reality that humans learn in context.  Transferring abstract concepts to learners out of context, as these researchers claim, goes against how learners actually learn. 

Why Situated Cognition is Important to the ePortfolio Community

With eportfolio technology, because eportfolios can be used to collect evidence of learning in authentic contexts, therefore making authentic learning possible as the default learning design (such a move to authentic learning would be hard without eportfolios), learning designs can always take into account the basic fact that all learning is situated. 

As learners grow in sophistication, more of the disciplinary context is situated within their heads, so not all learners are the same, of course.  But, if the learner we are referring to in our eportfolio rhetoric is an undergraduate and relatively a novice in the field, then the necessity of recognizing situated cognition is paramount. 

ePortfolio can be thought of in many ways, as a way to record achievement and advance in a career over a lifetime, or to develop an academic or professional identity, or to better assess learning, or, as a way to deepen learning through a process of reflection and integration.  ePortfolios are also used in recognition or assessment of prior learning, or as a way to develop a relationship with an employer or a university for the purpose of recruiting.  Some make the case that eportfolio is itself a high-impact practice. 

But, regardless of the uses, eportfolio is only meaningful when embedded in a concept of human use.  In terms of learning – and I believe eportfolios must be valuable for learning or all other uses have less meaning – eportfolios are primarily the tool of the time because this time demands a recognition that learning is situated.  They are primarily the tool of the time because they allow learning designs to align with how people actually learn. 


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Reminiscing the Snow: AAC&U Snowbound in DC

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reminiscing the Snow:  AAC&U Snowbound in DC

At the time, we were all asking each other, “when will you get out?”  Running through our minds were questions about whether to keep the room another night and would the planes fly.  But, looking back, I now find myself nostalgic for those days when a large number of us – especially the eportoflio crowd – were all there, all the time, eating each night in the only restaurant in the hotel and, for one night, about the only restaurant open in downtown DC. 

The snow had started to build on Friday of the AAC&U Annual Meeting in January.  Many who had planned to stay for the portfolio forum left when they could still get out of town on that Friday.  Others who had planned to fly in to speak on Saturday could not.  By early afternoon, an odd feeling of being left behind crept over me, of being among those who foolishly stood against the blizzard.  The oddity was attending sessions as scheduled even though we had all made the decision to be snowbound – normality in the midst of a maelstrom.

Friday night, Susan Kahn and I rode over to an impossible-to-book restaurant in DC just blocks away that was luckily willing to stay open long enough to serve us.  It stood up to its reputation.  After we finished dinner, we put our layers of winter gear back on, and found that our only choice was to walk back to the hotel. 

The blizzard had indeed begun to bury the city.  We made our way to 8th Street and headed north, right into the wind and snow, for a few blocks.  We headed west on G Street, easier now, heading west, not right into the wind.  Stepping off some curbs, or what seemed like curbs, we’d find our legs sunk into deeper snow than we had expected.

No cars moved in the white.  A few other people walked, their heads, like ours, down and not taking note of anything other than their next steps.  Street lights lighting the snow as if there was some reason to show the way to whom and toward what?

Arriving another block west, at 9th Street, not yet at the hotel, we again faced the prospect of heading north right into the wind and snow, not inviting nor even bearable.  We, instead, found a pathway that was shielded from the north wind and went that way instead. 

And, aha, we arrived another block west, and were at the east side of the Hyatt!  We tried a side door of the hotel but were rebuffed because that was a service entrance only!  In a blizzard, you don’t let people inside just because it’s not the right door??

We pushed into the wind, huddling along the side of the hotel, and, reached H Street and the front of the hotel.  We happened to glance through a window of the hotel and saw Kate Coleman taking a picture out the window!  We slipped in the nearest door and we were inside and warm and out of the wind!  And immediately, we were among those other survivors of the Blizzard of ’16. 

That night, the AAC&U staff had to re-work the Saturday program around those attendees still in the hotel.  If you were not already at the hotel, you would not be at the hotel on Saturday. 

What an amazing and brilliant re-working of the schedule!  It is hard to know – with no intention to doubt the value of what the speakers who could not fly in to DC would bring to us – it is hard to know if the program could have been any better than how it turned out on Saturday.  Congratulations to those AAEEBL leaders who stepped up to provide excellent sessions almost on the spur of the moment. 

But, the camaraderie, enforced or not, over-rode all inconveniences and all regrets.  We all had time to talk and talk and move to new tables and talk anew, over two nights (and more for others). It was at that hotel in Washington DC that I came to know again how affiliative, inventive, social and imaginative the eportfolio community is.  And how much fun it is to talk with everyone in our community.

I myself was able to “get out” Sunday morning because I was visiting my daughter and family who live not far from the hotel and because I had a car with perfect four-wheel drive.  Still, it was odd being the only car on the road that Sunday morning as I made my way through downtown DC and out onto the Southwest Freeway and onto the 14th Street Bridge.  The lanes were clear and dry; but the exit to the George Washington Memorial Parkway was only a cowpath – the 4-wheel drive was essential. 

Others stayed on as late as Tuesday when the airline backup was cleared. 

At that time, our thoughts may have been on disrupted schedules and just “getting out,” but now looking back, I would not trade that time with colleagues for anything. 

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Language as the Mother Code and Learning as a Conversation

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, February 25, 2016

Language as the Mother Code and Learning as a Conversation

The most complex code humans deal with is language.  Language is what makes our minds work as they do; it makes us social beings; it allows us to build complex mental structures.  Language shapes us culturally. 

It is so deeply embedded in humanity and humanity in it that language is in our genetic code; once a newborn hears language, the language potentiation in their genes can lock into a specific grammatical pattern.

But the code that is language is a living code, making it even more complex.  It evolves as new phrases, connotations and words are added daily.  It takes years for the large and infinitely capable brain that children are born with to master the mother code we call language. 

And those children, even after being bathed in language their whole lives, and even after graduating from college, still in large part are not skilled in the mother code language.  That is how complex it is. 

Language use is, more than any other factor, what determines a person’s success in life.  It is not a background in the STEM disciplines, but skill in using language that largely determines the quality of life for an individual (skill in math is a possible exception). 

And yet, higher education invests less in developing language skills than almost any other field; compare salaries in the disciplines and this is clear. 

It is important to understand language and the study of language, linguistics.  It is important because language is the mother code.  We live within that mother code.  If we want to better understand learning, we should better understand the nature of language and discourse. 

Rhetoric was among the first classical areas of study.  How rhetoric was understood then still pertains to today, at least in the spoken form.  But, today, we live in a world of digital code:  we drive surrounded by micro-chips in our cars; we wear or carry micro-chips on our wrists or in our pockets.  All of our communication now is managed and augmented by micro-chips; all entertainment; all financial transactions; medical procedures; research. 

It is easy to be misled into assuming that micro-chips are our reality and not language.  To be misled into thinking machines know more than we do; to seek truth through technology; it is easy to think technology is an end in itself. 

And therefore it is easy to miss the real miracle:  technology today allows us to back away from the industrial age surrender to machines – the 20th century was when the machines took control of humanity, not the 21st century.  The 20th century was a time of total war – the machines let us release our very worst nature.  In this century, our new technologies can actually allow us to return to more authentic human activities. 

On the radio, now, we hear the return of story-telling.  Driving to the store on a weekend, we can now hear a 20-minute story told by one of a growing number of story-tellers.  They are itinerant story tellers as of old although now they don’t travel to people to tell their stories, but people “travel to them” by turning on their radios.  We have, as a culture, re-discovered the magic of story telling.

Chat on the Internet often develops into a conversation that can feel as authentic as a spoken conversation.  Chat conversations have been used as a way to develop writing skills in college students.  It is teaching writing with writing, a kind of studio approach to teaching writing.  Human conversation is infinitely engaging but is, of course, actively using the mother code, language. 

Email conversations are called “threads” and are a unique form of conversation that has its own set of rules.  All human interaction has rules, so conversation having its own rules only means that it can be shown to be a natural form of discourse. 

Our technology now provides many new media venues for human interaction.  We are discovering new “selves” that we can become in these new venues.  We become these selves through conversation – sometimes in conversation with ourselves.  In eportfolios, as a good example of this kind of conversation, we are conversing with the self we were weeks ago or months or years ago. 

Since eportfolios are also a social space, these conversations may be with current and past teachers (or their comments in the past) and with peers present and past. 

The eportfolio conversation is a way to integrate learning over time and is therefore a huge challenge.  But this conversation that creates meaning out of learning experiences is one of the great goals of education, for this kind of conversation is the very essence of meta-cognition.

Looking back on evidence – photos, writing, diagrams, video-clips – we look for “cohesion elements” among that evidence.  Cohesion elements are bits of evidence whose meanings are related.  In discourse analysis, looking at a transcript of a conversation, for example, you’d look for the repetition of words as cohesion elements or for a perpetuation of a tone or repeated phrases or structures.  In eportfolio evidence, you’d look for a concept from biology, perhaps, such as symmetrical structures in animals, and link it to building design or to the Age of Enlightenment. 

Reflection on eportfolio evidence is a conversation with yourself and your learning artifacts, and with your teachers and peers.  Thinking of this reflective process as conversation helps us understand the complexity of the process. 

Conversation is perhaps the oldest structure humans lived within.  It is perhaps what makes us human.  That conversation is created within the most complex code we use is the point here:  conversation is both the most fundamental of human forms and the most complex.  To think of the eportfolio process as a conversation, therefore, can help us in framing that process. 

One can consider all learning as a conversation, but the eportfolio provides a center for that conversation and provides reminders (and prompts) for the conversation.  Framing all learning as conversation is helpful in all ways so we can get away from the artificial notion of “delivering content” and get back to natural forms of human interaction.  Teachers engaging in a conversational notion of teaching would naturally consider students as interlocutors and not objects, as stakeholders in concept development, and partners in knowledge-building. 

ePortfolio is important because it is another form of conversation and therefore shows how technologies today can bring out the human in us, the good human in us. 

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My Nomadic Class

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, February 02, 2016

My Nomadic Class

I’m one of those too-much-externally-focused people who instantly notices when people I’m talking to stop paying attention.  Not really suited to be a teacher in a classroom set up for lecture – I learned by lecture but it seemed few of my students did.

That may say more about me than them, of course.  But this hyper-sensitivity drove me to try innovative ways to connect with my students.

One semester long ago, on the spur of the moment during the very first class session of the semester, I announced that we would not be meeting in the assigned classroom but instead would meet at various places around the campus.  I had only about 20 students in my composition class, so the plan to become nomadic was actually feasible.

So, we did start meeting at a place determined at the end of each class.  I found I had broken the spell of “the classroom” where discourse is so highly rule-bound.  We had transformed into a social group – that weird class that would show up in odd places on the campus three times a week.  (I did not realize I was creating the formula for perfect attendance – no one wanted to completely lose the class). 

The class was among the very best I ever had.  We all loved our adventure; many in the class continued friendship after that class. 

I had discovered the power of space.  I read a book by a family therapist who arranged his family therapy room very purposefully – putting the obvious “daddy chair” on one wall and the obvious “mommy chair” on another wall.  He wanted to unsettle the usual hierarchy in the family. 

When I heard rumors of a new technology called a “local area network” or LAN (this was in 1984), I was ready to try it out as a way to teach writing IN writing – a kind of writing studio approach.  Again, I was teaching in a new space, not a literal physical space, but in the imagined space of the network:  I found that as we all typed to communicate, even those sitting next to each other and engaged in a one-on-one conversation did not talk but kept typing to each other.  They were in the imagined space and wanted to stay there.

This was the Network-Based Classroom, a way to teach writing that appealed to many, was proven to work far better than the traditional writing classroom approach, received large grants to promote and got me on my way to the crazy life I lead now. 

My students then were deaf.  I worked at Gallaudet University in Washington DC.  Because my students were deaf, I had not only stumbled on a good way to teach writing to anyone, but had been part of an historic moment:  never before in all of human history had deaf people been able to be part of a group conversation in English (not sign) with a native speaker.  English was suddenly no longer a dead language but a living, breathing, fantastic way to connect with other people. 

Because I saw how technology could add a dramatic and profound new dimension for deaf people, I realized how this new information technology could provide – at its best – new aspects of humanity not achievable otherwise.  I saw the human face of technology. 

We are now in the midst of a human transition as important as the invention of moveable type.  All of human society now is largely based on print (and, now, on other media) and its magical ability to distribute vital knowledge and preserve it over time so it can be added to continually.  Behind all the great inventions of the past 200 years is print.  Behind great new inventions occurring now and for centuries to come is digital knowledge. 

As a cultural historian, I am constantly excited to be living in this time because of the knowledge transition we are going through.  And, as a teacher, I continue to feel the excitement of the first time I taught in that network-based classroom no one had ever heard of and my deaf students started doing what one student called “ping-pong English.” 

I have deep personal reasons for my interest in eportfolios.  I see the human value that can accrue through good use of eportfolios.  Digital knowledge in all its forms, based in knowledge-creation processes unimaginable a few years ago, is re-shaping humanity.  We can do our part to influence how this culturally disruptive technology affects us.  Ironically, our part may be to return human interaction back to forms closer to what they were centuries ago; ironically, it may take information technology to support learning designed in ways that people actually learn best.





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What Does the Acronym “AAEEBL” Mean?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Saturday, November 07, 2015

What Does the Acronym “AAEEBL” Mean? 

AAEEBL, the acronym, is packed with significance and is important to revisit now, seven years after it was introduced.

To best understand the significance of “AAEEBL,” we need to frame our thinking with these observations:

·      Learning theory (how adults learn) has advanced significantly in the past few decades since the advent of cognitive science, and since a recognition that learning is social, and, finally, since many fields other than education and psychology have contributed their own perspectives on learning

·      The term “pedagogy,” as used in higher education, referring to the teaching of children, has probably outlived its usefulness, first because it refers to children and college students are not children, and secondly because it refers to teaching, and higher education is moving away from an exclusive focus on teaching and toward a more balanced focus on both teaching and learning. 

Sometimes, a change in language can assist a shift in thinking.  I don’t expect that educators will start using “learning theory” or “learning design” anytime soon but it might be a useful start to know that “pedagogy” is, at its root, a regressive term. 

But I recognize that most faculty, save for education faculty, have not been nor are still expected to have a background in adult learning theory.  We can all recognize the irony in this fact at this point in history when educators are being asked to re-consider their learning theories.  How many educators have the preparation or knowledge to change their learning theory or even know what learning theory they are using now?

Since faculty have usually been hired over the last century because of their knowledge of content and not because of their knowledge of what learning process is best for their students, we are now in a time when faculty are being asked to do something – change how they manage learning -- that they are most often unprepared for.  The rules of the game seem to have been changed. 

Technology has made us re-think what we do in higher education.  And, it has therefore made us re-examine what we have actually been doing in higher education from a learning theory perspective.  We, as educators, have bumped up against new discoveries about how adults learn in the fields of not only the traditional fields of education and psychology, but also in cognitive science, anthropology, sociology, linguistics and other fields. 

The new understandings about learning also involve information technology because of big data and being able to integrate findings from numerous studies.  Technology, therefore, helps us better research and understand how adults learn and then conveniently provides us the means to change our practices accordingly. 

AAEEBL, including references to “authentic” learning, “experiential learning” and “evidence-based” learning provides indicators of the new understanding of learning that should form the basis for new learning designs.  As such, it is a powerful acronym.

Let’s start with the second “A,” which stands for “authentic.” 

“Authentic” means real-world, but it also means authentically a way that people learn.  Lectures are one way that some people learn but many do not learn that way, and very definitely lectures are only a tiny part of any educated person’s total learning process.  If humans learn every day, and every waking hour, there must be many other ways that humans are learning other than hearing an expert talk.  And of course, we now know that the learning process is constant and that it is based in experience.  It is based in dialogue, in problem solving, in group interaction, in experimentation, in real-world challenges and many other authentic contexts.  The traditional classroom has played only a very small part in the learning of an educated adult. 

Moving on to the next letter in “AAEEBL”, experiential learning:  it is not a teaching method or a learning design.  Instead, it is a theory about how learning occurs – it is how learning does happen as opposed to how it should happen.  It is not prescriptive but descriptive.  It suggests that learning is personal and is shaped by experience.  Knowledge, therefore, cannot be separated from experience.  It has been a custom to say about books that books separated the known from the knower.  But knowledge did not and does not exist in the book but in the minds of all those who read the book; in the end, knowledge is always personal and therefore always shaped by experience.  It cannot be separated from the knower.

How knowledge came to be felt as fixed, or having a life of its own, in our culture is curious and maybe related to the nature of print but the results of that feeling of fixedness, that belief about knowledge, has led educators to understand “learning” in ways that resulted in ineffective learning designs: basing an educational system on a false belief that “content” was a thing had or has no basis in fact or fantasy. 

There is no “content” as a thing of its own, but only a method of creating knowledge through a certain process.  The job of the educator is to generate that knowledge creating process in learners.  The job of the learner is not only memorizing facts but learning to generate knowledge in a field.  The content is learners learning that process. 

And, now, on to a term that I invented in January 2009 – evidence-based learning – that has seemingly two meanings at this point.

My intention for that term was to describe the eportfolio process of learning, reflectively and integratively, through one’s own evidence.  In other words, the learning in the eportfolio process is based in evidence.  But, as an analogy with “evidence-based medicine,” the term has also taken on another logical meaning, that is, using the best evidence available to determine the design of learning.  That is a welcome second meaning but I would hope we don’t lose the initial meaning. 

That original meaning is revolutionary:  learning not based on content-transfer (a business concept not a learning concept) but based in one’s own experience as documented by evidence. 

AAEEBL – the term – was and is an attempt to capture the significance of “eportfolio.”  ePortfolio technology allows the learner to have greater ownership of learning than has been technologically possible; it allows a center of learning to be established away from the institution; it therefore allows for learning to be situated in the learner.  That has always been the case, but the myth was that it was situated in the classroom.  In other words, eportolio allows us to recognize learning as it authentically is. 



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The Significance of ePortfolio in Education

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Significance of ePortfolio in Education

For six months, the AAEEBL community has been seeking ways to define “eportfolio.”  We have found ourselves constantly running up against the limits of any single definition.  For years, published definitions have described the technology behind “eportfolio” as if that technology itself is “eportfolio.”  That’s like defining writing as a pencil or word processor.

ePortfolio is not the technology but the ways eportfolio technology is used and the significance of those uses.  “ePortfolio” is a learning concept and is also a research field and a community of practice.  There is theory behind “eportfolio” that preceded the “e” and continues today.

Because of the nomenclature confusion, eportfolio advocates in education have difficulty answering the question “what is an eportfolio?” 

The challenge is that eportfolio advocates are situated psychologically in a new imagined learning ecology “beyond the curriculum.”  They are situated in a learning ecology where knowledge is not rare but abundant and where knowledge is not a thing but a process. 

How does one who is situated in a new world explain a concept like “eportfolio” to someone living in an old world?

When Europeans began migrating to “the new world,” they wore shoes appropriate to the roads and streets of Europe but not appropriate to the rough paths of this new world.  They were “situated” in the old world but walking in the new world. 

Let’s address this nomenclature and situatedness problem by describing the significance of eportfolio in higher education. 

1.     The move from teaching to learning.  For 20 years, educators have understood that “teaching” as it had been done for a century was not necessarily resulting in the learning needed in today’s world (or for the demographically aging student body). 

But this understanding has resulted in only gradual and partial changes in the learning ecology on most campuses for undergraduate students. 

One major general initiative, however, has been promising:  the high-impact educational practices put in place on many campuses that engage social pedagogies (and learning) and that also move more of the responsibility for learning to the learner:

First-Year Seminars and Experiences, Common Intellectual Experiences, Learning Communities, Writing-Intensive Courses, Collaborative Assignments and Projects, Undergraduate Research, Diversity/Global Learning, Service Learning, Community-Based Learning, Internships, and Capstone Courses and Projects. ( 

As many have noted for the past couple of years, employing student eportfolios in these kinds of learning experiences galvanizes learning even more.  Some refer to this use of eportfolio as a “meta high-impact practice.”

The use of a student eportfolio in the HIP practices allows students to collect artifacts while learning that make their learning more tangible and memorable.  Students can revisit these artifacts later, after a week or weeks, and find new meaning in these tangible reminders of their learning experience.  This is an example of students having more ownership of their own learning process. This is a concrete example of the move from teaching to learning. 

2.     “One Size Does Not Fit All.”  Learning experiences are no longer exclusively centered in the classroom.  But, once learning moves out of the classroom, students have differing learning experiences.  If learners can learn anywhere, how does a faculty member assess that learning? 

This is one of the biggest issues facing higher education today:  students are less and less likely to learn in lock-step, or at least less and less likely to have lock-step learning be the only learning that is endorsed formally. 

The significance of eportfolio for “out of sight” learning is that evidence of learning can be collected in an eportfolio, including digital badges for micro-credentialing that are “stored” in an eportfolio. 

One major impulse behind “out of sight” learning – such as in some of the HIPs – is that the average age of undergraduates is rising.  While “lock-step” might have seemed almost justifiable when students were in the 17-22 year old range, it seems less justifiable for an older student body who, most likely, have already had many real-world learning experiences. 

3.     Career development or employability.  In response to employer demands for better evidence of the capabilities of graduates – the diploma and transcript no longer seeming to have solid predictive value – many campuses have adopted eportfolios for two purposes:  first, to track student progress toward learning outcomes and, second, to provide a way for students to better demonstrate their achievements. 

4.     ePortfolio as a cultural signifier of the transfer of ownership of learning from the institution to the learner.  ePortfolio is a technology native to the emerging new learning ecology – self-paced learning, MOOCs, personalized learning, competency-based learning, assessment of prior learning – and a necessary component of this new learning ecology.  The rapid spread of eportfolio implementations in higher education in at least 55 countries around the world confirms that eportfolio is entwined with the new learning ecology. 

Bret Eynon, Randy Bass and Helen Chen (at LaGuardia Community College, Georgetown University and Stanford, respectively), the thought leaders for the Connect to Learning FIPSE-funded Project that ran for several years, concluded that Project with a rich website that is called “Catalyst for Learning.” (    That is the significance of eportfolio – sometimes you don’t get a reaction or any energy in a process until you add a catalyst. 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Competency-Based -- Is it Education or Training?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBE is Meeting a Need

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

CBE is the Formalizing of Tracking Student Progress Toward Learning Outcomes 

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

Contrasting CBE with Liberal Arts

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

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

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

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

CBE Has Limited Applicability

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Higher Education’s Liberal Arts Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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The ePortfolio as Archetypal Literate Form

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


The ePortfolio as Archetypal Literate Form

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

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

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

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

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


What is an ePortfolio?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is it Productive to Think of ePortfolios as Discourse?

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

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

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



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Announcing AAEEBL Individual Memberships

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

Very Important Message to the AAEEBL
and Portfolio Learning Communities

Announcing AAEEBL Individual Memberships, Phase One.


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

Summary of new individual membership model:

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

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

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

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

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

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

·      How to: 

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

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

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

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


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

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

Why Will You Want to Join as an Individual Member?

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

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

Specific capabilities at the AAEEBL Website

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

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

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

3.     Maintain a blog.

4.     Maintain a member connection list.

5.     Maintain a personal file library.

6.     Post a resume in the Career Center.

7.     Maintain profile pages.

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

9.     Search resumes in the Career Center.

10. Do blog posts in group homepages.

11. Upload a profile headshot.

12. Upload images to a personal gallery. 

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

Other Member Benefits Important to Know About

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

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

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

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

And many more . . .

Why These Changes?

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

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

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

Our Request

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

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Portfolio Evidence-Based Learning (PEBL)

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

Portfolio Evidence-Based Learning (PEBL)

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

Straining to Define “ePortfolio” 

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

General Misunderstanding of “ePortfolio”

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

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

Evidence-Based Learning

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

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

Constructivist Learning Theories

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

The Centrality of “Evidence.”

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

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

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

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

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

Important Note

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

Tags:  ePortfolio  evidence-based learning 

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Toward "The Field Guide to ePortfolio"

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


Provisioning Learners to be Stewards of Their Own Learning


What is an ePortfolio?  What is the ePortfolio Idea? 

What is the Meaning of the ePortfolio Movement?

Toward “The Field Guide to ePortfolio”


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

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

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

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

This Exquisite Moment

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

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

Seizing this Moment

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

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

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

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

How Can the ePortfolio Community Convey the Significance of ePortfolios?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eyes Beyond the Classroom

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

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

A Bonus

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

Why Technology Will Never Fix Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tags:  eportfolio AAEEBL 

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First I Discovered Fire and then I Discovered ePortfolios

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

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

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

First I Discovered Fire and then I Discovered ePortfolios


How Did you Change?

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

Why are People so Dedicated to the ePortfolio Idea?

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

The Owned ePortfolio Space 

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

Enabling Learning Designs for how People Actually Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags:  ePortfolio AAEEBL learning assessment career 

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