Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Thursday, April 09, 2015
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Register for the next webinar in the AAEEBL Webinar Series on "What is an ePortfolio," co-sponsored by EPAC, April 15, 2 pm to 3:15 pm US EDT. Helen Chen and Chris Sheehan. Those who register will receive the URL to login on the 15th. All webinars are recorded and can be viewed later.
Ontology of “ePortfolio”
AAEEBL is undertaking the task of defining the term “eportfolio.” Is it a genre, or a set of practices, or a showcase, or a technology? Or all four and other descriptions? What we see most commonly is a definition of the technology affordances that, as I have argued in a previous blog, tend to be minimalist and therefore misleading.
Definitions do tend to be minimalist so that all can agree, at least, on the definition as a starting point. But, a starting point is not sufficient to convey the cultural and historical significance of “eportfolio.”
At this point, we need to work toward not just a definition but an ontology, a way to specify the entire concept of “eportfolio.” For example, the term “eportfolio” is often used within our field to describe an entire initiative, as in “eportfolio has changed how we organize learning.” When we hear or read a statement like that, those who are informed about eportfolios do not think the technology itself has acted but that humans have acted using the affordances of eportfolios.
Within the discourse in our field, “eportfolio” is used in ways that imply our field shares a deep concept of what "eportfolio" is. It is this deep concept that makes us a field and drives the interest in using eportfolios. It is not common for a field of inquiry and practice to grow from a technology in the way our field has developed, so there must be something special about “eportfolio” that drives us.
But to get to the ontology of “eportfolio,” we need to start with what that deep concept is. If we continue to postpone coming to consensus in our field, not only will our field suffer from lack of focus but the commercial market for eportfolios will itself fork into eportfolio wannabees that use the term but do not support expression of that deep concept we share.
The AAEEBL Webinar this calendar year is intended to help us all arrive at the definition behind the definition, or, the ontology of “eportfolio.” A taxonomy, instead, might just cloud the picture even more because it would be identifying all the uses of eportfolio without getting at the deep concept that is at the center of “eportfolio” in our minds.
What do we associate with “eportfolio”? Deep learning, engaged learning, integrative learning, reflective thinking, metacognition and other cognitive attributes. But also we associate “eportfolio” with identity and personal development. Personal development can apply to learning while enrolled in a program of formal study, or it can apply to personal development in a career. We also associate “eportfolio” with life-long coherence, a record; and with life-wide application, multiple websites created for different purposes.
And more deeply, we associate eportfolio with transformation to forms more appropriate in a technology culture, forms of learning and assessment and self-expression.
We also associate “eportfolio” with various values in learning, such as the power of having one’s own digital space, of owning our own learning, the mobility of that digital space and its persistence. In that space, we must be able to find things and re-arrange them and show them. Just like a physical space, we need to be comfortable in our digital space.
We live in a new ecology of abundance of knowledge that is transient. To adapt to this ecology, we humans need our own digital spaces, just as in a physical ecology, we need our houses and cars and other interior spaces. We need an eportfolio.
If our definition does not start with the deep concept we have of “eportfolio,” the definition will not serve us well. Information technology can be used for control – something we recognize as important but also fear – or it can be used for liberation and creativity. While institutions may favor the control aspects of eportfolios as assessment management systems that help institutions know how students are progressing toward learning outcomes, most likely the real driving force behind the eportfolio field is not grounded in this control side of eportfolios, but in the personal side of eportfolios.
An ontology of “eportfolio” can capture the deep meanings (“concept”) we share about “eportfolio,” and should therefore be a big part of our drive this year toward a shared explicit description of “eportfolio.”
The webinar series, plus a series of blogs, are meant to spur on the conversation within our field.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Thursday, April 02, 2015
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"What is an ePortfolio” 2015 Monthly Webinar Series
Co-Sponsored in part by EPAC
Collecting Perspectives for The “Definition of an ePortfolio Project”
A Year-Long Conversation Toward Consensus
[register for first webinar]
How do you define something that is both a technology and a range of how humans use the technology? “ePortfolio” has come to mean both the technology and the range of uses and is also a signifier for the times we live in as well as a “GPS” for humans to find their way in these times. The eportfolio global community, because of the diverse range of perceptions of what “eportfolio” is, needs to find consensus on a description that encompasses the whole eportfolio landscape but still is easily comprehensible to those unfamiliar with “eportfolio.”
The Wisdom Collection Part of the Project: Webinar Series
AAEEBL begins this long-term Project to define “eportfolio” with a webinar to be broadcast on April 8, in just a few days. You can join in the conversation by registering for this webinar. It is free, but registration is required. We will follow the April 8 webinar with another on April 15 and other webinars will be announced in the days to come. Through these recorded webinars and accompanying blog posts, and through written contributions from members of the community, we will collect knowledge that is shared within the Community working toward concluding statements in early 2015.
A technical description of an academic eportfolio has been developed by PESC. This description and many other sources are the foundation on which this project launches.
The Goal of the ePortfolio Definition Project
We start this Project with trepidation but also eagerness. The definition cannot be prescribed but must be discovered. AAEEBL intends to facilitate the conversation to discover the definition over the next 9 months and to participate in analysis of whatever consensus is arising and then, we hope, be able collaboratively to provide a report to be reviewed by eportfolio practitioners, researchers, and corporate partners worldwide during 2015.
The First Webinar in the ePortfolio Definition Project.
The first webinar in the AAEEBL 2015 series on “What is an ePortfolio?” – the essential question for the ePortfolio Definition Project – will be an interview that I will lead with Steve Handy, leader of Bluehost Education. This interview will be held on April 8, 2015, at 1:00 pm US EDT and will continue for an hour. The interview will be recorded and can be viewed after the webinar. Register for this free webinar that launches the ePortfolio Definition Project.
Screen Side Chats
This series is called “Screen Side Chats” to best describe the interview form we will follow and to set the tone for these interviews. This series will not consist of talks driven by slides, but instead will consist of conversations around essential questions related to the goal of better defining what an eportfolio is. Some Screen Side Chats (SSCs) in this AAEEBL Webinar Series will be with academics and some with AAEEBL corporate partners. The underlying question of “What is an ePortfolio?” will be at the center of each interview.
Why This Project?
In 1999, at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, I taught a first-year composition course using a portfolio framework. My technology at that time was paper but the management of the paper was aided by using digital printers to make multiple copies of one assigned paper (one for the student and one for me) and was also aided by email and the ability to send attachments.
Now, just 16 years later, we – the AAEEBL community and, by extension, the eportfolio community and research field -- open an investigative series to determine a reference definition, description or proto-taxonomy of what an eportfolio is. In those 16 years, because of the global move to the Internet and particularly the Web, the concept of “portfolio” has experienced shredding and forking and remixing to the point where only the most minimal definition – a repository on the web with certain technical capabilities designed with an intention in mind – can be generally agreed upon.
This minimal “definition” sells the movement short. It may reinforce an impression that the eportfolio movement is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. A database on the web containing data about learning is like the famous “field of infinite possibilities.” (Chopra) And therein lies the problem – the reality is far from “minimal” – it is seemingly, in fact, infinite in the varieties of eportfolio uses and designs and meanings that people have developed in a very short time.
Bluehost as an ePortfolio Provider
The April 8 Screen Side Chat with Steve Handy of Bluehost: “How do you Create an ePortfolio that is REALLY Your Own”? begins the 9-month conversation.
We wonder, within academia, and perhaps within the industry itself, what kind of “eportfolio” a web hosting company can offer. The first reaction I hear from other academics is “a website is not an eportfolio.” And this reaction provides the challenge for Steve during the interview.
I have given a lot of thought to the question of what Bluehost offers for learners. I should first clarify that Bluehost has created an interface for WordPress and is therefore offering a suite of technology functionality, including WordPress, that is more than “just a website.” Bluehost is one of the largest hosting services in the world and WordPress supports a reported 20% of all websites in the world. Students learning to use WordPress hosted by Bluehost, then, are starting with a technology set that is used widely and will serve them not only during college but for life. Other portfolio providers do the same but there is a certain value in starting out using what a large part of the world already uses.
(AAEEBL is platform neutral. Its goal is to advance good uses of eportfolios educationally and not to champion any one particular platform. At the same time, the more educators and learners know about the technology offerings, the wiser their choices can be about technology decisions and uses. And, the more robust the eportfolio industry is, the better the technology we will have available to support our work).
Bluehost also offers a student or a learner a domain that can be the actual name of the student or learner, and offers also the entire range of functionality that goes with owning a domain. Bluehost can then claim, with reason, that a student in college, starting out with Bluehost and WordPress, is launching their lifetime digital identity. This technology option can be used for the learning purposes we identify as eportfolio practices but this option can also allow students/learners to become ambitious in their use of their own domain for purposes in addition to strictly academic uses. The sense of ownership is reinforced by the learner’s eportfolio being ensconced in a platform not defined by an institution.
The interview will explore to what extent these claims are true, and will be open to audience questions for half of the time of the webinar. This series and this project, the ePortfolio Definition Project, ventures into contested territory. This territory is where the industry and the eportfolio community meet. Industry is competitive and profit-driven; academia is collaborative and truth-driven. Industry must maintain non-disclosure while academia is open inquiry. But, at the same time, both the eportfolio industry and the eportfolio academic community have the same goal: increase good use of eportfolios for better learning, assessment and career success.
The Screen Side Chats over the next 9 months will be nothing if not interesting.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Monday, March 16, 2015
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Defining “ePortfolio”: Four Ways of Seeing an ePortfolio
The Problem of Defining “ePortfolio”
Ever since I started working with eportfolios in 2001, the question “what is an eportfolio?” has come up time and again. It is very hard to agree on a definition of “eportfolio” except at the most basic of educational definitions: “An eportfolio is a digital archive that represents student work over time through a broad range of artifacts.” (https://cndls.georgetown.edu/eportfolios/).
As precise and evocative as that definition is from the Georgetown ePortfolio Initiative, it still does not capture the breadth of significance the eportfolio has for our society today.
For example, we could define an automobile as “a cabin on wheels with a motor that propels it for people to ride in.” But that definition would miss how the automobile created the suburbs, propelled social mobility, has deeply altered social patterns and has helped contribute to climate change. The automobile might best be described as one of the defining technologies of the 20th century.
In other words, a definition can miss the essence and importance of something, so may be more misleading than helpful. The eportfolio community has struggled with defining eportfolios for its entire existence. Perhaps that’s because we’ve been trying to see it in only one or two ways.
The Georgetown site also includes a quotation that hints at a larger eportfolio significance beyond the simple definition above:
Conversation around ePortfolios lately has turned to the layered benefits of having students use digital workspaces to think more intentionally about their learning and make connections across the curriculum.
The number one hit on Google for “eportfolios” is a 2005 report from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, “An Overview of E-Portfolios” by George Lorenzo and John Ittelson, edited by Diana Oblinger. The definition in the abstract to the article from 10 years ago describes “eportfolio” as an academic application featuring three types: student eportfolios, teaching eportfolios and institutional eportfolios, that have a number of uses. Somehow, the dedication and excitement I see in the eportfolio community is not because eportfolios are just another educational technology as that 2005 description would imply. Something else is going on.
In 2002, I published an article in Campus Technology called “The Electronic Portfolio Boom: What’s it all About?” (Retrieved 3-14-15 from http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2002/11/The-Electronic-Portfolio-Boom-Whats-it-All-About.aspx?Page=1).
Toward the end of the article (worth reading to get a sense of how far we’ve come while also recognizing we’ve yet to resolve issues that were pertinent then), I said:
Despite a general recognition of the usefulness of an ePortfolio, the key to success is how well the campus population is prepared for using this new tool. It's not a simple add-on to existing courses; if it is, students may not see the value. Indeed, if ePortfolio tools become just a simpler way to log student work, we've missed the boat.
Experience on one campus shows that, even though 100 percent of the faculty in a program have adopted ePortfolios, students still may not see their value because the faculty have not re-thought their courses to accommodate electronic portfolios.
In the 13 years since this article, despite the spread of eportfolios to a large majority of college campuses in the U. S. and in other countries, and despite a growing percentage of students who use eportfolios for all or most of their courses, (based on the ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduates and Technology) and despite the rapid growth of eportfolio providers, the two statements above are as relevant today as then. We still have not generally recognized the value of an institutional learning design based on eportfolios, nor do we have an agreed upon definition of or agreed upon statement about the meaning of eportfolios.
Higher education still has not embraced the potential of eportfolios to serve as the basis for a re-thinking of an institution’s approach to learning.
A Framework for Understanding the Significance of “ePortfolio”
We see, then, that in 2015, we still have to ask “What’s it All About?” The answer to that, I believe, will differ depending on the context. Is it only one more teaching practice? Or do eportfolios have significance not only in but also beyond classroom practices?
If we look at the various contexts in which eportfolios have significance, we may be able, as a field, to agree on a statement about the meaning and significance of “eportfolio” and we may then energize not only ourselves with this new awareness, but become better able to frame our discourse on campus about eportfolios.
Those eportfolios contexts may be stated as these four:
- Learning – what is eportfolio’s meaning for learning for both learners and teachers.
- Institutional assessment – how do eportfolios affect institutional assessment?
- Technology in education – how are eportfolios different form other technologies used in education?
- Culture and economy – what is the cultural significance of eportfolios?
In these four contexts, the lens through which we see the meaning of eportfolios differs, and the lens in number four – culture and economy – differs among countries as well.
To define eportfolios from just one context undercuts the broader importance and implications of eportfolios.
Context 1, Learning
At the Catalyst for Learning site, created by the Connect to Learning Project led by Bret Eynon at LaGuardia Community College, and involving 24 colleges and universities over a 3-year FIPSE funded project (AAEEBL was an early partner in C2L), we find an excellent summary of eportfolio meaning in the context of learning:
ePortfolio pedagogy engages students in a recursive inquiry into their own learning and their evolving identities as learners. Through sustained collective inquiry in ePortfolio-related professional development and outcomes assessment, faculty, staff, and the broader institution construct new knowledge and understandings about the teaching and learning process.
Reflection is pivotal to meaningful student ePortfolios, which function as sites for prompting, documenting, and sharing students’ reflection on their learning. And reflection helps to move outcomes assessment beyond accountability as individuals and programs reflect on assessment findings and their implications for curricular and pedagogical change.
Students use ePortfolios to bring together work from multiple contexts, to consider the relation between their classrooms and their lives outside of class, and to construct new identities as learners. In ePortfolio-related professional development, an integrative approach prompts faculty to develop and test strategies that help students integrate their learning; and also helps faculty and staff to transfer knowledge and insight from specific instances to broader contexts and applications.
Visit the Catalyst for Learning site to see how rich this site is. Co-leaders of this project included Randy Bass of Georgetown University and Helen Chen of Stanford University.
Melissa Peet’s Generative Knowledge work helps us understand the “Inquiry” and “Reflection” processes from the Catalyst site:
Although reflective learning is the pillar of authentic and experiential education, reflection alone is not enough to prepare our learners in any arena for the challenges and complexities they will face in their work and personal lives. In order to be successful in today’s world, people and organizations must know how to continually adapt to change and innovate. Although change is a significant and constant force in all of our lives, most of us do not understand how it occurs, nor how to effectively facilitate it within ourselves and others.
Generative Coaching is an inquiry-based method wherein people learn how to recognize the underlying processes of change, and then how to identify and build upon the hidden strengths and sources of intelligence they and others have unconsciously developed simply by adapting to change within their everyday life. (Retrieved from http://www.aaeebl.org/?page=generativecoachpeet on March 14, 2015)
The Catalyst for Learning site and Melissa Peet’s work both suggest that there’s more to eportfolios than other educational technologies, that there may be epistemological aspects to eportfolios that would carry them to the level of “disruptive technology.”
ePortfolios as a Way of Knowing Thyself
I heard two students at Boston University at the March 12 AAEEBL Conference express a core meaning of Generative Coaching – getting to know what you already know – in these words:
“The former me is telling the now me” what I know -- Salma Yehia at the AAEEBL Boston University conference. (See her own eportfolio)
“The former me is telling the now me.” Wow. Her phrase poetically throws light on the whole grand concept of “reflection.” Her phrase is also at the core of Generative Coaching. It is all about tacit knowledge; it is all about making learning visible (to oneself!). It is about integrating your past self with your current self.
And, another student:
“I am the personal editor of my own work.” This is about owning your own work, also a core eportfolio value – the eportfolio learning space is not owned by the institution. The learner can continue to change her or his work over time, to learn from former work, and to curate that work over time.
Context 2, Institutional Assessment
To understand this context, it helps to think “portfolio” as in paper portfolio, and about the research and tradition of portfolio. The “eportfolio” can be traced back only 20 years or so to the days of “webfolios” that depended on hyperlinks instead of an online database. However, portfolios as such are as old as the first instance of a human collecting related artifacts in a “thing.” In other words, during all of human literacy and pre-literacy, humans have used something that can be called a portfolio.
How does this side-track into history connect with our inquiry into the meaning of “eportfolio”? (Word just put a red underscore under “eportfolio” notifying me that Word does not know what eportfolio means, either). Artists, musicians, architects, and writers have all used portfolios to collect and review and “publish” their work for different purposes for centuries. Recently, since 1986, according to Kathleen Yancey, writing portfolios became one means of assessing student writing – a more holistic assessment than timed essays or testing.
Research and theory surrounding writing portfolios was itself a strong current in rhetoric and composition after 1986. This theory and set of practices preceded the advent of webfolios or eportfolios. Therefore, many of the early advocates of eportfolios were from rhetoric and composition, a prime example being the Inter/National Coalition for ePortfolio Research led by Kathleen Yancey, Barbara Cambridge and Darren Cambridge, all from the rhet and comp field (as am I).
Much of the excitement surrounding eportfolio, at first, was grounded in hopes that the values in writing portfolio theory and practice would be energized by eportfolios.
What actually happened is a typical technology story – in 2007, I wrote an article called “The ePortfolio Hijacked.”
As the article points out, inevitably, when new data about student work, especially in the aggregate, becomes available, the gold rush is on! Instead of universities spending money on adapting the curriculum to take advantage of the enormous learning potential of eportfolios, instead they saw (and understood) the potential to make the case to accrediting agencies, with eportfolios, that they, first, were collecting data on student learning, and, second, they were doing something about their findings: identifying learning outcomes and tracking progress toward those outcomes with eportfolios.
Instead of eportfolios revolutionizing learning, they were being used to reinforce the current curriculum. Many of us in the eportfolio community saw institutional assessment, therefore, as in conflict with learning. (Since then, institutions have found it possible to both develop new learning forms and integrate assessment into those new learning forms.)
Technology is two-faced. It can and is used for control. Without technology control, at this point, our society would stop operating. But, it can also liberate individuals and groups and generate creativity. It is democratizing but also controlling. At the pace of technology development, any digital enterprise can veer toward control or toward liberation overnight, literally. To us in the field in 2007, it seemed the eportfolio enterprise had veered strongly toward control – centralized and top-down.
An important note: during a recent webinar hosted by an eportfolio provider, I was led through the process for faculty assessing their students and you know what? It occurred to me that another way eportfolios are “making knowledge visible” is to help faculty understand the assessment process! The eportfolio system was laying out a heuristic for faculty to follow as a way to de-mystify assessment! This is important learning for faculty members. The apparent conflict between institutional assessment and learning seems to have been resolved.
Context 3: Technology in Education.
The key question about eportfolios in the number 3 context is How do eportfolio affordances shape practice? For example, in comparison to the LMS (learning management system), which is organized by courses and is therefore segmented, eportfolios are owned by students, so technologically are continuous and integrated. It would be hard to understand the meaning of eportfolios if one did not know about this vital and key eportfolio affordance.
Another key technology consideration: students set permissions in their eportfolio space as to who can see their work. This control reinforces the perception (and the reality) that learners own their own work.
Also, unlike other enterprise (campus-wide) applications, students can retain their eportfolio accounts after graduation. Just these three examples of how eportfolios are technologically unique and theoretically aligned with learning theory should make it clear how important this third context is to understanding what an eportfolio is.
To the extent that eportfolios are technologically designed to be a personal space and not a university-owned application, they exist in a wholly different world than other educational applications.
Context 4: Culture and Economy.
The upcoming AAEEBL Conference (July 27-30, Boston) uses the word “personalization” in its theme. Throughout our culture, personalization of everything – websites know you, search engines customize your searches, auto companies personalize your car, ad infinitum – and this is true of eportfolios as well. Except with eportfolios, you can control your own digital identity, your own personalization.
From the AAEEBL site:
While personalized learning can refer to automated tutoring systems, here we use a more contemporary understanding that affirms the core value of one’s capacity to establish an individual learning pathway and to assume responsibility for active learning. This connotation of personalized learning is at the heart of eportfolio’s value to custom-fit individual learner needs, but it also serves broadened visions for systemic transformation. As a movement, personalized learning, paired with eportfolios and holistic assessment, can be sized to fit learning requirements of any scope from individual to institutional. ePortfolio technologies have sufficiently matured to the point where both personal learning and data-driven institutional objectives can be served with authentic evidence. (http://www.aaeebl.org/?page=boston_aaeebl_2015)
Or, simply put, you don’t try to get through life on the basis of scaffolded learning when life requires you to build the scaffold. Or, if someone else is always driving, you never learn the way. ePortfolios, because they can help you make sense of and be recognized for your own personal learning journey, validate that journey. They make personalization possible.
ePortfolios, therefore, are part of a general cultural trend toward personalization. They are more than an educational technology, they are a cultural meme.
And also a means to succeed in work and career. Our culture has changed in its perception of job experience: decades ago, if you changed jobs often, there were suspicions that maybe you had something wrong with you. Now, I hear from young people (and statistics back this up), if you stay in a job more than three or four years, people wonder why you lack ambition. What is the challenge, then? It is to be able to learn new skills and concepts constantly. If you were not allowed to discover knowledge yourself while in college, you may not be prepared for work as it has become.
ePortfolios support “off the path” discovery learning, challenging learning, problem-based learning, experiential learning, constructivist learning and other forms of active and social learning. How? Because evidence of the off-the-path learning is collected and can be certified using eportfolios.
What IS an ePortfolio?
An eportfolio is not an automobile – moving us around physically – but it is a “knowmobile” – moving us around virtually. Seeing eportfolios this way enlarges our conceptual space in thinking about eportfolios and may help us understand and explain eportfolios better.
To extend the analogy: a car offers an interior space: in the 1900s it became – unwittingly – a private courting space for young couples, a space they had not had before that thereby weakened parental supervision. An eportfolio is also a private or personal learning space (whether it is a courting space has not been researched as far as I know). A car can serve to reinforce a personal identity – a status symbol, or a statement about your youthfulness or spirit; an eportfolio published on the Web also adds to a personal identity; an automobile supports employability in obvious ways; and so does an eportfolio that is kept up to date for getting a job. A car can help you explore the world and enjoy learning new things, so does an eportoflio. The comparisons can go on.
Each research field can and does see eportfolios differently but none can claim their own disciplinary definition applies to the multiple uses and overall cultural significance of eportfolios. At the same time, if, at its core, eportfolios were not extraordinarily effective to improve learning, the broader significance of eportfolios would evaporate.
The comparisons between one of last century’s most disruptive technologies and the eportfolio is, however, useful to us educators because it helps us understand the broad sweep of contexts in which eportfolios – the aggregating space for knowledge and self and identity and discovery – are important and therefore helps us understand why our eportfolio work is so important: we are using eportfolios in a set of educational practices to be sure but we are also helping learners be mobile and successful in this digital world. The knowmobile comes in many styles with many options and has a multitude of uses. As far as I know, its co2 emissions are negligible.
If you are interested, see http://campustechnology.com/Home.aspx and search “Trent Batson” to see the roughly 80 articles I published in Campus Technology between 2002 and 2014, many of which were about eportfolios.
Overview of eportfolio;definition eportfolio
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Sunday, March 08, 2015
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The Hype Cycle
Response to: “What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online Degrees That are Seen as Official,” by Kevin Carey, NYTimes, 3-7-15
Carey’s article was adapted from The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Cary, Riverhead Books, 2015.
MOOCs and Badges
Before MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) there were badges dominating the headlines in articles about higher education. Both MOOCs and badges appear to be a permanent part of the higher education mix, as neither have gone away, and both have continued to evolve and spread.
Kevin Carey, in his article adapted from his book, says that MOOCs have failed to “disrupt higher education.” This is because MOOCs don’t offer official college degrees, “and that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for.”
But, he says, “Now information technology is poised to transform college degrees. When that happens, the economic foundations beneath the academy will truly begin to tremble.”
He continues, “free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs. Now technological innovators are working on that, too.” And then he explains badges.
How are Badges Perceived?
Now, as our community is aware, badges were around before MOOCs. Badges have perhaps the wrong name: they are associated with the Scouts, with the military and with programmers. They don’t seem to carry intellectual depth or academic weight. It is hard to put together the phrase “liberal education” with the word “badges.” One could, of course, make the same statement about “liberal education” and “grades,” as grades are increasingly viewed: as inflated, non-predictive and devoid of any useful information.
Or, badges may seem too “micro,” as in the phrase “micro-credentialing.” Does a collection of badges about micro-skills add up to a conceptual whole? Do badges indicate that the receiver of the badges has gained the ability to make meaning because of mastering a set of micro-skills?
That’s the impressionistic challenge to badges, and a challenge that is real as we ponder the place of badges in our assessment process. Are badges passé or still vital?
Searching for “digital badges” on the Web brings you to hits from three or four years ago when The Open Badges Initiative was announced. However, it you go to https://credly.com/integrations, you’ll see that badges – that is, Credly on behalf of badges -- have gained traction with 10 or 15 organizations, including Pathbrite, Instructure, LinkedIn, Moodle, Drupal, uCertify, Haikulearning and others that provide a place to display badges, or an automated system to generate badges. “Thousands” of organizations also use Credly to confer badges internally, including AAEEBL and EDUCAUSE. Badges can be displayed via Twitter and Facebook also.
It would seem that, just below the radar, badges are still vital and becoming part of the new learning ecology.
Badges, MOOCs and ePortfolios
Digital badges can be used and are being used in eportfolio platforms. It seems from the Credly description of how badges are employed that badges are being granted as grades are granted. But, in theory, badges can be granted by various organizations.
MOOCs and online learning in general are growing in numbers of courses offered and enrollees. But higher education continues drawing steady traditional enrollment. Digital technology-based learning options are not either-or options. A trope in our culture has been that some new digital tool or concept or use will completely replace an existing practice. Time and again, we see that digital technologies primarily add to the options for ways to learn and to be recognized.
Just because we had a largely monolithic learning ecology in the past does not mean we will necessarily have a new monolith based in digital technologies. The overwhelming evidence is that digital technologies add variety to learning, new opportunities, personalization, inclusion of whole-life learning, or, in short, a much richer learning ecology. The digital revolution in higher education has already happened, but practice and systems have not yet adapted to that revolution.
The MOOC organizations – for example, Coursera and edX – do not seem to be focused on eportfolios. My inquiries led me to understand the difficulties of trying to provide access to an eportfolio for thousands of students around the world. MOOCs offered by a university for its own students would not have that same challenge.
Badges are more directly tied to eportfolios. It is logical to consider placing badges in eportfolios (once the provider has made the technical adjustments to allow for such display).
The Hype Cycle
ePortfolios, we know, are in use on almost all U. S. campuses, at least in a course or two. We also know that the number of students who use eportfolios in most of their courses has jumped in the last year or two. Badges, MOOCs and eportfolios (and other ancillary digital technologies) continue to spread despite the headlines that, first, declare that a technology will revolutionize education, and then say no more, leaving the impression that all was hype. This hype cycle serves no one.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
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Personalized Learning: It’s not the Algorithm, It’s the Learner
We live in a time of porous boundaries between human intelligence and machine intelligence (rightly called “artificial intelligence”). We need a Turing Test to decide whether an entity is human or not. If you apply for something online, you may have to prove, through Captcha, that you are not a machine. And, when it comes to the challenge facing education -- how to provide quality education for large numbers of students at a reduced cost – the temptation to cross the machine-human boundary and let machines (that is, algorithms) do the heavy lifting is almost irresistible.
That temptation needs to be resisted.
As much as information technology can bring efficiencies to education, in the end the best learning is not machine-driven but human-driven. Machines (that is, digital technologies) can remove physical obstacles and provide helpful guiding information but in the end humans learning with other humans in real-life situations is still the best way to learn.
Machines provide information faster than anyone could have imagined but learning is making sense of information and discovering its meaning, the real goal of learning, and something machines can’t do (yet).
Digital Technologies Provide a Leg Up
Learners can benefit from the guidance of algorithms that point the learner to online tutoring systems, for example, that are proving as effective as human tutors. learners can learn methods and approaches from the online tutors that then help them along their own learning paths. Their own learning paths. That’s the point: adult learners (that is college-age learners) learn best when they themselves create learning paths; the online tutor can provide a leg-up, but they cannot be the whole of the learning experience.
The Promise and Peril of Adaptive Learning Technologies
Adaptive learning technologies, online learning analytics used to create learning paths for learners based on their performance, might help some learners but cannot, in most cases, provide the opportunity for deep and lasting knowledge about how to learn. The machine, in adaptive learning technologies, has taken over: the algorithm is creating learning pathways, not the learner. This approach could be understood as an attempt at “semi-passive learning.” This is not to say there are not uses for adaptive learning technologies, but it is to say that this approach can only be one element in a human-driven learning path. (I did participate, as a consultant, in a project tangentially about adaptive learning technologies that was funded by the Gates Foundation; we are all experimenting with how best to partner with digital technologies but I think the golden rule has to be “thou shalt give the reins to the learner.”)
The Age of Personalization
But personalized learning, in comparison to adaptive learning technologies, is a very broad concept, encapsulating our entire culture’s experience with digital technologies. “Personalization” could describe the major effect that digital technologies are having on our culture. My car remembers how the driver’s seat should be configured for me and how the outboard mirrors should be positioned for best viewing from that seat positioning. My car is personalizing part of my driving experience. Our Blue Ray player remembers exactly where we were in a show we were watching the previous night; Google “knows” you and personalizes your search experience. Personalization affects all parts of our lives.
But only a human can truly personalize everything she or he does. It is the age of personalization but that only means assisting each of us to spend less time on details and more time on important human activities, such as imagination, creativity, discovery, integrating, intuition, taking leaps of faith. Personalization by digital technologies only frees us humans to better personalize our lives (that is, find our own ways).
Personalization in Learning
One of the most important personalizing technologies, maybe the most important of personalizing technologies for learning, is the eportfolio. Why? Because not only does it help you create your own personal identify on line, but using an eportfolio frees learners to follow whatever learning path they wish while still documenting (with a smart phone) that personal learning path and making it part of their learning history. ePortfolios allow learners to take the lead, make their own mistakes, or serendipitous discoveries, and learn as humans learn best.
This may be the age of digital technologies, but it is also the age of unleashed learners: machines are only good if they enhance the lives of humans. They are not good is they take over the lives of humans or take over learning experiences.
Our whole effort in using digital technologies to improve learning should not be to impose new restrictions on curiosity and discovery by finding new ways of leashing the learner to the machine, but to free learners from the limitations of previous technologies and of other physical limitations on learning. Algorithms, like good teachers, need to be guides on the side and not new sages on the stage.
The AAEEBL Annual Conference, July 27-30 in Boston, includes personalized learning as one of the main themes of the conference.
The New Media Consortium Horizon Report and Personalization
This year’s New Media Consortium Horizon Report includes a section on personalized learning.
From the abstract to this section:
“Personalized learning refers to the range of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies intended to address the specific learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.”
So far, so good. This definition is broad, as it should be, describing personalized learning as a general trend in education, in recognition of the realization that the more active that learners are on behalf of their own learning, the deeper and longer-lasting their learning will be. But in subsequent paragraphs in this abstract, personalized learning seems to move more and more toward machine-driven and not human-driven.
“While there is a demand for personalized learning, it is not adequately supported by current technology or practices. The increasing focus on customizing instruction to meet students’ unique needs is driving the development of new technologies that provide more learner choice and allow for differentiated instruction. Advances such as online learning environments and adaptive learning technologies make it possible to support a learner’s individual learning path.”
Hmmm. Now, the text is moving toward an implication that support for personalized learning may or should mostly come from digital technologies. I thought letting the student out of the classroom in itself was supporting “a learner’s individual learning path.” The report’s abstract goes on to say:
“The biggest barrier to personalized learning, however, is that scientific, data-driven approaches to effectively facilitate personalization have only recently begun to emerge; learning analytics, for example, is still evolving and gaining traction within higher education.”
And, there we have it – if artificial intelligence is not the driver, personalization cannot be fully supported. I vote for human intelligence as the driver; we don’t want to replace an overbearing teacher with an overbearing machine.
And, of course, nowhere in this section are eportfolios mentioned. That is a big error in conceptualizing “personalized learning.” That is like saying personal mobility depends on the car while ignoring the highway system. But, I hasten to applaud the report in general for referring to very good examples of colleges and universities who are incorporating personalized learning. That these institutions may be using eportfolios to support their move to personalized learning was somehow missed in this report.
The Report, as a whole, is a magnificent survey of technology in higher education. It gives detail to the general digital environment in which learners use their eportfolios. We can see, by reading through the Report how pervasively digital technologies have infused higher education with new capabilities for all purposes. If anything, the Report explains why eportfolios are necessary: in such a digitized ecology of learning, in which the classroom is no longer “the center,” where is the center? For learners, the new center is their eportfolio.
Let’s add a note that the Report should have included:
In the digitized environment in which learners now work and learn, integration of diverse experiences is newly crucial, and reflection on artifacts from those experiences is the key to learning. Portfolio evidence is the new learning pathway: what is collected, curated, analyzed, and published is how a learner makes sense of learning. The eportfolio process provides personalized coherence and a learning space that replaces the classroom as the center of learning.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Monday, February 09, 2015
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EDUCAUSE ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2014: Troubling Findings for ePortfolio Field
A previous Blog provided information from the 2013 ECAR Survey; this one is about the 2014 Survey.
ePortfolios Continue Their Robust Growth in Use in Higher Education
From 2010 to 2014, the ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology showed impressive, almost breath-taking growth in use of eportfolios on US campuses and others around the world: around a 500% growth in use from 2010 to 2013 and a doubling of use in two or more courses from 2012 to 2013. One of AAEEBL’s Annual Conferences called this growth curve “ePortfolio Coming of Age.”
Gratifying, But Wait a Minute
For those of us who have worked with, advocated for, and used eportfolios, the news may seem gratifying: it suggests that academia is beginning to see the value in eportfolios.
However, in the 2014 survey, when the questions in the survey included more perspectives beyond simple numbers of users, we find disturbing data:
- Though the number of students using eportfolios in “most or all courses” hovered around 10% -- continuing the trend of “scaling up” in eportfolio use – 30% of students who used eportfolios “strongly agree they could be more effective if they [students] were better at using them.”
- About 30 percent of respondents to another question wish “their instructors would use [eportfolios] more,” but about 40% wish they would use then less.
These two sets of data suggest the growth in the use of eportfolios is coming at a price: students are puzzled over how to use them and many of them wish they’d use them less.
LMS findings in the 2014 Survey Report
Even though 99% of institutions have an LMS, the survey indicated that 29% of students use the LMS in only one course or none (17% use the LMS in no courses).
Students showed they were very interested in adding personalized features to the LMS, particularly to aid them in seeing and understanding their progress toward the degree.
The 2014 Survey shows much more about student wishes, preferences, and inclinations that add flesh to the raw numbers of this survey and previous ones. For us in the eportfolio field, we can celebrate that around 10% of respondents said they used eportfolios in most or all their courses – the most startling number we’ve seen about eportfolio use yet -- but we also need to address the resultant confusion and push back indicated in the Survey. [Note that the survey also had responses from 55 countries outside the U. S.]
LMS’s are trending toward becoming a personalized learning analytics system for students within the traditional learning ecology of mostly “one-size fits all” curriculum. Within that ecology, the LMS is very valuable as a practical tool and, conceivably, as a prompt to reflect on one’s own experience in college.
But to the extent that LMS’s trend toward a tracking utility and toward serving the practical, as opposed to the learning, needs of students, the “learning” part of the LMS name shrinks in importance and the “management system” part grows.
ePortfolios continue to grow in use at a startling rate considering they are being adopted within, mostly, a learning ecology that is not hospitable to the best use of eportfolios.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Monday, February 02, 2015
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Study Shows Steady Growth in ePortfolio Use; What Does That Mean?
As a frame for this article, and to offer evidence that eportfolios are important, consider the following:
In 2012, we were able to state reliably, based on the the EDUCAUSE Survey of Undergraduates and Technology, that 51% of students in the U. S. and other reporting countries used eportfolio at one time in their college experience. That number in the 2013 Report was 54%, an annual increase of 3%.
In 2012, we had to qualify the good news (to us) that over half of students use eportfolios by adding, “but only 7% used them in more than one course.” However, in 2013, we see a significant increase in students using eportfolios in more than one course:
· In 2013, 5% used eportfolios in more than half of their courses
· 9% used eportfolios in “a few” courses
· 39% used eportfolios in one course.
· In other words, the percentage of students using eportfolios in more than one course went from 7% to 14%, a notable increase.
· In that same year, student use of learning management systems actually declined.
What is an ePortfolio and Why Are They Important?
The eportfolio movement is about 20 years old, if you include webfolios as a type of eportfolio in the 90s (on the web but without a database to manage the webfolio). However, the portfolio (without the “e”) idea is perhaps a thousand years old (or more?) Portfolios created by artists or musicians or writers go back centuries.
ePortfolio is based, therefore, on an ancient tradition. But, unlike paper or canvas or blueprint portfolios, eportfolios -- the technology – live within an online database and the collection is electronic rather than atomic (that is, tangible objects). The “e” in eportfolio is therefore very important as it designates an amazing liberation from the limits of the physical world.
So, eportfolios have not caught on as much as they have just because of the technology. They have that long tradition behind them. And, fortuitously, they also arrived on the scene just as they were needed. With the necessary shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning – in a time of relatively stable knowledge, teach; in a time of rapidly changing knowledge, learn – the learner who can show evidence she has the ability to learn quickly has an advantage. She can show her abilities through concrete evidence in her eportfolio. It is both the technology native to new ecologies of learning and, secondly, is wrapped in decades-old learning theory based on portfolios to help us understand how to implement eportfolios in these new ecologies.
The accountability movement also arose as eportfolios developed technologically. They seemed the perfect answer for the demands of accountability. They could show student progress toward learning outcomes. ePortfolios with the right “back end” can produce aggregate reports on classes of students to show their progress toward explicit learning goals. This data is invaluable to many institutions for many purposes – institutional research reports, institutional planning and assessment, re-accreditation, and so on.
And, a third element also contributed to the growing adoption of eportfolios.That third element is advances in understanding of how adults learn best. Research into learning in cognitive science, linguistics, anthropology and other fields added to research in psychology and education provided new understanding about adult learning. It turned out, to generalize, that the “delivery of content” as an entire framework for education was and is deficient to the demands of our times. Instead, as an example, educational designs in which learners are challenged to solve a discipline-specific problem by themselves or in a team result in deeper and more lasting habits of learning.
Many cultural, research and technology vectors (energy plus direction) are behind the growth of eportfolios. Another less obvious factor behind eportfolios: the idea of students owning their own work and keeping it with them over time is a compelling idea that has galvanized an entire community of educators (including administrators) for over a decade.
Active Learning Designs Benefit from ePortfolios
Active-learning designs, resulting in learners solving problems in many different ways and with varying results, requires a different means of assessing the learning and the results. ePortfolios provide this new means: if learners collect well-constructed and revealing evidence of their learning process, benchmarks, reflection and analysis, then not only is learning deeper but the assessment itself becomes the basis for a resume and for further learning.
But almost certainly the strongest force driving change is the whole panorama of digital technologies, causing our entire culture and economy to change – and they are still driving more change.
Will ePortfolios Continue to Spread?
So, with all these vectors coming together, why haven’t eportfolios been adopted ubiquitously and universally? It may be that at some point, they will be, but the systemic and fundamental changes educators and their institutions must make are confounded by the business model – credit hours – and longstanding expectations and habits, faculty preferences and priorities, popular images of how learning occurs – the list can go on, but the idea is that such an established and fundamental cultural cluster of ideas and beliefs and patterns about teaching and learning will not change quickly, if ever.
But those changes must occur before eportfolios can be employed in broadly useful ways. Attaching an eportfolio to an existing traditional course is like attaching a plow to a car (as people did in the early part of the last century). The car did not do well, nor will eportfolios if they are only an ornament in a course.
What Is an ePortfolio?
An eportfolio is an online digital collection of learning artifacts (“assets” in other parts of the world) that form a personal library or museum of an individual’s evidence of learning. A very important difference from learning management systems is that the learner owns her or his personal eportfolio: owns both literally as in copyright law, once it is published on the Web, and owns in the sense of the eportfolio collection staying with the learner and not with the institution. The learner can set permissions as to who can see and have access to the data in her or his eportfolio.
In this way, eportfolios are longitudinal and continuous, not segmented by courses as happens in LMS’s. They can stay with a learner after graduation and on into a career.
From an eportfolio database of learning artifacts (text, photos, video, sound clips, diagrams, graphs, and so on), many different web pages can be created. Like a resume that is tailored for the occasion, eportfolio web presentations can be tailored to fit the occasion, as well. These are not different eportfolios as many people now say, but really only different faces on one eportfolio collection.
Do ePortfolios Make Graduates More Employable?
Do employers look at eportfolios? This question comes up often and often seems to be asked as the “trump” question: if no one looks at your eportfolio, of what use can it be? And, to be honest, that was a hard question to answer for a number of years. But then, a funny thing happened: the death of the paper resume and the birth of HR web searches of job candidates.
Now that resumes are expected to be online, adding links to your eportfolio within the resume only makes sense: it tells the HR folks doing the applicant triage that you have more of a story to tell beyond the resume. The links make the resume three-dimensional. And, then, there’s the growing trend of search committees and HR doing web searches as part of their “due diligence.” Wouldn’t it be great to have your eportfolio show up at the top of the results list in the search engine?
In short, reasons to have an eportfolio both within the college years and afterwards as graduates changes jobs to advance are overwhelming. But, as I’ve already pointed out, the barriers to adoption and institutional deployment are formidable.
As the EDUCAUSE Survey confirms, we can now see a pattern of individual course adoptions across a majority of U. S. higher educational institutions (and a similar pattern in a few other countries as well), and some program adoptions in a large number of institutions, and a few dozen whole campus adoptions in the U. S.
The eportfolio industry – the companies providing eportfolios to educational institutions – has blossomed, to a large extent to provide a way to report on student progress toward learning goals. The technology is approaching maturity, with regular updates and a Web 2.0 quality of user interface. It is a strong industry and is helping educators understand the value of eportfolios.
The eportfolio movement in the U. S. has its own association – AAEEBL – and a century-old professional association that strongly supports eportolios – AAC&U. AAEEBL is tied to the Centre for Recording Achievement in the UK and to ePortfolios Australia; AAEEBL has member institutions in the U. S., Canada, the UK, and in Australia. ePortfolio is a global movement.
“ePortfolio” is Code for What?
The word “eportfolio” has a broad meaning for those in the movement: it is a set of practices, not a technology. But it also describes “evidence-based learning,” a term that some people understand more quickly than “eportfolio.” Employers, in particular, like the sound of “evidence-based learning” because it seems to answer their concerns that a degree and a transcript have lost some of their predictive value. They ask for concrete evidence of what a candidate can actually do.
In the end, however, the core value of an eportfolio is for learning. Being able to reflect on one’s history of learning over a course, or program or college career and therefore integrating learning experiences adds a dimension to college learning that has proven to make a difference not only in the quality of learning for individual learners, but for retention, grades and graduation. (Catalyst for Learning: http://c2l.mcnrc.org/)
Learning through course designs and programs architected for eportfolios is not only deeper learning, but learning that is more in tune with the challenges of our times. The growing phenomenon of “high-impact educational practices” suggests change is afoot in the academy. Adding eportfolios to high-impact practices makes them even more high-impact, making eportfolios a “meta-high-impact practice,” a phrase being adopted in the eportfolio field.
I have personally been deeply involved in technology in higher education for thirty years. My experience tells me that no one can predict what humans will do with a technology, so I have learned caution. We are at a point of moderate eportfolio saturation within higher education in the U. S. and other countries. Growth has been strong in some years and less so in others, but still steady. Knowing that fundamental change has to accompany eportfolio adoption, we can understand those slow downs. One does not just purchase an eportfolio system and the campus changes around the technology; change must precede or coincide with adoption of an eportfolio system.
We know higher education is at a stress point and will be for years. But we also know that online presence and the quality of that presence, and the need for it, will grow. We know that employers want to see evidence of achievement, proof of what a candidate can actually do. We also know that educators do want their students to learn as well as possible. ePortfolios will continue to grow in usage, will help educators understand the nature of change needed, will help those same educators assess learners who learn outside the classroom and who may not be following a pre-set path but often creating their own paths, and will help institutions meet the demands of accountability and the quality agenda.
ePortfolios are an integral part of educational change and will continue to be. The EDUCAUSE survey report on eportfolios called them “experimental.” Extrapolating from the Survey data, that characterization would suggest that two or three million students in the U.S. are engaged in an experiment. I’d say we are well past the experimental stage.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
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Hard Questions About ePortfolio Evidence
What is Valid and Reliable ePortfolio Evidence?
As AAEEBL places new emphasis on the “evidence-based learning” part of AAEEBL’s name in AAEEBL conferences this year, the question naturally arises – at least if one adopts a critical perspective – “what is valid and reliable eportfolio evidence?”
ePortfolio literature is rich in accounts, based on various research approaches, about the impact of eportfolios. It is rich in institutional stories, assuring readers – rightly – that an eportfolio initiative produces many valuable outcomes. But the literature is not rich about the question posed above about valid and reliable eportfolio evidence.
In The International Journal of ePortfolio archives – IJeP at http://www.theijep.com -- it is hard to find any description in any published article that describes eportfolio evidence, what it is, what guidelines are offered to learners, or what consensus exists in the field of eportfolio studies about the question of evidence – what is valid and reliable eportfolio evidence?
Do Guidelines for Evidence Exist?
On individual campuses, such guidelines may exist, perhaps embedded in introductory courses about using eportfolios, or in capstone eportfolio courses. Faculty members using eportfolios in their courses may set standards for eportfolio evidence, or service learning or coop learning or internship offices may also promote certain approaches and standards for collecting evidence and for certification of that evidence.
The eportfolio field – the field of evidence-based learning or of “folio-thinking,” a Stanford University phrase – is at the point of needing to begin developing consensus on eportfolio evidence – a taxonomy, a theory, guidelines, and other initiatives. What does a person need as eportfolio evidence in different fields study, at different points in a learner’s development, and for different purposes?
Badges as Evidence
One form of evidence – digital badges – that can be linked to from an eportfolio, defines the criteria behind the awarding of the badge. Digital badges reside within a national infrastructure for badges and have a strong following in the eportfolio community. Clicking on the badge reveals not only the criteria behind the badge but information about who awarded the badge and what pedigree the badge has.
The knee-jerk reaction among those educators new to badges is to assume that badges are certified by teachers, but that quick reaction imposes a preconception – that learning is only important if it is certified by a teacher – that misses the point of badges. Badges are a form of micro-credentialing of a specific skill that often is awarded by peers in a working team or others in a supervisory position outside of academia. If used in this broader curricular and non-curricular manner, badges may be among the most valid and reliable forms of evidence if those viewing the badge feel they can trust the issuer of the badge. A collection of badges in one field of study can add up to a strong statement of competence in that field.
Going Beyond ePortfolio Owner Testimony
But, those who search the web for samples of individual learning eportfolios generally find that “evidence” in an eportfolio is often simply testimony by the learner that they did something. If I was hiring someone or admitting someone to a graduate program, I would want better evidence than just the written testimony of the applicant.
Certain professions do have standards for eportfolio evidence, notably education, nursing, physical therapy and other “clinical practice” fields. High-impact educational practices such as undergraduate research or first-year seminars and others may also have standards for valid and reliable evidence of achievement.
Alverno College, a pioneer in new forms of assessment and in eportfolios, says this on their website about the Alverno portfolio:
This first-of-its-kind, web-based system was implemented in 1999 at Alverno College. The DDP enables Alverno students — anyplace, anytime — to follow their learning progress throughout their years of study. It helps students process the feedback they receive from faculty, external assessors and peers. It also enables them to look for patterns in their academic work so they can take more control of their own development and become more autonomous learners.
The Diagnostic Digital Portfolio (DDP) is built on Alverno's student assessment-as-learning process. It makes the process more transparent to students and others who seek to understand this important educational program. It also provides actual, accessible performance data with which graduates can create an electronic resume for potential employers or for graduate schools. (http://ddp.alverno.edu/)
The evidence in the Alverno portfolio may, however, show strong evidence of being able to perform academically and may do this reliably, but is it valid evidence of being able to do something outside of an academic learning model? The workplace success of Alverno graduates may prove the validity of the eportfolio evidence in the Alverno portfolio.
Nicole Buzzetto-More advocated the inclusion of a “Commentary on Evidence” section in eportfolios so the eportfolio owner could strengthen the claims made in the eportfolio. This “Commentary on Evidence” might be likened to an annotated bibliography attached to an article: being able to be objective about your own evidence is a sign of intellectual maturity, pretty strong evidence in itself. (The E-portfolio Paradigm: Informing, Educating, Assessing, and Managing with E-portfolios 2010)
An article published by two researchers at Curtin University in Australia makes the case for collecting evidence of “work-integrated learning” (WIL). Does evidence from the workplace better convince potential employers than evidence from the classroom?
There is substantial evidence that eportfolios provide an ideal platform to evidence program-wide WIL [work-integrated learning] achievements (Edwards & Burnham, 2009). It provides a setting for students to clearly demonstrate that they not only ‘know’ discipline content but that they can ‘do’ by applying the knowledge in a professional context. This opens up authentic assessment task options in preference to traditional assessment methodologies thus providing rich contextual demonstrations outside the limitations of customary assessment paradigms. Employers have expressed interest in this mode of assessment (Cai, 2012) as they have more confidence in the overt demonstration of the achievement of authentic learning experiences which transcend the classroom environment. http://www.apjce.org/files/APJCE_15_3_269_280.pdf
“ePortfolios as evidence of standards and outcomes in work-integrated learning.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2014, 15(3), 269-280.
Sonia Ferns and Jude Comfort, Curtin University, Australia.
Motivations of ePortfolio Researchers and the Needs of the Field
ePortfolios are in their second decade of national attention and broad-scale adoption but the movement is still faced with the root question of “what is an eportfolio” and “why should we adopt eportfolios.” But, maybe, instead of continuing to answer these questions, the field needs to move toward aggregating wisdom. The Connect to Learning Project at LaGuardia Community College did aggregate wisdom from 24 campuses between 2010 and 2014 and produced the Catalyst for Learning site at http://c2l.mcnrc.org/ to share the fruits of their labors.
In particular, we need to aggregate wisdom about the nature of eportfolio evidence. I say this as myself but also as a leader of AAEEBL, uncomfortably aware of what agenda I may be setting for AAEEBL as a professional association in the field of eportfolios.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
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This year, AAEEBL is attempting to capture and put forward in conferences the evolution of the eportfolio movement in the U. S. and world-wide. In our Annual Conference, July 27-30, 2015 in Boston, we invite sessions that illuminate how others are seeing this evolution -- "Moving Beyond One Size Fits All." The CFP is open for the Annual Conference. In this blog, I offer a personal view of how I see the movement evolving, toward a framework of Evidence-Based Learning Systems powered by eportfolio technologies. -- tb
Notes Toward A Theory of Evidence-Based Learning (EBL)
(In 2009, AAEEBL chose the phrase “evidence-based learning” as part of its title. The rare use of that phrase before 2009 referred to using research on learning to guide one’s teaching – learning designs based on research. A similar usage developed in medicine – “evidence-based medicine.”
AAEEBL, instead, uses EBL to refer to a system in which learners learn by gathering evidence of their own work and reflecting on that evidence – this way, the evidence and evidence-gathering is the basis for learning. It is an active engagement with your own process. At this point in the evolution of the eportfolio movement, EBL seems to be a useful term to develop into a theory that encompasses eportfolio uses and which then can be used to re-structure education).
Evidence-Based Learning (EBL) is a term used to describe what is now possible: a lesser focus on the end products of learning and greater focus on the process of learning. The more we can make the learning process visible through gathering step-by-step evidence, the more we can improve learning.
Easier to Collect Evidence of Learning
Before the Web and digital technologies such as eportfolios, collecting evidence of the process of learning was laborious and difficult. It was easier to just collect the product – the final assignment or report or test results -- and assume that learning had occurred (or not). This may have been all that was practically possible at scale, but at the same time, it is hard to adjust the learning process behind the product if there is no evidence left of what that process was.
But, with eportfolio and other digital technologies, gathering a full picture of the learning process – or the creation process or discovery process or data gathering process – is now possible. In addition, the “full picture” is itself a source of learning as learners review the evidence in that full picture and decide how their evidence will be useful to make a case for something, be it a capstone assignment or in support of a job application.
A New Framework for Learning
Evidence-Based Learning, as I see it, can form the basis for a new framework for learning in the academy, within careers, between periods of enrollment and throughout life. Learners now have access to technologies to make evidence-gathering relatively easy. ePortfolio technology has advanced and is available not only to enrolled students but to individuals not currently enrolled. One can now maintain a portfolio online for a number of different purposes, for learning and assessment while in a program or for personal advancement in a career.
EBL is not just another term for “eportfolios.” EBL is a framework for learning that is enabled and energized by eportfolio technology. ePortfolios are a critical part of EBL, but only a part. EBL implies a system that involves the whole learner and all learning experiences that are perceived as relevant or potentially relevant to life advancement. Assessment of prior learning, or “recognition of prior learning” in parts of the world or “prior learning assessment and recognition” in other parts, recognizes the power of evidence. It is not just time in a course that is the coin of the realm but also evidence of what someone can do. A big part of EBL is holistic assessment.
EBL, because it involves collecting evidence as learning is occurring, is necessarily constructivist in orientation. The evidence-gathering is itself a constructivist approach to learning.
As the world evolves toward new models of learning in this new environment of abundance of information and knowledge, EBL is a logical outcome, a process that fits the time. Evidence is multi-modal: of many types --visual, graphic, text, data – reflecting the reality of today and of many ways of understanding and interpreting those types of evidence.
As we move invariably toward models based on evidence of achievement, or competence, or learning, we need new theories of learning to understand those new models in order to continue to improve them. What was actually true for a long time but never fully recognized in our teaching/learning models, should be better understood, more explicit, and should be more fully incorporated into our understanding of learning.
We need a theory of Evidence-Based Learning (EBL). Below are notes toward such a theory.
1. Learning Starts with Experience. All learning originates in experience. This is true of advanced learning in college or in a career as well, albeit the starting point for advanced learning could be listening to an expert in the knowledge domain, a familiar enough scenario. A learner needs some sort of introductory context, whether based on a lecture, or lived learning experience, to begin the process of learning a new skill, a new concept, or anything else. However, once the “informational” part of the learning process is over, the “transformational” part begins. This is where the learner must become the active agent in learning.
In this transformational part of the learning process, because of mobile digital technologies, activity in any location can be documented in some way. Evidence can be collected, uploaded to the learner’s eportfolio, and then it becomes part of the “story” of learning around a particular skill or concept. Reflecting on this evidence results in perceptions about the learning experience, perceptions that may have begun “in the field,” but which can be extended and deepened through reflection and integration.
Once the learner has developed a perceptual insight into the work she or he is doing, then they have a path to seeing how their experience and perceptions of that experience connects with larger concepts in their field of study or work.
2. Ownership: Students Own The Content of the Course. The content of a course does not precede the course. The true content (what is important) is the interaction between teacher and learner during the course and what that interaction produces. The content, then, is what the learners produce, the mutual construction of new knowledge based on existing concept in the field, as interpreted for this particular interaction.
In any field, a consensus exists within that knowledge domain. A teacher interprets some part of that consensus by adapting assignments or projects to the level of the learners. That teacher may interpret discipline consensus in a particular way. It is that interpretation and then the derivative course design plus what the students produce within that design that is the content of the course. “Content” is therefore dynamic and variable, not static.
3. Process: Must Have Evidence Showing Process of Developing Content. Evidence must therefore demonstrate concretely the process of learning. Like evidence in criminal proceedings, evidence of learning is not a conclusion or a product but is the inspiration for further and deeper interpretation and analysis. Evidence of learning supports the second phase of developing critical thinking: building perceptions based on the learning experiences, and evidence gathered, while doing the assignment. Learners assessing the value of their evidence is the first effort at developing perceptions about the evidence – seeing similarities, seeing what the learner missed the first time around, or what the learner should have done at the time, and other perceptions that become apparent when looking back at evidence.
4. Variability: The EBL Process Varies from Learner to Learner. Learners, either working alone, or in teams, vary in their approach and in their experiences as they work. With a product focus, this variability would not be a factor, because the product becomes the all – a finished assignment or a test. But, with a process focus, variabiity must be taken into account. In fact, how an individual or a team addresses a problem, project or assignment, is key to everything. Learning is about improving your own process but if we don’t capture that process how can we improve it? This is why EBL is so important.
5. Visibility: Seeing the EBL Process Leads to Improvement. Because learning is about improving a process – how you think about a problem or an assignment, how you plan your efforts (or your team’s efforts) for doing the assignment, how you break the problem or assignment into parts that are done simultaneously or in sequence, how you learn enough to do those parts, and how you determine what the product will be to complete the assignment – then, in the end, being able to see evidence of that process allows learners to improve the process. A simple example is golfers watching a video clip of their swing to see what they are doing wrong.
6. Assessment: Assessing Learning is Assessing the Process of Learning. Assessment of learning is therefore assessment of the process of learning as revealed in the evidence in an eportfolio. The evidence is made up of artifacts such as notes, photos, video, graphics, reports, summaries and other familiar work artifacts showing a work in progress. But, the evidence can and perhaps should include digital badges, a form of micro-credentialing that add authenticity and validity to the assessment of evidence-based learning. Badges can be granted by peers or organizations or teachers to certify a level of expertise in a specific skill such as mastery of a web-authoring tool or interpreting scientific data or summarizing the key points in popular publications about a scientific controversy. (Badges is a large topic unto itself and is an important element in EBL and will therefore be the topic of another Blog).
7. Assessing Process is More Holistic. Assessment of the process of learning as demonstrated in a learner’s eportfolio evidence is a more holistic assessment than simply grading a product produced as a result of that process. This holistic assessment is more valuable in helping learners know specifically what part(s) of their process they need to work on.
8. EBL Assessment is a Personalized Learning System. This holistic assessment then can be analyzed using rubrics to determine the learner’s progress toward program or institutional learning outcomes. If the rubrics relate to the process of learning in a field, then they will be useful in determining how learners are advancing in their learning at a micro-level. EBL, using rubrics this way, is therefore a personalized learning system, able to assess multiple paths toward learning outcomes. As such, the system would allow for students to complete degree requirements when they have met a specified set of learning outcomes at a high enough level.
9. Summary. Learners have always varied in how they learned but educators did not have the technology to easily “see” those varied processes of learning. Now, educators do. Secondly, because it was hard to see the process of learning, educators focused on the products produced by learners to assess their learning. A product focus led to curricular designs that were not ideally aligned with how humans actually learn – through experience in authentic situations, collaboratively and socially. If only the product was assessed (graded), and therefore valued, then why put effort into the process of producing that product (especially if the product was only a multiple-choice test)? There are learning disincentives embedded in a product-focused learning structure (not to mention the lure of plagiarism).
Now, EBL allows educators to improve learning structures and the assessment process. EBL supports a move from product focus and all the problems associated with that to a process focus and the greater engagement and personalization that results.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Monday, September 29, 2014
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Batson Blog 9-26-14
The Historical Significance of ePortfolios: Realizing the Move to Personalization
ePortfolios may serve as the bridge from the industrial era of “one-size-fits-all” education to the knowledge era of personalized learning. Historians may look back decades hence and describe this era of educational transformation as a move from undifferentiated teaching to personalized learning. And the major enabler for this transformation may be eportfolios and those who understand eportfolio learning.
Definition of ePortfolio?
Many have offered definitions of “eportfolio.” It is hard to get agreement as to which definition is the definition. Is it a genre? A learning space? A resume? A collaborative space? An owned space? A record? A repository? A website?
And what is its purpose? To advance reflective and integrative thinking? To support the authentic and experiential high-impact practices as described by George Kuh? To get a job? Fulfill learning outcomes? Support competency-based learning? Or self-paced learning? Or adaptive learning? Or workforce development?
Are we too close to the trees to see the forest? Perhaps we need a larger context to better understand the essence of eportfolio.
A Larger Context to Better Understand ePortfolios
In the first two decades of this millennium, there has been a coalescence of many trends to improve learning based on studies in anthropology, linguistics, cognitive science, psychology, education and other fields: active, real world learning results in personal experiences that can be reflected upon is one way to describe this coalescence. This learning approach seems to result in engaged and deep learning. As we learn, collectively, more about learning, at the same time, the demand to learn throughout life has intensified. As knowledge changes more quickly, it is hard to keep up.
Culturally and economically, we humans have had to face more challenging economic times that seem permanent: “work” has permanently changed and will continue to change as we tap the unlimited potential of the digital age. In a breath-taking short decade or so, we became the knowledge economy and the “social” culture while we also became a predominantly urban nation.
At the same time, in almost all ways in our culture, we have moved from the “mass” of the industrial age to the “individual” of the digital age. According to some scientists, we are now in the “anthropocene” geological era where humans are the predominant force of global natural change. How does one take all this in and adapt to such deep changes?
In all of education, K-16 and throughout life, we are moving gradually from “one-size-fits-all” to personalization. The concept of personalization helps us understand the historical meaning of the eportfolio phenomenon. “Personalization” as a disciplinary term refers to learning experiences that are or can be tailored to the individual needs of the learner: either an algorithm adapts content to fit the learning needs of the individual or the learner herself or himself discovers, over a semester or more, information that is used to create disciplinary content (that is, complete an assignment). Personalization is either done for you or you do your own personalizing in a system that allows and supports an individual personalizing initiative.
The Role of ePortfolios in the Cultural Shift to Personalization
I think ePortfolios will be seen, historically, as the platform that instantiates and makes permanent the move to personalization, not only in educational institutions, but in all of life. We may be able to look back decades in the future and see that the move to personalization was realized through the universal adoption of eportfolios. This is because if learners are finding their own paths to learning outcomes, they need to show evidence that they have reached the outcomes. ePortfolios are essential in the move to personalization.
Most references to “personalized learning” assume a technology that replaces a teacher or a tutor – adaptive learning applications, for example, such as The Khan Academy provides. This machine-based approach continues the decades-old quest for automated teaching and assessment. Intelligent tutors caught our attention in the mid-1980s only to quickly fade away. Those being offered now are far superior and actually have a place in the mix of learning opportunities today. But only in the mix.
Curricular Design to Incorporate Personalized Learning
“Personalized learning” has also become the basis for entire colleges or universities to organize learning experiences for their campus, not offered by technology alone but as an over-arching understanding of how humans learn best.
Sometimes “personalized learning” is named competency-based or self-paced or outcomes-based learning but they are all varying names for the over-all cultural move to personalization in learning and in many cultural and economic areas as well – you can build your own car these days, including the options you wish to have, for example – what we might call a personalized car.
How to Best Understand ePortfolios
Perhaps the best way to describe eportfolios is as the historical enabler for the move to personalization in education. Understood this way, the conflict between assessment management (learning outcomes eportfolio systems) and student learning eportfolios disappears: you need learning outcomes to free eportfolios to become the primary work done in all learning contexts. Using an assessment management system within a learning-outcomes framework can then enable the personal eportfolio to move to the center of the educational enterprise. This might be called a personalized learning environment – a slight but important variation on a “personal learning environment.” We might say the personal learning environment (the platform) is at the center of a personalized learning enterprise.
The learning outcomes that serve to organize the personalized learning enterprise need to be pointed toward the thinking skills, attitudes and experiences needed in the knowledge economy. Then, learning and employability as eportfolio functions are also unified since the outcomes are complimentary. Framing the eportfolio phenomenon as a move to personalization encompasses all the various definitions I mentioned at the start of this blog. It is a unifying concept and can help all of us better explain and understand what it is we are doing.
The concept of the personal learning environment has been with us all along but has been limited to describing a technology platform. Personalized learning, as a distinct term, has come forward in currency along with “adaptive learning” in the past few years. If we can think of “personalized learning” as a whole new context for learning inside and outside the academy, both automated and learner-initiated, then the purpose and significance of eportfolios becomes clearer. ePortfolios support and make possible the move to personalized learning.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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Those who talk about eportfolios often note how many different uses eportfolios are put to. Some say, in reaction, “if everything is an eportfolio, then nothing is an eportfolio.” And, most also say “it is not the technology, but how the technology is used.” We seem to most often talk about eportfolio uses as if that is all we need to say.
If we look just at how eportfolios are instrumented (i.e., used), we can indeed become quickly confused. Are these uses about learning? Or assessment? Or identity? Or recognition of prior learning? Or? At the recent AAEEBL conference, the planning committee found it a challenge to limit the number of tracks to a workable number because eportfolios can add value to the educational experience in so many ways, from institution-centered to learning-centered or career-centered.
Not How? but Why?
But, in light of the sometimes baffling profusion of uses eporfolio users have developed, maybe we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “how are eportfolios used?,” we should be asking “why are eportfolios used?” Maybe that question would lead us to a common thread, an underlying goal, in all eportfolio uses.
Any one of the uses referred to above might be sufficient for educators to explore eportfolios. Each use has value in and of itself. But, what really drives this community? What inchoate notion drives people to put so much energy, time and risk into advocating for or supporting eportfolios?
An ePortfolio Hope
The source of my own hope about eportfolios is my experience using computers to teach writing in 1985. The first instances of local area networks (LANs) had been released. At the same time, some creative people wrote code for what was called, variously, cb (for citizen’s band radio, popular with not only truck drivers in the early 1980s but with all drivers), xxyyzz, and one or two other variations on what we now call “chat.” When I and my collaborators installed a LAN in a computer lab and programmed it with cb (reportedly written by an IBMer on a weekend and offered for free), we then launched the first network-based classroom for teaching writing, a project called ENFI (English Natural Form Instruction).
The Project went on to get major funding from the Annenberg CPB Foundations and won an EDUCOM (predecessor to EUCAUSE) award for best application for basic writers. A company was formed to market a product that supported the ENFI idea and we published a book with Cambridge University Press about network-based classrooms.
Why did ENFI catch on? Because the “natural form” referenced in the project title was about learning to write as humans learn to speak: through conversation. Linguists and philosophers had recognized the power of dialog for learning years before 1985, but the LAN made it possible to finally apply dialog learning in a writing class with 20 to 30 students. We saw the irony of technology allowing the writing classroom to apply natural forms of learning – a dialogic approach – to the learning enterprise. Machines restoring natural forms of learning??
A Way to Understand the Cultural Phenomenon of ePortfolios
And the irony continues. Behind all the talk of reflective thinking, of metacognition, of integrative thinking, folio thinking, assessment for learning, social pedagogies, digital story-telling, and even career success; behind all of the excitement about eportfolios to the point where more than half of all U. S. higher education students use eportfolios at some point in their college career; behind the growth of the eportfolio industry, the establishment of the Inter/National Center for ePortfolio Research, the Making Connections Center at LaGuardia Community College, EIfEL (now ePIC), the Centre for Recording Achievement, AAEEBL, The Generative Knowledge Project, ePortfolios Australia, the International Journal of ePortfolio, the AAC&U annual eportfolio forum, and all the other conferences and funded projects and eportfolio campus efforts, is a tangible sense that something important is happening around eportfolios, something monumental, a watershed phenomenon.
It is this tangible sense that drives me and probably drives others in the eportfolio community as well.
This sense of eportfolio demarcating a watershed moment in the history of education, I believe, is an awareness that we are slowly moving away from an educational structure created not based on how humans learn but how an institution could practically educate thousands of learners within a sustainable business model. We are slowly moving away from that monolithic structure that requires big words to rationalize it and to a simpler but multi-faceted educational structure that requires only everyday words to explain: learners need to be active; they need to learn in a real-world context; they learn by cooperating with others. Or, even simpler: they learn best by engaging in learning as humans have for thousands of years. They learn best by using natural forms of learning.
How do eportfolios support natural learning forms?
The term “natural learning” has some currency among K-12 educators and leaders but those who use the term seem to see it as “unschooling.” This is not at all the sense of the phrase I’m using in this blog. “Natural learning forms,” to me, means using those activities and interactions that people choose to use. Build on what people already do. People are already curious, already want to explore, already social, already interested in collecting artifacts (souvenirs, photos) from experiences, already interested in stories, and on and on.
An educational structure built on what young people already want to do and are good at is building on natural forms of learning. Montessori schools use some natural forms of learning. The cluster of high-impact educational practices George Kuh identified and analyzed in a 2008 publication in many cases are compatible with “natural forms of learning” as I am using the term:
1. First-year seminars and experiences: small groups.
2. Common intellectual experiences: learning communities focusing on a few key ideas.
3. Learning communities: students in the community take courses together over time.
4. Writing-intensive courses: writing within a disciplinary context for a purpose in multiple “content” courses.
5. Collaborative assignments and projects: cooperating and learning from peers.
6. Undergraduate research: real-life research on openly contested problems.
7. Diversity/global learning: sometimes, experiential learning on site; understand yourself and your culture better by understanding others.
8. Service learning; community-based learning: getting connected to a community; addressing real-life problems.
9. Internships: authentic, real-world learning.
10. Capstone courses and projects: revisiting your own experiences and publishing your discoveries.
These ten practices emphasize learning in teams or groups and real-life learning experiences. Each, therefore, aims to use a natural form of learning – social learning and experiential learning.
An eleventh high-impact practice, informally recognized by the eporfolio community, is the meta-high impact practice of using eportfolios in any of the ten HIPs list above. ePortfolios add a personal and longitudinal dimension to each of the ten.
Change in Higher Education is Underway
Educators have recognized for decades that the educational enterprise needs a fundamental restructuring, a re-thinking of basic assumptions, and a move-away from the business-mandated course/curriculum/grades/degree structure. The HIPs and many other initiatives such as competency-based learning or self-paced learning and so on, are underway. However, for many, change seems far too slow given the challenges of adjusting not only to a new economy and work culture, but also to constant rapid change. Does the current educational experience align with the new economy and work culture?
ePortfolios facilitate change. This is their power. Fundamental to that power is a very simple phenomenon: the learner, in his or her eportfolio, has a private space that they own and that stays with them. Learners rarely, if ever, believe they “own” the classroom or the knowledge in a field. But, they can and do believe they own their own learning documented in their eportfolio. Not only do they usually control permissions in the eportfolio, but the eportfolio stays with them after the course and often for the course of their college career and sometimes beyond.
A course, a course of study, a college or a university can use eportfolios to change the fundamental dynamics now employed. Once educators understand the why of eportfolios, they might see more clearly how to transform a course or a campus.
What’s in Store?
It would be possible to attend a number of colleges and universities in the U. S. and internationally and see no differences between now and 50 years ago. Or, what differences you see are scattered and scarce. Despite rapid change almost everywhere in our culture, higher education is, in general, changing by tweaking the legacy educational enterprise. What was a Rube Goldberg “machine” to begin with has become ever more so.
ePortfolios are in use throughout U. S. higher education but only in scattered courses or programs on most campuses. If more educators understood how eportfolios promote and support natural forms of learning, eportfolios might seem more attractive. But, it is hard for educators to understand eportfolios by hearing or reading about the multiple uses of eportfolios.
Perhaps if we in the community communicate more about the “why” of eportfolio – moving education away from a structure that is showing wear and tear to a structure closer to what we now know are human ways of learning – more of our colleagues would grasp the eportfolio value proposition.
Natural Forms of Learning; ePortfolio
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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The Unique Power of ePortfolio for Institutional Transformation
This blog post is anti-hype. We have heard enough about the IT revolution, or maybe not nearly enough that is helpful. No doubt we are in the midst of a watershed moment for humanity – the sapiens part of us is on shifty ground – but maybe only one technology can claim to be universally transformational: the Web itself as an application on the Internet.
Those of us working in the global learning enterprise have heard, for example, that word processors will lead to students revising their writing, or that multi-media presentations will double learning, or that intelligent tutors will make novice writers into experts, or that the MOOC will replace higher education, and so on. ePortfolios, alas, have not avoided the hype trap, either.
This tendency to believe technology will do the tough work of transforming how we think and learn has led us to be skeptics of technology claims and for good reason.
My claim is just the opposite. For some few educators, eportfolios have proven to be just what they were looking for. That’s rare, and institutional support for transformation around eportfolios is even rarer. What I am claiming, after 30 years of working with technology and learning, is that eportfolios are unique in that they provide baby steps toward big changes. Early adopters and pioneers may make giant leaps (ouch! I’ve made a few leaps myself), but most faculty members and administrators need incrementalism not giantism. Institutions usually need incrementalism.
ePortfolios can support early adopters, middle adopters and late adopters, even laggards. ePortfolios in combination with other corollary technologies, can allow for gradual change in a course, in a program, a college or a whole university. At AAEEBL conferences, we hear about eportfolios at every stage of incrementalism or giantism. We don’t need apocalyptic language to describe change around eportfolios.
ePortfolios support either a slow revolution or a fast one. Right now, the slow eportfolio revolution in higher education is predominant partly because eportfolios can play so many roles, some transformational and some conservative (such as providing data for annual institution research reporting).
In my heart, I have not changed my view that learning of the future will be represented in and will occur in eportfolios. But perhaps the most important thing about eportfolios is that they can support any approach to learning and can support any pace of change.
AAEEBL Annual ePortfolio Conference
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Thursday, June 26, 2014
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Do ePortfolios Have to be Mediated by Institutions?
The question in the title of this blog – why we in the AAEEBL Community talk almost exclusively about eportfolios embedded in higher education – might seem innocent or even trivial. It is not. If we do believe, as many of us in the eportfolio community say we do, that valuable and important learning can occur not only in curricular and moderated settings but in co-curricular and non-curricular settings as well, then that belief and my title question suggests what will be the next phase of the eportfolio movement.
That next phase is perhaps eportfolios designed for certification outside of institutions. Educators are looking for ways to expand learning opportunities outside of the normal institutional boundaries through online learning – MOOCs and the array of online learning models already in operation – and also looking for certifying opportunities other than a college degree – badges as one example of “micro-credentialing.” Already, the movement out of traditional institutional settings is well underway and has been for some time.
In the case of electronic portfolios, one important factor is that they are equally appropriate and essential for learning either within institutional hegemony or without. In fact, as we all recognize, they are a robust bridge between the traditional world of formal learning and the emerging world of informal learning.
In theory, then, a natural evolution would seem to be a growing use of eportfolios both during times of enrollment and during times of no enrollment. During enrollment, institutions can assist with the management of learning portfolios but during times of no enrollment, who assists, especially in the U. S. where government agencies, at any level, do little or nothing to assist?
Each eportfolio provider does offer some way for students to keep their eportfolio accounts after enrollment but what about the millions of learners who must learn how to learn in this economy but who are not in college? Seventeen million higher education students in the U. S. may have access to eportfolios through our current system of providing U. S. students with eportfolios while they are in college, but surely there must be tens of millions of others -- college graduates, college “dropouts” (a new prestige term?), or those who have not attended college -- who also need eportfolios.
The AAEEBL Community, including our Corporate Partners, must recognize that eportfolios should be available and supported for all who need them; not only because that’s a good idea for society but also because selling to individual learners is the ultimate market.
Despite the good news of the spread of eportfolio use in higher education, we in the AAEEBL Community know that only some uses of eportfolio technologies are what we might call transformative. Good use of eportfolio requires, in most cases, re-thinking and change. We all know how resistant to change people are and especially people backed by institutions no more eager to change than they are. There is still great progress to be made in higher education by spreading the eportfolio word and that will be true for decades.
But, what if individuals arrived at college, or re-entered college, already with eportfolio in tow? What if eportfolios became a powerful way for learners to get ahead in the world even without formal enrollment? Then, might we not see a societal push with eportfolio technology just as we have seen with the BYOD movement? IT offices on campuses always preferred to limit the number of technologies they must support, so BYOD would not have arisen spontaneously within the IT establishment in most cases. BYOD, I would guess, was simply recognizing reality. If everyone is already bringing their own devices, requiring them to buy yet another device in order to standardize on campus became inconceivable.
What if the average young person could not only buy their own devices and apps but one of those apps was an eportfolio along with support from the eportfolio provider? I know that some of our corporate partners do consider the consumer market as a next step for eportfolios, but beyond it being a large market commercially, how would that benefit the quality of learning in our society? And what dangers would selling to the consumer market present?
As an aside, it is very interesting that we can think of eportfolios as a consumer product. I suspect very few of you reading this would scoff at that idea. Yet, no one would think of an LMS as a consumer product.
The advantage of selling eportfolios as a consumer product from the perspective of the AAEEBL Community, dedicated to human development, is that a market developing outside of academia could push academia to speed up accommodating eportfolio-necessary structures. We could see a BYOP movement developing.
The disadvantage of selling eportfolios as a consumer product is we could see a stripping down of eportfolio functionalities. To set a price point in the consumer market that would be aligned with pocketbooks, we would probably see the usual model of a basic eportfolio that could then be beefed-up with premium services. Someone arriving on a campus with a “basic eportfolio” might find that it does not suit the purposes demanded on the campus.
Within academia, the AAEEBL Community works to advance eportfolio research and practice. The AAEEBL Community also works with Corporate Partners to assure the technology continues to support good eportfolio practice. It may be that the Community also will need to look beyond academia if and when eportfolios become a consumer product.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
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Badges and the Gravitational Pull of Teacher Control
Information technology is the ultimate control technology; it is also the ultimate distribution-of-control technology. It is both centralizing and democratizing. Higher education, then, lives on the horns of this particular dilemma: should we expedite “delivery” or should we hand power to learners? Should higher education organize around delivery of content or distribution of control? (We can do both, of course).
Technology compounds the significance of this choice for higher education. It pushes out the limits of the continuum between delivery of content (for example, MOOCs) and distribution of control (for example, self-paced, evidence-based learning).
There is money in delivery of content; distribution of control is a harder sell. To the extent LMS’s are used in support of delivery of content, they are an easy sell; to the extent that eportfolios support distribution of control, they are a hard sell.
That centralizing (delivery of content) is more attractive and profitable is the challenge the AAEEBL community faces: the best learning occurs when students have the most control of their own learning. But institutions run most efficiently and profitably through centralizing.
Now, if all students, or even most students, wanted control of their learning, the challenge would be easy to meet. In truth, having control of your own learning is hard work and is scary. Some students thrive when they control their own learning but most prefer to be guided, scaffolded and taught. Therefore, the AAEEBL community and others seeking good learning opportunities run against not only inevitable vectors of profit and efficiency but of human nature as well.
And so it is with badges. I was at a session on badging in Ann Arbor recently. I hasten to interject that AAEEBL has been working on badging within AAEEBL for two years, is part of an international funded project on badging led by Deakin University in Melbourne, and sees badges as a natural complement to portfolios. Still, as encouraging as it was to see several institutions talking about badging programs already in full swing, I was concerned about what seemed like a given regarding badges.
Here’s why I was concerned: badges were a hot topic just before the MOOC tsunami of 2013. But, in that quiet badge year, badges and their proponents did not fade away but instead made progress. That’s good because even though MOOCs may seem historically more significant, in actuality, they probably won’t be seen as more than a hiccup in the development of online learning over time. In contrast, badges and the move to micro-credentialing could challenge how grading is done, how credit is awarded (even influencing the disappearance of grades), and could challenge the whole idea that students have to actually have a diploma for any of their work to count. Randy Bass said recently that eportfolios won’t challenge the business model of higher education institutions; but portfolios with badges could well do so. So, badges are potentially a very powerful new element. But only if they are used in particular ways. And, during the session in Ann Arbor, I was not certain those particular ways were faring well.
Badges have a number of potential values that are important to education right now.
- As context for a course grade. Digital badges display on a screen and can be clicked to reveal metadata about the granting of the badge: who issued the badge and based on what criteria? There’s more data, but these two metadata categories are very important. A course grade is usually given by an instructor who has reasons for granting a particular grade. Those reasons are lost in the highly abstracted single letter grade. But, in a badge, we see the reasons for one part of the final course grade.
- As a micro-credential. If, during several courses, during co-curricular activity, and even in non-curricular learning experiences, a student/learner builds up badge evidence of an important skill that is job-related, the badges themselves may convince an HR officer to hire that student before she or he receives a diploma. Badges have been talked about as an alternative to formal education. That could be a future possibility but I think the hybrid badge, formal courses with institutionally certified badges combined with life experience badges, will be the first step.
- As a valuable kind of evidence in a portfolio. Badges in portfolios make sense. Badges make good evidence: they are granted in recognition of ability in a certain discrete skill that might be part of a college course, part of a unit in a college course, or one element in a particular assignment during that unit.
- As a peer-granted recognition. Instructors generally can’t be present in student team meetings, especially if they are held out of class. Students that work on a problem in a group over several weeks get to know their peers quite well. If the assignment to work on a problem is structured to distinguish between roles in the team, then each student team member will most likely have a deliverable. That assignment structure allows each team member to show their capabilities and allows the team to decide whether to grant a badge or not.
Within AAEEBL, the CEO, Judy Williamson Batson, leads AAEEBL’s badge efforts. We granted some badges last year at the Annual Conference, so we know the system works. We know, in general, that learning designs are strongly influenced by assessment designs: students will pay attention to what “counts” toward their grade. If we want students to be engaged in learning, we need to think of not only learning opportunities but how we assess the results of those opportunities. Badges are one way to increase engagement in the process of learning. This is one reason why AAEEBL has a badge initiative.
I was concerned in Ann Arbor because it seemed the attendees at the badges session assumed badges would be granted by teachers. But if students are working more independently and out of sight of the teacher, doesn’t it make sense to emphasize peer-awarded badges? To pick up on the theme of this blog, badges may be most effective when they reinforce not the control of the teacher but the distribution of control to the learners.
Nevertheless, colleges and universities are adopting badges, some eportfolio vendors are making it possible to include badges in personal portfolios, and one more thread in the slow evolution of the nature and process of learning is getting stronger.
Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL,
Thursday, May 01, 2014
| Comments (0)
Comments on Randy Bass’s “Reality Check” in
AAC&U’s Peer Review article.
AAEEBL is, right now,
responding to questions from the IRS about AAEEBL’s 501c3 application. We are finding how hard it is to explain
“eportfolio” to those who know little about technology or about the sweeping
changes in higher education and the knowledge economy. In the eportfolio community, we know that
“eportfolio” is a heavily packed term.
We know it has layers of meaning that are only unlayered or unpacked in
Randy Bass, about the most
eloquent person I know, wrote “The Next Whole Thing in Higher Education,”
published in Peer Review from
AAC&U this week (Winter 2014, Vol. 16, No. 1: http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-wi14/RealityCheck.cfm). His comments about eportfolios are spot
are decidedly not the hottest thing in higher education.” This opening declaration gets our attention
and I had difficulty deciding what my own reaction is: it is good in some ways not to be the hottest thing because of burnout; but then, what is the current state of eportfolio?
reassured of Bass’ belief in the eportfolio movement, however, as soon as he
points out that, after all, the eportfolio movement is not about the technology but about “a set of pedagogies and
practices that link learners to learning, curriculum to the co-curriculum,
and courses and programs to institutional outcomes.” Bass is making it clear that when members of
the eportfolio community use the word “eportfolio,” they are thinking
primarily, or exclusively, not about the actual technology but about a whole
approach to learning and development.
make the case that despite not being “hot,” eportfolios “are change agents;
they belong to an emergent learning paradigm and, as we argue in the Connect to
Learning Project, have the capacity to catalyze change toward that
words, eportfolios are now in that phase of technology infusion in our culture
that features steady growth, quiet but deep change, when the technology becomes
simply part of the landscape, and therefore is steadily growing in
Susan Kahn of IUPUI, in the
lead article in the Peer Review issue cited above, says:
to the 2013 survey from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR),
use of e-portfolios has increased sharply since 2010, when the survey first
asked about them: 57 percent of US postsecondary institutions say they have
made some use of e-portfolios in the past year, and 53 percent of responding
students report engaging with e-portfolios in at least one course in the past
year (Dahlstrom, Walker, and Dziuban 2013) (Peer
comments in the ECAR survey, taken as a whole, however, offer some qualifiers
to Kahn’s initial rosy comments, as she later points out. While eportfolios are widespread in U. S.
higher education, adoption on most campuses is “sparse.” In fact, only 7% of students reported using
eportfolios in more than one course. Sounds tiny until we remember that last year
total enrollment in U. S. colleges and universities was over 17 million. The seven percent, therefore, represents
1,190,000 students. We can estimate that
over a million students are using eportfolios in at least two courses. That’s not really reassuring to us in the
eportfolio community who understand that eportfolios succeed best when entire
programs adopt eportfolios.
industry and movement started its quick growth phase around 2003-2004, and in
the IT adoption world, eportfolios have been around long enough that we should
expect higher adoption rates. Learning
management systems, only 5 or 6 years older that eportfolios, enjoy a 100%
eportfolios ever enjoy a similar adoption rate?
As Bass might say, only if faculty adopt new practices. We therefore cannot expect eportfolios to
become as ubiquitous as LMS’s, based on that disclaimer. Now, should employers require an eportfolio in the hiring process, that would change
do we know about eportfolios? We can now say, confidently, that using
eportfolios as a central element in learning designs does in fact improve
student learning by almost any measure.
LaGuardia Community College research over the years, LaGuardia’s Making
Connections project, and the Connect to Learning FIPSE project as reported in
the Peer Review issue, taken
together, and in line with research reported in The International Journal of ePortfolio, allows us to unequivocally
claim that using eportfolios improves learning.
The qualifier, as always, is that eportfolios must be used
management systems cannot make that same claim.
are eportfolios always used for learning purposes? And, is there a danger of eportfolios
actually going tech? No and yes.
fact, eportfolios are mostly sold in the U. S. to help institutions track
student learning progress toward learning goals. This is using eportfolios rather indirectly
to improve learning: an imposed
coherence in the curriculum is just more institutional coherence building
(“scaffolding”), but there is learning value if students can better see how
everything fits together and what the goals are.
another use of the eportfolio concept presents us all with a new
challenge: “eportfolio is only a website
(or a domain).” We know that a number of
institutions have adopted web authoring tools as part of an eportfolio
initiative. The eportfolio community has understood that eportfolio practices
can be carried out without the whole process occurring within an eportfolio
system. But, if a company is interested
in entering the eportfolio market and all the examples that company sees on the
web are in fact just websites, how can we not pardon them for believing
eportfolios are only websites? This is
not hypothetical. AAEEBL deals with this issue
a minority of eportfolio users use eportfolios directly for learning. The industry depends on other uses to generate
revenue. ePortfolios for career
advancement, eportfolios used in the corporate sector for employee review,
eportfolios for institutional assessment in higher education, eportfolios for
workforce development supported by governments and other non-pedagogical uses
far outnumber eportfolios for learning from a global perspective.
there is no question that if eportfolios were not ideal for learning, none of
these other derivative uses would have as much value. The eportfolio community is cohesive because
it does understand the essential metacognitive power of eportfolios. This recognition goes back to paper portfolio
research and practice.
are established to preserve something.
They cannot change very fast. But
institutions no longer enjoy a monopoly on knowledge. They do still enjoy a monopoly on the
prestige of the credential. But, once
eportfolios, micro-credentialing and other means of authentically crediting
learning that are recognized by employers get established, even that monopoly
will dissipate. (Still, the college experience
itself will always provide a life passage without comparison for value
credentialing learning begins to move outside of educational institutional
purview, all is possible, even likely. Or,
institutions will reach out to preserve their monopoly by creating systems to
authenticate badges or other forms of micro-credentialing. Either way, eportfolios could become the new
learning management systems in a disbursed learning world.
the EDUCAUSE annual survey surveys not just undergraduate students enrolled in
colleges and universities but encompasses all learners, we may find a much
higher percentage of eportfolio users using eportfolios for all the work they
do. The LMS will persist as a management
and delivery instrument but as learning becomes much more disbursed, the
eportfolio model – learners owning the instrument of their own learning record
– becomes much more vital.