December 10th, 2011
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Many in the eportfolio community have lamented, justifiably, the strong
emphasis in the market toward providing assessment management systems to institutions
and calling them "eportfolios." For a time, these systems were built
out far more for the institution than for the faculty and students. I and
others have expressed our opinion that these two systems, the assessment
management system and the learning portfolio for faculty and students, should
be separate applications.
We objected to turning faculty and students into, essentially, data-entry staff
for the purpose of institutional reporting. We felt that using the term
"eportfolio" to describe an institutional management system was
This argument about what Helen Barrett calls "the two faces of
eportfolios" has continued for over 5 years. However, in the
meantime, eportfolios have evolved, their learning functionalities have improved,
and the management part of the platforms have ceased to dominate the
architecture of eportfolios. Web 2.0 architectures and social learning
capabilities have emerged in some of the platforms. Therefore, part of
the issue has been addressed.
The other part, about the assessment management system portion of the
eportfolio platform, if perceived in a particular way, may have an unrealized
potential for transformation of the basic business structure of
education. Used within the current business model of higher education,
they may have only limited value for improving learning. But, in a very
different business model, they could help improve learning immeasurably.
David Shupe has spoken a number of times about his own vision of institutional
transformation and will be speaking again at the Eportfolio Forum during the
AAC&U conference in Washington, DC January 25-28.
Shupe develops his argument extensively, but an underlying vision seems to be
that eportfolios can and should support an alternative system to the current
system of credits and seat time. This way, faculty could move away from our
current system: evaluating student work based on the sketchy presumption that,
if students are exposed to information for a set period of time and pass a
number of short-term memory tests, they will have become "learned."
And they could instead evaluate student achievement based on actual eportfolio
Therefore, we might now re-consider our prevalent view that assessment
management systems are necessary annoyances, and see them instead as the
support system for deep transformation of the very core of higher education
(they could serve equally at other levels of education, of course).
It's time to "make peace" with the management part of eportfolios and
investigate the promising potential of these systems.