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Is That an ePortfolio Tsunami I Hear?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

February 14th, 2012

For 10 years, I've believed strongly that all education would be improved if more teachers and faculty members used electronic portfolios as the centerpiece of their courses.

In the last 3 years, I've amped up that belief: I became convinced that all educational institutions could be better structured around "evidence-based learning" in which all assessment and evaluation was focused on student evidence of learning in eportfolios. In other words, replace testing as the primary means of gathering information about learning with evaluation of evidence of learning in eportfolios.

Behind this belief was my seeing that if an eportfolio is used in courses but tests still determine grades, eportfolios would never come into their own. They would always be seen as adjunct to the course, extra work for no purpose.

Yet, with each new national educational initiative, high stakes testing gets lodged ever more firmly as the only way to be "accountable." It could only be hoped that this overweening emphasis on testing would itself bring down the house of cards; teachers would see the fallacy of such a singularly questionable and thin metric to judge a complex process.

We may have reached that point. I have heard of cracks in the walls of the testing fortress. Testing companies offering eportfolios as an alternative?

The eportfolio idea seems to have bubbled to the top. Now, the eportfolio idea bubbling to the top is not about the learning values most of us consider the true merit of eportfolio theory and practice, but is about using eportfolios for evaluation.

I see no cause for lament, however. If eportfolios begin to replace testing as a better way to measure student achievement, then that move by itself would increase the value of using eportfolios for learning. Both teachers and students, knowing the eportfolio would be the basis for grading, would put more effort into creating good eportfolios.

The danger? Once a good idea has reached the top, sudden and large changes can occur. Is the eportfolio industry ready for a tidal shift in the national belief system from testing to eportfolios? Is the eportfolio community ready? Can we retain the learning values of eportfolios?

I don't know that this will happen, but I've long suspected it would. AAEEBL and the entire eportfolio community needs to consider how to prepare for a potential tsunami as does the industry.

It may be that the mere incremental changes we have known for a few years, not a tsunami, will continue to be the rule. But, hearing that even large testing companies are incorporating eportfolios makes me feel a low rumble in the ground. What might that mean?

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