July 4th, 2012
eleven years of full immersion in eportfolios, I am still pondering what
transformation we, the eportfolio global community, are aiming at. What
do we want? Has that changed in the last 15 years? And are we
making progress toward whatever goal we have in mind?
I started at the course level. I used a portfolio approach in the 1990s
to teach and experienced the dramatic uptick in student engagement first hand
that many of you probably experienced.
I then, a few years later, assumed responsibility for finding and rolling out a
campus-wide electronic portfolio system in 2001, I still had in mind the course
portfolio model. Even when I was chair of the board of the Open Source
Portfolio Initiative (OSPI), funded by the Mellon Foundation, a couple of years
later, I retained a learning orientation and a course portfolio mental
imagined eportfolios being used in numerous courses to change the nature of
those courses from a teaching focus to a learning focus. The sudden
capture of the eportfolio field by institutional assessment offices and their
compatriots in accrediting agencies across the country left me stunned.
But, out of necessity, I came to learn about rubrics and learning outcomes, and
an institutional perspective on eportfolio deployment.
the focus on learning outcomes a distraction or the camino real?
2008, Bret Eynon at LaGuardia Community College, asked me to consult about
hosting an eportfolio conference at LaGuardia in April of 2008. Having
seen how many people were attending OSPI conferences around that time, I advised
Bret that we might need to plan for significant numbers of attendees.
When, in fact, the LaGuardia conference drew over 500 people hungry to meet
other eportfolio advocates and practitioners, I realized the U.S. needed an
annual eportfolio conference. That summer, at Park City, Utah, Helen
Chen, Tracy Penny-Light and Darren Cambridge encouraged me to start an
saw the association – what is now AAEEBL – as a way to return the eportfolio
industry and the eportfolio academic establishment to a focus on
learning. In May, 2009, AAEEBL was launched.
the ongoing conversation among eportfolio advocates, practitioners and leaders,
the words "reflection” and "integrative learning” dominate. A Wordle
would have those two words in big caps and in bold.
these two words (reflection and integration), and the scholarly examination of
reflection as a mental habit of the learned, sufficient to understand the
transformation we seek? Having my own doubts about the power of a focus
on just reflection, I began to survey learning research over the past 30
years. Were there models of learning we could merge with eportfolio
theory, or with "folio thinking” (Helen Chen)? Could we discover our
roots through a better understanding of a broad theoretical and research-based
set of ideas and models? Could eportfolio have a broader foundation?
short answer is, of course, yes. Reading books and articles about
learning published over the past 30 years, anyone in our field would find a
treasure trove of discoveries about learning that invites eporfolio
implementation. It is as if all research regarding learning for 30 years
was written in anticipation of information technology and eportfolios.
the short life of the eportfolio community and market, the entire connected
world has been shaken to its foundations by information technology.
People point to "globalization” as a factor in the change, but would
globalization be possible without information technology? Or, people point
to a foundational shift from manufacturing to service – 80 percent of our GDP
comes from the service sector. But would this shift have occurred without
world as it is now, after the foundational change, begs for learners who will
continue to learn for life. ePortfolios facilitate the development of
learners appropriate for the world as it is. ePortfolios facilitate
institutional change so that learning institutions (i.e., K-12, colleges and
universities) can help create learners fit for the world.
this new world, what is our goal as a field and a market sector?
the learning literature, we find dozens of intriguing ways to visualize and
organize learning. In learning institutions, we see emergent practices –
the high-impact educational practices (HIPs) identified by George Kuh in his
seminal AAC&U publication in 2008. Randy Bass at Georgetown
University alerted AAEEBL attendees in Boston in 2010 at the inaugural AAEEBL
conference of the obvious connections (to him) between high-impact practices
(first-year seminars, undergraduate research, learning communities, common
intellectual problems, writing intensive course and so on) and
impact becomes mega impact if you add eportfolio to HIPs.
way to view our goal is through the lens of "deep learning.” All models,
all current learning designs, all eportfolio practices, in one way or another,
aim for deep learning. Deep learning is contrasted with "surface
learning” (listen, memorize, test). Surface learning engages learners
through a fear of failure (getting an F). Deep learning practices must be
designed for intellectual engagement: prompting an innate desire to
this moment in time, I find the deep learning literature and the concept itself
helpful. The term itself contrasts the past and the present. The
tide is turning toward a focus on deep learning and away from surface
learning. "In a time of stable knowledge, teach; in a time of
rapidly-changing knowledge, learn.” (Carl Rogers).
the tide, turning or not, is slowed by current thinking about institutional
success. As colleges and universities become businesses, albeit
non-profit businesses, expert in marketing, building "customer relations,”
deeply involved in the business of sport, in the business of branding (all good
in many ways), a mindset has pervaded the academic enterprise:
"retention” and "graduation rate.”
been a faculty member for decades, I was always aware of the tacit emphasis on
retention. I saw the resultant grade inflation, realized that if I was
known among students as a hard grader, my classes would shrink, and found it
hard to actually fail a student.
at the same time, I thought "I am depriving my students of the opportunity to
fail.” And I was.
a learner of the opportunity to fail is depriving the learner a chance to
the learning literature, researchers speak of "how adults learn best.” Do
our colleges and universities – in general – treat students as adults?
scaffolding so heavily – "here is the knowledge on a plate, just remember it” –
and by preventing our students from failing (alas, many succeed in failing
anyway) because we need to "retain” them, we are not allowing our students to
do adults face in the world? A problem to solve with little or no
help. Infinite chances to fail. The challenge to create their own
value in an organization. Keeping a constant eye on the next job they
will seek. A demand to keep learning and to learn rapidly. The need
to work in a team. They need to be "deep learners.”
colleges and universities do recognize the new realities and are making
appropriate changes. But college graduates are not doing as well in the world
as they did before 2008. The pace of change should probably
accelerate. MOOCs and badges are not the only challenges; an emerging
reluctance among students to take on student loans is a bigger one.
then, is our goal to help accelerate the pace of institutional change through
eportfolios toward developing deep learners who can succeed in life?