September 4th, 2012
technology is pervasive and is becoming well known. Yet, not even
eportfolio leaders have an easy time talking about eportfolios. People
ask these leaders "what is an eportfolio?” and they get widely varying
answers. Attend ePIC in London during July and you may understand that
eportfolios are about developing a digital identity (and many other
capabilities) or attend a Centre for Recording Achievement residential seminar
and think eportfolios are about demonstrating achievement or attend an
ePortfolios Australia Conference and you might then understand eportfolios to
be about assessing prior learning or workforce development. Attend an
AAEEBL conference and you might then wonder if eportfolios are instead about
learning, assessment and accountability.
problem is that people define eportfolios by their uses of the
technology. None of the above definitions is wrong, yet each is
derivative of the core value of eportfolios: eportfolios manage the
actual complexity of learning far better than we have ever been able to do and,
because they manage this complexity, they are able to "catalyze” (quoting Randy
Bass in a conversation) deep learning.
the essence of eportfolios is that they catalyze deep learning. This is
not to dismiss the other uses we mentioned earlier. However, we can say
that none of the derivative uses would be meaningful or important if
eportfolios didn’t enable deep learning. The deep learning (by whatever
name – active learning, social learning, authentic learning, transformational
learning, situated learning, and so on) is the sine qua non: without deep
learning, eportfolios would not have those other uses. If digital story
telling didn’t result in deep learning, why do it? If using eportfolios
for workforce development didn’t result in deep learning for better employment,
why use them? If using eportfolios for accountability didn’t lead to deep
learning, why use them (and, indeed, this is a germaine question)?
term "complexity” is in contrast to the simplistic system of classes, lectures,
credits and grading; of listening, memorizing and testing. One size does
not fit all, one pace does not fit all, and mostly listening may not fit almost
can we imagine a system that allows for more complex learning?
eportfolio evidence as both the means of learning and the means of assessment
allows us to see more of the truly complex nature of learning:
Evidence of learning is captured all the time, since learning is going on
all the time.
Evidence of learning is continuous, not segmented as in courses.
of learning is captured regardless of enrollment in an educational
Evidence of learning is mobile, as is the learner.
evidence is manageable and can be used to make the case for a grade, a
badge, a certificate, a degree, a job, a promotion, another job and so on.
learner owns the evidence, greatly increasing the stake the learner has in
making it useful, which in itself is a cognitive challenge.
evidence helps the learner to make connections among learning experiences
and to thereby reflect as all learners do.
list can go on, of course. However, the point is that learning has always
been complex but educational institutions tended to be blind to the complexity
and wanted to define it and control it. The actual complexity of learning
could not be captured or understood so educational institutions instead became
is not that eportfolios create the complexity of learning, it is that
eportfolios can work with the complexity and help the learner.
ePortfolios don’t shy from "messy” learning. ePortfolios do not start at
9 am and end at 9:50 am – they are always open. ePortfolios don’t have to
assign credits to your interesting thought as you walk to school,
instead they allow you to create a voice memo about that thought and upload the
voice memo to your eportfolio. And then you and others can see for themselves
the value of that thought. ePortfolios don’t assign you to see
something in a tree, instead when you do see that something, you can
take a photo and put that into your eportoflio.
is going on all the time; it is complex, social, fluid and impossible to
capture since it is social and complex and fluid. But it is
possible to capture evidence of learning.
eportfolios as the guiding enabler to think about learning, educators can start
with the learner and learning groups. And then see how the complex
learning that is already in process can be guided toward learning goals.
We no longer need to simplify everything to work with learning. The magic
of eportfolios is allowing learners and educators to navigate complexity; the
complexity was there all along and now it can become more visible.
what is the deep learning that managing complexity can lead to? The
tradition since the mid-1970s has been to contrast "surface learning” and "deep
learning.” Surface learning is traditional school learning:
memorizing enough to get by on the test, whereas deep learning is working with
ideas and being able to apply those ideas in new situations.
learning starts with experience and is followed by developing perceptions of
that experience through reflection – how was it different? What was
notable? Do I understand what happened? Looking back, do I see that
experience differently than when I was having that experience? And so
on: these reflections lead to developing perceptions about the
experience. It is then, through working with others who have expertise in
the field, that the learner can develop scholarly conceptions.
the experience was an interview on the campus with other students as part of a
project in anthropology. The students would have had informational
background sufficient for them to know how to structure the interview and how
to capture it. But what to make of the responses they received? How
to interpret them? Were they important? Were they even
the students completed their round of interviews and began reviewing and coding
the video or audio recordings, they would themselves notice patterns. But
it would be only when they seek to make meaning of what they’ve collected and
coded that they encounter disciplinary ways of knowing. What claims can
they make? How do they construct a disciplinary argument from their
evidence? Now they are at the conceptual level and fully into deep
remember when the boundaries of "chaos” were pushed back: no, that was
not chaos after all, we just needed computers to help us see the predictable
patterns. We learned about fractals and the amazing patterns in our world
we had not seen before. The complexity was there, but we just called it
chaos and had to pretend it didn’t exist.
talk about "dark matter” and "dark energy,” other terms for that which we
collectively just can’t figure out yet.
chaos and dark energy of natural complex learning is no longer beyond us.
Just as digital technology allowed us to understand a bit more about the
complexity of "chaos,” so does it allow educators and learners to use the
complex learning that is already in process in every learner. Don’t try
to circumscribe it and pretend that learning outside of formal learning is
irrelevant – that isn’t necessary any longer. We don’t have to live in an
unnecessarily simplified world of learning any longer.
the end, eportfolios help us manage the complexity of natural learning so as to
catalyze deep learning. This is the essence of the value of eportfolios
in our world today. They support variable learning designs. They
allow learning to be learner-initiated and to be as much about discovery as