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The ePortfolio Idea "Forking"?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

March 27th, 2013

Is the eportfolio movement about creating transformation or increments? Do we value eportfolio implementations that (merely) enhance current practice? Can the movement be satisfied with slow change? Is any kind of eportfolio use, as long as the term "eportfolio” is used, good?

These are questions I wrestle with. My whole being wants a new world of learning where all learning designs reflect what we know about how humans learn. Yet, my whole being is also happy when I hear any story at all about academic use of eportfolios. But, what if all we end up doing after many years is just adding another kind of assignment (incrementalism)? What if eportfolios, in the end, are not any different from LMS’s and, in fact, the two kinds of applications become one – the "LMSio”(subsumation)?

I hear the term "project creep” and I think about "eportoflio creep.” Do most people think of "eportfolio” the same way as they did 5 years ago? Is purity slipping?


AAEEBL is about developing learners and transforming institutions. AAEEBL is an association that is not "of” something but is "for” something – in our case, authentic, experiential and evidence-based learning. It is an association geared to support change.

The challenge, then, is to "keep our eyes on the prize,” but value whatever incremental eportfolio uses occur. Increments cannot become the all; nor can transformations.

I am regularly faced with this issue not just in theory but in the moment. The general concept of "eportfolio” is hot not in the sense of headlines right now, but in the sense of eportfolios being attractive as a business venture. In my role as President, I talk with eportfolio providers and potential providers weekly. The trends are quite fascinating right now.

Two companies, one of whom is a new AAEEBL Corporate Affiliate, and another that may become an AAEEBL Corporate Affiliate, follow what seems to me a new business model. Both of these companies grew directly out of universities as graduates of those universities themselves faced the job market and exquisitely felt the emotions of finding a place in today’s economy. They are products of the recession job market.

They used this first-hand experience to create companies that help students get jobs through eportfolio technology. Interestingly, the eportfolios are free to students but access to the eportfolios – companies looking for job candidates – is limited to companies that pay. Revenue is from the candidate seekers, not from the candidates. The students, of course, provide access for potential employers only to their showcase eportfolio. Employers then get to search a database of student eportfolios to find candidates. (The eportfolios are fully-instrumented eportfolio platforms to use while in college).

This is not unlike other employment or jobs sites, such as Monster or LinkedIn. But these two companies do not provide eportfolios to students in college. It seems to me the genius of these two new eportfolio companies I'm writing about is their reaching out directly to students on behalf of companies.

One of the companies is Seelio, out of the University of Michigan. Seelio is a new AAEEBL Corporate Sponsor.

I know that all eportfolio providers are focused on employability. In fact, we recognize that one of the chief values of eportfolios is to meet the demand that has arisen forcefully in the past few months to "show me evidence of what you can do.” Seelio is not distinctive in focusing on employability, then, but they are distinctive in their business model.

In the U. S., the eportfolio community rides two horses – learning and assessment. When AAEEBL has held conferences that include tracks on employability, we don’t find a great response. But, we should. I am encouraged to see a new push to advance our community’s interest in employability. It is also good to see a concrete bridge between students and employers – beyond internships and temporary employment – to perhaps help campuses better align learning with the current economy.

Back to the Terminology

As I talk with new potential Corporate Affiliates, I do have to answer for myself, for AAEEBL and for the potential Corporate Affiliate, the question of whether that company is offering technology that can benefit learning and education. For example, another new Corporate Affiliate has a large Web-hosting business. They are interested in eportfolios?, you might ask, as I did.

Turns out, they do have a group within the company that has a strong interest in education and their efforts are in fact to improve learning. BlueHost has become one of our newest Corporate Affiliates in part so they can understand the needs of learners better.

The same transformative story can be said of many eportfolio providers, as they themselves modified their business strategy: they may have offered just an educational tracking system that evolved into an eportfolio system, or just an assessment platform that added a learning module, or a creative eportfolio that added an assessment module. Or they may have been a well-known publisher that saw an opportunity to enter the eportfolio business within the community they have published for over decades. Or, broadened their market space to K-12 or from K-12 to higher education.

In other words, the concept of "eportfolio” is not abuzz amongst the blogerati, but it is abuzz among those looking for a good business opportunity. AAEEBL’s job is to help guide them toward recognition of providing value for academia and for learners everywhere.

The Value of AAEEBL for the ePortfolio Concept

As AAEEBL is increasingly known to represent the global eportfolio community, albeit in collaboration with all other eportfolio initiatives in the world, it is also increasingly apparent how important our Association is to sustain the core eportfolio idea.

We cannot dictate terminology. But, terminology follows experience. If all those coming to the eportfolio community learn why eportfolios are valuable – the core eportfolio idea -- then they themselves will be the guardians of our terminology. Their experience at eportfolio conferences, at webinars, through reading publications, and through email and phone and Skype and all the communication mediums within our community, their experience within this coherent community will determine terminology.

The community, organized around your Association, AAEEBL, has a strong voice. The eportfolio idea is suddenly very attractive as a business venture. We now need our Association more than ever, so that the eportfolio idea does not "fork.” The word "fork” usually refers to open source where the reference code gets left behind by derivative code and the community goes off in all directions. The value of collaboration is lost.

We can help prevent the forking of the eportfolio concept through our Association. We are here because of what we see as value for learning and we are here, all of us, to reinforce each other’s efforts. This works as long as we are a cohesive community.

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