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The Quality Agenda and ePortfolios

Posted By Administration, Monday, September 02, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

September 2nd, 2013

Trent Batson


Why does education need a "quality agenda”? Haven’t we educators always focused on "quality”? Or is there an event prompting the need for emphasis on quality in higher education? Is the new emphasis on quantity via online education part of that prompt?

Did xMOOCs, the Khan Academy and other forms of online learning turn the presentational mode against higher education institutions by saying "if you want the lecture form as the primary form of teaching, we’ll give you the lecture form writ large”?

The only reasonable response to an online lecture hall of hundreds of thousands is to point out the quality failings of such scale. Carol Schneider put it this way:

"When we create incentive systems for enhanced degree production, with no questions asked about the sufficiency of learning, the door is literally wide open to choices that deplete rather than build educational quality…The real key to economic opportunity and advancement depends not on whether the student possesses a credential, but rather on whether students actually leave college with that rich portfolio of learning that employers seek and society urgently needs.”

Carol Geary Schneider, AAC&U President
Where Completion Goes Awry: The Metrics for "Success” Mask Mounting Problems with Quality, 2012: http://www.aacu.org/meetings/studentsuccess13/

It seems to me that the eportfolio community is at the point when eportfolio use in U. S. higher education is now so quantitatively successful that we need to focus increasingly on the qualitative use of eportfolios as part of the quality agenda.

Do the 52% of higher education students who use eportfolios in U. S. higher education use eportfolios for deep learning? For career preparation? For their own independent learning purposes? Or do most of them simply fulfill one course requirement, using their eportfolio as an assignment archive? Do they build their eportfolio over time in their college career? Or simply use them sporadically with no continuity or integrative work?

It is gratifying to see the field and the market expand, to have a sense that eportfolios are now a permanent part of the learning process in higher education and perhaps beyond higher education into the workplace (and in K-12), but I am sure many of you share that nagging feeling I have that we have a lot more work to do. That the quality of eportfolio use is not where we would like it to be.

We know that eportfolios used in certain ways can deepen learning by developing reflective and integrative thinking; we know eportfolios used in certain ways can increase students’ feeling of ownership of their own learning process and therefore increase their engagement in learning; we know that eportfolios used in certain ways can make the college experience more coherent and therefore valuable for employment. Yet, we all know that few institutions have created a multi-year coherent plan to use eportfolios consistently, across the disciplines, and on to graduation. We may be past a tipping point quantitatively but far from it qualitatively.

A quality agenda for eportfolio use can be quite clear on a campus once academic leaders understand how learning experiences can be re-organized to take advantage of the power of eportfolios. It is not just the technology, of course, but the growing expectation among all participants – faculty and students and professional staff – that we do more and more of our work online. It is a good time to be re-thinking how online and traditional learning designs can interact with each other and how eportfolios can create coherence (integration) within that field of more widely varying learning experiences.

I’ll be interested to see examples of quality uses of eportfolios at scale this academic year. The FIPSE-funded Connect to Learning Project led by LaGuardia Community College is in its final year and ready to begin enriching the community with its results. Some of you got a taste of what is to come from Bret Eynon’s and Randy Bass’s keynote address in Boston at the AAEEBL Annual Conference.

In November at Virginia Tech on the 4th and 5th, AAEEBL will hold its Southeast Regional Conference in partnership with Virginia Tech and Clemson University. "It Begins with the Learner” as the theme, and the presence of students as participants, as panel presenters, and as showcase presenters, will turn our eyes to where we need to start with the quality agenda: how are students themselves using their eportfolios for their own quality agenda? (For more info and to register click here).

Another FIPSE project, led by the University of Michigan, The Integrative Knowledge Collaborative, is also in its third year. From the Website of this project:

"The collaborative creates, shares, tests and refines innovative practices in teaching, learning and assessment and utilizes ePortfolios to foster the integration of different types of knowledge.”

Some of you heard Melissa Peet, Project Director, speak at the AAEEBL Annual Conference and learned more about the methodology used in this project. This project is also contributing to what could become "the quality agenda for eportfolios.”

I am sure other projects, other campuses, other individuals are developing quality agendas for eportfolio use. I hope we will hear more about these efforts during this year. We now can be relatively certain of the ongoing growth of eportfolio use over the coming years but now the community, I believe, needs to develop designs for quality.


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