ePortfolios at a Crossroads
EDUCAUSE released the findings from its annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and
Information Technology in September 2013.
While EDUCAUSE had kindly offered AAEEBL the opportunity to read and
edit a sidebar in the report regarding eportfolios, the report as whole, in its
design, revealed an odd understanding of eportfolios.
The following quotation from the Report suggests that
students were led to believe that eportfolios fit into an odd category of
something they call "experimental experiences.”
In investigating the
magnitude of use of open educational resources, e-texts, simulations and games,
and e-portfolios, we found that these are experimental experiences for most
students; they typically have used them in one class or on occasion rather than
as part of their education resource ecosystem.
We also found that students are not telling us they want these resources
used more – in fact, interest is either flat or decreasing.
p. 39, ECAR Report
In the same report, however, we find that 52% of all
students used eportfolios at some point in their undergraduate career. Therefore, we can surmise that ePortfolios
may be implemented, to one degree or another, on over half of the 4,000 or so
U. S. institutions of higher learning.
How can they be so common and yet referred to as "experimental
AAEEBL’s 2013 Annual Conference was "ePortfolio Coming of
Age.” For us in the eportfolio community
to see more evidence of Casey Green’s finding in 2010 that over half of U. S.
institutions then had eportfolios on
their campus, the ECAR Report was gratifying, despite its odd characterization
of eportfolios. ePortfolio adoption is
indeed spreading in U. S. higher education and in higher education around the
In our field, we are aware of the multitude and disruptive
ways that eportfolios can be used. We
can envision an educational enterprise built around evidence-based learning and
assessment. That enterprise
(institution) could be more aligned with learners’ needs today after their
transformation. With our sense of the
potential of eportfolio technology, in concert with mobile computing in a
multi-modal world, ECAR’s characterization of eportfolios borders on bizarre. It reflects a shallow perception of
AAEEBL and the community need to do more to open eyes. Yet, we find ourselves in a chicken and egg
situation: does transformation come
first or do eportfolios come first? In the report, we find that three-quarters
of those students using eportfolios use them in only one class. ePortfolios, on most campuses, therefore must
seem "experimental” since only one or
a few faculty members are using them.
(Note that the ECAR Report is based on student responses, and not on reports from administrators who might
have also included institutional use of eportfolios for institutional research
and tracking student progress toward learning outcomes. Since this kind of data was not included in
the Report, we can assume the spread of eportfolios in higher education is
Since Kenneth C. Green’s report in 2010 that half of all
institutions had eportfolios, the ECAR Report shows a sky-rocketing of student
use of eportfolios up through 2012, leveling off in the last year. Combing the Green data with ECAR’s, we can
suggest that eportfolio penetration of U. S. higher education could easily be
60 or 70%. Reports from the industry add
credence to this supposition.
But, there is another incipient movement that could be
encouraging for us eportfolio advocates.
Some eportfolio providers who offer both an LMS and an eportfolio
platform, have integrated the two or are considering doing so. Other providers offer both an assessment
management module (for tracking student progress toward learning outcomes) and
a student eportfolio module. It is not
hard to imagine the LMS, which has saturated higher education, adding
eportfolio capabilities and eventually altering how eportfolios are marketed
If we consider that nearly 100 percent of faculty and
students use an LMS, adding eportfolio capabilities to the LMS would result in
a much quicker uptake of eportfolio use than using the current marketing of LMS
and eportfolio as separate enterprise products.
If faculty members already are familiar with how an LMS works – its
ethos, terminology, structure – they would find added eportfolio "spaces”
easier to navigate than they would in a brand new and separate eportfolio
Right now, of all courses or classes taken on campuses in
the U. S., again according to ECAR, most students only encounter one or two
eportfolio courses. At the same time,
100% of students encounter an LMS course.
The best way, from an industry perspective, to enter the market
ambitiously could then be to offer a better LMS and then make it even better by adding eportfolio capabilities.
There are of course real complications to overcome since the
LMS is owned by the institution and its faculty while eportfolios are supposed
to be owned by students. The LMS is
course-based and the eportfolio is learner-based; one is vertical, the other
horizontal. The gestalt of each platform
is a polar opposite.
Yet, it is very possible that this is exactly how the market
will begin to swing: LMS companies
developing eportfolio capabilities and eportfolio use then grows as an adjunct
to LMS use.
The eportfolio stack might then look like:
Assessment management system
Learning management system (LMS)
And all of it will be called an LMS.
I am not saying I believe
this is how things will play out. But I
do know that this scenario will be part
of how things play out.
Does this scenario mean that the values our community sees
in eportfolios will be championed and supported? It would seem that the danger would be,
instead, that the market may drive eportfolios away from learning-centered and
back toward teaching-centered, at least within the academy.
Our Association and the community need to advocate for
eportfolio values. We need to continue
to demand that our providers understand the purpose and the transformational
power of eportfolios. The new website
that AAEEBL has launched (not fully provisioned with content yet, alas), can
help in this advocacy: you can add your
own voice as part of AAEEBL’s advocacy via the forums and blogs and groups at
the new AAEEBL site.
As a global community, we have a potentially strong
voice. We are at a crossroads; eportfolio
use is spreading but we find very little understanding in general of how
eportfolio can best be used; the enterprise-transformation power of eportfolios
is even less understood; the LMS providers seem to be looking at the eportfolio
market as a new growth path. The
crossroads, then, presents two dangers:
continuing as an "experimental experience.”
growing in use but strongly flavored by the LMS ethos.
As the market grows, it becomes more attractive to
investment. Let’s make sure that investment moves us in good directions.