Comments on Randy Bass’s “Reality Check” in
AAC&U’s Peer Review article.
AAEEBL is, right now,
responding to questions from the IRS about AAEEBL’s 501c3 application. We are finding how hard it is to explain
“eportfolio” to those who know little about technology or about the sweeping
changes in higher education and the knowledge economy. In the eportfolio community, we know that
“eportfolio” is a heavily packed term.
We know it has layers of meaning that are only unlayered or unpacked in
Randy Bass, about the most
eloquent person I know, wrote “The Next Whole Thing in Higher Education,”
published in Peer Review from
AAC&U this week (Winter 2014, Vol. 16, No. 1: http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-wi14/RealityCheck.cfm). His comments about eportfolios are spot
are decidedly not the hottest thing in higher education.” This opening declaration gets our attention
and I had difficulty deciding what my own reaction is: it is good in some ways not to be the hottest thing because of burnout; but then, what is the current state of eportfolio?
reassured of Bass’ belief in the eportfolio movement, however, as soon as he
points out that, after all, the eportfolio movement is not about the technology but about “a set of pedagogies and
practices that link learners to learning, curriculum to the co-curriculum,
and courses and programs to institutional outcomes.” Bass is making it clear that when members of
the eportfolio community use the word “eportfolio,” they are thinking
primarily, or exclusively, not about the actual technology but about a whole
approach to learning and development.
make the case that despite not being “hot,” eportfolios “are change agents;
they belong to an emergent learning paradigm and, as we argue in the Connect to
Learning Project, have the capacity to catalyze change toward that
words, eportfolios are now in that phase of technology infusion in our culture
that features steady growth, quiet but deep change, when the technology becomes
simply part of the landscape, and therefore is steadily growing in
Susan Kahn of IUPUI, in the
lead article in the Peer Review issue cited above, says:
to the 2013 survey from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR),
use of e-portfolios has increased sharply since 2010, when the survey first
asked about them: 57 percent of US postsecondary institutions say they have
made some use of e-portfolios in the past year, and 53 percent of responding
students report engaging with e-portfolios in at least one course in the past
year (Dahlstrom, Walker, and Dziuban 2013) (Peer
comments in the ECAR survey, taken as a whole, however, offer some qualifiers
to Kahn’s initial rosy comments, as she later points out. While eportfolios are widespread in U. S.
higher education, adoption on most campuses is “sparse.” In fact, only 7% of students reported using
eportfolios in more than one course. Sounds tiny until we remember that last year
total enrollment in U. S. colleges and universities was over 17 million. The seven percent, therefore, represents
1,190,000 students. We can estimate that
over a million students are using eportfolios in at least two courses. That’s not really reassuring to us in the
eportfolio community who understand that eportfolios succeed best when entire
programs adopt eportfolios.
industry and movement started its quick growth phase around 2003-2004, and in
the IT adoption world, eportfolios have been around long enough that we should
expect higher adoption rates. Learning
management systems, only 5 or 6 years older that eportfolios, enjoy a 100%
eportfolios ever enjoy a similar adoption rate?
As Bass might say, only if faculty adopt new practices. We therefore cannot expect eportfolios to
become as ubiquitous as LMS’s, based on that disclaimer. Now, should employers require an eportfolio in the hiring process, that would change
do we know about eportfolios? We can now say, confidently, that using
eportfolios as a central element in learning designs does in fact improve
student learning by almost any measure.
LaGuardia Community College research over the years, LaGuardia’s Making
Connections project, and the Connect to Learning FIPSE project as reported in
the Peer Review issue, taken
together, and in line with research reported in The International Journal of ePortfolio, allows us to unequivocally
claim that using eportfolios improves learning.
The qualifier, as always, is that eportfolios must be used
management systems cannot make that same claim.
are eportfolios always used for learning purposes? And, is there a danger of eportfolios
actually going tech? No and yes.
fact, eportfolios are mostly sold in the U. S. to help institutions track
student learning progress toward learning goals. This is using eportfolios rather indirectly
to improve learning: an imposed
coherence in the curriculum is just more institutional coherence building
(“scaffolding”), but there is learning value if students can better see how
everything fits together and what the goals are.
another use of the eportfolio concept presents us all with a new
challenge: “eportfolio is only a website
(or a domain).” We know that a number of
institutions have adopted web authoring tools as part of an eportfolio
initiative. The eportfolio community has understood that eportfolio practices
can be carried out without the whole process occurring within an eportfolio
system. But, if a company is interested
in entering the eportfolio market and all the examples that company sees on the
web are in fact just websites, how can we not pardon them for believing
eportfolios are only websites? This is
not hypothetical. AAEEBL deals with this issue
a minority of eportfolio users use eportfolios directly for learning. The industry depends on other uses to generate
revenue. ePortfolios for career
advancement, eportfolios used in the corporate sector for employee review,
eportfolios for institutional assessment in higher education, eportfolios for
workforce development supported by governments and other non-pedagogical uses
far outnumber eportfolios for learning from a global perspective.
there is no question that if eportfolios were not ideal for learning, none of
these other derivative uses would have as much value. The eportfolio community is cohesive because
it does understand the essential metacognitive power of eportfolios. This recognition goes back to paper portfolio
research and practice.
are established to preserve something.
They cannot change very fast. But
institutions no longer enjoy a monopoly on knowledge. They do still enjoy a monopoly on the
prestige of the credential. But, once
eportfolios, micro-credentialing and other means of authentically crediting
learning that are recognized by employers get established, even that monopoly
will dissipate. (Still, the college experience
itself will always provide a life passage without comparison for value
credentialing learning begins to move outside of educational institutional
purview, all is possible, even likely. Or,
institutions will reach out to preserve their monopoly by creating systems to
authenticate badges or other forms of micro-credentialing. Either way, eportfolios could become the new
learning management systems in a disbursed learning world.
the EDUCAUSE annual survey surveys not just undergraduate students enrolled in
colleges and universities but encompasses all learners, we may find a much
higher percentage of eportfolio users using eportfolios for all the work they
do. The LMS will persist as a management
and delivery instrument but as learning becomes much more disbursed, the
eportfolio model – learners owning the instrument of their own learning record
– becomes much more vital.