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Do ePortfolios Have to be Mediated by Institutions?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, June 26, 2014

Do ePortfolios Have to be Mediated by Institutions?


The question in the title of this blog – why we in the AAEEBL Community talk almost exclusively about eportfolios embedded in higher education – might seem innocent or even trivial.  It is not.  If we do believe, as many of us in the eportfolio community say we do, that valuable and important learning can occur not only in curricular and moderated settings but in co-curricular and non-curricular settings as well, then that belief and my title question suggests what will be the next phase of the eportfolio movement.

That next phase is perhaps eportfolios designed for certification outside of institutions.  Educators are looking for ways to expand learning opportunities outside of the normal institutional boundaries through online learning – MOOCs and the array of online learning models already in operation – and also looking for certifying opportunities other than a college degree – badges as one example of “micro-credentialing.”  Already, the movement out of traditional institutional settings is well underway and has been for some time.

In the case of electronic portfolios, one important factor is that they are equally appropriate and essential for learning either within institutional hegemony or without.  In fact, as we all recognize, they are a robust bridge between the traditional world of formal learning and the emerging world of informal learning. 

In theory, then, a natural evolution would seem to be a growing use of eportfolios both during times of enrollment and during times of no enrollment.  During enrollment, institutions can assist with the management of learning portfolios but during times of no enrollment, who assists, especially in the U. S. where government agencies, at any level, do little or nothing to assist?

Each eportfolio provider does offer some way for students to keep their eportfolio accounts after enrollment but what about the millions of learners who must learn how to learn in this economy but who are not in college?  Seventeen million higher education students in the U. S. may have access to eportfolios through our current system of providing U. S. students with eportfolios while they are in college, but surely there must be tens of millions of others -- college graduates, college “dropouts” (a new prestige term?), or those who have not attended college -- who also need eportfolios. 

The AAEEBL Community, including our Corporate Partners, must recognize that eportfolios should be available and supported for all who need them; not only because that’s a good idea for society but also because selling to individual learners is the ultimate market.

Despite the good news of the spread of eportfolio use in higher education, we in the AAEEBL Community know that only some uses of eportfolio technologies are what we might call transformative.  Good use of eportfolio requires, in most cases, re-thinking and change.  We all know how resistant to change people are and especially people backed by institutions no more eager to change than they are. There is still great progress to be made in higher education by spreading the eportfolio word and that will be true for decades.

But, what if individuals arrived at college, or re-entered college, already with eportfolio in tow?  What if eportfolios became a powerful way for learners to get ahead in the world even without formal enrollment?  Then, might we not see a societal push with eportfolio technology just as we have seen with the BYOD movement?  IT offices on campuses always preferred to limit the number of technologies they must support, so BYOD would not have arisen spontaneously within the IT establishment in most cases.  BYOD, I would guess, was simply recognizing reality.  If everyone is already bringing their own devices, requiring them to buy yet another device in order to standardize on campus became inconceivable. 

What if the average young person could not only buy their own devices and apps but one of those apps was an eportfolio along with support from the eportfolio provider?  I know that some of our corporate partners do consider the consumer market as a next step for eportfolios, but beyond it being a large market commercially, how would that benefit the quality of learning in our society?  And what dangers would selling to the consumer market present?

As an aside, it is very interesting that we can think of eportfolios as a consumer product.  I suspect very few of you reading this would scoff at that idea.  Yet, no one would think of an LMS as a consumer product.  

The advantage of selling eportfolios as a consumer product from the perspective of the AAEEBL Community, dedicated to human development, is that a market developing outside of academia could push academia to speed up accommodating eportfolio-necessary structures.  We could see a BYOP movement developing. 

The disadvantage of selling eportfolios as a consumer product is we could see a stripping down of eportfolio functionalities.  To set a price point in the consumer market that would be aligned with pocketbooks, we would probably see the usual model of a basic eportfolio that could then be beefed-up with premium services.  Someone arriving on a campus with a “basic eportfolio” might find that it does not suit the purposes demanded on the campus. 

Within academia, the AAEEBL Community works to advance eportfolio research and practice.  The AAEEBL Community also works with Corporate Partners to assure the technology continues to support good eportfolio practice.  It may be that the Community also will need to look beyond academia if and when eportfolios become a consumer product. 

Tags:  ePortfolio 

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