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Trent Batson says, "The Batson Blog provides occasional commentary on eportfolios, technology and learning. This blog is not an official AAEEBL announcement but instead includes perspectives and opinions that are my own and not necessarily those of the Association. I've been writing about technology and education since 1985, so I bring history to my commentary. All my writing arises from the rich conversations I have with you and your colleagues, in academia and in the industry." All registered AAEEBL Community Online (ACO) participants are invited to join in the conversation. If your institution is not already an Institutional Member of AAEEBL, you may register for free as an Individual Site Participant by going to the homepage: Click on "Register," and then log into the Community through your ACO Profile. Comments and questions are welcome, and Trent Batson will reply in the blog conversation.


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Toward "The Field Guide to ePortfolio"

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Provisioning Learners to be Stewards of Their Own Learning


What is an ePortfolio?  What is the ePortfolio Idea? 

What is the Meaning of the ePortfolio Movement?

Toward “The Field Guide to ePortfolio”


Technology acts as the hand directs; intentionality directs the hand.  Both the hand and the intention hide behind the technology.  This way, the intention can be realized.  We forgive technology. 

The hand’s acts and the intention driving the acts (practice and theory) are the important considerations for the whole learning enterprise.  The technology must follow both. 

Information technology has two faces:  centralizing control (the machine face) and distributed openness (the human face).  The control face is essential to modern society to organize and manage the complex structure of our society.  It is not bad; it is a continuation of the long process of human co-evolution with technology starting with simple tools and ending with the ultimate tool, information technology (because it controls other technologies).  The other face, the openness face – offering options and opportunities for creativity and imagination -- is also essential as the vital balance to the control face. This face is an amplifier to valuable human energies released by technology, and is therefore of special interest to educators.

The eportfolio community is energized by awareness of the human face of technology and also by the machine face that allows more complex learning designs than ever. Both faces are necessary.  The challenge is to imagine using the affordances of information technology to create new systems around the multitude of human interactions for learning now possible.  The eportfolio community actively works to create these systems, these new learning designs, and this is the special nature of this community. 

This Exquisite Moment

Of all the astounding possibilities that information technology offers to learners now, perhaps the most important is the chance to be stewards of their own learning.  ePortfolio technology, and all its ancillary technologies, provide a learning space separate from the institutionally-owned digital spaces – the LMS as one example.  The eportfolio space is “separate” because learners own the intellectual property within their eportfolio space, because they set permissions as to who can see their intellectual property (their work), and because the eportfolio space stays with the learner from course to course, on and off campus, and after graduation. 

As the transcript and the diploma lose credibility with employers, the eportfolio gains credibility.  It is a fuller and more palpable picture of what learners can do. 

Seizing this Moment

Higher education colleagues:  please recognize this possibility, this chance to engage students more fully because they can be stewards of their own learning.  Let’s seize this moment.  Let’s not use information technology to only extend institutional control into network space but also to enable students to be freer to find their own way.  Let’s not continue LMS thinking (course-, institution- and faculty-centered) but instead get behind eportfolio thinking (learner-centered):  this thinking recognizes the difference between the teacher doing the learning work FOR the learner and the learner doing the learning work for themselves.  ePortfolio thinking is a recognition that the balance between teacher hegemony and student hegemony can be moved more toward the student.

We have that choice now – higher education in the U. S. and around the world – we can accept the fact that knowledge and information are no longer rare but digital and distributed and everywhere and that therefore we have to continue to re-think how we educate.  Otherwise, we will most likely veer too far toward the control face of information technology – doing what we’ve always done but more efficiently.    

We educators don’t own the knowledge garden anymore.  We live instead in a field of infinite learning possibilities.  Knowledge is all around us.  The whole world is the educational space.  And this is good.  We need to learn to operate in this new learning reality.  We need to give up the instinct to control and instead embrace the wondrous abundance of learning sources around us and the chance for learners to grow faster and more fully than ever in history.

Use the ability of new technologies to manage more variable ways of learning. Support constructivist approaches to learning.  Emphasize creativity and exploration as much as the rage for order. 

How Can the ePortfolio Community Convey the Significance of ePortfolios?

As the quote at the beginning of this blog says, the technology does nothing – it is “the hand “ and the intention behind the hand that does the doing.  The significance of eportfolios, therefore, is that a large number of people around the world all understand that eportfolios provide ways for learners to create their own learning paths – beyond the prescribed, beyond the beaten path, beyond the assembly line.

Not all traditional colleage-age learners can create their own learning paths, of course, but a growing number of learners – as the term “learner” now applies to people of all ages -- must create their own learning paths throughout life as life-long learning is increasingly common and necessary.  And, moving more toward personalized and self-paced learning designs may well more fully engage all learners.  The eportfolio community is part of the movement toward a new ecology of learning.

But, the challenge to the eportfolio community is that many if not most people do not understand that “eportfolio” is more than just a technology.  It is not unusual to hear at a conference that “the eportfolio is no longer important; its hype cycle is over.”  This is true, but the inference that eportfolios are passé – because they did not revolutionize education overnight as the hype suggested – is wrong.  Surveys of higher education show a steady and strong growth in the use of eportfolios in higher education. 

How to convey what we know of eportfolio potential?  The key, I believe, is for the community to find consensus on what we all see as the essence of our movement.  We must have a “field guide to eportfolio,” a community framework of knowledge about eportfolios, about the eportfolio idea, and about the meaning of our community.  A shared document that can be referred to by all will help glue together our global community and also help to shed the eportfolio scales from the eyes of educators.  

How We Will Create our “Field Guide to ePortfolio”?

Over the next year, AAEEBL, EPAC, AAC&U and IJeP are conducting webinars each month to gather the thoughts of eportfolio leaders and technology providers working toward a recorded set of comments that will provide one source for a planned publication from AAC&U to answer the questions posed in the title of this blog:  what is an eportfolio?  What is the eportfolio idea? And what is the meaning of the eportfolio movement?

Eyes Beyond the Classroom

Learners can be stewards of their learning because technology gives educators eyes beyond the classroom:  learners are the stewards but they are also collecting mementos and evidence of what they do beyond the classroom for assessment after the fact – eportfolios allow them to do this. 

ePortfolio is not a technology only, nor only the field and community of practice centered around the use of eportfolios. Instead, eportfolio is – essentially – a key part of the move away from centralizing education in the institution toward a more distributed educational structure.  ePortfolios are a key part because they provision learners to be stewards of their own learning.

A Bonus

I include an article in its entirety from the Chronicle of Higher Education, with permission from the author and the Chronicle.  It was published on May 19, 2015.  The article is related to this blog.  Thanks to Kentaro Toyama for his gracious permission to re-post his article. 

Why Technology Will Never Fix Education

In 2004, I moved to India to help found a new research lab for Microsoft. Based in Bangalore, it quickly became a hub for cutting-edge computer science. My own focus shifted with the move, and I began to explore applications of digital technologies for the socioeconomic growth of poor communities. India struggles to educate its billion-plus population, so during the five years that I was there, my team considered how computers, mobile phones, and other devices could aid learning.

Sadly, what we found was that even when technology tested well in experiments, the attempt to scale up its impact was limited by the availability of strong leadership, good teachers, and involved parents — all elements that are unfortunately in short supply in India’s vast but woefully underfunded government school system. In other words, the technology’s value was in direct proportion to the instructor’s capability.

Over time, I came to think of this as technology’s Law of Amplification: While technology helps education where it’s already doing well, technology does little for mediocre educational systems; and in dysfunctional schools, it can cause outright harm.

When I returned to the United States and took an academic post, I saw that the idea applies as much to higher education in America as it does to general education in India. This past semester, I taught an undergraduate course called "IT and Global Society." The students read about high-profile projects like One Laptop Per Child and the TED-Prize-winning Hole-in-the-Wall program. Proponents argue that students can overcome educational hurdles with low-cost digital devices, but rigorous research fails to show much educational impact of technology in and of itself, even when offered free.

My students — all undergrads and digital natives — were at first surprised that technology did so little for education. They had a deep sense that they benefited from digital tools. And they were right to have that feeling. As relatively well-off students enrolled at a good university, they were all but guaranteed a solid education; being able to download articles online and exchange emails with their professors amplified the fundamentals.

But their personal intuition didn’t always transfer to other contexts. In fact, even in their own lives, it was easy to show that technology by itself didn’t necessarily cause more learning. To drive this point home, I asked them a series of questions about their own experience:

"How many of you have ever tried to take a free course on the Internet?" Over half the class raised their hands.

"And how many completed it?" All the hands went down.

"Why didn’t you continue?" Most students said they didn’t get past two or three online lectures. Someone mentioned lack of peer pressure to continue. Another suggested it wasn’t worth it without the credits. One student said simply, "I’m lazy. Even in a regular class, I probably wouldn’t do my homework unless I felt the disapproval of the professor."

In effect, the students demonstrated an informal grasp of exactly what studies about educational technologies often find. So, if my tech-immersed undergraduates could intuit the limits of educational technology, why do educators, policy makers, and entrepreneurs keep falling for its false promise?

One problem is a widespread impression that Silicon Valley innovations are necessarily good for society. We confuse business success with social value, though the two often differ. Just for example, how is it that during the last four decades we have seen an explosion of incredible technologies, but America’s poverty rate hasn’t decreased and inequality has skyrocketed? Any idea that more technology in and of itself cures social ills is obviously flawed. Yet without a good framework for thinking about technology and society, it’s easy to get caught up in hype about new gadgets.

The Law of Amplification provides one such framework: At heart, it affirms that technology is a tool, which means that any positive effects depend on well-intentioned, capable people. But this also means that good outcomes are never guaranteed. What amplification predicts is that technological effects follow underlying social currents.

MOOCs offer a convenient example. Proponents cite the potential for MOOCs to lower the costs of education, based on the assumption that low-cost content is what is needed. Of course, the Internet offers dirt-cheap replicability, and it undeniably amplifies content producers’ ability to reach a mass audience. But if free content were all that was needed for an education, everyone with broadband connectivity would be an Ivy League Ph.D.

The real obstacle in education remains student motivation. Especially in an age of informational abundance, getting access to knowledge isn’t the bottleneck, mustering the will to master it is. And there, for good or ill, the main carrot of a college education is the certified degree and transcript, and the main stick is social pressure. Most students are seeking credentials that graduate schools and employers will take seriously and an environment in which they’re prodded to do the work. But neither of these things is cheaply available online.

Arizona State University’s recent partnership with edX to offer MOOCs is an attempt to do this, but if its student assessments fall short (or aren’t tied to verified identities), other universities and employers won’t accept them. And if the program doesn’t establish genuine rapport with students, then it won’t have the standing to issue credible nudges. (Automated text-message reminders to study will quickly become so much spam.) For technological amplification to lower the costs of higher education, it has to build on student motivation, and that motivation is tied not to content availability but to credentialing and social encouragement.

The Law of Amplification’s least appreciated consequence, however, is that technology on its own amplifies underlying socioeconomic inequalities. To begin with, the rich will always be able to afford more technology, and low-cost technology in no way solves that. There is no digital keeping up with the Joneses.

But even an equitable distribution of technology aggravates inequality. Students with poor high-school preparation will always find it hard to learn things their prep-school peers can ace. Low-income families will struggle to pay registration fees that wealthy households barely notice. Blue-collar workers doing hard manual labor may not have the energy to take evening courses that white-collar professionals think of as a hobby. And these things are even more true online than offline. Sure, educational technologies can lower costs for everyone, but it’s those with existing advantages who are best positioned to capitalize on them.

In fact, studies confirm exactly this: Well-educated men with office jobs disproportionately complete MOOC courses, while lower-income young adults barely enroll. The primary effect of free online courses is to further educate an already well-educated group who will pull away from less-educated others. The educational rich just get richer.

So what is to be done? Unfortunately, there is no technological fix, and that is perhaps the hardest lesson of amplification. More technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is nontechnological: Either resolve the underlying inequities first, or create policies that favor the less advantaged.

Kentaro Toyama is an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, a fellow of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, and the author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology, published this month by PublicAffairs.


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First I Discovered Fire and then I Discovered ePortfolios

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, May 14, 2015

What is the ePortfolio Idea?  Marc Zaldivar of Virginia Tech on the ePortfolio Process.  May 20, 1-2 pm US EDT

AAEEBL and EPAC continue their project to define eportfolio.  This blog provides a framework for the next webinar. 

First I Discovered Fire and then I Discovered ePortfolios


How Did you Change?

One important aspect of eportfolio that is often overlooked and rarely used well is showing change over time.  An eportfolio can produce a website to showcase work, but it can also show the changes behind the work. Sometimes, people want to see what kind of learner you are.  It’s important to show your own learning process.

Why are People so Dedicated to the ePortfolio Idea?

As we go from webinar to webinar asking “what is an eportfolio?,” something nags at me in my mind:  “why are so many people deeply dedicated to the eportfolio idea?”  Maybe that’s where our answer lies:  what is it about the eportfolio idea that is so intriguing, inspiring, or hopeful? 

The Owned ePortfolio Space 

An eportfolio is a private, owned space that is apart from institutional hegemony.  It is hard for a learner enrolled at an institution to feel they “own” any part of the learning process or the knowledge.  If one does not own something, it is harder to get engaged.  But within your own eportfolio, you can control who enters your space or even who sees your space and the work you are doing.  That’s ownership.  Ownership leads to engagement:  eportfolios instrument the learner’s ownership of their own learning process.  

Enabling Learning Designs for how People Actually Learn

Some of us have seen in eportfolios the possibility of creating learning designs that are truly based on the latest theories of how people learn.  The word “pedagogy” has come to mean, in common academic speech, one’s own teaching style or approach;  it is called pedagogy after the fact in most cases.  It usually does not mean a style or approach based on intense study of learning theory.  Given the “built pedagogy” of the classroom, the credit system, the course system, the legacy “content delivery” concept, expectations of students and a century of behaviorism, one’s pedagogy is almost pre-determined.  ePortfolio practices offer a counter-balance. 

This counter balance can be understood in these ways: as an influence on culture in  the broad context of human history, the history of learning and education, and the short history of technology’s re-creation of humanity.

·      Human history:  information technology has distributed information and power broadly, breaking up too closely held hegemonic structures.  Technology is a democratizing force.  ePortfolios can be understood as a democratizing force in education, especially higher education.

·      Learning and education: new fields have taken up the study of learning over the past 50 years, such as cognitive science, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, economics as well as the traditional fields of psychology and education.  ePortfolios can be understood as allowing educators to embody new findings about learning. 

·      Technology’s re-creation of humanity:  humanity is inseparable from the technologies we depend on such as clothing, fire (as contained in internal combustion engines) and tools.  We are human because of the inhuman.  Technology has made learning available anywhere and eportfolios can be understood as native to this new reality.  ePortfolios are the clothing and the fire and the tool in this world of knowledge everywhere. 

ePortfolios have not created these realities but instead they are in tune with and can reinforce these realities.  ePortfolios allow us to make the most of the world of knowledge we now live in. 



Tags:  ePortfolio AAEEBL learning assessment career 

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"What is an ePortfolio?" is the Wrong Question

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, May 4, 2015

“What is an ePortfolio?” is the Wrong Question.

In the AAEEBL/EPAC webinar series that began last month (and continues on Wednesday May 6 at 1 pm US EDT with Shane Sutherland of PebblePad -- register), we have been asking “what is an eportfolio?” because this is often the question we hear and because the field does not have a “reference” definition (the agreed upon standard definition) of “eportfolio.”  However, as many have mentioned as we attempt to settle on a definition, if we don’t frame what we are doing within a broad enough concept space, we face the danger of settling on a definition that misses the point, or that diminishes the importance of the eportfolio.

A Better Question?

A better question to avoid that danger may be “what is the eportfolio idea?”  It is the eportfolio idea that has created a global community, formed associations such as The International Coalition of ePortfolio Research, the Making Connections Center at LaGuardia Community College, AAEEBL, The Centre for Recording Achievement (UK), ePIC, EPAC, ePortfolios Australia and so on.  It is not so much what the eportfolio is but what it enables the world to do and what it signifies. 

AAEEBL Annual Conference

The AAEEBL Annual Conference this year (July 27-30 – register) features the phrase “Beyond One Size Fits All,” referring to the move away from assembly line curriculum to variable learning experiences – high impact educational practices (HIPs), field work, service learning, semester abroad, competency-based education, self-paced learning, and the whole range of more active learning experiences open to undergraduate students today.  Mobile learning (i.e., “out of the classroom”) is hard to assess or evaluate using the same assessment methods appropriate to the assembly line curriculum, however, and even harder to assess or evaluate is students following different learning paths toward the same learning outcomes. 

Why the ePortfolio Idea is Important At This Time

ePortfolios directly address this problem because eportfolios are attached to the learner and not to the instructor.  The eportfolio serves as the eyes of the instructor to see, after the fact, the learning that occurred out of the instructor’s vision.

This is what we mean by “making learning visible.”  This is the eportfolio idea – instrumenting the millennial move from teaching to learning.  ePortfolios are important because of the central role they can play in whole-campus transformation toward variable, active learning.  Defining an eportfolio only as a technology misses the significance of the eportfolio idea. 

In the next phase of the AAEEBL/EPAC webinar series on “What is an ePortfolio,” we will be featuring notable eportfolio leaders who will develop aspects of “the eportfolio idea.”  This week, Shane Sutherland, CEO of PebblePad, will address the question, “What is an ePorfolio?” by offering “some reflections, some suggestions, some questions…”  The webinar is free but you must register.  As you register, you will see a screen confirming your registration that includes the URL for the webinar on May 6 at 1 pm US EDT.  Please make a note of the URL. 






Tags:  AAEEBL  defined  eportfolio 

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Does an ePortfolio have to be Based in an "ePortfolio" Platform?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Does an ePortfolio have to be Based in an “ePortfolio” Platform?

Webinar with Shane Sutherland of PebblePad, May 6, 1-2 pm US EDT.  Register under the calendar list at  You must register to attend. 

This question comes up time and again.  It is an interesting epistemological question but it is also a touchy issue – after all, the eportfolio business sector depends on institutions and individuals using eportfolio technology. 

In practice, the concept of “eportfolio” is new to a lot of academics, and those academics who are choosing a technology to carry out eportfolio initiatives have so little experience choosing an enterprise application (a technology application potentially used by the whole campus), that they have little choice but to adopt an eportfolio technology that will show them, over time, how an eportfolio works. 

We are in that awkward stage, technologically, where demand for eportfolio learning and assessment continues to grow but where the users – students and faculty – are, in many cases, unfamiliar with how to use an eportfolio or what to expect of the technology.  Some institutions have gone through two or three iterations of eportfolio platforms as they try to find the best one for their uses.  Other institutions find themselves with multiple eportfolio platforms on their campuses.  I also hear stories of eportfolio vendors receiving a list of requirements from an institution that is overwhelming and nearly impossible to reply to as part of an RFP process. 

In practice, therefore, the majority of eportfolio initiatives will probably continue to be tied to an eportfolio system named as such.  The broader question for the field is “do we define ‘eportfolio’ by the technology or by the use?”  Defining by the technology allows a precise definition – a core set of functionalities – but is “precise” the same as “useful”?  Wouldn’t a technology-based definition become quickly obsolescent?  Wouldn’t it limit our imaginations regarding the eportfolio idea? 

The persisting vision of “eportfolio” is immune to obsolescence:  “a personal learning space that is owned by the individual who can set permissions, and with an archive of evidence of life experiences in multi-modal formats, that persists over time and can publish showcases to the web.” Or something like that. 

We have a dilemma:  if we opt for a precise technology function definition, we get precise but maybe not useful; if we opt for a more relativistic purpose definition, we get useful but not precise. 


Here is Shane Sutherland’s position that he will present on May 6 at 1 pm US EDT in the AAEEBL/EPAC webinar series on “What is an ePortfolio?”


Putting purpose at the heart of our portfolio definitions


In this screenside chat Shane Sutherland will argue that our failure to distinguish between the portfolio system and its outputs is at the heart of much conversational confusion about eportfolios. How often do we hear learners exhorted to “log into the eportfolio and create an eportfolio” ?

The world is increasingly full of tools purporting to be portfolio systems but what differentiates a good portfolio system from a less good one?  Shane thinks the question is moot. You actually have to start with a clear understanding of what you hope to achieve and you can only do that by understanding the kind of outputs, or portfolios, you require – which in turn is determined by purpose.

In this conversation Shane we will make the case for portfolios to be considered simply as presentational outputs, independent of the tools used to create them. He will suggest two framing characteristics -- format and utility -- along with a series of defining questions related to each and together leading to a tentative taxonomy.

Shane argues that, armed with a clear sense of the kinds of portfolios you want to create, individuals and institutions are much better placed to define the system they need – whether or not that system is labeled as a ‘portfolio system’.



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ePortfolio: A Millennial Cultural Phenomenon

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, April 20, 2015

What is an ePortfolio?  An AAEEBL Project for 2015 in Coordination with EPAC

EPAC was an important early organizing entity for the U. S. eportfolio community.  Many current eportfolio leaders were active in EPAC in the early 2000’s.  Since then, Helen Chen and John Ittelson have maintained EPAC as a service to the eportfolio field.  AAEEBL and EPAC collaborate regularly on webinars, as they are doing for the 2015 series.

[Register for the April 29 Webinar with Geoff Irvine, CEO of Chalk & Wire now].

The Importance of Defining “ePortfolio”

A research and practice field needs to define its core epistemology.  But while “eportfolio” can be understood academically as a set of practices to improve learning or as a genre of self expression to create an identity or as a way to discover tacit knowledge within yourself (as part of a generative knowledge process) or as part of a narrative over a life time interpreted using a hermeneutic approach to discover the “narrator” of your life (a kind of self-exegesis), do any of these important interpretive lenses capture the cultural significance of having a personal space within the cloud in this millennium?  Maybe to really know what we are about as the eportfolio field of inquiry, we need to look beyond academia (in the U. S.) and take a cue from countries where “eportfolio” is an economic and social instrument for workforce development:  eportfolio as a necessary personal space for social and economic mobility in this digital age. 

It is because of the multiple interpretations and uses of eportfolios that AAEEBL and other organizations in the eportfolio field globally that we need the What is an ePortfolio? Project.

This Project has generated interest already through the two webinars offered so far in April – with Steve Handy of Bluehost and with Christopher Sheehan of Arizona State University and Helen Chen of EPAC (recordings available on the website). 

This current document describes how this Project will evolve over the next 9 months and invites participants to join a team working on this Project.  (Contact   

Parts of the Project

1.     AAEEBL Webinar Series, co-sponsored by EPAC.  Monthly “Screen Side Chats” featuring chief officers of AAEEBL Corporate Partners and key academic eportfolio leaders.  Each session is recorded and made available on the AAEEBL website.  (Next one, April 29, is with Geoff Irvine, CEO of Chalk & Wire). 

2.     What is an ePortfolio? Project Team.  A volunteer team to analyze transcripts of the Screen Side Chats, to research other published statements about defining “eportfolio,” and to develop a white paper on the topic that will be made available to the eportfolio community in early 2016.  This Team will be formed by the end of May, 2015. 

3.     Coordination between this team and other eportfolio entities such as EPAC, the International Journal of ePortfolio, the International Coalition for ePortfolio Research, the Centre for Recording Achievement, Europortfolio, ePIC, ePortfolios Australia and others.

Tentative Goals

1.     A definition for the community

2.     A definition for public use

3.     A definition for college and university administrators, and for faculty, who are unfamiliar with the concept of eportfolio.

4.     A definition for students/learners

A simple, reductionist, definition is not useful for any of the above groups since that kind of definition does not convey the importance of the eportfolio idea or of the potential of eportfolio for re-shaping learning in a digital world. 

Interim Thoughts on Definition

The eportfolio field needs a definition because “eportfolio” is still a relatively unknown phenomenon.  The field of “biology,” say, can assume a broad understanding of what “biology” entails and can use that established and broad understanding to create a definition that delimits that broad understanding. The field of “eportfolio” cannot do this.  We do not enjoy the benefits of an established, broad-based understanding of eportfolio but instead face broad-based misunderstanding.  Therefore, our definition must aim to create that cultural understanding of the eportfolio idea and field of study and practice.

With this task in mind – creating a definition of the idea of eportfolio and therefore of the field – we can begin with what philosophical framework is best to use for our purpose.  In a seminal article published by Celeste Fowles Nguyen, then of Stanford University, in the fall of 2013 in the International Journal of ePortfolio, entitled “The ePortfolio as a Living Portal:  A Medium for Student Learning, Identity, and Assessment,” v.3, no. 2, 135-148, Nguyen lays out an approach to understanding the idea of eportfolio:

The eportfolio is presently understood as an online space for students to share and reflect upon learning artifacts and academic experiences.  Traditionally, eportfolios have been studied through scientific or developmental paradigms, where they are often viewed as a tool to measure outcomes or student progress.  This paper contributes to the understanding of eportfolios through a critical hermeneutic approach (Herda, 1999), in which the eportfolio is one medium, among others, for learning . . . This framework highlights the role of the student in narrating his or her own life.  The focus on identity in this research may add an additional dimension to discussion about culture and technology.

The interpretive approach of critical hermeneutics offers new insights into eportfolios within an ontological tradition based on ways of being.  This research, based on the philosophy of Paul Recoeur (1984, 1992), viewed the eportfolio as a medium in which students can learn about self and the world.  New understandings expand one’s horizon, bringing about new ways of living, which Hans-Georg Gadamer (1988/1975) conceptualized as a fusion of horizons.  This approach to eportfolios provides educators with enhanced ways of understanding learning, identity, and assessment in higher education.

The research moves beyond an epistemological approach based on knowledge, where the eportfolios are viewed as an object or linear process, into the ontological world of being, where learning is about living life through a search that has meaning for oneself and others.  As Ricoeur (1991) explained, life can be understood as a “story in search of a narrator” (p. 425).  This interpretive context offers an expanded approach to learning that may complement existing practices to better serve institutions and students in preparing for an ever-changing world that lies beyond the college experience.


ePortfolio, conceived as Nguyen proposes, is then a medium and signifier at the heart of the world as it has become.  The eportfolio idea, then, is itself an artifact and phenomenon of the new millennium.  It is this expression of the eportfolio idea, and others, that suggest why we have an eportfolio field and community: it is an idea bigger and more significant than any one of its uses.   

What, Then, Must an ePortfolio Do to Realize the ePortfolio Idea?

Right from the early years of the eportfolio community – the 1990s – people like Katherine Yancey and Helen Barrett wrote and talked about what eportfolios must be able to do to serve the values they saw in the eportfolio idea. 

·      The space – the eportfolio – must be owned by the student in all ways.  Digitally, this meant that access to the eportfolio must be determined by the student or learner:  literally, the learner could set permissions within the eportfolio as to which specific people or groups could have access to their work – often determined piece by piece – and for how long.  Legally, the learner must be recognized as the owner of the intellectual property within the eportfolio.  Owning one’s own work was seen as greatly increasing the sense of owning one’s own learning process and therefore having more of a stake in the process and increasing engagement. 

·      The eportfolio space (“account”) must remain with the learner during college and after college (or from K-12 and on through life). 

·      The learner must be able to upload any file type to the eportfolio and must have storage capacity to hold (increasingly that capacity is in “the cloud”) work artifacts collected over multiple years.

·      The learner must be able to connect to the eportfolio from anywhere and when using multiple kinds of devices.  

·      The learner needs to be able to archive and curate learning artifacts over time, requiring that the eportfolio have a metadata set and search capabilities to manage a large archive.

·      The learner must be able to easily create current state-of-the-art websites for varying purposes over time, using data from the eportfolio. 

·      The learner must be able to collaborate on team work within the eportfolio space, where, for a particular project, the team can have access to the work. 

·      The learner must be able to use the eportfolio within an enterprise application setting:  the eportfolio may therefore interface with an SIS or ERP or LMS system.  Or it may not need to interface with enterprise applications, but simply be enterprise-friendly and supported on campus.

·      The learner must have the eportfolio recognized as a major part of the work of learning.  The eportfolio, therefore, must be able to facilitate the academic process of assessment and evaluation and, perhaps, of advising as well. 

Other items will undoubtedly be added to this list as the Project proceeds.

Our Project could then create a list of technology functionality, or a taxonomy, based on the requirements. 

The Project will also create a similar set of requirements and functionalities for derivative purposes, such as tracking student progress toward learning outcomes, recognizing or assessing prior learning, digital story-telling, and others. 

And, finally, the Project will create definitions for use in various contexts. 


But, in the end, the field needs to identify why humanity needs to recognize the importance of eportfolio:  there have always been means of learning about oneself, of self-expression, of scrap-booking one’s life, but the new element that eportfolio offers is that these traditional means can now be published and visible to the world. 


Tags:  ePortfolio AAEEBL 

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Ontology of "ePortfolio"

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, April 9, 2015


Register for the next webinar in the AAEEBL Webinar Series on "What is an ePortfolio," co-sponsored by EPAC, April 15, 2 pm to 3:15 pm US EDT.  Helen Chen and Chris Sheehan. Those who register will receive the URL to login on the 15th.  All webinars are recorded and can be viewed later. 

Ontology of “ePortfolio”

AAEEBL is undertaking the task of defining the term “eportfolio.”  Is it a genre, or a set of practices, or a showcase, or a technology?  Or all four and other descriptions?  What we see most commonly is a definition of the technology affordances that, as I have argued in a previous blog, tend to be minimalist and therefore misleading. 

Definitions do tend to be minimalist so that all can agree, at least, on the definition as a starting point.  But, a starting point is not sufficient to convey the cultural and historical significance of “eportfolio.” 

At this point, we need to work toward not just a definition but an ontology, a way to specify the entire concept of “eportfolio.”  For example, the term “eportfolio” is often used within our field to describe an entire initiative, as in “eportfolio has changed how we organize learning.”  When we hear or read a statement like that, those who are informed about eportfolios do not think the technology itself has acted but that humans have acted using the affordances of eportfolios. 

Within the discourse in our field, “eportfolio” is used in ways that imply our field shares a deep concept of what "eportfolio" is.  It is this deep concept that makes us a field and drives the interest in using eportfolios.  It is not common for a field of inquiry and practice to grow from a technology in the way our field has developed, so there must be something special about “eportfolio” that drives us.  

But to get to the ontology of “eportfolio,” we need to start with what that deep concept is.  If we continue to postpone coming to consensus in our field, not only will our field suffer from lack of focus but the commercial market for eportfolios will itself fork into eportfolio wannabees that use the term but do not support expression of that deep concept we share. 

The AAEEBL Webinar this calendar year is intended to help us all arrive at the definition behind the definition, or, the ontology of “eportfolio.”  A taxonomy, instead, might just cloud the picture even more because it would be identifying all the uses of eportfolio without getting at the deep concept that is at the center of “eportfolio” in our minds. 

What do we associate with “eportfolio”?  Deep learning, engaged learning, integrative learning, reflective thinking, metacognition and other cognitive attributes.  But also we associate “eportfolio” with identity and personal development.  Personal development can apply to learning while enrolled in a program of formal study, or it can apply to personal development in a career.  We also associate “eportfolio” with life-long coherence, a record; and with life-wide application, multiple websites created for different purposes. 

And more deeply, we associate eportfolio with transformation to forms more appropriate in a technology culture, forms of learning and assessment and self-expression. 

We also associate “eportfolio” with various values in learning, such as the power of having one’s own digital space, of owning our own learning, the mobility of that digital space and its persistence.  In that space, we must be able to find things and re-arrange them and show them.  Just like a physical space, we need to be comfortable in our digital space.

We live in a new ecology of abundance of knowledge that is transient.  To adapt to this ecology, we humans need our own digital spaces, just as in a physical ecology, we need our houses and cars and other interior spaces.  We need an eportfolio.

If our definition does not start with the deep concept we have of “eportfolio,” the definition will not serve us well.  Information technology can be used for control – something we recognize as important but also fear – or it can be used for liberation and creativity.  While institutions may favor the control aspects of eportfolios as assessment management systems that help institutions know how students are progressing toward learning outcomes, most likely the real driving force behind the eportfolio field is not grounded in this control side of eportfolios, but in the personal side of eportfolios.  

An ontology of “eportfolio” can capture the deep meanings (“concept”) we share about “eportfolio,” and should therefore be a big part of our drive this year toward a shared explicit description of “eportfolio.”


The webinar series, plus a series of blogs, are meant to spur on the conversation within our field. 







Tags:  ePortfolio AAEEBL 

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The Definition of an ePortfolio Project

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Thursday, April 2, 2015

 "What is an ePortfolio” 2015 Monthly Webinar Series
Co-Sponsored in part by EPAC


Collecting Perspectives for The “Definition of an ePortfolio Project”

 A Year-Long Conversation Toward Consensus
[register for first webinar] 

How do you define something that is both a technology and a range of how humans use the technology?  “ePortfolio” has come to mean both the technology and the range of uses and is also a signifier for the times we live in as well as a “GPS” for humans to find their way in these times.  The eportfolio global community, because of the diverse range of perceptions of what “eportfolio” is, needs to find consensus on a description that encompasses the whole eportfolio landscape but still is easily comprehensible to those unfamiliar with “eportfolio.” 

The Wisdom Collection Part of the Project:  Webinar Series

AAEEBL begins this long-term Project to define “eportfolio” with a webinar to be broadcast on April 8, in just a few days.  You can join in the conversation by registering for this webinar.  It is free, but registration is required.  We will follow the April 8 webinar with another on April 15 and other webinars will be announced in the days to come.  Through these recorded webinars and accompanying blog posts, and through written contributions from members of the community, we will collect knowledge that is shared within the Community working toward concluding statements in early 2015. 

A technical description of an academic eportfolio has been developed by PESC.  This description and many other sources are the foundation on which this project launches. 

The Goal of the ePortfolio Definition Project

We start this Project with trepidation but also eagerness.  The definition cannot be prescribed but must be discovered.  AAEEBL intends to facilitate the conversation to discover the definition over the next 9 months and to participate in analysis of whatever consensus is arising and then, we hope, be able collaboratively to provide a report to be reviewed by eportfolio practitioners, researchers, and corporate partners worldwide during 2015. 

The First Webinar in the ePortfolio Definition Project.

The first webinar in the AAEEBL 2015 series on “What is an ePortfolio?” – the essential question for the ePortfolio Definition Project – will be an interview that I will lead with Steve Handy, leader of Bluehost Education.  This interview will be held on April 8, 2015, at 1:00 pm US EDT and will continue for an hour.  The interview will be recorded and can be viewed after the webinar.  Register for this free webinar that launches the ePortfolio Definition Project. 

Screen Side Chats

This series is called “Screen Side Chats” to best describe the interview form we will follow and to set the tone for these interviews.  This series will not consist of talks driven by slides, but instead will consist of conversations around essential questions related to the goal of better defining what an eportfolio is.  Some Screen Side Chats (SSCs) in this AAEEBL Webinar Series will be with academics and some with AAEEBL corporate partners.  The underlying question of “What is an ePortfolio?” will be at the center of each interview. 

Why This Project?

In 1999, at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, I taught a first-year composition course using a portfolio framework.  My technology at that time was paper but the management of the paper was aided by using digital printers to make multiple copies of one assigned paper (one for the student and one for me) and was also aided by email and the ability to send attachments. 

Now, just 16 years later, we – the AAEEBL community and, by extension, the eportfolio community and research field -- open an investigative series to determine a reference definition, description or proto-taxonomy of what an eportfolio is.  In those 16 years, because of the global move to the Internet and particularly the Web, the concept of “portfolio” has experienced shredding and forking and remixing to the point where only the most minimal definition – a repository on the web with certain technical capabilities designed with an intention in mind – can be generally agreed upon. 

This minimal “definition” sells the movement short.  It may reinforce an impression that the eportfolio movement is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.  A database on the web containing data about learning is like the famous “field of infinite possibilities.” (Chopra)  And therein lies the problem – the reality is far from “minimal” – it is seemingly, in fact, infinite in the varieties of eportfolio uses and designs and meanings that people have developed in a very short time. 

Bluehost as an ePortfolio Provider

The April 8 Screen Side Chat with Steve Handy of Bluehost:  “How do you Create an ePortfolio that is REALLY Your Own”? begins the 9-month conversation. 

We wonder, within academia, and perhaps within the industry itself, what kind of “eportfolio” a web hosting company can offer.  The first reaction I hear from other academics is “a website is not an eportfolio.”  And this reaction provides the challenge for Steve during the interview.

I have given a lot of thought to the question of what Bluehost offers for learners.  I should first clarify that Bluehost has created an interface for WordPress and is therefore offering a suite of technology functionality, including WordPress, that is more than “just a website.”  Bluehost is one of the largest hosting services in the world and WordPress supports a reported 20% of all websites in the world.  Students learning to use WordPress hosted by Bluehost, then, are starting with a technology set that is used widely and will serve them not only during college but for life.  Other portfolio providers do the same but there is a certain value in starting out using what a large part of the world already uses. 

(AAEEBL is platform neutral.  Its goal is to advance good uses of eportfolios educationally and not to champion any one particular platform.  At the same time, the more educators and learners know about the technology offerings, the wiser their choices can be about technology decisions and uses.  And, the more robust the eportfolio industry is, the better the technology we will have available to support our work). 

Bluehost also offers a student or a learner a domain that can be the actual name of the student or learner, and offers also the entire range of functionality that goes with owning a domain.  Bluehost can then claim, with reason, that a student in college, starting out with Bluehost and WordPress, is launching their lifetime digital identity.  This technology option can be used for the learning purposes we identify as eportfolio practices but this option can also allow students/learners to become ambitious in their use of their own domain for purposes in addition to strictly academic uses.  The sense of ownership is reinforced by the learner’s eportfolio being ensconced in a platform not defined by an institution. 

The interview will explore to what extent these claims are true, and will be open to audience questions for half of the time of the webinar.  This series and this project, the ePortfolio Definition Project, ventures into contested territory.  This territory is where the industry and the eportfolio community meet.  Industry is competitive and profit-driven; academia is collaborative and truth-driven.  Industry must maintain non-disclosure while academia is open inquiry.  But, at the same time, both the eportfolio industry and the eportfolio academic community have the same goal:  increase good use of eportfolios for better learning, assessment and career success.

The Screen Side Chats over the next 9 months will be nothing if not interesting.



Tags:  ePortfolio AAEEBL 

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Defining "ePortfolio": Four Ways of Seeing an ePortfolio

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, March 16, 2015

Defining “ePortfolio”:  Four Ways of Seeing an ePortfolio

The Problem of Defining “ePortfolio”

Ever since I started working with eportfolios in 2001, the question “what is an eportfolio?” has come up time and again. It is very hard to agree on a definition of “eportfolio” except at the most basic of educational definitions: “An eportfolio is a digital archive that represents student work over time through a broad range of artifacts.” (

As precise and evocative as that definition is from the Georgetown ePortfolio Initiative, it still does not capture the breadth of significance the eportfolio has for our society today. 

For example, we could define an automobile as “a cabin on wheels with a motor that propels it for people to ride in.”  But that definition would miss how the automobile created the suburbs, propelled social mobility, has deeply altered social patterns and has helped contribute to climate change.  The automobile might best be described as one of the defining technologies of the 20th century.

In other words, a definition can miss the essence and importance of something, so may be more misleading than helpful.  The eportfolio community has struggled with defining eportfolios for its entire existence.  Perhaps that’s because we’ve been trying to see it in only one or two ways.

The Georgetown site also includes a quotation that hints at a larger eportfolio significance beyond the simple definition above:

Conversation around ePortfolios lately has turned to the layered benefits of having students use digital workspaces to think more intentionally about their learning and make connections across the curriculum.

The number one hit on Google for “eportfolios” is a 2005 report from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, “An Overview of E-Portfolios” by George Lorenzo and John Ittelson, edited by Diana Oblinger.  The definition in the abstract to the article from 10 years ago describes “eportfolio” as an academic application featuring three types:  student eportfolios, teaching eportfolios and institutional eportfolios, that have a number of uses.  Somehow, the dedication and excitement I see in the eportfolio community is not because eportfolios are just another educational technology as that 2005 description would imply.  Something else is going on. 

In 2002, I published an article in Campus Technology called “The Electronic Portfolio Boom:  What’s it all About?”  (Retrieved 3-14-15 from 

Toward the end of the article (worth reading to get a sense of how far we’ve come while also recognizing we’ve yet to resolve issues that were pertinent then), I said:

Despite a general recognition of the usefulness of an ePortfolio, the key to success is how well the campus population is prepared for using this new tool. It's not a simple add-on to existing courses; if it is, students may not see the value. Indeed, if ePortfolio tools become just a simpler way to log student work, we've missed the boat.

Experience on one campus shows that, even though 100 percent of the faculty in a program have adopted ePortfolios, students still may not see their value because the faculty have not re-thought their courses to accommodate electronic portfolios.

In the 13 years since this article, despite the spread of eportfolios to a large majority of college campuses in the U. S. and in other countries, and despite a growing percentage of students who use eportfolios for all or most of their courses, (based on the ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduates and Technology) and despite the rapid growth of eportfolio providers, the two statements above are as relevant today as then.  We still have not generally recognized the value of an institutional learning design based on eportfolios, nor do we have an agreed upon definition of or agreed upon statement about the meaning of eportfolios.

Higher education still has not embraced the potential of eportfolios to serve as the basis for a re-thinking of an institution’s approach to learning. 

A Framework for Understanding the Significance of “ePortfolio”

We see, then, that in 2015, we still have to ask “What’s it All About?”  The answer to that, I believe, will differ depending on the context.  Is it only one more teaching practice?  Or do eportfolios have significance not only in but also beyond classroom practices?

If we look at the various contexts in which eportfolios have significance, we may be able, as a field, to agree on a statement about the meaning and significance of “eportfolio” and we may then energize not only ourselves with this new awareness, but become better able to frame our discourse on campus about eportfolios.

Those eportfolios contexts may be stated as these four:

  1. Learning – what is eportfolio’s meaning for learning for both learners and teachers.
  2. Institutional assessment – how do eportfolios affect institutional assessment?
  3. Technology in education – how are eportfolios different form other technologies used in education?
  4. Culture and economy – what is the cultural significance of eportfolios? 

In these four contexts, the lens through which we see the meaning of eportfolios differs, and the lens in number four – culture and economy – differs among countries as well.

To define eportfolios from just one context undercuts the broader importance and implications of eportfolios. 

Context 1, Learning

At the Catalyst for Learning site, created by the Connect to Learning Project led by Bret Eynon at LaGuardia Community College, and involving 24 colleges and universities over a 3-year FIPSE funded project (AAEEBL was an early partner in C2L), we find an excellent summary of eportfolio meaning in the context of learning:


ePortfolio pedagogy engages students in a recursive inquiry into their own learning and their evolving identities as learners. Through sustained collective inquiry in ePortfolio-related professional development and outcomes assessment, faculty, staff, and the broader institution construct new knowledge and understandings about the teaching and learning process.


Reflection is pivotal to meaningful student ePortfolios, which function as sites for prompting, documenting, and sharing students’ reflection on their learning. And reflection helps to move outcomes assessment beyond accountability as individuals and programs reflect on assessment findings and their implications for curricular and pedagogical change.


Students use ePortfolios to bring together work from multiple contexts, to consider the relation between their classrooms and their lives outside of class, and to construct new identities as learners. In ePortfolio-related professional development, an integrative approach prompts faculty to develop and test strategies that help students integrate their learning; and also helps faculty and staff to transfer knowledge and insight from specific instances to broader contexts and applications.

Visit the Catalyst for Learning site to see how rich this site is.  Co-leaders of this project included Randy Bass of Georgetown University and Helen Chen of Stanford University. 

Melissa Peet’s Generative Knowledge work helps us understand the “Inquiry” and “Reflection” processes from the Catalyst site:

Although reflective learning is the pillar of authentic and experiential education, reflection alone is not enough to prepare our learners in any arena for the challenges and complexities they will face in their work and personal lives. In order to be successful in today’s world, people and organizations must know how to continually adapt to change and innovate.  Although change is a significant and constant force in all of our lives, most of us do not understand how it occurs, nor how to effectively facilitate it within ourselves and others.  

Generative Coaching is an inquiry-based method wherein people learn how to recognize the underlying processes of change, and then how to identify and build upon the hidden strengths and sources of intelligence they and others have unconsciously developed simply by adapting to change within their everyday life. (Retrieved from on March 14, 2015)

The Catalyst for Learning site and Melissa Peet’s work both suggest that there’s more to eportfolios than other educational technologies, that there may be epistemological aspects to eportfolios that would carry them to the level of “disruptive technology.” 

ePortfolios as a Way of Knowing Thyself

I heard two students at Boston University at the March 12 AAEEBL Conference express a core meaning of Generative Coaching – getting to know what you already know – in these words:

The former me is telling the now me” what I know -- Salma Yehia at the AAEEBL Boston University conference.  (See her own eportfolio)

“The former me is telling the now me.”  Wow.  Her phrase poetically throws light on the whole grand concept of “reflection.” Her phrase is also at the core of Generative Coaching.  It is all about tacit knowledge; it is all about making learning visible (to oneself!).  It is about integrating your past self with your current self. 

And, another student:

I am the personal editor of my own work.”  This is about owning your own work, also a core eportfolio value – the eportfolio learning space is not owned by the institution. The learner can continue to change her or his work over time, to learn from former work, and to curate that work over time. 

Context 2, Institutional Assessment

To understand this context, it helps to think “portfolio” as in paper portfolio, and about the research and tradition of portfolio.  The “eportfolio” can be traced back only 20 years or so to the days of “webfolios” that depended on hyperlinks instead of an online database.  However, portfolios as such are as old as the first instance of a human collecting related artifacts in a “thing.” In other words, during all of human literacy and pre-literacy, humans have used something that can be called a portfolio. 

How does this side-track into history connect with our inquiry into the meaning of “eportfolio”?  (Word just put a red underscore under “eportfolio” notifying me that Word does not know what eportfolio means, either).  Artists, musicians, architects, and writers have all used portfolios to collect and review and “publish” their work for different purposes for centuries.  Recently, since 1986, according to Kathleen Yancey, writing portfolios became one means of assessing student writing – a more holistic assessment than timed essays or testing. 

Research and theory surrounding writing portfolios was itself a strong current in rhetoric and composition after 1986.  This theory and set of practices preceded the advent of webfolios or eportfolios.  Therefore, many of the early advocates of eportfolios were from rhetoric and composition, a prime example being the Inter/National Coalition for ePortfolio Research led by Kathleen Yancey, Barbara Cambridge and Darren Cambridge, all from the rhet and comp field (as am I).  

Much of the excitement surrounding eportfolio, at first, was grounded in hopes that the values in writing portfolio theory and practice would be energized by eportfolios. 

What actually happened is a typical technology story – in 2007, I wrote an article called “The ePortfolio Hijacked.”

As the article points out, inevitably, when new data about student work, especially in the aggregate, becomes available, the gold rush is on!  Instead of universities spending money on adapting the curriculum to take advantage of the enormous learning potential of eportfolios, instead they saw (and understood) the potential to make the case to accrediting agencies, with eportfolios, that they, first, were collecting data on student learning, and, second, they were doing something about their findings:  identifying learning outcomes and tracking progress toward those outcomes with eportfolios. 

Instead of eportfolios revolutionizing learning, they were being used to reinforce the current curriculum.  Many of us in the eportfolio community saw institutional assessment, therefore, as in conflict with learning.  (Since then, institutions have found it possible to both develop new learning forms and integrate assessment into those new learning forms.)

Technology is two-faced.  It can and is used for control.  Without technology control, at this point, our society would stop operating.  But, it can also liberate individuals and groups and generate creativity.  It is democratizing but also controlling.  At the pace of technology development, any digital enterprise can veer toward control or toward liberation overnight, literally.  To us in the field in 2007, it seemed the eportfolio enterprise had veered strongly toward control – centralized and top-down.

An important note:  during a recent webinar hosted by an eportfolio provider, I was led through the process for faculty assessing their students and you know what?  It occurred to me that another way eportfolios are “making knowledge visible” is to help faculty understand the assessment process!  The eportfolio system was laying out a heuristic for faculty to follow as a way to de-mystify assessment!  This is important learning for faculty members. The apparent conflict between institutional assessment and learning seems to have been resolved.

Context 3: Technology in Education. 

The key question about eportfolios in the number 3 context is How do eportfolio affordances shape practice?  For example, in comparison to the LMS (learning management system), which is organized by courses and is therefore segmented, eportfolios are owned by students, so technologically are continuous and integrated.  It would be hard to understand the meaning of eportfolios if one did not know about this vital and key eportfolio affordance. 

Another key technology consideration:  students set permissions in their eportfolio space as to who can see their work.  This control reinforces the perception (and the reality) that learners own their own work. 

Also, unlike other enterprise (campus-wide) applications, students can retain their eportfolio accounts after graduation.  Just these three examples of how eportfolios are technologically unique and theoretically aligned with learning theory should make it clear how important this third context is to understanding what an eportfolio is. 

To the extent that eportfolios are technologically designed to be a personal space and not a university-owned application, they exist in a wholly different world than other educational applications. 

Context 4:  Culture and Economy.

The upcoming AAEEBL Conference (July 27-30, Boston) uses the word “personalization” in its theme.  Throughout our culture, personalization of everything – websites know you, search engines customize your searches, auto companies personalize your car, ad infinitum – and this is true of eportfolios as well.  Except with eportfolios, you can control your own digital identity, your own personalization.

From the AAEEBL site:

While personalized learning can refer to automated tutoring systems, here we use a more contemporary understanding that affirms the core value of one’s capacity to establish an individual learning pathway and to assume responsibility for active learning.  This connotation of personalized learning is at the heart of eportfolio’s value to custom-fit individual learner needs, but it also serves broadened visions for systemic transformation.  As a movement, personalized learning, paired with eportfolios and holistic assessment, can be sized to fit learning requirements of any scope from individual to institutional.  ePortfolio technologies have sufficiently matured to the point where both personal learning and data-driven institutional objectives can be served with authentic evidence.  (

Or, simply put, you don’t try to get through life on the basis of scaffolded learning when life requires you to build the scaffold.  Or, if someone else is always driving, you never learn the way.  ePortfolios, because they can help you make sense of and be recognized for your own personal learning journey, validate that journey.  They make personalization possible. 

ePortfolios, therefore, are part of a general cultural trend toward personalization.  They are more than an educational technology, they are a cultural meme. 

And also a means to succeed in work and career.  Our culture has changed in its perception of job experience:  decades ago, if you changed jobs often, there were suspicions that maybe you had something wrong with you.  Now, I hear from young people (and statistics back this up), if you stay in a job more than three or four years, people wonder why you lack ambition.    What is the challenge, then?  It is to be able to learn new skills and concepts constantly.  If you were not allowed to discover knowledge yourself while in college, you may not be prepared for work as it has become.

ePortfolios support “off the path” discovery learning, challenging learning, problem-based learning, experiential learning, constructivist learning and other forms of active and social learning.  How?  Because evidence of the off-the-path learning is collected and can be certified using eportfolios. 

What IS an ePortfolio?

An eportfolio is not an automobile – moving us around physically – but it is a “knowmobile” – moving us around virtually.  Seeing eportfolios this way enlarges our conceptual space in thinking about eportfolios and may help us understand and explain eportfolios better.

To extend the analogy:  a car offers an interior space:  in the 1900s it became – unwittingly – a private courting space for young couples, a space they had not had before that thereby weakened parental supervision.  An eportfolio is also a private or personal learning space (whether it is a courting space has not been researched as far as I know).  A car can serve to reinforce a personal identity – a status symbol, or a statement about your youthfulness or spirit; an eportfolio published on the Web also adds to a personal identity; an automobile supports employability in obvious ways; and so does an eportfolio that is kept up to date for getting a job.  A car can help you explore the world and enjoy learning new things, so does an eportoflio.  The comparisons can go on. 

Each research field can and does see eportfolios differently but none can claim their own disciplinary definition applies to the multiple uses and overall cultural significance of eportfolios. At the same time, if, at its core, eportfolios were not extraordinarily effective to improve learning, the broader significance of eportfolios would evaporate. 

The comparisons between one of last century’s most disruptive technologies and the eportfolio is, however, useful to us educators because it helps us understand the broad sweep of contexts in which eportfolios – the aggregating space for knowledge and self and identity and discovery – are important and therefore helps us understand why our eportfolio work is so important:  we are using eportfolios in a set of educational practices to be sure but we are also helping learners be mobile and successful in this digital world.  The knowmobile comes in many styles with many options and has a multitude of uses.  As far as I know, its co2 emissions are negligible.




If you are interested, see and search “Trent Batson” to see the roughly 80 articles I published in Campus Technology between 2002 and 2014, many of which were about eportfolios.

Tags:  Overview of eportfolio;definition eportfolio 

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The Hype Cycle

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Sunday, March 8, 2015


The Hype Cycle

Response to: “What Will Truly Change Higher Education:  Online Degrees That are Seen as Official,” by Kevin Carey, NYTimes, 3-7-15

Carey’s article was adapted from The End of College:  Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Cary, Riverhead Books, 2015.

MOOCs and Badges

Before MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) there were badges dominating the headlines in articles about higher education.  Both MOOCs and badges appear to be a permanent part of the higher education mix, as neither have gone away, and both have continued to evolve and spread.

Kevin Carey, in his article adapted from his book, says that MOOCs have failed to “disrupt higher education.”  This is because MOOCs don’t offer official college degrees, “and that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for.” 

But, he says, “Now information technology is poised to transform college degrees.  When that happens, the economic foundations beneath the academy will truly begin to tremble.” 

He continues, “free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs.  Now technological innovators are working on that, too.”  And then he explains badges.

How are Badges Perceived?

Now, as our community is aware, badges were around before MOOCs.  Badges have perhaps the wrong name: they are associated with the Scouts, with the military and with programmers.  They don’t seem to carry intellectual depth or academic weight.  It is hard to put together the phrase “liberal education” with the word “badges.”  One could, of course, make the same statement about “liberal education” and “grades,” as grades are increasingly viewed:  as inflated, non-predictive and devoid of any useful information.

Or, badges may seem too “micro,” as in the phrase “micro-credentialing.”  Does a collection of badges about micro-skills add up to a conceptual whole?  Do badges indicate that the receiver of the badges has gained the ability to make meaning because of mastering a set of micro-skills? 

That’s the impressionistic challenge to badges, and a challenge that is real as we ponder the place of badges in our assessment process. Are badges passé or still vital?

Searching for “digital badges” on the Web brings you to hits from three or four years ago when The Open Badges Initiative was announced.  However, it you go to, you’ll see that badges – that is, Credly on behalf of badges -- have gained traction with 10 or 15 organizations, including Pathbrite, Instructure, LinkedIn, Moodle, Drupal, uCertify, Haikulearning and others that provide a place to display badges, or an automated system to generate badges.  “Thousands” of organizations also use Credly to confer badges internally, including AAEEBL and EDUCAUSE.  Badges can be displayed via Twitter and Facebook also. 

It would seem that, just below the radar, badges are still vital and becoming part of the new learning ecology.

Badges, MOOCs and ePortfolios

Digital badges can be used and are being used in eportfolio platforms.  It seems from the Credly description of how badges are employed that badges are being granted as grades are granted.  But, in theory, badges can be granted by various organizations. 

MOOCs and online learning in general are growing in numbers of courses offered and enrollees.  But higher education continues drawing steady traditional enrollment.  Digital technology-based learning options are not either-or options.  A trope in our culture has been that some new digital tool or concept or use will completely replace an existing practice.  Time and again, we see that digital technologies primarily add to the options for ways to learn and to be recognized.

Just because we had a largely monolithic learning ecology in the past does not mean we will necessarily have a new monolith based in digital technologies.  The overwhelming evidence is that digital technologies add variety to learning, new opportunities, personalization, inclusion of whole-life learning, or, in short, a much richer learning ecology.  The digital revolution in higher education has already happened, but practice and systems have not yet adapted to that revolution.

The MOOC organizations – for example, Coursera and edX – do not seem to be focused on eportfolios.  My inquiries led me to understand the difficulties of trying to provide access to an eportfolio for thousands of students around the world.  MOOCs offered by a university for its own students would not have that same challenge. 

Badges are more directly tied to eportfolios.  It is logical to consider placing badges in eportfolios (once the provider has made the technical adjustments to allow for such display). 

The Hype Cycle

ePortfolios, we know, are in use on almost all U. S. campuses, at least in a course or two.  We also know that the number of students who use eportfolios in most of their courses has jumped in the last year or two.  Badges, MOOCs and eportfolios (and other ancillary digital technologies) continue to spread despite the headlines that, first, declare that a technology will revolutionize education, and then say no more, leaving the impression that all was hype.  This hype cycle serves no one. 



Tags:  AAEEBL  Badges  ePortfolios  MOOCs 

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Personalized Learning: It’s not the Algorithm, It’s the Learner

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Personalized Learning: It’s not the Algorithm, It’s the Learner

We live in a time of porous boundaries between human intelligence and machine intelligence (rightly called “artificial intelligence”).  We need a Turing Test to decide whether an entity is human or not.  If you apply for something online, you may have to prove, through Captcha, that you are not a machine.  And, when it comes to the challenge facing education -- how to provide quality education for large numbers of students at a reduced cost – the temptation to cross the machine-human boundary and let machines (that is, algorithms) do the heavy lifting is almost irresistible. 

That temptation needs to be resisted.

As much as information technology can bring efficiencies to education, in the end the best learning is not machine-driven but human-driven.  Machines (that is, digital technologies) can remove physical obstacles and provide helpful guiding information but in the end humans learning with other humans in real-life situations is still the best way to learn.

Machines provide information faster than anyone could have imagined but learning is making sense of information and discovering its meaning, the real goal of learning, and something machines can’t do (yet). 

Digital Technologies Provide a Leg Up

Learners can benefit from the guidance of algorithms that point the learner to online tutoring systems, for example, that are proving as effective as human tutors.  learners can learn methods and approaches from the online tutors that then help them along their own learning paths.  Their own learning paths.  That’s the point:  adult learners (that is college-age learners) learn best when they themselves create learning paths; the online tutor can provide a leg-up, but they cannot be the whole of the learning experience.   

The Promise and Peril of Adaptive Learning Technologies

Adaptive learning technologies, online learning analytics used to create learning paths for learners based on their performance, might help some learners but cannot, in most cases, provide the opportunity for deep and lasting knowledge about how to learn.  The machine, in adaptive learning technologies, has taken over:  the algorithm is creating learning pathways, not the learner.  This approach could be understood as an attempt at “semi-passive learning.” This is not to say there are not uses for adaptive learning technologies, but it is to say that this approach can only be one element in a human-driven learning path.  (I did participate, as a consultant, in a project tangentially about adaptive learning technologies that was funded by the Gates Foundation; we are all experimenting with how best to partner with digital technologies but I think the golden rule has to be “thou shalt give the reins to the learner.”)

The Age of Personalization

But personalized learning, in comparison to adaptive learning technologies, is a very broad concept, encapsulating our entire culture’s experience with digital technologies. “Personalization” could describe the major effect that digital technologies are having on our culture. My car remembers how the driver’s seat should be configured for me and how the outboard mirrors should be positioned for best viewing from that seat positioning.  My car is personalizing part of my driving experience.  Our Blue Ray player remembers exactly where we were in a show we were watching the previous night; Google “knows” you and personalizes your search experience.  Personalization affects all parts of our lives. 

But only a human can truly personalize everything she or he does.  It is the age of personalization but that only means assisting each of us to spend less time on details and more time on important human activities, such as imagination, creativity, discovery, integrating, intuition, taking leaps of faith.  Personalization by digital technologies only frees us humans to better personalize our lives (that is, find our own ways).

Personalization in Learning

One of the most important personalizing technologies, maybe the most important of personalizing technologies for learning, is the eportfolio.  Why?  Because not only does it help you create your own personal identify on line, but using an eportfolio frees learners to follow whatever learning path they wish while still documenting (with a smart phone) that personal learning path and making it part of their learning history.  ePortfolios allow learners to take the lead, make their own mistakes, or serendipitous discoveries, and learn as humans learn best.

This may be the age of digital technologies, but it is also the age of unleashed learners:  machines are only good if they enhance the lives of humans.  They are not good is they take over the lives of humans or take over learning experiences.

Our whole effort in using digital technologies to improve learning should not be to impose new restrictions on curiosity and discovery by finding new ways of leashing the learner to the machine, but to free learners from the limitations of previous technologies and of other physical limitations on learning.  Algorithms, like good teachers, need to be guides on the side and not new sages on the stage.

The AAEEBL Annual Conference, July 27-30 in Boston, includes personalized learning as one of the main themes of the conference.

The New Media Consortium Horizon Report and Personalization

This year’s New Media Consortium Horizon Report includes a section on personalized learning. 

From the abstract to this section:

Personalized learning refers to the range of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies intended to address the specific learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.”

So far, so good.  This definition is broad, as it should be, describing personalized learning as a general trend in education, in recognition of the realization that the more active that learners are on behalf of their own learning, the deeper and longer-lasting their learning will be.  But in subsequent paragraphs in this abstract, personalized learning seems to move more and more toward machine-driven and not human-driven.

“While there is a demand for personalized learning, it is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.  The increasing focus on customizing instruction to meet students’ unique needs is driving the development of new technologies that provide more learner choice and allow for differentiated instruction. Advances such as online learning environments and adaptive learning technologies make it possible to support a learner’s individual learning path.” 

Hmmm.  Now, the text is moving toward an implication that support for personalized learning may or should mostly come from digital technologies.   I thought letting the student out of the classroom in itself was supporting “a learner’s individual learning path.”  The report’s abstract goes on to say:

“The biggest barrier to personalized learning, however, is that scientific, data-driven approaches to effectively facilitate personalization have only recently begun to emerge; learning analytics, for example, is still evolving and gaining traction within higher education.”

And, there we have it – if artificial intelligence is not the driver, personalization cannot be fully supported.  I vote for human intelligence as the driver; we don’t want to replace an overbearing teacher with an overbearing machine. 

And, of course, nowhere in this section are eportfolios mentioned.  That is a big error in conceptualizing “personalized learning.”  That is like saying personal mobility depends on the car while ignoring the highway system.  But, I hasten to applaud the report in general for referring to very good examples of colleges and universities who are incorporating personalized learning.  That these institutions may be using eportfolios to support their move to personalized learning was somehow missed in this report. 

The Report, as a whole, is a magnificent survey of technology in higher education.  It gives detail to the general digital environment in which learners use their eportfolios.  We can see, by reading through the Report how pervasively digital technologies have infused higher education with new capabilities for all purposes.  If anything, the Report explains why eportfolios are necessary: in such a digitized ecology of learning, in which the classroom is no longer “the center,” where is the center?  For learners, the new center is their eportfolio.

Let’s add a note that the Report should have included:

In the digitized environment in which learners now work and learn, integration of diverse experiences is newly crucial, and reflection on artifacts from those experiences is the key to learning.  Portfolio evidence is the new learning pathway:  what is collected, curated, analyzed, and published is how a learner makes sense of learning.  The eportfolio process provides personalized coherence and a learning space that replaces the classroom as the center of learning. 

Tags:  Personalized Learning;ePortfolio 

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EDUCAUSE ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2014: Troubling Findings for ePortfolio Field

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, February 9, 2015

EDUCAUSE ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2014:  Troubling Findings for ePortfolio Field

A previous Blog provided information from the 2013 ECAR Survey; this one is about the 2014 Survey.

ePortfolios Continue Their Robust Growth in Use in Higher Education

From 2010 to 2014, the ECAR Annual Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology showed impressive, almost breath-taking growth in use of eportfolios on US campuses and others around the world:  around a 500% growth in use from 2010 to 2013 and a doubling of use in two or more courses from 2012 to 2013.  One of AAEEBL’s Annual Conferences called this growth curve “ePortfolio Coming of Age.”

Gratifying, But Wait a Minute

For those of us who have worked with, advocated for, and used eportfolios, the news may seem gratifying:  it suggests that academia is beginning to see the value in eportfolios.

However, in the 2014 survey, when the questions in the survey included more perspectives beyond simple numbers of users, we find disturbing data: 

  • Though the number of students using eportfolios in “most or all courses” hovered around 10% -- continuing the trend of “scaling up” in eportfolio use – 30% of students who used eportfolios “strongly agree they could be more effective if they [students] were better at using them.” 

  • About 30 percent of respondents to another question wish “their instructors would use [eportfolios] more,” but about 40% wish they would use then less.

These two sets of data suggest the growth in the use of eportfolios is coming at a price:  students are puzzled over how to use them and many of them wish they’d use them less. 

LMS findings in the 2014 Survey Report

Even though 99% of institutions have an LMS, the survey indicated that 29% of students use the LMS in only one course or none (17% use the LMS in no courses). 

Students showed they were very interested in adding personalized features to the LMS, particularly to aid them in seeing and understanding their progress toward the degree. 


The 2014 Survey shows much more about student wishes, preferences, and inclinations that add flesh to the raw numbers of this survey and previous ones.  For us in the eportfolio field, we can celebrate that around 10% of respondents said they used eportfolios in most or all their courses – the most startling number we’ve seen about eportfolio use yet -- but we also need to address the resultant confusion and push back indicated in the Survey. [Note that the survey also had responses from 55 countries outside the U. S.]

LMS’s are trending toward becoming a personalized learning analytics system for students within the traditional learning ecology of mostly “one-size fits all” curriculum.  Within that ecology, the LMS is very valuable as a practical tool and, conceivably, as a prompt to reflect on one’s own experience in college.

But to the extent that LMS’s trend toward a tracking utility and toward serving the practical, as opposed to the learning, needs of students, the “learning” part of the LMS name shrinks in importance and the “management system” part grows. 

ePortfolios continue to grow in use at a startling rate considering they are being adopted within, mostly, a learning ecology that is not hospitable to the best use of eportfolios. 

Tags:  ECAR Survey;ePortfolio 

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Study Shows Steady Growth in ePortfolio Use; What Does That Suggest?

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, February 2, 2015


Study Shows Steady Growth in ePortfolio Use; What Does That Mean?

As a frame for this article, and to offer evidence that eportfolios are important, consider the following:

In 2012, we were able to state reliably, based on the the EDUCAUSE Survey of Undergraduates and Technology, that 51% of students in the U. S. and other reporting countries used eportfolio at one time in their college experience.  That number in the 2013 Report was 54%, an annual increase of 3%. 

In 2012, we had to qualify the good news (to us) that over half of students use eportfolios by adding, “but only 7% used them in more than one course.”  However, in 2013, we see a significant increase in students using eportfolios in more than one course:

·      In 2013, 5% used eportfolios in more than half of their courses

·      9% used eportfolios in “a few” courses

·      39% used eportfolios in one course.

·      In other words, the percentage of students using eportfolios in more than one course went from 7% to 14%, a notable increase. 

·      In that same year, student use of learning management systems actually declined.


What is an ePortfolio and Why Are They Important?

The eportfolio movement is about 20 years old, if you include webfolios as a type of eportfolio in the 90s (on the web but without a database to manage the webfolio).  However, the portfolio (without the “e”) idea is perhaps a thousand years old (or more?) Portfolios created by artists or musicians or writers go back centuries. 

ePortfolio is based, therefore, on an ancient tradition.   But, unlike paper or canvas or blueprint portfolios, eportfolios  -- the technology – live within an online database and the collection is electronic rather than atomic (that is, tangible objects).  The “e” in eportfolio is therefore very important as it designates an amazing liberation from the limits of the physical world. 

So, eportfolios have not caught on as much as they have just because of the technology.  They have that long tradition behind them.  And, fortuitously, they also arrived on the scene just as they were needed.  With the necessary shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning – in a time of relatively stable knowledge, teach; in a time of rapidly changing knowledge, learn – the learner who can show evidence she has the ability to learn quickly has an advantage.  She can show her abilities through concrete evidence in her eportfolio.  It is both the technology native to new ecologies of learning and, secondly, is wrapped in decades-old learning theory based on portfolios to help us understand how to implement eportfolios in these new ecologies. 

The accountability movement also arose as eportfolios developed technologically.  They seemed the perfect answer for the demands of accountability. They could show student progress toward learning outcomes.  ePortfolios with the right “back end” can produce aggregate reports on classes of students to show their progress toward explicit learning goals.  This data is invaluable to many institutions for many purposes – institutional research reports, institutional planning and assessment, re-accreditation, and so on. 

And, a third element also contributed to the growing adoption of eportfolios.That third element is advances in understanding of how adults learn best.  Research into learning in cognitive science, linguistics, anthropology and other fields added to research in psychology and education provided new understanding about adult learning.  It turned out, to generalize, that the “delivery of content” as an entire framework for education was and is deficient to the demands of our times.  Instead, as an example, educational designs in which learners are challenged to solve a discipline-specific problem by themselves or in a team result in deeper and more lasting habits of learning. 

Many cultural, research and technology vectors (energy plus direction) are behind the growth of eportfolios.  Another less obvious factor behind eportfolios:  the idea of students owning their own work and keeping it with them over time is a compelling idea that has galvanized an entire community of educators (including administrators) for over a decade. 

Active Learning Designs Benefit from ePortfolios

Active-learning designs, resulting in learners solving problems in many different ways and with varying results, requires a different means of assessing the learning and the results.  ePortfolios provide this new means:  if learners collect well-constructed and revealing evidence of their learning process, benchmarks, reflection and analysis, then not only is learning deeper but the assessment itself becomes the basis for a resume and for further learning.

But almost certainly the strongest force driving change is the whole panorama of digital technologies, causing our entire culture and economy to change – and they are still driving more change.

Will ePortfolios Continue to Spread?

So, with all these vectors coming together, why haven’t eportfolios been adopted ubiquitously and universally?  It may be that at some point, they will be, but the systemic and fundamental changes educators and their institutions must make are confounded by the business model – credit hours – and longstanding expectations and habits, faculty preferences and priorities, popular images of how learning occurs – the list can go on, but the idea is that such an established and fundamental cultural cluster of ideas and beliefs and patterns about teaching and learning will not change quickly, if ever. 

But those changes must occur before eportfolios can be employed in broadly useful ways.  Attaching an eportfolio to an existing traditional course is like attaching a plow to a car (as people did in the early part of the last century).  The car did not do well, nor will eportfolios if they are only an ornament in a course. 

What Is an ePortfolio?

An eportfolio is an online digital collection of learning artifacts (“assets” in other parts of the world) that form a personal library or museum of an individual’s evidence of learning.  A very important difference from learning management systems is that the learner owns her or his personal eportfolio:  owns both literally as in copyright law, once it is published on the Web, and owns in the sense of the eportfolio collection staying with the learner and not with the institution.  The learner can set permissions as to who can see and have access to the data in her or his eportfolio. 

In this way, eportfolios are longitudinal and continuous, not segmented by courses as happens in LMS’s.  They can stay with a learner after graduation and on into a career.

From an eportfolio database of learning artifacts (text, photos, video, sound clips, diagrams, graphs, and so on), many different web pages can be created.  Like a resume that is tailored for the occasion, eportfolio web presentations can be tailored to fit the occasion, as well.  These are not different eportfolios as many people now say, but really only different faces on one eportfolio collection. 

Do ePortfolios Make Graduates More Employable?

Do employers look at eportfolios?  This question comes up often and often seems to be asked as the “trump” question:  if no one looks at your eportfolio, of what use can it be?  And, to be honest, that was a hard question to answer for a number of years.  But then, a funny thing happened: the death of the paper resume and the birth of HR web searches of job candidates. 

Now that resumes are expected to be online, adding links to your eportfolio within the resume only makes sense:  it tells the HR folks doing the applicant triage that you have more of a story to tell beyond the resume.  The links make the resume three-dimensional.   And, then, there’s the growing trend of search committees and HR doing web searches as part of their “due diligence.”  Wouldn’t it be great to have your eportfolio show up at the top of the results list in the search engine?

In short, reasons to have an eportfolio both within the college years and afterwards as graduates changes jobs to advance are overwhelming.  But, as I’ve already pointed out, the barriers to adoption and institutional deployment are formidable.


As the EDUCAUSE Survey confirms, we can now see a pattern of individual course adoptions across a majority of U. S. higher educational institutions (and a similar pattern in a few other countries as well), and some program adoptions in a large number of institutions, and a few dozen whole campus adoptions in the U. S. 

The eportfolio industry – the companies providing eportfolios to educational institutions – has blossomed, to a large extent to provide a way to report on student progress toward learning goals.  The technology is approaching maturity, with regular updates and a Web 2.0 quality of user interface.  It is a strong industry and is helping educators understand the value of eportfolios. 

The eportfolio movement in the U. S. has its own association – AAEEBL – and a century-old professional association that strongly supports eportolios – AAC&U.  AAEEBL is tied to the Centre for Recording Achievement in the UK and to ePortfolios Australia; AAEEBL has member institutions in the U. S., Canada, the UK, and in Australia.  ePortfolio is a global movement. 

“ePortfolio” is Code for What?

The word “eportfolio” has a broad meaning for those in the movement:  it is a set of practices, not a technology.  But it also describes “evidence-based learning,” a term that some people understand more quickly than “eportfolio.” Employers, in particular, like the sound of “evidence-based learning” because it seems to answer their concerns that a degree and a transcript have lost some of their predictive value.  They ask for concrete evidence of what a candidate can actually do. 

In the end, however, the core value of an eportfolio is for learning.  Being able to reflect on one’s history of learning over a course, or program or college career and therefore integrating learning experiences adds a dimension to college learning that has proven to make a difference not only in the quality of learning for individual learners, but for retention, grades and graduation.  (Catalyst for Learning:

Learning through course designs and programs architected for eportfolios is not only deeper learning, but learning that is more in tune with the challenges of our times.  The growing phenomenon of “high-impact educational practices” suggests change is afoot in the academy.  Adding eportfolios to high-impact practices makes them even more high-impact, making eportfolios a “meta-high-impact practice,” a phrase being adopted in the eportfolio field.    

I have personally been deeply involved in technology in higher education for thirty years.  My experience tells me that no one can predict what humans will do with a technology, so I have learned caution.  We are at a point of moderate eportfolio saturation within higher education in the U. S. and other countries.  Growth has been strong in some years and less so in others, but still steady.  Knowing that fundamental change has to accompany eportfolio adoption, we can understand those slow downs. One does not just purchase an eportfolio system and the campus changes around the technology; change must precede or coincide with adoption of an eportfolio system. 

We know higher education is at a stress point and will be for years.  But we also know that online presence and the quality of that presence, and the need for it, will grow.  We know that employers want to see evidence of achievement, proof of what a candidate can actually do.  We also know that educators do want their students to learn as well as possible.  ePortfolios will continue to grow in usage, will help educators understand the nature of change needed, will help those same educators assess learners who learn outside the classroom and who may not be following a pre-set path but often creating their own paths, and will help institutions meet the demands of accountability and the quality agenda. 

ePortfolios are an integral part of educational change and will continue to be.  The EDUCAUSE survey report on eportfolios called them “experimental.”  Extrapolating from the Survey data, that characterization would suggest that two or three million students in the U.S. are engaged in an experiment.  I’d say we are well past the experimental stage. 







Tags:  AAEEBL  Assessment  ePortfolio 

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Hard Questions About ePortfolio Evidence

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hard Questions About ePortfolio Evidence

What is Valid and Reliable ePortfolio Evidence?

As AAEEBL places new emphasis on the “evidence-based learning” part of AAEEBL’s name in AAEEBL conferences this year, the question naturally arises – at least if one adopts a critical perspective – “what is valid and reliable eportfolio evidence?”

ePortfolio literature is rich in accounts, based on various research approaches, about the impact of eportfolios.  It is rich in institutional stories, assuring readers – rightly – that an eportfolio initiative produces many valuable outcomes.  But the literature is not rich about the question posed above about valid and reliable eportfolio evidence.

In The International Journal of ePortfolio archives – IJeP at -- it is hard to find any description in any published article that describes eportfolio evidence, what it is, what guidelines are offered to learners, or what consensus exists in the field of eportfolio studies about the question of evidence – what is valid and reliable eportfolio evidence? 

Do Guidelines for Evidence Exist?

On individual campuses, such guidelines may exist, perhaps embedded in introductory courses about using eportfolios, or in capstone eportfolio courses.  Faculty members using eportfolios in their courses may set standards for eportfolio evidence, or service learning or coop learning or internship offices may also promote certain approaches and standards for collecting evidence and for certification of that evidence. 

The eportfolio field – the field of evidence-based learning or of “folio-thinking,” a Stanford University phrase – is at the point of needing to begin developing consensus on eportfolio evidence – a taxonomy, a theory, guidelines, and other initiatives.  What does a person need as eportfolio evidence in different fields study, at different points in a learner’s development, and for different purposes? 

Badges as Evidence

One form of evidence – digital badges – that can be linked to from an eportfolio, defines the criteria behind the awarding of the badge.  Digital badges reside within a national infrastructure for badges and have a strong following in the eportfolio community.  Clicking on the badge reveals not only the criteria behind the badge but information about who awarded the badge and what pedigree the badge has. 

The knee-jerk reaction among those educators new to badges is to assume that badges are certified by teachers, but that quick reaction imposes a preconception – that learning is only important if it is certified by a teacher – that misses the point of badges.  Badges are a form of micro-credentialing of a specific skill that often is awarded by peers in a working team or others in a supervisory position outside of academia.  If used in this broader curricular and non-curricular manner, badges may be among the most valid and reliable forms of evidence if those viewing the badge feel they can trust the issuer of the badge.  A collection of badges in one field of study can add up to a strong statement of competence in that field. 

Going Beyond ePortfolio Owner Testimony

But, those who search the web for samples of individual learning eportfolios generally find that “evidence” in an eportfolio is often simply testimony by the learner that they did something.  If I was hiring someone or admitting someone to a graduate program, I would want better evidence than just the written testimony of the applicant. 

Certain professions do have standards for eportfolio evidence, notably education, nursing, physical therapy and other “clinical practice” fields.  High-impact educational practices such as undergraduate research or first-year seminars and others may also have standards for valid and reliable evidence of achievement. 

Alverno College, a pioneer in new forms of assessment and in eportfolios, says this on their website about the Alverno portfolio:

This first-of-its-kind, web-based system was implemented in 1999 at Alverno College. The DDP enables Alverno students — anyplace, anytime — to follow their learning progress throughout their years of study. It helps students process the feedback they receive from faculty, external assessors and peers. It also enables them to look for patterns in their academic work so they can take more control of their own development and become more autonomous learners.

The Diagnostic Digital Portfolio (DDP) is built on Alverno's student assessment-as-learning process. It makes the process more transparent to students and others who seek to understand this important educational program. It also provides actual, accessible performance data with which graduates can create an electronic resume for potential employers or for graduate schools.  (

The evidence in the Alverno portfolio may, however, show strong evidence of being able to perform academically and may do this reliably, but is it valid evidence of being able to do something outside of an academic learning model?  The workplace success of Alverno graduates may prove the validity of the eportfolio evidence in the Alverno portfolio. 

Nicole Buzzetto-More advocated the inclusion of a “Commentary on Evidence” section in eportfolios so the eportfolio owner could strengthen the claims made in the eportfolio.  This “Commentary on Evidence” might be likened to an annotated bibliography attached to an article: being able to be objective about your own evidence is a sign of intellectual maturity, pretty strong evidence in itself. (The E-portfolio Paradigm: Informing, Educating, Assessing, and Managing with E-portfolios  2010)

An article published by two researchers at Curtin University in Australia makes the case for collecting evidence of “work-integrated learning” (WIL).  Does evidence from the workplace better convince potential employers than evidence from the classroom?

There is substantial evidence that eportfolios provide an ideal platform to evidence program-wide WIL [work-integrated learning] achievements (Edwards & Burnham, 2009).  It provides a setting for students to clearly demonstrate that they not only ‘know’ discipline content but that they can ‘do’ by applying the knowledge in a professional context.  This opens up authentic assessment task options in preference to traditional assessment methodologies thus providing rich contextual demonstrations outside the limitations of customary assessment paradigms.  Employers have expressed interest in this mode of assessment (Cai, 2012) as they have more confidence in the overt demonstration of the achievement of authentic learning experiences which transcend the classroom environment.

“ePortfolios as evidence of standards and outcomes in work-integrated learning.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2014, 15(3), 269-280. 

Sonia Ferns and Jude Comfort, Curtin University, Australia.

Motivations of ePortfolio Researchers and the Needs of the Field

ePortfolios are in their second decade of national attention and broad-scale adoption but the movement is still faced with the root question of “what is an eportfolio” and “why should we adopt eportfolios.”  But, maybe, instead of continuing to answer these questions, the field needs to move toward aggregating wisdom.  The Connect to Learning Project at LaGuardia Community College did aggregate wisdom from 24 campuses between 2010 and 2014 and produced the Catalyst for Learning site at to share the fruits of their labors. 

In particular, we need to aggregate wisdom about the nature of eportfolio evidence.  I say this as myself but also as a leader of AAEEBL, uncomfortably aware of what agenda I may be setting for AAEEBL as a professional association in the field of eportfolios. 



Tags:  eportfolio evidence  evidence-based learning 

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Notes Toward A Theory of Evidence-Based Learning (EBL)

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This year, AAEEBL is attempting to capture and put forward in conferences the evolution of the eportfolio movement in the U. S. and world-wide.  In our Annual Conference, July 27-30, 2015 in Boston, we invite sessions that illuminate how others are seeing this evolution -- "Moving Beyond One Size Fits All."  The CFP is open for the Annual Conference.  In this blog, I offer a personal view of how I see the movement evolving, toward a framework of Evidence-Based Learning Systems powered by eportfolio technologies. -- tb


Notes Toward A Theory of Evidence-Based Learning (EBL)

Trent Batson


(In 2009, AAEEBL chose the phrase “evidence-based learning” as part of its title.  The rare use of that phrase before 2009 referred to using research on learning to guide one’s teaching – learning designs based on research.  A similar usage developed in medicine – “evidence-based medicine.” 


AAEEBL, instead, uses EBL to refer to a system in which learners learn by gathering evidence of their own work and reflecting on that evidence – this way, the evidence and evidence-gathering is the basis for learning. It is an active engagement with your own process.  At this point in the evolution of the eportfolio movement, EBL seems to be a useful term to develop into a theory that encompasses eportfolio uses and which then can be used to re-structure education). 

Evidence-Based Learning (EBL) is a term used to describe what is now possible:  a lesser focus on the end products of learning and greater focus on the process of learning.  The more we can make the learning process visible through gathering step-by-step evidence, the more we can improve learning.

Easier to Collect Evidence of Learning

Before the Web and digital technologies such as eportfolios, collecting evidence of the process of learning was laborious and difficult.  It was easier to just collect the product – the final assignment or report or test results  -- and assume that learning had occurred (or not).  This may have been all that was practically possible at scale, but at the same time, it is hard to adjust the learning process behind the product if there is no evidence left of what that process was. 


But, with eportfolio and other digital technologies, gathering a full picture of the learning process – or the creation process or discovery process or data gathering process – is now possible.  In addition, the “full picture” is itself a source of learning as learners review the evidence in that full picture and decide how their evidence will be useful to make a case for something, be it a capstone assignment or in support of a job application. 

A New Framework for Learning

Evidence-Based Learning, as I see it, can form the basis for a new framework for learning in the academy, within careers, between periods of enrollment and throughout life.  Learners now have access to technologies to make evidence-gathering relatively easy.  ePortfolio technology has advanced and is available not only to enrolled students but to individuals not currently enrolled.  One can now maintain a portfolio online for a number of different purposes, for learning and assessment while in a program or for personal advancement in a career. 

EBL is not just another term for “eportfolios.”  EBL is a framework for learning that is enabled and energized by eportfolio technology.  ePortfolios are a critical part of EBL, but only a part.  EBL implies a system that involves the whole learner and all learning experiences that are perceived as relevant or potentially relevant to life advancement.  Assessment of prior learning, or “recognition of prior learning” in parts of the world or “prior learning assessment and recognition” in other parts, recognizes the power of evidence.  It is not just time in a course that is the coin of the realm but also evidence of what someone can do.  A big part of EBL is holistic assessment. 

EBL, because it involves collecting evidence as learning is occurring, is necessarily constructivist in orientation.  The evidence-gathering is itself a constructivist approach to learning. 

As the world evolves toward new models of learning in this new environment of abundance of information and knowledge, EBL is a logical outcome, a process that fits the time.  Evidence is multi-modal:  of many types --visual, graphic, text, data – reflecting the reality of today and of many ways of understanding and interpreting those types of evidence. 

As we move invariably toward models based on evidence of achievement, or competence, or learning, we need new theories of learning to understand those new models in order to continue to improve them.  What was actually true for a long time but never fully recognized in our teaching/learning models, should be better understood, more explicit, and should be more fully incorporated into our understanding of learning. 

We need a theory of Evidence-Based Learning (EBL).  Below are notes toward such a theory. 


1.     Learning Starts with Experience.  All learning originates in experience.  This is true of advanced learning in college or in a career as well, albeit the starting point for advanced learning could be listening to an expert in the knowledge domain, a familiar enough scenario.  A learner needs some sort of introductory context, whether based on a lecture, or lived learning experience, to begin the process of learning a new skill, a new concept, or anything else.  However, once the “informational” part of the learning process is over, the “transformational” part begins. This is where the learner must become the active agent in learning.

In this transformational part of the learning process, because of mobile digital technologies, activity in any location can be documented in some way.  Evidence can be collected, uploaded to the learner’s eportfolio, and then it becomes part of the “story” of learning around a particular skill or concept.  Reflecting on this evidence results in perceptions about the learning experience, perceptions that may have begun “in the field,” but which can be extended and deepened through reflection and integration.

Once the learner has developed a perceptual insight into the work she or he is doing, then they have a path to seeing how their experience and perceptions of that experience connects with larger concepts in their field of study or work. 

2.     Ownership:  Students Own The Content of the Course.  The content of a course does not precede the course.  The true content (what is important) is the interaction between teacher and learner during the course and what that interaction produces.  The content, then, is what the learners produce, the mutual construction of new knowledge based on existing concept in the field, as interpreted for this particular interaction. 

In any field, a consensus exists within that knowledge domain.  A teacher interprets some part of that consensus by adapting assignments or projects to the level of the learners.  That teacher may interpret discipline consensus in a particular way.  It is that interpretation and then the derivative course design plus what the students produce within that design that is the content of the course.  “Content” is therefore dynamic and variable, not static. 

3.     Process:  Must Have Evidence Showing Process of Developing Content. Evidence must therefore demonstrate concretely the process of learning.  Like evidence in criminal proceedings, evidence of learning is not a conclusion or a product but is the inspiration for further and deeper interpretation and analysis.  Evidence of learning supports the second phase of developing critical thinking:  building perceptions based on the learning experiences, and evidence gathered, while doing the assignment.  Learners assessing the value of their evidence is the first effort at developing perceptions about the evidence – seeing similarities, seeing what the learner missed the first time around, or what the learner should have done at the time, and other perceptions that become apparent when looking back at evidence.

4.     Variability:  The EBL Process Varies from Learner to Learner.  Learners, either working alone, or in teams, vary in their approach and in their experiences as they work.  With a product focus, this variability would not be a factor, because the product becomes the all – a finished assignment or a test.  But, with a process focus, variabiity must be taken into account.  In fact, how an individual or a team addresses a problem, project or assignment, is key to everything.  Learning is about improving your own process but if we don’t capture that process how can we improve it?  This is why EBL is so important. 

5.     Visibility:  Seeing the EBL Process Leads to Improvement.  Because learning is about improving a process – how you think about a problem or an assignment, how you plan your efforts (or your team’s efforts) for doing the assignment, how you break the problem or assignment into parts that are done simultaneously or in sequence, how you learn enough to do those parts, and how you determine what the product will be to complete the assignment – then, in the end, being able to see evidence of that process allows learners to improve the process.  A simple example is golfers watching a video clip of their swing to see what they are doing wrong. 

6.     Assessment:  Assessing Learning is Assessing the Process of Learning.  Assessment of learning is therefore assessment of the process of learning as revealed in the evidence in an eportfolio.  The evidence is made up of artifacts such as notes, photos, video, graphics, reports, summaries and other familiar work artifacts showing a work in progress.  But, the evidence can and perhaps should include digital badges, a form of micro-credentialing that add authenticity and validity to the assessment of evidence-based learning.  Badges can be granted by peers or organizations or teachers to certify a level of expertise in a specific skill such as mastery of a web-authoring tool or interpreting scientific data or summarizing the key points in popular publications about a scientific controversy. (Badges is a large topic unto itself and is an important element in EBL and will therefore be the topic of another Blog). 

7.     Assessing Process is More Holistic.  Assessment of the process of learning as demonstrated in a learner’s eportfolio evidence is a more holistic assessment than simply grading a product produced as a result of that process.  This holistic assessment is more valuable in helping learners know specifically what part(s) of their process they need to work on. 

8.     EBL Assessment is a Personalized Learning System.  This holistic assessment then can be analyzed using rubrics to determine the learner’s progress toward program or institutional learning outcomes.  If the rubrics relate to the process of learning in a field, then they will be useful in determining how learners are advancing in their learning at a micro-level.  EBL, using rubrics this way, is therefore a personalized learning system, able to assess multiple paths toward learning outcomes.  As such, the system would allow for students to complete degree requirements when they have met a specified set of learning outcomes at a high enough level. 


9.     Summary.  Learners have always varied in how they learned but educators did not have the technology to easily “see” those varied processes of learning.  Now, educators do.  Secondly, because it was hard to see the process of learning, educators focused on the products produced by learners to assess their learning.  A product focus led to curricular designs that were not ideally aligned with how humans actually learn – through experience in authentic situations, collaboratively and socially.  If only the product was assessed (graded), and therefore valued, then why put effort into the process of producing that product (especially if the product was only a multiple-choice test)?  There are learning disincentives embedded in a product-focused learning structure (not to mention the lure of plagiarism). 

Now, EBL allows educators to improve learning structures and the assessment process.  EBL supports a move from product focus and all the problems associated with that to a process focus and the greater engagement and personalization that results. 

Tags:  ePortfolio  evidence-based learning 

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The Historical Significance of ePortfolios: Realizing the Move to Personalization

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Monday, September 29, 2014

Batson Blog 9-26-14


The Historical Significance of ePortfolios:  Realizing the Move to Personalization

ePortfolios may serve as the bridge from the industrial era of “one-size-fits-all” education to the knowledge era of personalized learning.  Historians may look back decades hence and describe this era of educational transformation as a move from undifferentiated teaching to personalized learning.  And the major enabler for this transformation may be eportfolios and those who understand eportfolio learning. 

Definition of ePortfolio?

Many have offered definitions of “eportfolio.”  It is hard to get agreement as to which definition is the definition.  Is it a genre?  A learning space?  A resume? A collaborative space? An owned space?  A record?  A repository?  A website? 

And what is its purpose?  To advance reflective and integrative thinking?  To support the authentic and experiential high-impact practices as described by George Kuh?  To get a job?  Fulfill learning outcomes? Support competency-based learning?  Or self-paced learning?  Or adaptive learning?  Or workforce development?

Are we too close to the trees to see the forest?  Perhaps we need a larger context to better understand the essence of eportfolio. 

A Larger Context to Better Understand ePortfolios

In the first two decades of this millennium, there has been a coalescence of many trends to improve learning based on studies in anthropology, linguistics, cognitive science, psychology, education and other fields:  active, real world learning results in personal experiences that can be reflected upon is one way to describe this coalescence.  This learning approach seems to result in engaged and deep learning.  As we learn, collectively, more about learning, at the same time, the demand to learn throughout life has intensified.  As knowledge changes more quickly, it is hard to keep up. 

Culturally and economically, we humans have had to face more challenging economic times that seem permanent:  “work” has permanently changed and will continue to change as we tap the unlimited potential of the digital age.  In a breath-taking short decade or so, we became the knowledge economy and the “social” culture while we also became a predominantly urban nation. 

At the same time, in almost all ways in our culture, we have moved from the “mass” of the industrial age to the “individual” of the digital age.  According to some scientists, we are now in the “anthropocene” geological era where humans are the predominant force of global natural change.  How does one take all this in and adapt to such deep changes?


In all of education, K-16 and throughout life, we are moving gradually from “one-size-fits-all” to personalization.  The concept of personalization helps us understand the historical meaning of the eportfolio phenomenon.  “Personalization” as a disciplinary term refers to learning experiences that are or can be tailored to the individual needs of the learner:  either an algorithm adapts content to fit the learning needs of the individual or the learner herself or himself discovers, over a semester or more, information that is used to create disciplinary content (that is, complete an assignment).  Personalization is either done for you or you do your own personalizing in a system that allows and supports an individual personalizing initiative.

The Role of ePortfolios in the Cultural Shift to Personalization

I think ePortfolios will be seen, historically, as the platform that instantiates and makes permanent the move to personalization, not only in educational institutions, but in all of life.  We may be able to look back decades in the future and see that the move to personalization was realized through the universal adoption of eportfolios.   This is because if learners are finding their own paths to learning outcomes, they need to show evidence that they have reached the outcomes.  ePortfolios are essential in the move to personalization.

Most references to “personalized learning” assume a technology that replaces a teacher or a tutor – adaptive learning applications, for example, such as The Khan Academy provides.  This machine-based approach continues the decades-old quest for automated teaching and assessment.  Intelligent tutors caught our attention in the mid-1980s only to quickly fade away.  Those being offered now are far superior and actually have a place in the mix of learning opportunities today.  But only in the mix. 

Curricular Design to Incorporate Personalized Learning

“Personalized learning” has also become the basis for entire colleges or universities to organize learning experiences for their campus, not offered by technology alone but as an over-arching understanding of how humans learn best.  

Sometimes “personalized learning” is named competency-based or self-paced or outcomes-based learning but they are all varying names for the over-all cultural move to personalization in learning and in many cultural and economic areas as well – you can build your own car these days, including the options you wish to have, for example – what we might call a personalized car.

How to Best Understand ePortfolios

Perhaps the best way to describe eportfolios is as the historical enabler for the move to personalization in education. Understood this way, the conflict between assessment management (learning outcomes eportfolio systems) and student learning eportfolios disappears:  you need learning outcomes to free eportfolios to become the primary work done in all learning contexts.  Using an assessment management system within a learning-outcomes framework can then enable the personal eportfolio to move to the center of the educational enterprise.   This might be called a personalized learning environment – a slight but important variation on a “personal learning environment.”  We might say the personal learning environment (the platform) is at the center of a personalized learning enterprise. 

The learning outcomes that serve to organize the personalized learning enterprise need to be pointed toward the thinking skills, attitudes and experiences needed in the knowledge economy.  Then, learning and employability as eportfolio functions are also unified since the outcomes are complimentary.  Framing the eportfolio phenomenon as a move to personalization encompasses all the various definitions I mentioned at the start of this blog.  It is a unifying concept and can help all of us better explain and understand what it is we are doing. 

The concept of the personal learning environment has been with us all along but has been limited to describing a technology platform.  Personalized learning, as a distinct term, has come forward in currency along with “adaptive learning” in the past few years.   If we can think of “personalized learning” as a whole new context for learning inside and outside the academy, both automated and learner-initiated, then the purpose and significance of eportfolios becomes clearer.  ePortfolios support and make possible the move to personalized learning. 

Tags:  Adaptive Learning  ePortfolio  Personalization 

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