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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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Notes from the Cloud: My MOOC Experience, Part 1.

Posted By Administrator, Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

January 28th, 2013

When Tom Friedman writes in the New York Times about MOOCs, you know they’ve reached the level of national conversation, not just in education circles but "out there.”

How do we, the eportfolio community, consider, evaluate, understand, or encompass MOOCs?

I wrote an article about MOOCs and eportfolios a couple of weeks ago:

Go to, search for "MOOCs” and you will see dozens of articles about MOOCs. You can do the same at the New York Times site – Or at the Chronicle --

MOOCs are at the point where I felt I should register for a MOOC course. So, I did. I am new to the course, but I have some reactions to the course already.

I admit that I have been suspicious and nearly dismissive of MOOCs as "lectures writ large.” So, I went into the registration and discovery process for this particular MOOC, "An Introduction to the U. S. Food System,” taught from Johns Hopkins, with doubt.

What happened:

First, I was surprised at how easily I could find and sign up for this Coursera course. My registration was surprisingly simple and quick. I got email notifications and instructions. The home page interface for the course is immediately usable.

I was able to watch an introductory lecture with no glitches and good video production quality.

The readings, so far, are riveting and astonishing. As always, I find a well-designed course provides a library of readings that would be hard to come by otherwise. Having an expert in the field tell me, "these are the articles you need to read to understand the problems we will address in this course,” is invaluable.

I have, therefore, already become terrified by the food situation in the world!

I have the option, and was encouraged, to join the Forum. Well, forums have their problems: the number of new topics quickly grow and the conversation is therefore fragmented down a whole number of cul-de-sacs. Who is talking to whom? Sometimes, it is possible to track down an actual discourse thread and join that particular one. But, no matter what, the Forum for this course, with 12,000 students, is not only chaotic in organization but overwhelming in number.

I could probably study the forum and track down a few comments that interest me and try to talk to those people. And, I may do that.

I will need to take quizzes and stay on top of the lectures assiduously since the course lasts a mere 6 weeks. It could end while I am still catching up. If I pass all the quizzes and complete all requirements, I will get a certificate of completion.

Why do people take this course? I can’t quote the forum directly without permission from those who are posting, but I do see that many of the students are already in a related field to the subject of the course. Some say they hope to build on what they already know. Others say they may want to enter a course of study related to this field. And others have a strong agenda about sustainable food production and want to be heard. I was reluctant to admit, although I did, that I eat meat.

So far, I find the course much better than I expected. But, then, students are often very positive in the few week or so of a course before real work begins. Still, from a disinterested viewpoint, I am already forming opinions.

First, MOOCs are probably the real thing. The course is only a week or so into the 6 weeks and I will be very interested to scan the comments as the course moves along. But right now the course seems solid.

Second, technology and access are at the point where the technology is invisible. Everything worked easily and quickly. I did have to sign up for a free subscription to a journal to get to one of the readings, but that was a one-minute process. And the course information noted that I would have to subscribe to this particular journal.

Third, for those already familiar with the field of food productino, this format provides a good learning opportunity. Or for those, like me, a serious dilettante, er, renaissance man, it is equally valuable.

Fourth, I would feel uncomfortable taking a course like this in a brick-and-mortar classroom. I would seem out of place, a seasoned professor with a Ph.D., joining an introductory course. For me, then, the MOOC is ideal. MOOC advocates claim that these kinds of courses open learning opportunities to those who could not otherwise have any opportunities. It had not occurred to me that I was among that number.

Finally, the lecture format comes under fire. "Is this the best we can do?,” asks Cathy Davidson of HASTAC. I can in fact watch the lectures a number of times, or parts of the lectures. I can take the quizzes a number of times, using the quizzes as a learning opportunity – I hope they are telling me what is important to understand from the readings.

More generally, my strongest response to the "MOOC Mania” (Chronicle) is "this is not the replacement for college, it is just one more learning opportunity in the world of open learning.” We will not replace a predominant single model of learning with another predominant single model of learning. We are instead going from a near singularity to multiplicity. The burning question is not "will MOOCs put anyone out of business," but "how will MOOCs fit into our extant educational processes?"

Where are eportfolios in this? No where.

This very blog is my own eportfolio entry about my MOOC experience. Why don’t the students in my course have the opportunity to elect to pay for an eportfolio, if they choose to do so, to add greatly to the value of this experience? As I said in my Campus Technology article, the most obvious component of the MOOC – the eportfolio – is missing. Coursera should arrange to provide accounts through an existing eportfolio provider. Students in the course could choose, themselves, if they wanted to purchase an account.

Granted, the extra overhead to build in an eportfolio option is not insignificant. But I do hope to see some of the organizations providing MOOCs, including universities and colleges, offering that option.

More on this experience soon. Let me know what your own experience is.

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DIY, MOOCs, Badges, Open Education: How to Tell the Difference Between a Fad and a Trend?

Posted By Administrator, Thursday, December 6, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

December 6th, 2012

Now that Coursera has created a business plan, we may be able to call MOOCs a trend and not a fad. The business plan is to sell access to the list of those MOOC enrollees who opt in to companies looking for employees.

You wondered how the MOOC companies could sustain themselves by offering free courses? Well, this new plan is one answer.

The sudden explosion of MOOC mania says many things: first, it could of course just be a phase, but if it is not a phase depending on a particularly bad job market for survival, then what does it say beyond "watch out, higher education"?

As Clay Shirky said at EDUCAUSE, MOOCs are not the way to understand what's going on now: it is better to understand the larger cultural context, that of "openness." Openness is re-shaping all existing knowledge-making processes. MOOCs are only one indicator of the power of openness.

What is really going on with the Coursera business model? Primarily, they are extending the potential learner pool way beyond the young learner who is already enrolled in high school or in a 2-year program. Coursera is plumbing the culture for learners of all ages and situations in all countries; it and the other open-education phenomena are helping to create a learning market orders of magnitude larger than the traditional market.

Something that enlarges the market significantly is not just a fad.

Openness, where learning resources are everywhere and often are free, redefines how education should function. No doubt, existing educational institutions will remain vital and may even transform sufficiently to incorporate openness but will need to allow the academic side, not the business side, re-define learning structures.

There is no doubt that this is the age, also, of eportfolios. Openness in some ways depends on individuals owning eportfolios: away from a standard and consistent curriculum structure, the eportfolio offers a replacement structure. The eportfolio is a "retroactive curriculum": "this is the knowledge structure that resulted from my various unstructured learning experiences." "This is a record of how I discovered knowledge and then ordered it."

This is generally called DIY learning -- do it yourself.

The talk about "dropping out" is now being re-framed as positive, as learners taking charge of their own learning (DIY). Successful people in Silicon Valley wear the "drop out" badge proudly. Dropping out is not for everyone and perhaps for only a very few select people. But this changing cultural view of the necessity of college is in keeping with openness.

DIY demands an eportfolio. If you are creating your own record of achievement, you need your own permanent, cloud-based eportfolio.

The trends toward DIY, badges (micro-credentialing based on peer riview), and MOOCs are all indicators of the move to openness that has roots starting in the 1990s and earlier. I hear educators scoff at badges and MOOCs. But, they are, in fact, important indicators of cultural trends. And, from the perspective of AAEEBL, these trends are pertinent and vital for our work.

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"Some cool tools; add a lot of pizass to student eportfolios . . . "

Posted By Administration, Saturday, November 10, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

November 10th, 2012

Hi, all -- I received permission from Angela Koponene at the University of Houston Downtown to re-post her own post from my eportfolio forum. Note the two "cool tools" she mentions. Also, interesting what's going on at her University. Thanks, Angela.
-- Trent

Angela Koponen, PhD

November 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm (Edit)

I’m currently researching ePortfolios for my university, University of Houston Downtown. I read your articles in Campus Technology and use them as I research to share with UHD’s ePortfolio’s planning committee. We are planning to launch a program that will be used by all of our nearly 14,000 students. I came across some cool tools that can be used free of charge which have the potential to add a lot of pizazz to student ePortfolios. Let’s share with your readers:
ANIMOTO – create extraordinary videos from your photos, video clips, words and music.,
GLOSTER – Online Multimedia Posters –

Always fun to share!

Back to UHD – We will be looking to use the ePortfolios across campus to 1) record academic performance, 2) respond to core and general ed standards and requirements, and 3) as tools for job seekers and career building. For 1 and 2, I won’t go into details here. For 3 I see this as currently needing to be driven by job applicants rather than employers. My personal experience is that having an ePortfolio can’t hurt (unless it’s a disaster), but that employers find it very impressive when available to them. In general, applying for jobs online is a tedious and trying experience, involving uploading resumes, cover letters, and filling out painfully long applications. Employers interested in a particular candidate can learn so much more about an applicant by viewing and analyzing their ePortfolio that they ever will from there job applications, resumes, or other traditional tools. Ideally, in my opinion, an online job application should only ask a few basic questions like do you have these experiences and education as key, preferably in the form of drop-down boxes. Most of the rest should be included is a really good searchable ePortfolio, the "show me” part of the application. So, one of the few questions asked should be for the link to the ePortfolio. I wish I had an opportunity to experiment with that approach. I’d be glad to partner with anyone wanting to try that experiment.

I find that ePortfolios can be so powerful and rich in content, that I look forward to continuing my investigations and eventual implementation on our campus. The AAEEBL web site has been very helpful. Keep experimenting on your ePortfolio. I look forward to updates on your progress.

Angela Koponen, PhD
Director of Co-Curricular and Operations Assessment
University of Houston Downtown

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Informed Pessimism: No More Industrial Revolutions?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

October 17th, 2012

From the NY Times:

This post, a scholarly blog, rubbed me the wrong way. The point is made convincingly -- we are past the big "bumps" or "bubbles" in terms of sudden 30 to 50 year GDP growth based on industrial revolutions. But it is convincing only if you believe that we humans in the connected world can only do industrial revolutions. Seems to me we humans did an agricultural revolution a few thousand years ago. There would have been no industrial revolutions without the agricultural revolution.

What about the revolution we are in now? This blog writer seems to think the computer revolution has already run its course, at least in terms of computers spurring a rapid growth in wealth.

Most of you, like me, are directly involved with the computer revolution. Do we agree that the big changes are over, and that the doc com bubble that burst in the year 2000 was the last computer wealth bubble?

I certainly don't know, so I have no answer. But I do know what I believe. It all depends on how one understands humanity's move to digital everything.

Immediate changes in efficiencies doing what we already do, and doing what we do within existing cultural memes, was easy and is still easy. Efficiencies in existing processes is the phase we are in now: efficiencies in marketing, delivery of products and services, efficiencies in communication, in archiving, searching, displaying, efficiencies in social organization, efficiencies in research and big data, in aggregating knowledge and so on. We do everything faster and with less need for humans to support each embedded process. Even our machines are now more efficient because digital technology manages how they work. Buildings are designed and built that could never have been built without CAD and CAM.

But is that all that we can expect in this digital age? In education, we are beginning to see efficiencies in the creation of learning opportunities -- such as MOOCs. But MOOCs, albeit provided by gifted educators and superb graphics complemented by social networking, are still teacher-centered and not outside the learning paradigm we are all familiar with.

Still, MOOCs and other trends -- assessment of prior learning (or recognition of prior learning), eportfolios as a way to evaluate achievement with much fuller data, micro-credentialing (badges -- really a form of peer review at the student level), high-impact educational practices, social pedagogies, new recognition of how people actually learn best, the flipped classroom, and so on -- do in fact indicate an important new phase of the computer revolution.

This new phase is what we might call "the university of the whole." Our economy is now a knowledge economy. The economy has become a learning economy. And institutions of higher learning are moving toward human processes and structures that are appropriate for "the university of the whole."

The university of the whole is where the real and lasting and profound knowledge revolution is taking place. No, this is not an industrial revolution, this is a revolution in how people think. This is a revolution at the source of all revolutions. ePortfolios are already native to "the university of the whole." We are all, in the eportfolio community, going there (to the university of the whole) and already there. Welcome.

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Chronicle Article: “Mooc Mania.” Badges and Alternate Credentialing

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

October 1st, 2012

An article in the Chronicle today, Oct. 1, 2012, confirms, in case you were wondering, that the MOOC and badges movement (or "mania”) continues unabated.

According to the article -- -- written by Katherine Mangan – "led by some of the nation's most prestigious research universities, new players are signing on each month to teach free, online courses that have drawn tens of thousands of students worldwide.”

I have written a couple of blogs about the advent of alternative learning opportunities and the challenge of credentialing learning out of sight of teachers or mentors and outside of a standard curriculum. The popular answer is badges and certificates. My question is, Where do you put those badges and certificates and how do you show evidence of their value?

In a recent article I published in Campus Technology -- -- I mentioned that a number of eportfolio providers are strategizing about how to incorporate badges and certificates into eportfolios. They are also looking at the "DIY learner” who may or may not be affiliated with a learning institution.

It would seem that the burgeoning trend toward alternate learning, either within or without institutions, should be ideal for eportfolios. Yet, as in the article, and others about MOOCs and badges and certificates, no author mentions eportfolios. How do we get the word out? It seems those pushing MOOCs and badges have a problem – credibility – and we in the eportfolio community have the answer. How to let them know?

With Randall Rode of Yale, I’m co-leading a NERCOMP workshop on "Alternative Credentialing: Badges and ePortfolios” on November 1. See: Join us if you are interested. This is one effort to get the word out that the eportfolio movement and the MOOCs-badges-certificates movement are on parallel tracks but should be on the same track. How can we do more?

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Definition of "ePortfolio"

Posted By Walden Teagan, Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

September 18th, 2012

As AAEEBL, we are occasionally asked for a definition of "eportfolio.” Fair enough.

My own is:

"ePortfolio technology enables learners to manage the complexity and variability of learning designs and opportunities in formal and informal settings in order to gather evidence of their resultant deep learning.”

The two key terms in this definition are "complexity” and "deep learning.” These are the two essential poles of eportfolio experience: complexity because information technology has carried knowledge creation and use beyond simple human abilities and into a realm of super-complexity beyond the management of humans without technology. And, "deep learning,” because today’s world demands that learners be able to do, not just memorize. Deep learning is contrasted with surface learning.

My argument, and I am fully open to comment about this definition, is that other definitions – such as the classic definition of eportfolio as a process of reflection, or the definition of eportfolio as a genre, or other definitions – are all derivative of the core value of eportfolio use, which is deep learning.

ePortfolios are, of course, used for assessment, to incorporate rubrics, are used for accountability, for workforce development, for creating a digital identity, for recognition of prior learning, for creativity, for person purposes, for fun and on and on.

My contention is that none of these other uses would have arisen, or been sustained, if not for the ability of eportfolios to enable learners to manage complexity and engage in deep learning.

This definition is my personal definition. I have spent 10 years thinking about this core essence of eportfolio thinking, advocacy and use. This definition has not been vetted among the AAEEBL hierarchy, so it cannot be construed as AAEEBL’s official definition.

But, it might be a useful exercise to invite comment and see what others think. You can comment in this space or send me email at



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ePortfolio Positions for Association of American Medical Colleges

Posted By Administration, Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

September 14th, 2012

Hi, all -- Dana Bostrom of the AAMC asked if I could spread the word about the three positions described below. So, this is me spreading the word. AAMC is an AAEEBL member and are quite sophisticated about eportfolios and their particular use in medical education. I hope these positions may interest some of you. Please contact Dana, not me, if you have questions:

Best Regards to all

Hi Trent,

I’m hoping you can help us spread the word with interested candidates, or others that can help, for the new positions we are hiring for our electronic portfolio connector. I’m currently holding the "director” title, but I am intended as an AAMC "loaned executive” and will rotate off the project when we hire the new director. This director is meant to be permanent, and the other 2 new positions will be really in charge of managing the adoption of the product in our 2 key areas. I’m glad to answer any questions; we also have a recruiter at AAMC who can answer questions and conducts all the initial screens and interviews.

Medical School Relationships


Hospital Relationships

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer!


Dana Bostrom

Association of American Medical Colleges
2450 N Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037-1127
T (202) 741-6450 F (202) 828-0659 E
Tomorrow's Doctors, Tomorrow's Cures®

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ePortfolios: Managing Complexity to Catalyze Deep Learning

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

September 4th, 2012

ePortfolio technology is pervasive and is becoming well known. Yet, not even eportfolio leaders have an easy time talking about eportfolios. People ask these leaders "what is an eportfolio?” and they get widely varying answers. Attend ePIC in London during July and you may understand that eportfolios are about developing a digital identity (and many other capabilities) or attend a Centre for Recording Achievement residential seminar and think eportfolios are about demonstrating achievement or attend an ePortfolios Australia Conference and you might then understand eportfolios to be about assessing prior learning or workforce development. Attend an AAEEBL conference and you might then wonder if eportfolios are instead about learning, assessment and accountability.

The problem is that people define eportfolios by their uses of the technology. None of the above definitions is wrong, yet each is derivative of the core value of eportfolios: eportfolios manage the actual complexity of learning far better than we have ever been able to do and, because they manage this complexity, they are able to "catalyze” (quoting Randy Bass in a conversation) deep learning.

Thus the essence of eportfolios is that they catalyze deep learning. This is not to dismiss the other uses we mentioned earlier. However, we can say that none of the derivative uses would be meaningful or important if eportfolios didn’t enable deep learning. The deep learning (by whatever name – active learning, social learning, authentic learning, transformational learning, situated learning, and so on) is the sine qua non: without deep learning, eportfolios would not have those other uses. If digital story telling didn’t result in deep learning, why do it? If using eportfolios for workforce development didn’t result in deep learning for better employment, why use them? If using eportfolios for accountability didn’t lead to deep learning, why use them (and, indeed, this is a germaine question)?

The term "complexity” is in contrast to the simplistic system of classes, lectures, credits and grading; of listening, memorizing and testing. One size does not fit all, one pace does not fit all, and mostly listening may not fit almost anyone.

How can we imagine a system that allows for more complex learning?

Using eportfolio evidence as both the means of learning and the means of assessment allows us to see more of the truly complex nature of learning:

  • Evidence of learning is captured all the time, since learning is going on all the time.
  • Evidence of learning is continuous, not segmented as in courses.
  • Evidence of learning is captured regardless of enrollment in an educational institution
  • Evidence of learning is mobile, as is the learner.
  • The evidence is manageable and can be used to make the case for a grade, a badge, a certificate, a degree, a job, a promotion, another job and so on.
  • The learner owns the evidence, greatly increasing the stake the learner has in making it useful, which in itself is a cognitive challenge.
  • The evidence helps the learner to make connections among learning experiences and to thereby reflect as all learners do.

The list can go on, of course. However, the point is that learning has always been complex but educational institutions tended to be blind to the complexity and wanted to define it and control it. The actual complexity of learning could not be captured or understood so educational institutions instead became about content.

It is not that eportfolios create the complexity of learning, it is that eportfolios can work with the complexity and help the learner. ePortfolios don’t shy from "messy” learning. ePortfolios do not start at 9 am and end at 9:50 am – they are always open. ePortfolios don’t have to assign credits to your interesting thought as you walk to school, instead they allow you to create a voice memo about that thought and upload the voice memo to your eportfolio. And then you and others can see for themselves the value of that thought. ePortfolios don’t assign you to see something in a tree, instead when you do see that something, you can take a photo and put that into your eportoflio.

Learning is going on all the time; it is complex, social, fluid and impossible to capture since it is social and complex and fluid. But it is possible to capture evidence of learning.

With eportfolios as the guiding enabler to think about learning, educators can start with the learner and learning groups. And then see how the complex learning that is already in process can be guided toward learning goals. We no longer need to simplify everything to work with learning. The magic of eportfolios is allowing learners and educators to navigate complexity; the complexity was there all along and now it can become more visible.

But, what is the deep learning that managing complexity can lead to? The tradition since the mid-1970s has been to contrast "surface learning” and "deep learning.” Surface learning is traditional school learning: memorizing enough to get by on the test, whereas deep learning is working with ideas and being able to apply those ideas in new situations.

Deep learning starts with experience and is followed by developing perceptions of that experience through reflection – how was it different? What was notable? Do I understand what happened? Looking back, do I see that experience differently than when I was having that experience? And so on: these reflections lead to developing perceptions about the experience. It is then, through working with others who have expertise in the field, that the learner can develop scholarly conceptions.

Say the experience was an interview on the campus with other students as part of a project in anthropology. The students would have had informational background sufficient for them to know how to structure the interview and how to capture it. But what to make of the responses they received? How to interpret them? Were they important? Were they even relevant?

Once the students completed their round of interviews and began reviewing and coding the video or audio recordings, they would themselves notice patterns. But it would be only when they seek to make meaning of what they’ve collected and coded that they encounter disciplinary ways of knowing. What claims can they make? How do they construct a disciplinary argument from their evidence? Now they are at the conceptual level and fully into deep learning.

I remember when the boundaries of "chaos” were pushed back: no, that was not chaos after all, we just needed computers to help us see the predictable patterns. We learned about fractals and the amazing patterns in our world we had not seen before. The complexity was there, but we just called it chaos and had to pretend it didn’t exist.

Physicists talk about "dark matter” and "dark energy,” other terms for that which we collectively just can’t figure out yet.

The chaos and dark energy of natural complex learning is no longer beyond us. Just as digital technology allowed us to understand a bit more about the complexity of "chaos,” so does it allow educators and learners to use the complex learning that is already in process in every learner. Don’t try to circumscribe it and pretend that learning outside of formal learning is irrelevant – that isn’t necessary any longer. We don’t have to live in an unnecessarily simplified world of learning any longer.

In the end, eportfolios help us manage the complexity of natural learning so as to catalyze deep learning. This is the essence of the value of eportfolios in our world today. They support variable learning designs. They allow learning to be learner-initiated and to be as much about discovery as guidance.

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As If Technology Makes No Difference: Bain Report and POD Response

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

July 26th, 2012

Nick Carbone at Bedford St. Martin's responded to a query on the POD list at Notre Dame by pointing to this article:

No, not THAT Bain. The article is intense, portraying a cost scenario for higher education showing that, outside of elite colleges and universities and/or those with huge endowments, higher education institutions in the U. S. in general are reaching an unsustainable imbalance of increasing costs and decreasing revenue.

The only role that this Bain report mentioned for technology is online learning. A couple of comments made on the list in response demonstrated an equal unawareness that technology would play any role in addressing the financil imbalance described in the report.

One responder said that as we move away from lecture as the singular model of learning, we only add to the cost because high-impact practices actually are more labor intensive.

A relevant personal note about my own high-impact practice: in 1985, I moved my first-year composition class to a computer lab in which the computers were wired together in a LAN (local area network), a brand new technology at that time. We found a primitive chat system and we all began writing together in a writing studio approach: students writing (writing!) to each other and me in authentic communication with a real live interlocutor for a real purpose. We had found a way to do pre-writing in a social setting. Large grants followed to expand this early high-impact practice and multiple assessments showed that my students, using this networked classroom approach, improved in their writing much quicker and more deeply than the traditional classroom approach.

I worked less, the students worked more and learned more. A classic example of active learning and deep learning.

Technology, in this case, allowed me to do what I could not do otherwise -- hand off the work to the students and guide them to engage in their own learning.

Many others at the time adopted this approach – it was, in fact, an early high-impact practice. It might now fit under the rubric "writing intensive courses."

This is just one example of how technology can alter the learning equation between teachers and learners. You who are reading this blog almost certainly know of how eportfolios can alter the equation as well.

In the news we hear of MOOCs (massive online open courses) and of open educational resources (OERs) provided by the top universities in the U. S. We hear of these same universities offering full courses online; of MITx offering a version of an MIT degree online. For a time, badges were in the news, and the badge movement is still alive and well. Entire new learning institutions are being formed that are structured to challenge enrolled students to accept much greater responsibility for their own learning.

But the point is not that any one model of learning will sweep the field. Instead what we are seeing is a multiplicity of learning models and designs and opportunities. And behind all of this is the very basic fact that information technology allows us to manage complexity.

The time when teaching and learning certified as important followed only one model (with slight variations) is over. We defined and accredited the method of teaching and not the results. That method is shattering but the tendency among educators is still to accredit the method (time spent engaged in that method) and not the learning. We move to high-impact practices and we change our terminology from "teaching" to "mentoring" and nothing has really changed. We still assume the "treatment" or the "intervention" or the "behavior" is important and all that we can value or count.

We still, in other words, deeply believe that the time spent undergoing an observed treatment measures learning. It seems hard for many of us who have served as faculty (and perhaps as faculty promoted to administration) to believe that learners can learn on their own. It seems hard to trust students: we created a learning paradigm -- the traditional classroom -- that was individualistic, competitive, and behavioristic (far from how researchers understand how students learn) -- and saw how students increasingly chafed under this learning paradigm by disengaging and cheating in many cases, and then concluded that students can't be trusted.

It is not as if learners need no structure: just the opposite is true. But the structure should be the outcome, the goal, the solution, not constant scaffolding. And it is not that they need no foundational knowledge at the beginning or that they do not need light mentoring during the process of working on the problem or the case or the question. But, even so, the "labor-intensive" is on the part of students, not faculty.

As we in this community know, learners now can create a body of evidence, managed in an eportfolio, that becomes the basis for assessment or evaluation. This obviates the need for constant observation or supervision.

Whether learning entirely on your own with MOOCs or online degrees or choosing from OER's or whether you are at an institution that is organized to create learning communities and to support undergraduate research and other HIPs; or learning by reading books and online journals; or any other learning method, an eportfolio can capture your evidence of learning. The "labor intensive" is your own.

As long as higher education institutions continue to believe learners must be guided and observed at all times -- a pedagogical in loco parentis approach -- cost issues will find no relief in the area of "instruction," the term Bain uses.

In the end, the Bain study is very useful by making so clear that the current model of learning in US higher education is unsustainable for all institutions except the elites and the wealthy. But the report reveals not the slightest awareness of how information technology can alter the entire picture. The writers of the report assume the current culture of behavioristic learning models will not change; they assume the "cost of instruction" will and should go up.

Therefore, the report describes a problem but fails utterly to understand this basic fact: information technology, because it manages complexity that we cannot do without information technology, gives us the ability to move to a higher sphere of learning multiplicity. We can operate "above ourselves." We can try teaching-learning paradigms that result in deeper learning by using the resources we already have. Higher education now has options; it has the power to re-engineer as never before. Go beyond the essential pessimism of Bain; design learning experiences based not on what we've always done but based on current learning research in cognitive psychology, anthropology, social sciences, linguistics, educational psychology and other fields.

We can do it.

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What Transformation, Exactly, Do We Seek in the ePortfolio Field?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

July 4th, 2012

After eleven years of full immersion in eportfolios, I am still pondering what transformation we, the eportfolio global community, are aiming at. What do we want? Has that changed in the last 15 years? And are we making progress toward whatever goal we have in mind?

Personally, I started at the course level. I used a portfolio approach in the 1990s to teach and experienced the dramatic uptick in student engagement first hand that many of you probably experienced.

When I then, a few years later, assumed responsibility for finding and rolling out a campus-wide electronic portfolio system in 2001, I still had in mind the course portfolio model. Even when I was chair of the board of the Open Source Portfolio Initiative (OSPI), funded by the Mellon Foundation, a couple of years later, I retained a learning orientation and a course portfolio mental model.

I imagined eportfolios being used in numerous courses to change the nature of those courses from a teaching focus to a learning focus. The sudden capture of the eportfolio field by institutional assessment offices and their compatriots in accrediting agencies across the country left me stunned. But, out of necessity, I came to learn about rubrics and learning outcomes, and an institutional perspective on eportfolio deployment.

Was the focus on learning outcomes a distraction or the camino real?

In 2008, Bret Eynon at LaGuardia Community College, asked me to consult about hosting an eportfolio conference at LaGuardia in April of 2008. Having seen how many people were attending OSPI conferences around that time, I advised Bret that we might need to plan for significant numbers of attendees. When, in fact, the LaGuardia conference drew over 500 people hungry to meet other eportfolio advocates and practitioners, I realized the U.S. needed an annual eportfolio conference. That summer, at Park City, Utah, Helen Chen, Tracy Penny-Light and Darren Cambridge encouraged me to start an eportfolio association.

I saw the association – what is now AAEEBL – as a way to return the eportfolio industry and the eportfolio academic establishment to a focus on learning. In May, 2009, AAEEBL was launched.

In the ongoing conversation among eportfolio advocates, practitioners and leaders, the words "reflection” and "integrative learning” dominate. A Wordle would have those two words in big caps and in bold.

Are these two words (reflection and integration), and the scholarly examination of reflection as a mental habit of the learned, sufficient to understand the transformation we seek? Having my own doubts about the power of a focus on just reflection, I began to survey learning research over the past 30 years. Were there models of learning we could merge with eportfolio theory, or with "folio thinking” (Helen Chen)? Could we discover our roots through a better understanding of a broad theoretical and research-based set of ideas and models? Could eportfolio have a broader foundation?

The short answer is, of course, yes. Reading books and articles about learning published over the past 30 years, anyone in our field would find a treasure trove of discoveries about learning that invites eporfolio implementation. It is as if all research regarding learning for 30 years was written in anticipation of information technology and eportfolios.

During the short life of the eportfolio community and market, the entire connected world has been shaken to its foundations by information technology. People point to "globalization” as a factor in the change, but would globalization be possible without information technology? Or, people point to a foundational shift from manufacturing to service – 80 percent of our GDP comes from the service sector. But would this shift have occurred without information technology?

The world as it is now, after the foundational change, begs for learners who will continue to learn for life. ePortfolios facilitate the development of learners appropriate for the world as it is. ePortfolios facilitate institutional change so that learning institutions (i.e., K-12, colleges and universities) can help create learners fit for the world.

Given this new world, what is our goal as a field and a market sector?

In the learning literature, we find dozens of intriguing ways to visualize and organize learning. In learning institutions, we see emergent practices – the high-impact educational practices (HIPs) identified by George Kuh in his seminal AAC&U publication in 2008. Randy Bass at Georgetown University alerted AAEEBL attendees in Boston in 2010 at the inaugural AAEEBL conference of the obvious connections (to him) between high-impact practices (first-year seminars, undergraduate research, learning communities, common intellectual problems, writing intensive course and so on) and eportfolios.

High impact becomes mega impact if you add eportfolio to HIPs.

Another way to view our goal is through the lens of "deep learning.” All models, all current learning designs, all eportfolio practices, in one way or another, aim for deep learning. Deep learning is contrasted with "surface learning” (listen, memorize, test). Surface learning engages learners through a fear of failure (getting an F). Deep learning practices must be designed for intellectual engagement: prompting an innate desire to learn.

For this moment in time, I find the deep learning literature and the concept itself helpful. The term itself contrasts the past and the present. The tide is turning toward a focus on deep learning and away from surface learning. "In a time of stable knowledge, teach; in a time of rapidly-changing knowledge, learn.” (Carl Rogers).

But the tide, turning or not, is slowed by current thinking about institutional success. As colleges and universities become businesses, albeit non-profit businesses, expert in marketing, building "customer relations,” deeply involved in the business of sport, in the business of branding (all good in many ways), a mindset has pervaded the academic enterprise: "retention” and "graduation rate.”

Having been a faculty member for decades, I was always aware of the tacit emphasis on retention. I saw the resultant grade inflation, realized that if I was known among students as a hard grader, my classes would shrink, and found it hard to actually fail a student.

But, at the same time, I thought "I am depriving my students of the opportunity to fail.” And I was.

Depriving a learner of the opportunity to fail is depriving the learner a chance to learn.

In the learning literature, researchers speak of "how adults learn best.” Do our colleges and universities – in general – treat students as adults?

By scaffolding so heavily – "here is the knowledge on a plate, just remember it” – and by preventing our students from failing (alas, many succeed in failing anyway) because we need to "retain” them, we are not allowing our students to be adults.

What do adults face in the world? A problem to solve with little or no help. Infinite chances to fail. The challenge to create their own value in an organization. Keeping a constant eye on the next job they will seek. A demand to keep learning and to learn rapidly. The need to work in a team. They need to be "deep learners.”

Many colleges and universities do recognize the new realities and are making appropriate changes. But college graduates are not doing as well in the world as they did before 2008. The pace of change should probably accelerate. MOOCs and badges are not the only challenges; an emerging reluctance among students to take on student loans is a bigger one.

Finally, then, is our goal to help accelerate the pace of institutional change through eportfolios toward developing deep learners who can succeed in life?

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Deep Learning, ePortfolios and AAEEBL

Posted By Administration, Saturday, June 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

June 2nd, 2012

In the past six months, I've been researching "deep learning" and using a focus on deep learning to present about eportfolios. Deep learning, a 40-year old research thread, has produced models for learning that could have been produced by an eportfolio researcher.

As I read scholarly articles about learning, I keep thinking that we have had these ideas, models, and research results about the best ways to learn for a century, yet they have had minimal impact in higher education up until very recently.

Could it be that creating a new learning design is difficult to do as long as teachers and students were in a physical classroom? And could it be that as long as college graduates were succeeding in the world, there was little motivation to change?

Now, the classroom no longer holds us captive and college graduates are less successful at finding their way after college. Therefore, we have both an opportunity and a problem.

The opportunity is to break out of the classroom ritual of rule-bound behavior that has been associated not with deep learning but with surface learning. Surface learning -- hearing-memorizing-testing -- is based on fear of failure according to a number of commentators on deep learning. Deep learning, instead, is based on a spirit of inquiry and is motivated not by fear of failure but by interest in learning.

When we in the eportfolio field speak of learning values supported, catalyzed, and extended by eportfolios, we mention reflection, integrative thinking, experiential learning, active learning, authentic assessment (assessment for learning), and other values. We also talk about high-impact practices (HIPs) based on the desire to help students engage in these varieties of meta-cognition. The HIPs, when used in conjunction with an eportfolio, extend opportunities for learning and make the HIPs potentially more successful.

The variety of ways of talking about learning in our field does get us to recognize the subtle but significant differences in the kinds of learning associated with eportfolios. Still, it would be helpful to us and to others unfamiliar with eportfolios to have a term such as "deep learning" that encompasses all the varieties of learning and practices just listed.

The major contrast between what worked in education before and what is needed today is the contrast between surface learning and deep learning.

An analogy: when I travel to England, I don't need to engage in deep learning to help me with travel logistics: I speak the language (sort of), I can read the signs, and the culture is only moderately different from my home culture. When we traveled to Istanbul a few years ago, however, I had to engage in deep learning: I didn't know the language, nor the customs, didn't know the currency, and the culture in Turkey is significantly different from my home culture.

Going to England for me is like a college graduate's experience 15 years ago: going out into the world was relatively easy because knowledge was not yet into super-warp change mode. The world welcomed college graduates as it had for a century or more. One could prosper with just surface learning as preparation.

Going to Turkey for me is like a college graduate's experience today: going out into the world is hard, the nature of work has changed, job changes occur frequently, and college grads are expected to produce immediately when being hired. The world has become less familiar (or more distant from expectations) for college graduates than it once was. One now needs deep learning skills and habits as preparation for the world as it has become.

ePortfolio practitioners hope to make the move from teaching to learning and thereby increase the engagement of students in their own learning. Those who support high-impact educational practices -- first-year seminars, writing intensive courses, undergraduate research, common intellectual problems and so on -- also aim to get students more engaged in their own learning (and to better understand the social nature of learning).

In each case, I believe, everyone involved is seeking "deep learning" experiences for their students/learners.

AAEEBL primarily focuses on learning: how can and should learning be designed given the transformed landscape of knowledge-making? And, how can and should we use technology to enable these new designs? AAEEBL emerged from the eportfolio community and is identified with eportfolio technology as the most promising technology now to promote improvement in learning.

And, to me at least, "deep learning" seems a good term, a solid term, a well-researched term to identify with eportfolios. I'd be very interested to hear what other think of this idea:

At AAEEBL2012 in Boston in two weeks, I have a session on Thursday morning the 19th about Deep Learning and ePortfolios. I'd welcome a good discussion at this session as well.

Best to all

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Technological Determinism? Do ePortfolios Themselves Make Students Reflect?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

May 29th, 2012

One of the hardest aspects of working with technology while retaining academic and scholarly objectivity is "what can I attribute to the technology itself?”

When someone writes about what "eportfolio” does, the phrase sounds like technological determinism. It is hard to write about technology and learning and not sound deterministic. It is especially hard to avoid deterministic language if you hope for a particular outcome from deploying a technology.

An example: In the early 1980s, some of us involved with the nascent technology movement in education bought into the idea that word processors, because they made revising easier than with paper, would lead students to do more revising. How naïve! Simply having the opportunity to revise more easily does not mean students know how to think about revising.

If computers have taught us anything, it’s that we and our brains are infinitely more complex than we thought (how optimistic we were in the mid 1960s about natural speech recognition, how we thought the new field of cognitive science would reveal how we think, how overly optimistic artificial intelligence advocates were, how we realized we humans had conveniently included in our study of the natural world only that which was not "chaos”).

No matter the "affordances” of the technology, no matter how much easier a previously laborious process has become, humans still need to master the thought process behind something such as revising. We learned, unfortunately, that in the early days of word processing, students only did surface revisions with their new technology, such as correcting spelling and capitalizations but not much more if left un-coached. The technology did not determine that students would understand how to revise their writing. Do we assume, now, that eportfolios will determine that students will understand reflection?

Technological determinism was a belief that the trajectory of technology development is predictable; and it was a belief that technology development would continue on that trajectory once a major technology was launched regardless of cultural influences. Thankfully, not only are people not that predictable, but neither is culture.

If technology developers truly believed in technological determinism, they would not concern themselves with user preferences; they would not concern themselves with the market. Nor would they concern themselves with serendipitous discoveries as the technology was being used. In short, technological determinism was cousin to behaviorism and we know what happened to behaviorism.

Information technology has in fact altered our world irreversibly (short of a major disaster). It’s not that technology doesn’t bring about change. It would be absurd to think so. It’s just that we don’t know what the change will be. Without predictability, "technological determinism” is meaningless.

Peter Elbow, in his new book Vernacular Eloquence (2012), says of technological determinism:

I can imagine someone charging [David] Olson [Literacy, Language and Learning: The Nature and Consequences of Reading and Writing, 1985] with technological determinism: the idea that the technology of literacy all by itself changes human consciousness and thinking. [p. 50]

He goes on to quote Brian Street ("New Literacies, New Times; How Do We Describe and Teach the Forms of Literacy Knowledge, Skills and Values People Need for New Times?” 55th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference.):

One response to the growing role of technologies of communication in our lives is to overstate their ability to determine our social and cultural activity. This tradition has been evidenced in earlier approaches to literacy, where over-emphasis on the "technology” of literacy . . . has led to assumptions about the ability of literacy in itself, as an autonomous force, to have effects, such as the raising of cognitive abilities, the generation of social and economic development, and the shift to modernity. [p. 51]

And, about the "new technologies,” again quoting Street:

While these forms evidently do have "affordances” [Gunther Kress, Before Writing: Rethinking the Paths to Literacy, 1997], it would be misleading and unhelpful to read from the technology into the effects without first positing the social mediating factors that give meaning to such technologies. How, then, can we take sufficient account of the technological dimension of new literacies without sliding into such determinism?

In other words, we cannot know which ways people will use technology. And since technology’s existence depends on people using it, the technology must evolve in alignment with use. Neither humans alone nor technology alone determines the outcome of the interaction between humans and technology. Both humans and technology, together, determine the human changes (in behavior) resulting from the potentialities in the technology and determine, also, the technology changes resulting from which potentialities human choose to use.

This co-evolution of people and technology is the challenge facing designers of educational technology: trying to design too tightly to control usage may just make your technology unpopular. Learners don’t all learn in the same way or at the same pace. Maybe the best design is the simplest, like Google’s famous empty home page. Or maybe the best design is one that allows for easy customization like the new open architectures. The social Web has conquered the connected world by offering the simplest interfaces and the ability to add features almost at will.

We cannot design an eportfolio to get students to arrive at a specific learning outcome or goal. For example, one good way to help young students write well is to let them write badly – such as in the practice of "free writing.” Indirection is a key principle in learning.

And to avoid the trap of technological determinism, AAEEBL is not named for a technology, but for the new forms of learning in this century. ePortfolio technologies, as wonderful as they are, will not determine how these new forms of learning evolve. Our thinking, our discoveries, our tacit awareness and abilities, our imagination, or just dumb chance will determine how we use information technology, not the other way around.

The ACM (Association of Computing Machinery), in 1996, to honor the 50th anniversary of the creation of Eniac (an early computer), published a retrospective book. In the book, one author explained how, despite some obvious blunders in predicting the path of technology development over those 50 years, such predictions were correct enough to justify continuing to make such predictions. The same could not be said, this author pointed out, of predicting how humans will use technology. Such predictions were invariably wrong.

A good principle for design – the cow path approach – is to design for what people choose to do. Wait until students create paths on a new campus and then create sidewalks where the paths are. Can an eportfolio tool be created to allow for cow path design?

This is the key to our ironic plight at the moment: we have so many affordances – too many shoes to choose from – that whatever slight predictive ability we had a while ago has been washed away. The best design for applications now is one that is the least deterministic. The deterministic battle was lost long ago. Learning has left the barn.

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Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing, by Peter Elbow

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 17, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

May 17th, 2012

Peter Elbow will lead a 3-hour workshop on Monday, July 16 at AAEEBL's annual conference. This workshop is just one reason why you should join us at our conference.

Elbow’s latest book, Vernacular Eloquence, published this year by Oxford University Press, helps us understand how spoken and written language are changing in our new digital culture.

Peter Elbow has helped shape our understanding of writing since the early 1980s (at least) with his publications, Writing Without Teachers, Writing With Power, Embracing Contraries, and Everyone Can Write.

As a writing teacher myself, sometimes I only needed to read a phrase from Elbow and my world would open up. He has a knack for seeing both the obvious and what no one else sees.

Peter Elbow, an early influence on eportfolio practices and theory, is leading a 3-hour workshop at the AAEEBL Annual Conference in Boston, July 16 – 19 at the Seaport World Trade Center. His workshop is on the Monday pre-conference day, 8:30 to 11:30. You need to register for the conference to then register for this pre-conference workshop:

Everyone involved with eportfolios should attend this workshop. It is a rare chance to spend time with a legend. Using eportfolios necessarily requires students to write and to write in different contexts, both formally and informally. In any course, no matter the field, using eportfolios increases opportunities for students to write; the value of good written communication is amplified in an eportfolio-based learning design. Elbow explores how our concept of "literacy” and our actual literacy practices are changing quickly, and he sees these changes as positive.

I have started reading this book and keep saying to myself "finally! Someone has thought through these issues and is making sense.” We now "speak” in writing in forms such as Twitter and Facebook, blogs, email. The controversies around how technology is altering our communication forms leave us grasping for appropriate terms or reasonable perspectives to understand these changes. Having just read a part of this magnificent book, I already feel better. I have somewhere to turn for a better understanding and for the realization that the popular issues around writing at this moment actually have a long history. Reading this book, we not only learn more about current changes but about the whole nature of writing over time.

Rarely do conference-goers experience a plenary workshop. Usually, a plenary speaker would just speak for an hour. In this case, Peter Elbow has been generous enough to do a 3-hour workshop and then spend another hour with us on Tuesday afternoon in an informal "conversations” session. You’d have the chance to attend his workshop and then, the next day, join with him again to discuss your thoughts or questions from the workshop.

Ideally, you would read Vernacular Eloquence between now and July 16, and then have a chance to engage in conversation with the author from an informed viewpoint during the workshop and the next day during the Conversations session.

One of the most pointed criticisms employers make about college graduates is "they can’t write.” Ouch. In Vernacular Eloquence, we find out possible reasons why this is true.

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What Evidence is Needed for the ePortfolio Field?

Posted By Walden Teagan, Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

May 9th, 2012

This blog is meant less as a statement than a question, as indicated by the title.

As I hear from many quarters, it is now time for our field to start defining a research agenda. It is now time to start providing evidence for our claims. It is even time to re-think our claims and perhaps re-shape them as we learn more about our emerging field. The International Journal of ePortfolio published its first issue only 10 months ago -- other research projects centered on eportfolio use have been underway for a decade or more. AAEEBL is 3 years old this month. ePIC is in its 10th year, ePortfolios Australia will hold it's 3rd conference next fall. ePortfolio as a field, a technology, a set of practices and a community is coming into its own. AAC&U continues to offer its own annual ePortfolio Forum that continues to grow each year. ePortfolio California, EPAC and AAEEBL held a year-long series of Webinars that drew substantial attendees.

But, at the center, what are we about?

Even before we can begin to consider the research questions and the evidence appropriate to our field, we should agree on a vision of our field.

We've identified ourselves with a technology, which is both essential and perhaps inevitable, but still fraught with potential issues. What if, for example, the technology itself evolves to the point where the name "eportfolio" disappears? That's one danger of identifying our field with a technology. A more obvious danger is the possible perception that our field is a technology field and not a learning field. But, for the moment, that is our terminology.

AAEEBL was intentionally not named "the eportfolio association" to focus on learning and not on a technology. Helen Chen adopted the term "folio thinking" as an alternative. In the case of AAEEBL, we then faced the initial challenge that people searching on the Web for eportfolio information would not find AAEEBL. Fortunately, that is no longer true as the terms "AAEEBL" and "eportfolio" are now associated in the "mind" of the Web.

But the term "eportfolio" [however spelled] is itself used loosely within our community. We often personify "eportfolio" as an actor in learning as in "eportfolio helps students learn to reflect." Or, "eportfolio has had a big impact on how we design our courses."

Or, recently, we have heard that "eportfolio is a high-impact practice" as if eportfolios are always used in a certain way. We in the field understand these loose usages of the term. To always qualify the term "eportfolio" would make our discourse cumbersome. Yet, this loose usage does not, in fact, have a well-defined reference.

If, as the saying goes, eportfolio is everything, then it is nothing.

It would seem to me that before we can define a research agenda, we need to define what our reference is. A research agenda for what? Are we studying the adoption of innovation? Doesn't seem so. A certain kind of learning design or process? Perhaps. A new kind of assessment? A new process of identity creation? And if any of these are close to what we believe we are doing, what research methodology is most appropriate?

It may be, of course, the eportfolio studies is really multiple sub-fields -- one sub-field that's can be understood by applying learning theory and research, another that can be understood through the lens of assessment theory, another through the lens of educational theory, or anthropology, social science, cognitive science, rhetoric and composition, linguistics . . . It would seem that our field could adopt a number of research methodologies to study the changes in process associated with eportfolios.

Reading reports from projects such as The Inter/national Coalition for ePortfolio Resarch and LaGuardia's Connect to Learning Project, we find questions about the impact of eportfolio. Very important to ask these questions and provide evidence. But, we have not built a taxonomy of eportfolio designs that we can easily refer to so we know that such and such a result stems from a very particular eportfolio learning design. I'm commenting on the current state of our field, and don't intend any criticism of these two important projects.

And what is "eportfolio"? Ah, at the heart of the matter we have a tradition from composition studies that evokes a certain use of eportfolios and envisions them as a genre. Fair enough. But does describing eportfolios as a genre lead to a broad set of research questions and to a broad application of research methodologies?

Just to throw out an idea: what if we thought of "eportfolio" as a kind of learning? And what if we called that kind of learning "recursive learning"? Integrative thinking, reflection, showcasing, curating and so many activities associated with eportfolio really involve recursion of one kind or another. Here's an example of recursion:

"Writing is a recursive process in that the writer can return to a previous stage of the writing process while working on a later stage. In other words, while you are revising a manuscript, you may find yourself thinking of new ideas that could be included in the text. So you can also be planning or brainstorming while revising."
Article Source:

"Social recursive learning" adds another layer to this concept.

The process of managing or curating one's eportfolio is itself recursive because, as you cull evidence, or select evidence, you may see new connections and therefore be employing recursive learning.

If this concept cannot be all inclusive or fails in some other way, fine, no problem, but there is no doubt we need a conceptual core, a center.

Only with a core concept in our field can we develop essential research questions and therefore begin to build a coherent body of evidence.

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The War is Over: LMS and ePortfolio merging

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

April 26th, 2012

Having just gone through a 90-minute demo of Sakai OAE, my head is spinning. For more than a decade, the distinctions between LMS’s and eportfolios have been clearly defined:

  • LMS’s are course based; eportfolios are learner-based
  • LMS’s are faculty-centered; eportfolios are student-centered
  • LMS content disappears after the course; eportfolio content persists
  • LMS’s are owned by the institution; eportfolios are owned by the student
  • LMS’s support the status quo; eportfolios anticipate the future

And so on. In conversations I’ve been involved with, LMS’s almost took on the reputation of a "necessary evil.” Still, there was no sign of them going away. And eportfolios, it seemed, continued to hold the place of the minor player on the stage of educational technology.

Now, the distinctions just listed between LMS’s and eportfolios may be disappearing. One could almost say – though only as a reflection of bias in my case – that the eportfolio gestalt has won the day. LMSs may be taking on the characteristics of eportfolios:

  • In OAE, all users have equal privileges – students and faculty – except within the tiny "membership” category of a course (one can have dozens of memberships, all treated equally) where there is a slight tilt toward the instructor.
  • Still, the new architecture behind Sakai OAE ("Open Academic Environment”) is "learning centered” – that is, not course centered.
  • OAE easily incorporates "widgets” which might be better termed "apps.” Within rSmart Academic (based on OAE with extra functionality), you’ll find a kind of "app store” with technologies that can be incorporated into the institutional instance of OAE.
  • Content can be placed in a library that can be shared on campus to all or to a select group. The library persists over time and thus takes on the nature of a local OER repository (OER – Open Educational Resources).
  • Through one’s "profile,” users can create, now, an "almost-eportfolo.” The profile can in fact be used now for promotion and tenure documentation. New features are being added as OAE continues to be developed in the community that will flesh out the eportfolio capabilities.
  • OAE now encompasses life and all learning. It reflects the fact that the culture now owns learning.
  • Probably the most profound statement that OAE makes epistemologically is that "knowledge,” as in the libraries and in the Piazza discussion forum, is a continuing process. Knowledge is not a thing that can be chopped into segments as in the classic course structure but is a flow.

This is an architecture that eliminates the distinction between LMS and eportfolio. By enlarging the problem space almost infinitely (because it’s open to including apps from the Web), it is more than the sum of LMS and eportfolio, but something much larger.

OAE does not yet have the learning outcomes backend that Sakai CLE has. It is still evolving. That’s why NYU, University of Michigan, Indiana University, Berkeley, Cambridge, and Charles Sturt University (AU) still use CLE even while they pilot OAE.

What we see is a conceptual breakthrough in LMS thinking that brings LMS’s closer to the epistemology behind eportfolio technology. This new thinking – and I know it is not limited to the Sakai development community – is a watershed moment in the history of educational technology. We see both the influence of the social Web and of our accumulated knowledge about learning in this new architecture. ‘tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished.

Full disclosure: I was the chair of the board of the Open Source Portfolio Initiative, which produced OSP (which was inserted into Sakai) with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and from rSmart, and leadership from Indiana University.

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