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Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBLTrent, AAEEBL Founder, has recently announced his retirement. Click on his name and wish him well!

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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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Blackboard Acquires Moodlerooms; What About Sakai?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

March 28th, 2012

 

The most puzzling -- or hopeful? --aspect of Blackboard's acquisition of Moodlerooms and Netspot is Blackboard Learn's announcement of their new Open Source Services Group. Supporting open source? As the article below suggests, this may not be another example of eliminating competition for the Blackboard LMS but may be recognizing the value in offering both an enterprise-level LMS and a lower-threshold LMS such as Moodle.


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Are Resumes Obsolete? Cultural Trends Favoring ePortfolios

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

March 28th, 2012

Even for those of us comfortable with change, especially change regarding education, the pace of change is almost bewildering.

Three items of note:The hegemony of the resume may be over in favor of an online profileRecognition of prior learning, or prior learning assessment (PLA) is gathering steam.  The "Google-izing" of our culture and expectation of ready evidence. At Wende Garrison's site, Out of Practice, I noticed one of her posts that was an aha! for me:  Portoflios Preferred In Job Hunt?  In her post, she referred to an article at ResumeBear, "Are Resumes Obsolete?"

And in that article, another reference was to an article in the Wall Street Journal in January.  Both articles referred to new online ways that employers are getting a more authentic profile of job candidates. 

However, for me, a source of frustration was to read about companies who ask candidates to submit a set of links to online evidence for use in their review process, and to realize these companies had no idea there was such a thing as an eportfolio.  I've talked to two vendors this week who each support the online employment process in one way or the other.  It was clear they both have a market opportunity.

For us in AAEEBL and in academia, what I think is significant is how much our culture is evolving in ways that invite the growth of the eportfolio market, and also, in an important way, how much the knowledge culture is "training" everyone to expect, expect, evidence of claims. 

Recognition of Prior Learning

Prior learning assessment (PLA) is related strongly to the open educational resources movement OERs).  MIT is best known for, but hardly alone in, providing "Open Courseware."  Learners can acquire important knowledge and abilities from many sources.  This is not new, but what is new is the real possibility that learning outside the academy may now result in certification and employment. 

Last Friday, at the AAEEBL regional conference in Providence, RI, Empire State College presented on PLA, a world-wide phenomenon.  Particularly now when so many formerly employed people are changing to a new career, PLA has blossomed.  I heard today of an application that supports PLA (more about that in another blog).  I can see PLA, badges, OpenCourseware (and its kin) all coming together with many other forces to create a path for alternate credentialing either inside the academy (i.e., self-paced learning) or outside. 

Academia is subject to cultural forces as never before.  Either it adapts quickly to what is developing as a "perfect storm" of alternate credentialing, or it will suffer. 

The Google-izing of our Culture

It seems now that many of us are not satisfied to accept, on the face, cliches or supposed truths or assumptions or unsupported claims.  We turn to Google.  "Let's see if that's true or not."  I personally have had to re-learn foundational (but unchallenged) beliefs I've held for years.  Small beliefs, like why leaves change color in the fall.  Since a kind of answer is an instant away, it is now easy to seek evidence for almost any statement or claim.  Google has trained us to expect evidence. 

This habit of turning to evidence has made us all eportfolio-ready. 

Years ago, I wondered if our hype from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s was mere talk.  Suddenly, we have moved so far beyond any hype I could have imagined, I go around in perpetual astonishment.  Seeing such broad swings in consciousness and expectations and practices at the cultural level alerts us to look beyond the campus. 

We need to stop thinking "education" and start thinking "learning."  Learning is a broader enterprise where, yeah, it is happening. 

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Revisiting "Information Superhighway" -- maybe more apt than we thought?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

March 27th, 2012

Hi, all -- as metaphors go, "The Information Superhighway" got hyped to an early grave, associated only with Al Gore's claim that he "invented the Internet."  Too bad; the metaphor is actually quite intriguing. 

Yesterday, I drove to Three Rivers Community College in Norwich Connecticut.  For some inscrutable reason, my GPS took me to Norwich (from RI) via I-95 but took me back home via state road 165, an uniimproved 2-lane highway through lakes and hills and tall white pines.  The contrast in the two driving experiences was extraordinary.

I learned to drive when our only long-distance driving options were these same 2-lane highways.  Across the country, this was the US road system.

These roads were minimally graded, unpredictably curved, variably built based on vague standards.  They had evolved from the first wagon trails created by the first white settlers based on Native American trails that in turn were based on game trails.  In other words, the highway system in this country until the 1950s had a long history dating back thousands of years.  In some sense, they were "natural." 

Or, in some sense, they were analog roads, limited by physicality.  You drove (or still drive) next to houses, through towns, seeing the utility wires that connect houses, seeing ancient trees that grew next to these ancient trails before even many wagons used these routes.  You are part of human history driving on our US highway system.

The skills you need to drive any distance on these roads:staying on the road and still maintaining speed (even at night)seeing far enough ahead to stay on the roadavoiding people and cars coming onto the roadpassing slower cars -- anticipating and speeding up before passing and knowing the distance needed to pass and how to bail if you miscalculate, etc.knowing how far the next town is where there will probably be a gas stationpassing trucks in the rain while being blinded by sprayand so onAnd then, the Interstate Highway System was built. The Interstate Highway System broke with history.  Whole new rights-of-way in almost all cases had to be acquired, cleared, graded and paved.  These rights of way are almost never embedded in human history and have none of the social artifacts of the previous US highway system.  This is, in a way, like moving from analog to digital (although the IHS is of course manifestly physical):  the new system yanked people into a new unfamiliar landscape and new "rules of the road."The skills you need to drive on the Interstate Highway System:driving with the flow -- neither going much faster than other cars or much slower since neither is safe. merging into traffic -- initially, entrances to limited access highways had a short ramp, essentially a right turn, so entry to the highways was like a drag race -- getting up to speed before someone rammed into you.  Now, merging has become a science and we have culturally become good at mergingstaying with the flock to avoid getting a speeding ticket -- traffic is almost always going above the speed limit, so you learn how not to get picked off and ticketed.  changing lanesand so onThe two skill sets, beyond just the basic skills of operating a car, are very different.  The entire milieu of the IHS is strikingly different form the two-lane roads of the state and US highways.Driving yesterday on state Rt. 165 I was immersed in history, culture and society.  I was close to everything.  I was driving where people live.  I could see the history in New England of mill towns and the rivers that provided power.The Web and Internet are similarly an unfamiliar milieu for most people.  Within that milieu, we are creating a new human history and a new culture.  Despite Al Gore, the metaphor of the Information Super Highway may be useful. 

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Badges: No, not Outside of Academia, Inside ePortfolios

Posted By Walden Teagan, Sunday, March 18, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

March 18th, 2012

Beyond the Course: ePortfolios’ Value for Credentialing

All talk of badges now assumes they are ways for people to not go to college and still get a job and advance their careers. No where does anyone I know of talk about badges within a formal learning environment through assimilation within an eportfolio.

ePortfolios support an alternate teaching-learning paradigm. This much we know. This paradigm applies not only to the course, but to a course of study in a major, to the whole college career and beyond. Understanding the value of an eportfolio in a course requires one lens, but to understand the eportfolio at the enterprise level requires a different lens.

Once the course is over, if all that students take away from an eportfolio-based learning experience is a grade as validation of their work, the values of eportfolio can seem transient – valuable during the course but not beyond. Grades as a sole measure no longer convey the information about a person that we once thought they did.

We in the eportfolio world say that having the evidence behind a grade makes a big difference, but if the world ignores the evidence, the eportfolio work can seem meaningless in terms of advancing in the world.

Assessment and credentialing methods and values, in the end, largely determine how students learn. What determines the grade also determines the pedagogy. How do we build hooks or entry points to the eportfolio evidence beyond the presentational Web page?

The Move Toward Badges

And, now entering the assessment and credentialing arena is the badge. Badges are the latest head-nodding hot concept: say the word "badges” at a conference this month, next month, and possibly the month after, and people will nod. Sure, we know what badges are and even have a good feeling about badges because the term is associated with the scouts or clubs or games – activities we choose to participate in, often as young people.

What are badges and how can badges serve in higher education and how, in particular, do they fit within an eportfolio-based learning design?

Badges have always been physical badges, something you sew onto a uniform perhaps, validated by a paper certificate, or a military ribbon, or a badge you receive through gaming or in the world of programming. Importantly, badges result from demonstrating ability for a specific skill or a skill level, and, often are granted by peers. See also "micro-credentialing:”

http://charteroakpresident.blogspot.com/2010/04/micro-credentials-next-frontier.html

Recently, The Mozilla Foundation, HASTAC ("haystack”;see http://hastac.org/blogs/mres/2012/02/27/still-badge-skeptic for the latest HASTAC discussion on badges), and the McArthur Foundation joined in an effort to create a national digital badge infrastructure to serve as an independent credentialing mechanism for learning. See also a blog by David Wiley of BYU: http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/1996 -- posted in late 2011, not 1996.

This is scary stuff for administrators in the academy: higher education institutions no longer own the knowledge of our culture. With loss of the millennial monopoly on knowledge, higher education institutions are vulnerable to schemas for alternate credentialing. If badges gain as much credence as a diploma for getting a job, or even more credence, since a badge is more directly related to a specific skill, higher education is in trouble.

But, notice a very important stipulation that all discussion of badges involves: badges are outside of academia. I think this is the worst way to think of badges. Badges work best and can be implemented now with eportfolios, and they will add value to eportfolios.

How Badges Can Work Inside Academia

The system in higher education now: no matter the achievement, only a letter grade results. Letter grades are the least informative assessment possible. Letter grades say nothing of the specific ability or skill or skill level they symbolize. A student can get an "A” for writing a short narrative paper in an introductory course or for senior-level field work spread over many weeks. It is an undifferentiated, non-specific, teacher-generated abstraction. To compensate for what has been lost by the nihilistic grading system, instructors then have to write letters of recommendation in a mostly futile attempt – often years later – to create meaning for the grade she or he recorded for that student.

Badges have caught people’s attention because they address the vague abstractness of grading: they relate to a specific skill and are generated by peers. At the very least, badges would add concreteness to abstract grades. Within an academic setting, badges could then be validated by the course instructor.

Badges, then, perform a similar function as electronic portfolios: they add evidence for assessment, another data point to fill out the picture of learners’ achievement.

Badges outside of academia will face the challenge of getting validated by recognizable experts. Academia may have lost its millennial monopoly on knowledge but it has not lost its experts. Badges, then, may not challenge academic credentialing directly as an outside alternative, despite the efforts of The McArthur Foundation, HASTAC and Mozilla. But, within academia, they may challenge the teacher-centered abstract process of academic credentialing.

Is the Badge Movement Good for the ePortfolio Community?

Badges also challenge the eportfolio community. Will badges supersede the need for eportfolios?

AAEEBL and the eportfolio community advocate evidence-based learning but employers say they don’t have time to read the evidence. Perhaps our community has yet to make the process of using evidence clear. Interestingly, the concept of badges may help to do so.

Imagine an online or PDF resume that includes links to pertinent eportfolio evidence but also refers to peer-generated badges for "Collaborative Project Skills,” "Editing Biology Lab Reports to Publishable Quality,” "CSS Web design Within Collaborative Projects,” or "Distributable Peer Review Expression for Complex Projects” and other micro-skills. Badges are perhaps the necessary palpable and intuitive bridge needed for eportfolio advocates and practitioners to carry the day.

Our community faces the challenge of comprehensibility: eportfolios serve so many purposes it’s not clear they serve any purpose. The badge, on the contrary, is intuitive. Not only that, badges may be the actual missing link in the eportfolio cosmos. They are a marker of a particular slice of the evidence/data in the eportfolio. They are a shorthand way of summarizing a "report” from eportfolio data.

We need to consider how we can incorporate badges into eportfolios. I do know that some or all eportfolio providers are considering badges and how they can be technically incorporated.

But, a danger faces badges: if they are granted by teachers, and lose their peer-review aspect, they lose most of their power and usefulness. If they become a badge for passing a course, then they become just an alternative grade.

Instead, through incorporating badges, academia has the opportunity to extend the concept of peer-review to undergraduate and graduate students. Faculty engage in peer-review throughout their career, on tenure committees, on editorial boards of scholarly journals, on scholarly conference program committees, as reviewers of new scholarly books or articles, and so on. Peer-review is familiar ground as it reigns supreme among faculty.

And, now, badges provide an avenue to open peer-review to students. Using badges as a mechanism for peer-review at the undergraduate level would be in step with other efforts to involve undergraduate students in research -- not made-up, "as if” research, but research into openly-contested problems in a field.

Authentic Learning

We have the means to design undergraduate learning along more authentic lines. At major research universities, faculty are creating digitally-enabled ways to engage undergraduates in advanced research through visualization and simulation – understanding the principles of physics, for example, in more concrete, manipulable ways despite the fact they may not be able to use the advanced formulas of physics.

The same impulse is leading many academics to involve undergraduates in the processes of developing knowledge. Peer review is at the center of developing knowledge and badges are a way for undergraduates to be recognized for achievement in knowledge development. Being published or making a presentation at a conference may be beyond the abilities of undergraduates, but receiving a peer-generated badge is not.

The McArthur Foundation – HASTAC – Mozilla Foundation initiative is just underway. I think we as the eportfolio community have a stake in this initiative. Let’s have conversations regarding badges and discover how the eportfolio community can incorporate badges.

For more reading about badges, go to an article that Randall Rode at Yale University pointed me to at digital pedagog: http://www.digitalpedagog.org/?p=1437

Note:

The AAEEBL Annual Conference registration is now open. Boston July 16-19.

Also: AAEEBL Northeast US Regional Conference in Providence is this coming Friday, March 23, at Johnson & Wales Harborside Campus.


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Lowering the Cost of College While Increasing the Value of the Degree

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

March 10th, 2012

There is much talk and some truth about the decline in the employment value of the college degree. Presumably, the talk about college degree devaluation refers to colleges and universities outside the "elite” circle of institutions whose names alone open doors. And presumably, the talk is not as much about the 2-year technical and vocational degree as about the degree from a four-year college or university.

But, even so, the "degree devaluation” views can reasonably be applied to a couple of thousand American institutions (50 percent) and perhaps as large a percentage of international institutions.

Those who do hire college graduates complain about those graduates’ abilities: they can’t write, are not self-starters, don’t know how to work in teams, and expect all tasks to be scaffolded for them. In other words, they have learned to be passive learners and not active agents.

And yet, at the same time that the value of the college degree is dropping, the cost of that degree has reached an unsustainable level. We have two coincident problems that seem paradoxical: the cost goes up when the value drops?

Since we have a double-barreled problem – costs of college increasing past the breaking point and the degree dropping in value – an ideal approach to this double-barreled problem would also be double-barreled.

Fortunately, a trend within higher education is already underway that addresses both problems. That trend is toward "high-impact educational practices (HIPs).” The name is from 1998 and I would prefer that they were called "high-impact learning activities,” but I’m not going to split hairs. Shifting toward these practices on a large scale could both improve the value of the degree and lower the cost of getting the degree.

These practices have been widely talked about. Before publication by AAC&U, they were also validated in all learning settings.

But the HIPs have been thought of, and were designed as, supplementary to the core curriculum. Why should they not, instead, be a model for the core curriculum? Randy Bass at Georgetown has been speaking about this question for several years.

And, recently, many people in the eportfolio community have begun talking about the dynamite pairing of HIPs with eportfolios. If you are doing an internship, how great if you also use an eportfolio to evidence the value of your internship? The same for undergraduate research or service learning and other HIPS. How great if while involved in a learning community you can also take advantage of the social pedagogy inherent in eportfolio? Bret Eynon, Director of the Connect to Learning FIPSE Project is emphasizing this in our work with 23 campuses in the U.S.

Re-thinking the core curriculum using student activity and ownership of learning as the base criteria for design addresses the degree-value problem because active students at stake for their own learning are – we believe – better prepared for work today than passive learners who do not own their learning and who do not have a stake in the success of their learning except upon graduation when it’s too late.

The cost issue can be addressed with a re-design toward authentic, experiential and evidence-based learning. If students own their learning, if they are working in teams, if they are not just listening to lectures, if they are in fact at stake for their learning while in college, then we can start to see a way to address higher-education’s cost issue. Students active in their own learning necessarily implies a different role for teachers. There is a multiplier effect in students taking charge of their own learning -- with guidance from a teacher, a larger number of students can learn effectively than with lecture. Lecture is not a scalable or especially effective default learning practice. Active learning practices are.

And, conceivably, some students could graduate earlier than four years. If we base a degree on achieving learning outcomes and not seat time, it is only logical that some students will achieve those learning outcomes sooner than others. Even in the lock-step curriculum model so prevalent today, some students graduate early. Shortening the time to degree would save money for some students.

By far the highest percentage of the cost of running institutions of higher learning is personnel. This cost drives everything. As state governments withdraw funding from state-supported institutions, colleges and universities have no alternative, with such a high fixed-cost base, but to increase fees and tuition.

Not only people but their benefits are amazingly expensive. From a business perspective, people cost is the major factor to consider in bringing down the cost of education. Granted, those in higher education have been creating online learning, automated learning, large lecture classes and other ways of extending teacher-centered learning for decades. These efforts would seem more hopeful if we all still believed in teacher-centered teaching as opposed to teacher-guided learning.

A more hopeful approach to reducing the cost and increasing the quality of learning is to let the students – the learners – do the work of learning. I don’t mean a free-for-all approach, but a curriculum design like problem-based learning. When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to have an amazingly enlightened teacher in social studies. Many of you reading this may have had equally enlightened teachers along the way. In my case, when we were scheduled to study the First World War, we did not listen to lectures but instead were challenged with this question: "What caused World War One?” We were split into teams and we had to come up with our own hypotheses through research and then present these hypotheses to the class a few weeks later.

How can you answer the question about causality of the war without looking into the history of WWI? How can you answer that question without puzzling about what causes anything to happen? We knew the immediate "cause” was the shooting of the Arch Duke, but we also knew that was not what our teacher was hoping we’d find – if that was all that was expected of us, then why create the weeks-long project?

We looked at the situation in Europe, the issue of monarchies, and even the question about What ever causes wars? We might have even looked at the invention of gunpowder, but I just don’t remember. In other words, we were learning the art and science of being an historian.

How could I have known then that my social studies teacher was mentoring me for the work I do today?

No, colleges and universities will not convert to a full curriculum transformation to more active learning as quickly as is necessary until a crisis hits – or has it already? – and enrollments start to drop. But, they can immediately do one thing: allow students to do more of the work of learning. In my high school class, we students did most of the work for three weeks of learning about the First World War. In theory, our teacher could have gone down the hall and got another class going on the same question. He could have two classes running at the same time.

This suggests a model of attracting more students to an institution while leveraging teaching faculty more efficiently. If we had had electronic portfolios in my high school, we could have captured evidence of our process of searching for causes of WWI. Those electronic portfolios could have been evaluated by anyone with expertise in history learning outcomes for our age. My teacher could have been running two classes working on historical problems such as ours and still not faced a doubling of grading responsibilities. Just as, today, some eportfolios are being assessed and evaluated by professionals and peers other than the teacher, my teacher could have been relieved of that job.

Using designs for active learning, a college or university could create an optional and alternative curriculum toward the degree that is more student work intensive and less faculty work intensive. Students could choose the "active learning” curriculum or the standard curriculum. It is not so unusual now for students to have more say in how they construct their degree, and the idea of an optional alternate curriculum degree is either already in operation in some places or as good as in operation.

The organizing and management capabilities of information technologies make it much easier to customize operations rather than requiring one lock-step program for all.

A degree that is based on eportfolio evidence of active learning may not now automatically get a college graduate in the hunt for a job to the next round of resume-screening – although this may change in a few months as electronic transcripts catch on and the attractiveness of an online resume with links also catches on – but we should be clear that the move to digital records is the HR direction underway now. (Already, HR people search applicant’s activities on the Web as one data point for hiring decisions).

Therefore, it is a good time for institutions of higher learning to be working on core curriculum redesign or at least an alternate, optional curriculum design, that we believe better prepares students for the world today. By the time these alternate designs are adopted, the world will certainly be ready for them.

Reminder: Register for the AAEEBL Northeast Regional ePortfolio Conference, March 23 (Friday) on the beautiful Harborside Campus of Johnson & Wales University in Providence RI. This is a one-day conference. The program is interactive and features regional, national and international leaders in eportfolios.


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Badges: What Impact Will they have on ePortfolios?

Posted By Administration, Sunday, February 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

February 19th, 2012

The badge movement – badges are digital applications that are essentially social eportfolios for peer-certified evidence of achievement outside of an academic setting (as one way to see badges) – is about to get a huge boost from the MacArthur Foundation, HASTAC ("haystack”), and Mozilla. Awards totaling 2 million US dollars will be distributed to the most promising badge technology developers.

Badges add a whole new technology sector supporting evidence-based learning. Badges take the concept of life-long learning seriously and offer an enabling technology quite different from current eportfolio technologies, and radically different from our current focus on changing institutions. Those involved in badges envision ways to certify learning outside of institutions.

To better understand the badge gestalt, here are Cathy Davidson’s own words:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/badges-a-solution-to-our-teacher-evaluation-disaster/2012/02/06/gIQAHiNbvQ_blog.html

Badges, we can see, are not about creating a learning space so much as a social-certification of learning space. Badges demonstrate achievement. They are not, as eportfolios are, a way to transform educational institutions, but instead are a way to bypass institutions. At least that is the current framing of the discussion around badges. Could badges serve as a new functionality within eportfolio systems? I see no reason why not (as a first reaction).

Here is the official press release from the MacArthur Foundation:

http://www.macfound.org/site/c.lkLXJ8MQKrH/b.4196225/apps/s/content.asp?ct=11221065

In this release, you learn what Mozilla’s part in this initiative is:

"To help advance and encourage this new use of technology, Mozilla is creating an Open Badge Infrastructureundefineda decentralized online platform that will house digital badges and can be used across operating platforms and by any organization or user. This approach will help to make digital badges a coherent, portable and meaningful way to demonstrate capabilities. It will also encourage the creation of "digital backpacks" of badges that people will carry to showcase the skills, knowledge and competencies they have gained.”

It is clear that badges have achieved a status, wide recognition, and substantial support sufficient to require the attention of AAEEBL. We are working to create an official position paper that will be released for public consumption. Toward that end, we will hold an informal discussion of badges at next week’s AAEEBL conference in Salt Lake City hosted by Westminster College – see

http://aaeebl.org/february2012

Since AAEEBL is not only about eportfolios but about evidence-based learning, and since badges are a way to provide evidence of learning, there is no inherent conflict between eportfolios and badges, nor between organizations supporting badges and those supporting eportfolios.

But, collaboration between the two movements will probably be most productive if we initiate a conversation and intentionally find ways to work toward common goals. To this end, I’ve contacted HASTAC and MacArthur to set up a time to talk.

Please send me your own thoughts regarding badges – trentbatson@mac.com.

This is an important conversation and I expect it will be an ongoing one.

Best to all

Trent


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Is That an ePortfolio Tsunami I Hear?

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

February 14th, 2012

For 10 years, I've believed strongly that all education would be improved if more teachers and faculty members used electronic portfolios as the centerpiece of their courses.

In the last 3 years, I've amped up that belief: I became convinced that all educational institutions could be better structured around "evidence-based learning" in which all assessment and evaluation was focused on student evidence of learning in eportfolios. In other words, replace testing as the primary means of gathering information about learning with evaluation of evidence of learning in eportfolios.

Behind this belief was my seeing that if an eportfolio is used in courses but tests still determine grades, eportfolios would never come into their own. They would always be seen as adjunct to the course, extra work for no purpose.

Yet, with each new national educational initiative, high stakes testing gets lodged ever more firmly as the only way to be "accountable." It could only be hoped that this overweening emphasis on testing would itself bring down the house of cards; teachers would see the fallacy of such a singularly questionable and thin metric to judge a complex process.

We may have reached that point. I have heard of cracks in the walls of the testing fortress. Testing companies offering eportfolios as an alternative?

The eportfolio idea seems to have bubbled to the top. Now, the eportfolio idea bubbling to the top is not about the learning values most of us consider the true merit of eportfolio theory and practice, but is about using eportfolios for evaluation.

I see no cause for lament, however. If eportfolios begin to replace testing as a better way to measure student achievement, then that move by itself would increase the value of using eportfolios for learning. Both teachers and students, knowing the eportfolio would be the basis for grading, would put more effort into creating good eportfolios.

The danger? Once a good idea has reached the top, sudden and large changes can occur. Is the eportfolio industry ready for a tidal shift in the national belief system from testing to eportfolios? Is the eportfolio community ready? Can we retain the learning values of eportfolios?

I don't know that this will happen, but I've long suspected it would. AAEEBL and the entire eportfolio community needs to consider how to prepare for a potential tsunami as does the industry.

It may be that the mere incremental changes we have known for a few years, not a tsunami, will continue to be the rule. But, hearing that even large testing companies are incorporating eportfolios makes me feel a low rumble in the ground. What might that mean?


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Can ePortfolio Replace CMS?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

January 19th, 2012

Yesterday, during one of our Webinars in the series we are doing with EPAC and ePortfolio California (see "exploring eportfolio technologies webinar series" tab at the left), the vendor rep who was presenting was asked if the eportfolio system being demoed could replace the course management system on their campus.

After a slight chuckle (because it seemed impossible or because he's been thinking that way, too?), he riffed on the possibilities.

Since 2001, when I first began having formal responsibilities for eportfolios on my campus, I have suggested that eportfolio technologies will eventually surpass CMS's in dollars spent, in impact, in transformational power, and, in fact, would leap beyond the bounds of the campus and become a cultural application.

The trend is clearly in that direction: each month sees new social pedagogy designs being incorporated into eportfolio applications. Already universally web-accessible, eportfolio tools are now available in most cases as an individual account, both before enrollment at an educational institution and afterwards.

As the slow trend toward student-centered learning, real student-centered learning continues, and as real-world learning is more the norm, testing must give way to assessment of eportfolio evidence as a more reliable and valid measure of achievement. Once the tipping point is reached between teaching-centered and learning-centered designs, the CMS must either radically alter or simply become an eportfolio system.

The short answer to the person's question in the webinar is "probably not right now on most campuses." The long answer is, "but probably not too far in the future."

It is always hard to predict change in how people use technologies -- we have learned that such predictions have a batting average below .100. But, looking at trends in education, yes, eportfolios have a very promising future an probably traditional CMS's don't. The next generation CMS is the eportfolio.


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"Skills Courses" vs "Content Courses" Dichotomy No Longer Applies

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

January 11th, 2012

When I was still teaching college composition, I was irked by my courses being described as "skills courses" to distinguish them from "content courses," the REAL academic courses. The content courses were the research courses where big ideas were discussed. College composition was sometimes called a "service course." I am using the past tense, but I suspect the same terminology is still used and the same attitudes persist.

But the concept of "content" and all the apparatus around it are no longer valid. Knowledge is changing so fast now that a term such as "content" that implies stasis and ownership, that implies knowledge is a commodity, is completely out of date.

No longer is it appropriate to just tell the content to students because, now that change is so rapid and prevalent, the students must learn to live with knowledge that is constantly changing. They must learn the skills of developing knowledge in their field themselves. The skill of memorization, necessary in a tell-and-test pedagogy, is not as important as the skills necessary to scholarship in that field. Students are now expected to be able to DO something immediately when they get a job. They are expected to show evidence to prove that they can DO something. And they are expected to continue to learn how to do new things.

In other words, in those vaunted "content" courses, the focus has to move to "skills." Ah ha, now all courses are skills courses. And where has the dichotomy gone?

In teaching a skills course in a field, a context and background still need to be provided. As Robert Kegan says, there must still be an "informational phase" in a transformational course.

But the informational phase now is not the end, but the means. The informational phase of the course is preparation for the real work of the course, the problem-solving or the case study or the experimentation. Students will know they have to understand the concepts, methodologies, argument structure, data sources, etc in that field in order to do the transformational work of the course. Their motivation is not to listen so they can pass a text, but so they can do the real work of the course.

Faculty members who have been teaching skills courses all along -- including science courses involving lab work and other active learning courses -- have always been involved in theory: in writing, for example, understanding the concept of "pre-writing" as a set of activities that help move a novice writer from writer-based writing to reader-based writing. At best, these faculty members work within a framework of rhetorical theory and discourse theory. The difference from "content courses" was always that these faculty members were not just talking about theory, they were applying it, to develop the skills necessary for their students to succeed in life. To the extent that writing teachers DO talk too much, students don't develop those skills.

In the end, the electronic portfolio is the instrument needed to support the transition form "content" to "skills" in all courses. The electronic portfolio allows students to manage their evidence and to continue to learn from their evidence so that they are at the center of their own learning. The learning experience in a transformational course using electronic portfolios is appropriate to today's world: the skill to keep learning is critical to success. Electronic portfolios allow faculty members to put into practice learning theories and practices to develop that skill.


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Lecture is Widely Questioned; Next: the Test.

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

January 2nd, 2012


Hi, all -- in the article below, about how ineffectual lecture is for teaching physics, we see even more evidence against lecture as the default method of teaching. I have been reading these kinds of articles for a decade or more and have written some articles in the same vein myself. In terms of the blogosphere, we could conclude that the lecture has been discredited.

In practice, of course, the lecture continues as the most common teaching practice. It is not clear to most faculty members, yet, how to change their practice. Is there a general move away from lecture? Are "high impact practices" gaining advocates (that is, social learning, active learning, community-based learning, service learning, internships, undergraduate research and so on)?

Is there a move away from lecture points toward key questions?

While we wait for data about changes in practice, we should be actively challenging the other crucial part of the "tell and test" pedagogy, the test. It is one thing to turn the tide about belief in lecture, but it is another to turn the tide about not only teaching but about assessment and evaluation. Lecture leads naturally to testing: the one-size-fits-all approach to education needs both the lecture and the test.

Lecture, we now can see, most often leads to superficial understanding, and therefore we must have a superficial assessment instrument appropriate for superficial understanding -- the test.

Many approaches to deep learning -- high impact practices -- are effective. Most, or perhaps all, of these approaches, can become deeper and more effective with the use of electronic portfolios. However, not only can the teaching/learning part of the process be better with eportfolios, but also the assessment and evaluation part. After all, the saying "you teach as you test" is actually true. Moving away from the lecture has some effect in terms of learning, but if testing remains intact, efforts to improve learning will result in minimal improvement.

And, if seat time/credits remain the business model, moving away from the lecture is trivial in terms of impact. Education needs to examine the entire process in place now and consider how electronic portfolios can support an entirely new educational business model and education system. Defeating the supremacy of the lecture is a mere pyrrhic victory; it is only the first move in a major redesign of institutional education.


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Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool

Posted By Administration, Sunday, January 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013

by Emily Hanford

January 1, 2012 from APM

The lecture is one of the oldest forms of education there is.

"Before printing someone would read the books to everybody who would copy them down," says Joe Redish, a physics professor at the University of Maryland.

But lecturing has never been an effective teaching technique and now that information is everywhere, some say it's a waste of time. Indeed, physicists have the data to prove it.

When Eric Mazur began teaching physics at Harvard, he started out teaching the same way he had been taught.

"I sort of projected my own experience, my own vision of learning and teaching undefined which is what my instructors had done to me. So I lectured," he says.

He loved to lecture. Mazur's students apparently loved it, too. They gave him great evaluations and his classes were full.

"For a long while, I thought I was doing a really, really good job," he says.

But then in 1990, he came across articles written by David Hestenes, a physicist at Arizona State. Hestenes got the idea for the series when a colleague came to him with a problem. The students in his introductory physics courses were not doing well: Semester after semester, the class average never got above about 40 percent.

"I noted that the reason for that was that his examination questions were mostly qualitative, requiring understanding of the concepts rather than just calculational, using formulas, which is what most of the instructors did," Hestenes says.

Hestenes had a suspicion students were just memorizing the formulas and never really getting the concepts. So he and a colleague developed a test to look at students' conceptual understanding of physics. It's a test Maryland's Redish has given his students many times.

Here's a question from the test: "Two balls are the same size but one weighs twice as much as the other. The balls are dropped from the top of a two-story building at the same instant of time. The time it takes the ball to reach the ground will be..."

The possible answers include about half as long for the heavier ball, about half as long for the lighter ball, or the same time for both. This is a fundamental concept but even some people who've taken physics get this question wrong.

To get to the answer, Redish went to the second floor of the physics building. A group of his students was on the sidewalk below. When he reached the top, he dropped two balls from the roof.

The two balls reached the ground at the same time. Sir Isaac Newton was the first person who figured out why. He came up with a law of motion to explain how two balls of different weights, dropped from the same height, hit the ground simultaneously.

While most physics students can recite Newton's second law of motion, Harvard's Mazur says, the conceptual test developed by Hestenes showed that after an entire semester they understood only about 14 percent more about the fundamental concepts of physics. When Mazur read the results, he shook his head in disbelief. The test covered such basic material.

"I gave it to my students only to discover that they didn't do much better," he says.

The test has now been given to tens of thousands of students around the world and the results are virtually the same everywhere. The traditional lecture-based physics course produces little or no change in most students' fundamental understanding of how the physical world works.

"The classes only seem to be really working for about 10 percent of the students," Arizona State's Hestenes says. "And I maintain, I think all the evidence indicates, that these 10 percent are the students that would learn it even without the instructor. They essentially learn it on their own."

He says that listening to someone talk is not an effective way to learn any subject.

"Students have to be active in developing their knowledge," he says. "They can't passively assimilate it."

This is something many people have known intuitively for a long time undefined the physicists just came up with the hard data. Their work, along with research by cognitive scientists, provides a compelling case against lecturing. But with budgets shrinking and enrollments booming, large classes aren't going away. You don't have to lecture in a lecture hall though.

Mazur's physics class is now different. Rather than lecturing, he makes his students do most of the talking.

At a recent class, the students undefined nearly 100 of them undefined are in small groups discussing a question. Three possible answers to the question are projected on a screen. Before the students start talking with one another, they use a mobile device to vote for their answer. Only 29 percent got it right. After talking for a few minutes, Mazur tells them to answer the question again.

This time, 62 percent of the students get the question right. Next, Mazur leads a discussion about the reasoning behind the answer. The process then begins again with a new question. This is a method Mazur calls "peer Instruction." He now teaches all of his classes this way.

"What we found over now close to 20 years of using this approach is that the learning gains at the end of the semester nearly triple," he says.

One value of this approach is that it can be done with hundreds of students. You don't need small classes to get students active and engaged. Mazur says the key is to get them to do the assigned reading undefined what he calls the "information-gathering" part of education undefined before they come to class.

"In class, we work on trying to make sense of the information," Mazur says. "Because if you stop to think about it, that second part is actually the hardest part. And the information transfer, especially now that we live in an information age, is the easiest part."

Mazur's approach is one of many developed in response to evidence that traditional lectures don't work. Among the advocates of these approaches there's an increasing sense of urgency about how to help more students do better.

"We need to educate a population to compete in this global marketplace," says Brian Lukoff, an education researcher at Harvard. "We can't do that by just sort of picking out 10 percent and saying, 'Oh you guys are going to be the successful ones,' and you know we need a much larger swath of that population to be able to think critically and problem-solve."

But ask anyone involved with efforts to lose the lecture and they'll tell you they encounter resistance. Sometimes the stiffest opposition comes from the students.

"Revamping my entire education, you know, philosophy for this one class was a bit daunting," says Ryan Duncan, a sophomore in Mazur's class.

But he adapted and says he learned more in Mazur's class than he did in his other physics course at Harvard.

Maryland's Redish says when he lays out the case against lecturing, colleagues often nod their heads, but insist their lectures work just fine. Redish tells them undefined lecturing isn't enough anymore.

"With modern technology, if all there is is lectures, we don't need faculty to do it," Redish says. "Get 'em to do it once, put it on the Web, and fire the faculty."

Some faculty are threatened by this, but Mazur says they don't have to be. Instead, they need to realize that their role has changed.

"It used to be just be the 'sage on the stage,' the source of knowledge and information," he says. "We now know that it's not good enough to have a source of information."

Mazur sees himself now as the "guide on the side" – a kind of coach, working to help students understand all the knowledge and information that they have at their fingertips. Mazur says this new role is a more important one.

American Radioworks is the documentary series from American Public Media. You can find more of their reporting on this issue at "Don't Lecture Me."


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Completing the Loop: The Ultimate Technology Brings Us Back to Human Roots

Posted By Administrator , Sunday, December 25, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013

December 25th, 2011

Technology avoiders, often called "Luddites" since the early 19th century, seem to be a permanent aspect of humanity. It is not hard to understand the impulse to fear and avoid new technologies. After all, humans do evolve with technologies: they do change us; or we change them and then they change us. Humans and technology are fully intertwined: we could not be human without clothing technologies, housing technologies, fire-making technologies, agricultural technologies, mobility technologies, or inscribing and communication technologies.

Yet, with each new technology, we have seemed to leave our past behind, to separate ourselves from our previous selves. We have suddenly gone faster than any human in history, flown in the air as no human ever had, ameliorated or ended diseases that had plagued humans for centuries, arrived on the moon which humans had fantasized about for millennia. With each new discovery, we seemed to separate ourselves from our past. We were in a "new era" each time. We liked to think that our new wisdom discounted the entirety of previous human wisdom. After all, we were on the "arrow of time," and the arrow goes in only one direction.

But, still. The idea of and faith in continual human progress soured in the last century as "human progress" led to the atomic bomb, horrific wars (2.5 % of humanity was killed in WWII), led to the recognition of a darker side of our psychology, and led many of us to "return to the earth" to find solace.

Information technology emerged shortly after World War II. It is the ultimate technology because information technology can control other technologies and therefore can extend human power and intelligence infinitely. But, could we trust this new machine? This encoding of the world to respond to our word? We have achieved dominion over the earth, which has frightened us as it also enthralled us.

But, does this ultimate technology (think of what those terms mean in human history!) separate us from our ancestors as have other technologies?

Having reached, in a sense, the end of our human trek toward dominion over the earth, ironically, we are back where we started. We are forming the human tribe. We are re-claiming the values of orality -- instant, fluid, ongoing human conversation over the entire globe. Knowledge has become unfixed from print anchors and has resumed its familiar place in the minds of conversant humans: we have the flux and flow of orality that is also archivable. We have the best of both worlds.

The ultimate technology brings us back in touch with humanity as it was for hundreds of thousands of years before the discordant centuries of "human progress" which, we imagined, made us less human and more masters. Some have called those 500 years a "parenthesis" in the long history of humankind.

But, the ulitmate technology and its implications is not widely understood in this historical context. Before we can realize that we have re-connected to oral culture and its wonders, we need to re-frame how we see ourselves.

Who identifies himself or herself, first, as "human?" Humans have spent dozens of centuries in diaspora of one kind or another -- separating ourselves from each other, distancing ourselves literally and figuratively. The ultimate technology lets us come back together. Human conversation is now global. Humans cannot be human (as we know us) without technologies, and we have now adopted the ultimate technology that brings us back to our qualitative human past. Better said: the technology allows us to re-claim aspects of our qualitative human past. We are no longer separating ourselves on that putative arrow of time, but finding within ourselves a larger imagination, one that encompasses our past, future, and all of ourselves.




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Let's Make Peace!: Eportfolios for Learning vs Eportfolios for Assessment

Posted By Administration, Saturday, December 10, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013

December 10th, 2011

[NOTE: I will, in the near future, stop sending emails about new Batson Blog entry notifications to you. If you wish to continue seeing these blogs, click on "RSS" at the Batson Blog page, and choose the option for how you want to receive the blog posts -- I chose "email."]

Many in the eportfolio community have lamented, justifiably, the strong emphasis in the market toward providing assessment management systems to institutions and calling them "eportfolios." For a time, these systems were built out far more for the institution than for the faculty and students. I and others have expressed our opinion that these two systems, the assessment management system and the learning portfolio for faculty and students, should be separate applications.

We objected to turning faculty and students into, essentially, data-entry staff for the purpose of institutional reporting. We felt that using the term "eportfolio" to describe an institutional management system was misleading.

This argument about what Helen Barrett calls "the two faces of eportfolios" has continued for over 5 years. However, in the meantime, eportfolios have evolved, their learning functionalities have improved, and the management part of the platforms have ceased to dominate the architecture of eportfolios. Web 2.0 architectures and social learning capabilities have emerged in some of the platforms. Therefore, part of the issue has been addressed.

The other part, about the assessment management system portion of the eportfolio platform, if perceived in a particular way, may have an unrealized potential for transformation of the basic business structure of education. Used within the current business model of higher education, they may have only limited value for improving learning. But, in a very different business model, they could help improve learning immeasurably.

David Shupe has spoken a number of times about his own vision of institutional transformation and will be speaking again at the Eportfolio Forum during the AAC&U conference in Washington, DC January 25-28.

Shupe develops his argument extensively, but an underlying vision seems to be that eportfolios can and should support an alternative system to the current system of credits and seat time. This way, faculty could move away from our current system: evaluating student work based on the sketchy presumption that, if students are exposed to information for a set period of time and pass a number of short-term memory tests, they will have become "learned." And they could instead evaluate student achievement based on actual eportfolio evidence.

Therefore, we might now re-consider our prevalent view that assessment management systems are necessary annoyances, and see them instead as the support system for deep transformation of the very core of higher education (they could serve equally at other levels of education, of course).

It's time to "make peace" with the management part of eportfolios and investigate the promising potential of these systems.


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The Missing Scaffold; the Broken Discourse

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013

December 5th, 2011

The Missing Scaffold; the Broken Discourse

During the many years that I taught first-year writing courses – composition 101 – I met a new group of students each semester in each of my classes. The only introduction I had to these students was a list of their names. The big challenge for me was to discover their level of capabilities that, before information technology, was the main factor in deciding how I taught the course.

If most of the students were strong writers, I would challenge them with difficult concepts and issues to write about. They could draft grammatical and readable text but could they do that if they wrote about complex and challenging topics?

If, on the other hand, most of the students had basic fluency problems, having difficulty expressing even simple ideas, we would focus much more on pre-writing activities such as brainstorming and one-minute papers and peer-review – all techniques designed to frame "writing” in their minds as communication and not performance. These exercises were also designed to de-mystify writing and build their confidence as writers.

Because of needing to discover more about my new students, we often spent two weeks getting to know each other and to settle into an appropriate learning design.

If, however, I could have looked at my new students’ prior work before class even started, we would not have to waste two weeks. If I had the scaffold of eportfolio evidence, I could have done a better job of teaching.

Our conversations about eportfolios and how they can support more varied and new kinds of learning designs have become more and more sophisticated. But, as the most basic level, the essential continuity of learning is kept intact with eportfoliios. Each new course is informed by evidence from previous courses. The discourse between learners and teachers is kept intact.

Most college courses still miss the scaffold that eportfolios can provide. Most college courses suffer from a learning discourse that is broken because it is discontinuous. We educators have become aware of how information technologies can distribute learning geographically and how eportfolios can capture evidence of these distributed learning experiences anywhere in the world, but we are perhaps a bit less aware of how eportfolios can help support a coherent learning conversation over time.


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Global Eportfolio Communty -- report from Freiburg

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013

November 30th, 2011

November was busy: AAEEBL Conference at Virginia Tech in early November and then, a week later, the Eportfolio Conference at the University of Education in Freiburg, Germany.

Attendees in Freiburg were from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the UK, and Finland (and of course the U. S.). We had around 50 people in attendance, which was considered a successful number in the European context. I was fortunate enough to co-keynote with Janet Strivens of the UK, representing the Centre for Recording Achievement in Wigan, England, with which AAEEBL is affiliated.

Concerns in the German-speaking region of Europe are similar to concerns we are familiar with in the U. S.: how can eportfolios support a more engaging learning design? how can a university implement an eportfolio initiative? how does one assess a capstone eportfolio? And so on. The eportfolio community is truly international in that we share similar enthusiasm and similar awareness of issues.

I hope there will be a conference in the same region next year; AAEEBL is willing to co-sponsor once again. Meanwhile, many thanks to Gerd Braeuer at the University in Freiberg (who is also on the Program Committee for the Boston Conference this year and was on the plenary international panel this past July). He succeeded in creating a splendid conference.


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