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Top tags: community of practice  ePortfolio  AAEEBL  bootstrapping  California  collaboration  community college  ePortfolios  information literacy  knowledge sharing  networked improvement community  peer coaching  peer mentoring  personalization  personalized learning  wiki 

ePortfolio is actually about the pedagogy and the technology

Posted By Christopher Sheehan, Friday, March 4, 2016

Hello everyone,

For some time I have been struggling with my perception of how the ePortfolio community brushes off the importance of the technology used in the conversation of ePortfolio. I am at a point now that I nearly cringe when I hear, “an ePortfolio is never about the technology, it is always about the pedagogy.” At the last AAC&U National conference I heard this phrase eight different times from members of our ePortfolio community. This makes me realize that we have no real technology voices in the community of ePortfolio. A person who says “an ePortfolio is never about the technology, it is always about the pedagogy,” in my opinion is providing a disservice to the ePortfolio community. I have recently sent some notes to some visionaries and thought leaders in the world of ePortfolio and today I contribute this blog entry in the hope that I can successfully argue to our community that today, the actual statement should be stated as “ePortfolios are a blend of the correct technology and the correct pedagogy”.

Ask any technology director or decision maker at a University about ePortfolio today in 2016 and he/she will respond with questions about integration (to the university environment, to the LMS, to 3rd party tools), single sign on (SSO), course enrollment, scalability, accessibility, analytics, privacy, FERPA, and 45 other things. You will notice that none of these concepts fit nicely into the pedagogical definition of an ePortfolio. Have a conversation with any vendor (which is how this conversation originally began) and you will see that it is absolutely one of the most important and ongoing discussions which takes place with all ePortfolio vendors. With all of this said, why it is that our community never talks about it? I believe that  one contributing reason is limited participation of people trained in researching, evaluating and piloting technology at the university level in our ePortfolio community. In my opinion, a population of technologists and instructional designers is clearly lacking in our ePortfolio community and I believe this must change. To me the point should always be that the conditions for success are a technology application that does what you need to do and a clear understanding of the purpose of that need.  A combination of a capable technology and a clear purpose is necessary. This is achieved in partnership with your technology design team at your school or university. For some who do not have a technology team, the task is to seek out good quality information but to more importantly realize that you need quality advice and resources to help you identify the correct tool and to understand its true potential. There is a process to the deployment of academic technology at an enterprise level. We absolutely must be talking about this process in our ePortfolio community. If we want ePortfolio to be a university tool instead of a tool used in some classrooms, we must be talking about this.

I can easily make the argument that functionality and the level of integration of the tool selected will impact significantly the pedagogy that will be used. For example, it is pretty easy to make some simple but glaring observations between using something like a Wiki as an ePortfolio and using one of the current “off the rack” ePortfolio technologies. In my mind at least, the promise and power of an ePortfolio is very much tied to the technology and more importantly the innovation of ePortfolio technology that we see in the current off the rack products. What the end user and the institution can accomplish with current ePortfolio technologies is significantly different from what was accomplished with the first technologies used as ePortfolio. Comparing old ePortfolio technology and new ePortfolio technology is not like comparing apples to apples, today it is like comparing apples to oranges.

I also believe that if we are going to move mountains with ePortfolio, we need to be much more clear about the vast canyon size differences between all the technology that is either being called or are self-identifying as ePortfolio in 2016. The important point should be the massive innovation in the space of ePortfolio technology. I have recently made the point to some of our ePortfolio thought leaders that I believe that the slow enterprise adoption (campus wide) of ePortfolio on Universities across the United States is a direct result of the lack of clarity of what this technology is actually capable of today. When a person suggests a wiki is an ePortfolio, do you think this person has a clear understanding of ePortfolio? On the flip side of this conversation do you find it interesting that just a few years ago many of the companies that today call themselves ePortfolio companies called themselves “assessment management companies” or other names but clearly never even used the word ePortfolio in their company branding? Today we have self labeled ePortfolio companies which do not even have a public facing web space for the end user. In my mind there are some very clear minimum expectations for any technology to be identified as an ePortfolio technology. I would like to propose that we need more voices to contribute to this idea of a minimum technology functionality. Should there be a minimum expectation that a technology tool provides for that tool to be labeled an ePortfolio in 2016 and beyond? To be clear, today we do not have any “ePortfolio police” so the community is helpless when new technology begins to call themselves an ePortfolio regardless of the features the technology provides. Also, and in my opinion, we are equally as helpless when we continue to think of technology such as a Wiki as an ePortfolio instead of just thinking about a Wiki as just a Wiki.

Last year, my mentor and friend Helen Chen (fantastic human) and I brought an ongoing dialogue to Trent Batson about what an ePortfolio is. This dialogue lead to the AAEEBL webinar series (of which I was a presenter) and ultimately to the Field Guide that is being built right now. As I look through the Field Guide sections I am hoping that the importance of technology is made very clear. Why is it that all Universities are not currently in line and ready to deploy ePortfolios on every campus. I believe one reason is our ePortfolio professional organizations are not really providing clarity about ePortfolio technology and its capabilities. We must do better, we must make it easier to understand ePortfolio technology, especially for schools that do not have dedicated teams that support that process. With that said, I am very happy to see that the ePortfolio community is now working on a definition of what an ePortfolio actually is, with the goal of using our new shared definition moving forward but to be clear we have much more work to accomplish.

In closing I share my belief that there is significant importance in the selection and type of technology that will be used for ePortfolio. It is my hope that this concept is actually woven through the field guide in a partnership with pedagogy. At Arizona State University we have done very well with ePortfolio and I believe one reason we have been so successful is that we see the technology and the pedagogy as equal participants in the creation of a quality ePortfolio experience.

Thanks for listening,

Christopher Sheehan

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ePortfolios: What's a Librarian Got to Do With It?

Posted By Laura Kohl, Saturday, November 22, 2014
Updated: Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Changing Role of Librarians


When many of us made the decision to become librarians we had no idea that we would need to stand up in front of a classroom and actually teach!  This has been the trend, however, especially for librarians that work in higher education and have traditionally been known as reference librarians:  From “bibliographic instruction” to “information literacy instruction.”  This shift has come along with the advent of the internet and students gaining access to more and more information on their own.  The information used to be curated before being sought by patrons in libraries.  Today, librarians are no longer only the curators and gatekeepers of the information - we have become the Sherpa to guide students along their research paths.  


So what does this mean for the role of libraries and librarians in an age where so much doom and gloom is part of the popular rhetoric about the future of libraries?  Where libraries have gone “bookless”? Librarians’ roles are shifting but their expertise and skills are perfectly suited to the new roles in which they are finding themselves.  More and more librarians are taking leadership roles in various efforts on campus that have traditionally not been considered the realm of librarians.  Especially with the shift on many campuses from content centered to outcomes based and integrative learning.  Just think about it.  Librarians are by their very nature outcomes centered instructors (ACRL Instruction Librarian Proficiencies).  Yes, there are many librarians who may work with specific departments on campus, focusing on certain disciplines, but when we went to library school we were focusing on skill building ourselves rather than content mastery.  When we work with students we are focusing on teaching them research processes, critical thinking, questioning behaviors and more (ACRL Information Literacy Standards).


Who’s In Your Community of Practice?


I often think about the alignment of the stars that seemed to be just right that fateful day when I was asked if I’d like to take a leadership role in the development of the ePortfolio program at my institution.  A perfect storm had been brewing.  Major changes to the general education curriculum were taking place.  A pedagogical shift from content based to learner centered and outcomes focused instruction was at the heart of the new general education curriculum.  Recent collaborations between key players on campus had created an amazing new community of practice revolving around pedagogy and academic technology and I had just begun my instructional technology and design certificate program.


The size and culture of my institution was also a key reason that I was able to take on such a role.  Our institution has a small but amazing Center for Teaching & Learning that looks beyond their walls for partners to help them on new ventures.  We had no instructional designers or technologists (we still do not have anyone filling that role in a full time capacity - but I think we’re headed in that direction) but we have an amazing group running the Academic Computing department who are always willing to experiment with new tools.  The library at our institution falls under the Information Services division and this has caused much collaboration and strong relationship building.  What it also did was allow the librarians a huge resource when we wanted to use technology in our work.  


Much of the library’s mission revolves around instructional activities be they teaching in a classroom, one on one instruction at our research desk or creating instructional objects for those students who seek out research assistance online.  These activities allow us to experiment with teaching technologies, become experts in some of these technologies and finally share our experiences and expertise with other instructors on campus through a Center for Teaching and Learning, Academic Computing and Library partnership.  This partnership became our Community of Practice.


So What About ePortfolios?


The ePortfolios at our institution are learning outcomes focused – Student Success, Effective Communication, Critical Thinking, Ethical Reasoning, Diversity Awareness and Information Literacy.  The students create an ePortfolio from a template that provides them with pages categorized under each of the learning outcomes.  The students focus their portfolio work on the assignments they do across four courses their freshman year which are all aligned to the common learning outcomes.  The students will select certain assignments from their courses and upload them according to learning outcome and then write reflections on their progress on that learning outcome based on the assignment they had.  (For more than you ever wanted to know including some initial assessment information – check out this presentation from the 2014 FYE Conference)


Can you imagine the excitement of the librarians at discovering that our push for Information Literacy had been included as one of the learning outcomes?  Because of this inclusion we are able to take part in the assessment of the ePortfolios and have been able to provide our take on the instructional effectiveness of all the learning outcomes.  This has been an amazing and eye opening experience for us as we are able to read the reflections and see what kinds of assignments and classroom experiences have the most resonance regarding information literacy.  We are able to take the information we find and create student experiences that will provide more effective learning. Additionally, we have found our input to be appreciated and sought by our community of practice and beyond.  Many faculty members now seek out a librarian when creating and grading assignments that include Information Literacy as a learning outcome. 


Ask a Librarian


So when thinking about ePortfolio experts and communities of practice on your campus consider including librarians if you haven’t done so already.  Us librarians are a collaborative and experimental bunch.  We like new challenges and we are predisposed to skill building and learning outcomes based instruction.  We can also provide perspectives that may not have been considered.  And you may build some fantastic collaborative relationships in the process!


Further Reading

Hubert, D. A., & Lewis, K. J. (2014). A Framework for General Education Assessment: Assessing Information Literacy and Quantitative Literacy with ePortfolios. International Journal4(1), 61-71. 

Thamaraiselvi, G. (2009, October). Vision and the changing roles of the future academic library professional in the e-learning environment: Challenges and issues. In international Conference on Academic Libraries, Delhi, India 


Tags:  collaboration  community of practice  ePortfolio  information literacy 

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Building a WePortfolio: It's time to bootstrap the ePortfolio community

Posted By Kevin Kelly, San Francisco State University, Friday, November 14, 2014

Crowdsourcing knowledge management

If you are on any listservs, follow enough Twitter accounts, or even overhear people ask each other questions at work, chances are good that you are privy to regular requests for specific information. We're a social bunch, we humans, so whether it's information we couldn't find ourselves or information we know others have studied more deeply, we ask people in our personal network(s). It's true that some people may ask out of laziness, in which case you might send those requestors to Let Me Google That For You. For the most part, though, these requests are an attempt to leverage collective wisdom and/or years of experience. It's one reason why we join Communities of Practice—so we can crowdsource not just finding information, but, more importantly, finding the most appropriate information for the immediate context.

Last month, this happened when Bret Eynon, Founding Director of the Making Connections National Resource Center (MCNRC), asked a listserv for guidelines about writing effective reflection prompts. In under a day, members of the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network generated at least a half-dozen responses. After sending my own response, a few things occurred to me, which I'll list and then outline in more detail below: 

·      For the most part, our current knowledge sharing practices are ephemeral.

·      None of us has all the answers, but together as a Community of Practice we come close.

·      Overlapping Communities of Practice increase our overall network size and the chances we'll find the information we seek.

·      There is no one place in which the ePortfolio Community(ies) of Practice are aggregating shared knowledge—yet.

Sharing knowledge more efficiently

First, in the scenario I described, Eynon sent a follow-up note saying he felt the various responses helped him with his challenge and sharing back to the community the most helpful resource for his needs. However, only POD Network listserv members who happened to read Eynon's email request and the subsequent responses would know about the resource. Someone who comes along in a month or a year may ask the same or a similar question, to the same or a different community, and the process will repeat itself with possibly different results, or that someone will be directed to search the archives. Listserv archives are a start, but are an inefficient way to store shared knowledge. Rather than sharing the group's collective responses via email, what if we created a page with the challenge (e.g., guidelines for writing reflection prompts) and the possible resources or solutions, along with the ability for others to rate how helpful the solutions were or to comment on how they used those resources?

Having (almost) all the answers--together

Next, it's easy to forget that none of us have all the answers on our own, no matter where we sit on the expert-novice continuum. Bret Eynon is at the forefront of ePortfolio practice at La Guardia Community College, and leads dozens of higher education institutions in ePortfolio-related action research projects. It was great to be able to help someone who has helped me and many others move ePortfolio initiatives forward.

Moreover, upon seeing Eynon—an expert in my book—ask for suggestions, my mind leapt to "Personal Best," Atul Gawande's New Yorker article advocating coaching. In it, Gawande ruminated that professional athletes have coaches, but very few other professions do, despite the clear benefits. While we don’t often ask peers to observe us and provide feedback like Gawande did, we do ask peers for help.

If we combine Gawande's thoughts and our actions, there can be more to peer relationships than asking only for ideas and information. Lois Zachary, an internationally recognized expert and author on mentoring, distinguishes role differences among coaches, counselors, and mentors. Counselors focus on the past, usually regarding career issues or emotional support. Coaches focus on the present, usually to improve performance. Mentors focus on the future, as a form of professional development. With these role definitions in mind, we should consider calling on colleagues in our network to be peer coaches or peer mentors, depending on the point of focus.

Increasing our network size

Given what I've said above, there's another issue pertaining to seeking quick answers. It's not always easy to get a message or question out to the larger ePortfolio community. While there are multiple communication channels (e.g., the AAEEBL Online Community, Electronic Portfolio Action Committee, a Yahoo group on ePortfolios), the members are distributed among smaller groups or projects, and engage less frequently than other communities. In some cases, like Eynon's request described above, the members engage other communities, such as faculty developers or academic technologists.

This is a good thing. In an early work about social network analysis, Granovetter (1973) evaluated several sociological studies and explained that "weak ties"—e.g., colleagues, acquaintances—were more important than "strong ties"—e.g., longtime co-workers, friends, family—when making connections or passing new information between separate groups. Drawing from other communities can boost the ePortfolio community's overall efforts, as long as we find a way to centralize what we learn individually.

Aggregating shared knowledge

As I mentioned above, collecting actionable data is often done in an ad hoc basis within Communities of Practice, and can be repeated more than once. The challenge is that community members have similar issues at different times, especially since their institutions are all at different levels of ePortfolio adoption, implementation or evaluation. In "Building Learning Communities with Wikis," ePortfolio thought leader and author, Helen Chen, and her colleagues aptly used the "Chutes & Ladders" board game as a metaphor to describe knowledge sharing within a Community of Practice (Gilbert, Chen & Sabol, 2008). The chapter and its framework to analyze wikis in learning communities (p. 77) depict how wikis can become knowledge bases, which in turn can become the basis for an active Community of Practice. Over time, a Community of Practice can lose energy and slide back down to be a robust knowledge base, ready for other community members to build it in new directions.

The We are Smarter than Me project took this concept to new levels, as "a business community formed by business professionals to research and discuss the impact of social networks on traditional business functions" (Hanlon, 2006, para. 2). Over a million people were invited, of which over four thousand participated, after which two community leaders curated the content from the organic, dynamic wiki environment to construct and publish a strategy guide complete with case studies (Libert & Spector, 2007).

Ultimately, we need to start "bootstrapping," or improving the improvement process, as Doug Engelbart envisioned. He recommended turning communities of practice—a group that collectively tries to improve a given capability—into "networked improvement communities"—that same group, which also focuses on boosting its collective IQ.  Leading ePortfolio organizations like AAEEBL, Making Connections National Resource Center (MCNRC), EPAC and others can support the bootstrapping process by coordinating the aggregation of shared knowledge. Think of it as a "WePortfolio." Whether we use a wiki, a Drupal site, a knowledge base, or something else, it's time we stepped back and focused on sharing, managing, updating, and helping each other to apply practical knowledge that supports all ePortfolio initiatives—even those that are leading the way.


Gilbert, D.; Chen, H.L.; & Sabol, J. (2008). Building Learning Communities with Wikis. In R.E. Cummings and M. Barton (Eds.), Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom (pp. 71-89). Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved from

Granovetter, M. (1973, May). The strength of weak ties. The American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360-1380.

Hanlon, M. (2006, October 11). Initiatives to harness the power of collective intelligence. Gizmag. Retrieved from

Libert, B. & Spector, J. (2007). We Are Smarter Than Me: How to Unleash the Power of Crowds in Your Business. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Tags:  AAEEBL  bootstrapping  community of practice  ePortfolio  knowledge sharing  networked improvement community  peer coaching  peer mentoring  wiki 

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Toward practical applications of personalized learning

Posted By Kevin Kelly, San Francisco State University, Friday, October 31, 2014
Updated: Saturday, November 1, 2014

Starting with a well-known dialogical dilemma

In Trent Batson's recent blog post, he presented ePortfolios in the context of personalization. He advocated moving away from difficult attempts to define a technology product and toward a common view of a personalized learning process. Along a similar vein, ePortfolio thought leader and author John Ittelson always refers to a popular analogy in his presentations. He shows a picture of blindfolded people touching different parts of an elephant and describing something different based on their perspective. Then he describes the need to reframe discussions about adopting or using ePortfolios because they can play so many different roles for so many stakeholders. Both are right—we need to restructure the larger ePortfolio conversation to emphasize learners and personalized learning.

Imagining personalized learning in a statewide context

In Ittelson's most recent position as Associate Executive Director of the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative (OEI) Launch Team, the elephant was replaced by a wooly mammoth. The 112 California Community Colleges (CCC) serve over two and a half million students per year, most of whom will not reach their degree goals. The list of OEI objectives summarizes the need statements from the winning grant application itself. First and foremost, OEI is designed to help one million additional students reach an Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) over the next five years, in part to address an estimated workforce shortfall in California. CCC students truly comprise a full and highly diverse set of learners, spread across spectra ranging a) from college readiness to academically unprepared, and b) from education as primary focus to education in addition to working full time and/or caring for dependents. For such a panoply of learners, the practical application of personalized learning must be made real, and really quickly. 

In my own research on student perceptions of the higher education transfer process, every student I interviewed described non-academic challenges they had to overcome to reach academic goals. One woman attended five different community colleges before completing enough units to transfer to a university to study nursing. She attended so many different schools because they were the closest ones to the jobs she held at different times throughout her studies. Now imagine a million or more students doing the same thing—attending multiple institutions—for a different reason. Namely, at some point in the near future a million or more CCC students will be taking online courses from any number of different colleges to fill gaps made when the courses required for an ADT are not offered at their home campuses. 

If nothing else, ePortfolios offer the potential to aggregate each student's work from several campuses for self-assessment, goal-setting, counseling and other types of support. To practice what I'm preaching, though, I can't stop there. Along with its stated goals, OEI represents the potential for personalized learning at an unprecedented scale. To help students navigate structured pathways, the CCC envisions a portal architecture that includes ePortfolios alongside and integrated with a Common Course Management System. This is a good start. It's critical that ePortfolios be included, not only for OEI but also the other two simultaneous and interconnected statewide initiatives related to education planning and common assessment.

Moving the focus from products to processes

Later in that same blog post, Batson said that ePortfolios should act as a "personalized learning environment." If we continue his line of thinking, "focus less on product, more on process," then let's call it facilitating "personalized learning experiences." Just above, I described the CCC vision for a product—a technological infrastructure, which in and of itself will require a huge collective effort to put together before it can enable personalized learning. However, we haven't even touched upon the non-technological aspects of personalized learning.

To start, we need to agree on what personalized learning entails and, just like "ePortfolios," the term has different definitions. According to the Glossary of Education Reform (2014, para. 1), "the general goal is to make individual learning needs the primary consideration in important educational and instructional decisions, rather than what might be preferred, more convenient, or logistically easier for teachers and schools." A century ago, John Dewey (as cited by West, 2011) made the same call to place learners' personal growth above institution-centric efficiencies. How can the CCC do this when the combined initiatives' scale dictates seeking efficiencies every step of the way?

Seeing "both-and" possibilities

Brookings' Darrell West (2011) invoked not only John Dewey's ideas, but also Howard Gardner's focus on expanding education to allow individuals to show proficiency in multiple areas beyond the purely intellectual. He tied these pedagogical pursuits of personalization with Daphne Koller and Mimi Ito's views on using new technologies for instructional innovation. The technologies seem to have reached sufficient levels of functionality, interoperability, and ease-of-use to support personalized learning experiences that include and go beyond ePortfolios on their own. In a world where learner analytics can team up with automated messaging, the CCC plans a holistic support system that can be customized to meet many academic and non-academic needs. I am eager to see how the three CCC initiatives begin to unfold and, more importantly, how they support true personalized learning.



Glossary of Education Reform. (2014, August 7). Personalized Learning. Retrieved from

West, D.M. (2011, October 6). Using Technology to Personalize Learning and Assess Students in Real-Time. Washington, DC: Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. Retrieved from

Tags:  California  community college  ePortfolios  personalization  personalized learning 

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