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An uneasy dichotomy? How are ePortfolios being used in education?

Key stages of learningImage by hazelowendmc via Flickr

Trent Batson, executive director of The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL), provides an initial summary on the current status of global portfolios in his article: "Review of Portfolios in Higher Education: A Flowering of Inquiry an...". The article indicates the variety of current uses for ePortfolios, and how they are assisting learners to develop digital literacy, communication, and writing skills. Reference is also made to the formation of The Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education, and how it heralds the emergence of the field of portfolio studies. The article concludes with a recognition of the up and coming technologies for ePortfolios, as well as a comparison of course management systems and portfolios:  

"course management systems, no matter the name, usually are defined by and focused on a course, which has a beginning and an ending. Portfolios are instead most often identified not with a specific course but with the learner over time" (Batson, 2010).


Dynamic interconnectedness: ePortfolios

This article seems to suggest that portfolios / ePortfolios are already taking on a lifelong learning purpose, with students taking them forward through their primary, secondary and tertiary education, and then out with them into the world of, for example, work. Two points spring to mind. The first is that ePortfolio use has not been around long enough in education institutions to show the level of flexibility and portability for a student to work through the school system and graduate with their own ePortfolio - owned by the student rather than the institutions where they are studying (partly because of issues with interoperability, policies, and standards, as well as concerns and tensions around using Web 2.0 ePortfolios). The second is, as far as I have witnessed to date, some ePortfolio use in education tends toward templates, and specific requirements. While it can be argued that requirements need to be made clear and students need to be scaffolded, how can this be translated to an ePortfolio that is structured in a way that is personalised, relevant to a learner's future, and useful to, for instance, future employers?



One of the comments that follows Trent Batson's article poses the question "Why do portfolios always seem to end with graduation?", and goes on to suggest: "Let's not continue to use portfolios just as a repository for student work. They can be more than that; make it an online space alive with activity, interaction, and connections" (Brian). This comment highlights the current uneasy dichotomy of assessment / lifelong learning; and assessment / creativity.

Perhaps, as the use of ePortfolios matures, then education will find a way to enable learners, while also fulfilling course requirements, and in turn encourage them to take their ePortfolio forward with them(??). But it may prove to be a long arduous road to reach this destination.


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Comment by Pascale Hyboud-Peron on December 19, 2013 at 21:52

Thank you for this entry Hazel, and also for referencing it with your research and Trent's article.
Here is a not so synthetic comment that arises from reading your post, but that (again) shows my positive outlook on the future of ePortfolio development!

What follows are observations I have made with working with schools in NZ and through discussing/reading/researching ePortfolio use.
ePortfolio will continue to end up with graduation if they continue to be presented as part of the course, as something one has to do to get the grades and are not fully embedded in the learning experience by becoming the personalized space they intend to be.

Having said that I have noticed many changes in NZ schools since I started with MyPortfolio in 2011 (and wished I had documented them more "scientifically!". I witness better infrastructure (faster reliable  internet), better access (BYOD) , increased general digital competence (both students and teachers), maturing understanding of assessment for learning and use of continuous feedback (by peers and teachers). These I believe are signs that have the potential to support user's adoption of an "ePortfolio for life".
I too think that if employers are shown/see the value of an ePortfolio, they will see them as a complement to the CV. It appears NZ employers in particular are deploring youth arrive in the workplace with lack of communication and critical thinking skills (amongst other) and thus are not equipped for the workplace. Could it be envisaged (as mentioned at ePortfolio Australia conference) that the eportfolio students start at school is clearly positioned as something that is useful beyond school/uni? I am not sure teachers make this connection explicit to their students. What will it take to make this happen?

Here are a few things I am thinking about:
- For ePortfolios to be a true life long learning companion, they need to be recognized as such by the wide range of stakeholders we meet throughout our lives: peer, teacher, mentor, assessor, employer.
- For ePortfolios to be a life wide companion, they need to be a repository of assets that we accumulate across a range of experiences and that contribute to who we are as a whole.
- For ePortfolios to be "worth the effort" , they also need to be seen as a space that not only make our learnings visible to self (reflection) but also visible to others (showcase)
- For ePortfolio building to be self directed, ongoing, creative they need to become the go to space for their users. This I suppose falls in the same quest as ensuring schools support the development of curious, self motivated, resilient, problem posing and solving students, adopting more "entrepreneurial" ways of teaching and learning.

I use the word "entrepreneurial" as I note a growing trend, part grown from what the Americans call "personal branding" which reads a bit showy for me. But it is very much about "standing out from the crowd" and this is what a truly creative ePortfolio can enable. (not one made of templates to be "signed of", but could that be a step up into that journey also?)

I note more and more people are actually creating an ePortfolio as a means to showcase their achievements but also to publish their journey. Those two examples by successful entrepreneurs were brought to my attention recently:
Both seem to be an example of "deconstructing", looking THROUGH and objectively, synthetically at all their material and knowledge and experience, and they succeed to communicate effectively about who they are.

So yes I remain a ePortfolio enthusiast and enthusiastic about the very wiggly road ahead for its maturation.
The academic discourse has aimed at defining what an ePortfolio is, so that implementation and use fits in institutions. I understand why and I again have read the article you have published (mentioned in your post) with great interest as it is full of goodness and advice that I refer to when talking with schools about starting the eportfolio journey. First and foremost is to look into having "a clear policy around the ethos"of ePortfolio use and the drawing of one such policy is a journey in itself!

One " that has stuck with me through my readings was Sarah Stewart's comment on a anti-eportfolio blog post a few years ago: "ePortfolio is what you want it to be"
Maybe the coming of age of the ePortfolio will come through the coming of age of self directed, curious, open to experiences, highly communicative and synthetically minded students. Coming from a school near us soon?

Thank you for reading.

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