April 11, 2012

e-portfolios: Not There Yet

I read a piece online titled E-Portfolios: Are We There Yet? and thought I would add my own thoughts on that topic based on the 5 years we have been using them in our Writing Initiative at PCCC.

In Jennifer Demski's article, she interviewed Trent Batson, executive director of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEBL) about the strength of e-portfolios in assessing "21st century learning."

E-portfolios have been seen for many years as a feasible way to deal with the issues of assessment and credentialing. But e-portfolios have not gotten the kind of acceptance that would be seen as really changing assessment practices.

Sine the traditional paper portfolio or collection of work for writing, art, music design etc. has been around for a very long time, you would think that the transition to digital would have been about as natural as the moves from pen and paper to typewriters, to word processors, to online.

Not so.

Batson says:
The beauty of e-portfolios is that they can enable learning theories that have been developed through intense study over the past 30 years of how humans learn using cognitive science, traditional psychology, and anthropology. It's important that we're now switching to an approach that's appropriate for adult learning. At the base of this research is the idea that learning is based on experience. Until now, we have not allowed students to have much in the way of experience; instead, we expect them to listen to someone who has had experience.

But he is cautious about saying when large scale adoption will occur. I agree with him that part of the problem is that using them requires redesigning how courses are taught. "Paradigm shift" is a bit overused these days, but a shift does need to happen that is larger than just "using e-portfolios."

A professor using e-portfolios as the basis for a course grade has to take a different approach from a professor using more traditional means of assessment. He has to help students build the evidence in their portfolios. It means the teacher must help them work on problems or projects throughout the semester. It's an active learning approach.

This doesn't mean that professors don't lecture at all. For young students coming into a college-level biology course without a biology background, there might be four weeks designated as the informational stage of the course. How does a biologist think? What kind of evidence does a biologist look for? The teacher would then build toward the questions that he's going to ask throughout the semester and the problems to which students will try to find answers. At that point, the teacher would turn to what we might call the transformational part of the semester: For 11 weeks, the teacher would help students work on projects, and create deliverables that they produce and respond to, and help them build evidence in their portfolio. That's a very different model from the one we've employed for centuries.

Our own barriers at PCCC have probably been typical of other schools.
  1. Choosing an e-portfolio platform/product
  2. Teaching students and faculty how to use the technology
  3. Convincing students and faculty that there are learning advantages to using them
  4. Determining how they can be assessed
The first two of those had the problems that you would expect in selecting and implementing any new technology on campus. But convincing faculty (not students) that there are learning advantages to using e-portfolios was the most difficult task - and the one we had the least success in achieving.

Sadly, even if we were persuasive in showing that portfolio use could improve student writing and that it was necessary to our program assessment, we could not win over all faculty because they did not see it as making their job any easier.

Our Writing Initiative has its own goals for e-portfolio use:

  1. As learning portfolios (rather than performance portfolios)
  2. As a repository of writing samples for our assessment of grant objectives and benchmarks
  3. To provide continuity for writing-intensive courses
  4. To develop a plan that would be product-neutral
I feel we were able to able to achieve those four goals.

The college also had goals in mind for our use of portfolios:
  1. Institutional and program assessment (for Middle States etc.)
  2. Interface with assessment software being used
  3. Recommend a portfolio product for wider adoption
  4. Consider expressive, transfer & career portfolio uses
Our data will be useful for that first goal.

We were not able to connect our e-portfolio product with the assessment program used. The two vendors don't provide APIs to allow that.

We use eFolio as our portfolio product, but there are problems we have with it that would probably send us to look at other platforms again. And, because cost is a big factor, we may end up implementing a portfolio that comes with our LMS (Blackboard) if the pricing is attractive. Users certainly like the integration and single sign-on.

We never had the time to really explore other applications of the portfolios, though we have allowed students to keep their portfolios and use them as part of their transfer package. Unfortunately, anecdotal reports from students are that the 4-year colleges they are applying to are not interested in looking at the portfolios.

According to Batson, about half of all American universities have some sort of e-portfolio initiative in place. We have looked at the initiative at nearby LaGuardia Community College in NY as a model. But my own post title here summarizes my conclusion - we are not there yet when it comes to e-portfolio use.

Here is a presentation we made at the mid-point in our e-portfolio launch.

No comments:

Post a Comment