Monday, March 29, 2010


WORDLE on ePortfolios

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic From Twitter today: "RT @chamada RT @RobinThailand: The Tweeple have spoken! A WORDLE on ePortfolios created by Twitter submissions. Thanks all."

My first impression: Why is the word assessment larger than the word reflection?
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Tuesday, March 09, 2010


National Educational Technology Plan

I found two references to electronic portfolios in the National Educational Technology Plan:
Technology also gives students opportunities for taking ownership of their learning. Student-managed electronic learning portfolios can be part of a persistent learning record and help students develop the self-awareness required to set their own learning goals, express their own views of their strengths, weaknesses, and achievements, and take responsibility for them. Educators can use them to gauge students’ development, and they also can be shared with peers, parents, and others who are part of students’ extended network. (p.12)
Later in the publication, the following statement appears:
Many schools are using electronic portfolios and other digital records of students’ work as a way to demonstrate what they have learned. Although students’ digital products are often impressive on their face, a portfolio of student work should be linked to an analytic framework if it is to serve assessment purposes. The portfolio reviewer needs to know what competencies the work is intended to demonstrate, what the standard or criteria for competence are in each area, and what aspects of the work provide evidence of meeting those criteria. Definitions of desired outcomes and criteria for levels of accomplishment can be expressed in the form of rubrics. (p.34)
Is there some dissonance between these two statements? How will the two approaches (a student-managed learning portfolio and an analytical serve assessment purposes) co-exist? Or will we need to use two different environments: One that is student-centered, that allows personalization and communication, and another that can be used to hyperlink into student portfolios to "harvest" assessment data, without interfering with the student-centered representation of learning? Please?

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Thursday, January 28, 2010


Narrated Presentation

Balancing the Two Faces of E-Portfolios

I created a video tour of the new CIC website and added a narrated version of the presentation that was made at the Chief Academic Officers Conference of the Council of Independent Colleges, November 2009; audio recorded at Kapi'olani Community College, January 2010. I posted the presentation only in my video collection. This one focuses on a higher education audience, and provides my most recent rationale for eportfolios as both workspace and showcase, addressing both paradigms of assessment: improvement or accountability.

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Monday, January 25, 2010


AAC&U ePortfolio Symposium

It is a rare meeting where I will travel all the way across the country for a single day (and two nights) when I am not working or presenting, but the AAC&U meeting in Washington, D.C., was worth the miles traveled. I connected with friends and total strangers came up to me, acknowledging my work. The opening session was conducted by Bret Eynon and Elizabeth Clark from LaGuardia Community College, providing an overview of their program, a model for community colleges around the country. I then attended a breakout session conducted by Dr. Mentkowski from Alverno College, a pioneer in e-portfolios and "Learning that Lasts." I attended their Assessment Institute over six years ago, and their model of assessment-as-learning is the process underlying their use of portfolios and e-portfolios.

The lunch speech was given by Melissa Peet from the University of Michigan. She did an outstanding job with examples of a process of reflection that can transform students' perspectives on leadership and social change. I had an opportunity to have a very enjoyable dinner with her, along with Trent Batson and the two presenters from Laguardia Community College. I am anxious to read more about Melissa's work at UM.

After lunch, there were five mini-presentations, and then many more table groups where we could talk in-depth to one of the presenters. I sat at Gail Ring's table to learn more about the Clemson ePortfolio graduation requirement. They have students create their portfolios using Google Sites, and have provided a lot of support materials. They also created their own assessment management system to manage the collection of key assignments demonstrating required outcomes and scoring of the portfolios. There was also panel on assessment that included Trudy Banta (she told the story about the questions she asked at the IUPUI Assessment conference... described in my blog). Finally, Randy Bass gave the closing keynote, about ePortfolios in the "Post-Course" Era. It was a very thought-provoking presentation. I hope they will be posting podcasts of the major presentations.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Assessment, Accountability and Improvement - a paper by Peter Ewell

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) has published an occasional paper by Peter Ewell. I read an earlier version when I was at the Assessment Conference in Indianapolis in October, when I attended several sessions where Dr. Ewell discussed some of these ideas. The table below outlines two paradigms of assessment that represents two extremes along a continuum that represent tensions between improvement and accountability.

Assessment Portfolios are implemented somewhere along the continuum between those two paradigms. As I emphasized in an earlier blog entry,  the concept of Opportunity Cost should be considered here (what do we give up when we emphasize accountability or improvement based on these two paradigms of assessment?). How can we find a balance along the continuum between these two approaches? Here are some preliminary ideas for addressing the balance issues:


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Tuesday, November 10, 2009


CIC CAO Presentation

Here are my slides for the Council of Independent College' Chief Academic Officers Institute, held in Sante Fe, New Mexico over this last weekend. I found it interesting that there was no Internet access provided by this conference, although the hotel charged a daily fee. I ended up just using my iPhone, and found a cafe with free wifi (to clean out my Inbox). I am now in the Albuquerque airport with slow but free wifi.

I will be developing a guided tour to my part of the Teach21 website that was developed as part of CIC's project developed under a Microsoft U.S. Partners in Learning grant. As part of that tour, I will be creating a narrated version of this slide presentation, which will also be posted to the CIC website. The narrated version should be available by the end of the year.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009


[Portfolios] Here, There, & Everywhere

Campus Technology just published another article about ePortfolios (where I am quoted extensively). I'm not sure if she quoted my blog, or the ePortfolio Track keynote that I did last week, when I said I thought that universities should be getting out of the portfolio storage business, giving students control of their own web space to store their portfolio documents, using Web 2.0-based storage systems. My response to the article:
Thanks for quoting some of my work. There are some standards under development in the U.K. (LEAP2A) which resemble blogging standards for interoperability. There is a student side and an institution side to the e-portfolio process. The student side is the Personal Learning Environment (as indicated in the article); the institution side is more of an assessment management system. We need to be careful that the standards don't over-structure the PLE side of the e-portfolio so that personalization and creativity are diminished... that is the situation today with most of the commercial and open source e-portfolio tools. The article didn't mention WSU's Harvesting Gradebook which keeps track of assessment data, letting the student use a variety of Web 2.0-based portfolio artifacts. We need more R&D on better tools that keep the portfolio development and assessment processes distinct but interconnected. At the Assessment Institute in Indianapolis last week, I proposed that there is an Opportunity Cost in the way we implement portfolios for accountability vs. portfolios for learning/improvement. Student engagement supporting lifelong learning strategies should be as important as collecting data for accreditation. Finding balance in the process is the challenge.
 The article mentions the Gartner Hype Cycle for Education, 2009, and ePortfolios were listed in the stage of "Sliding Into the Trough" (...of disillusionment, where we say "woah, we were sold down the river"). To move to the next stage of the cycle (Climbing the Slope... of Enlightenment, where we say, "no, come to think of it, used in the right way, this can be good") will be a challenge: figuring out "the right way" from which philosophical perspective? Accountability or Learning/Improvement?

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Monday, November 02, 2009


E-portfolios in formative & summative assessment in UK

The final report, plus case studies (34 in total) from the "Study on the role of e-portfolios in formative and summative assessment practices" by a team led by the Centre of Recording Achievement (U.K.), are now available from JISC:
Interesting reading from higher education in U.K.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009


Northwest eLearning Conference

I just finished attending another conference with my daughter: the Northwest eLearning Conference held in Nampa, Idaho. She and I led a pre-conference workshop entitled, "Voice and Reflection in ePortfolios: Multiple Purposes of Digital Stories and Podcasts in ePortfolio," and our slides are posted on SlideShare (embedded here).
It was the first event we have done together since she attended the Center for Digital Storytelling workshop in August. We didn't have time to do anything hands-on, but we were able to show many examples and cover the process, as shown in these slides. Most of the examples are online, with the links on the slides. (I won't comment too much about the difficulty I had in hooking up my Macbook Air to their projector… I ended up using a monitor for the small group, with my own speakers. Later that day, I took all on my videos out of my keynote presentation, and just transferred my slides over to the presentation computer… which was being used for both projecting to the room and on Adobe Connect. Ah, the frustrations of being a Mac user… still!)

Then, I provided the opening keynote address entitled, "Interactive ePortfolios: Using Web 2.0 tools to Provide Feedback on Student Learning." My slides are also posted here from Slideshare.
I think I opened a lot of eyes about the multiple purposes for portfolios, and the challenges of balancing formative and summative assessment in portfolio development. The pressure of accreditation seems to be driving the push toward portfolios; I think my message of "what's in it for the students" is starting to make people think about the tension between the two approaches. My conversations with faculty after my presentation led me to the conclusion that there is not a lot of experience with ePortfolios, and therefore, not a lot of research to support their implementation in many of these small colleges and universities. I probably unsettled a lot of people who were considering the adoption of different tools. My focus was on the process, and I only talked about a variety of Web 2.0 tools, and none of the commercial tools available. My presentation was recorded with Adobe Connect and is available online.

Later in that afternoon, Erin made her first conference presentation on teaching English Language Learning in Second Life. She was much braver than me… I never count on a live Internet connection for my keynote presentations… only for hands-on workshops. She included participants in her Cypris Chat community, both the founder of the group and some of the student participants. She uploaded her slides into Second Life, and made her presentation "in-world" for both the guests in-world as well as those of us present in the room. I was very proud of her and thought the presentation went very well. She will be repeating the presentation in-world with a group of graduate students from UNLV next week, and then will be doing a conference presentation at the Hawaii International Conference on Education in January, where she cannot count on Internet access. So, she will create some videos to use in her presentation to substitute for a live demo.

In all, most of this has been a good trip, including the eight hour drive each way! I hope I made some contacts that will lead to more collaboration with higher education institutions in the Pacific Northwest.

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Monday, October 26, 2009


Assessment Institute

Yesterday, I conducted a day-long pre-conference workshop on Web 2.0 Tools for Formative Assessment and Interactive ePortfolios. Today, I gave the ePortfolio track keynote (my slides are embedded here) at IUPUI's Assessment Institute. I recognize the perspective on assessment in the ePortfolio process in higher education that I see here at this conference. It was interesting at the opening session to see the number of people who stood up when asked if they were using standardized assessments (or e-portfolios) and sit down if they thought that method did not enhance student learning; most people using standardized measures sat down... more people using e-portfolios remained standing. An interesting response! In my keynote, I emphasized the concept of Opportunity Cost (what do we give up when we emphasize accountability or improvement (learning) based on Two Paradigms of Assessment (Ewell, 2008). Here are the slides that emphasized these concepts:

This was the first time I have presented these slides, but I intend to write more about these ideas, and share them with other educators who may (or may not!) be wrestling with this tension.

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Friday, October 16, 2009


Limitations of Portfolios

Today, Shavelson, Klein & Benjamin published an online article on Inside Higher Ed entitled, "The Limitations of Portfolios." The comments to that article are even more illuminating, and highlight the debate about electronic portfolios vs. accountability systems... assessment vs. evaluation. These arguments highlight what I think is a clash in philosophies of learning and assessment, between traditional, behaviorist models and more progressive, cognitive/constructivist models.
(It reminds me of the current culture clash we are seeing in our larger society today. Is this the equivalent of a red-state/blue-state perspective on assessment/accountability?)

My viewpoint on assessment is through my work with e-portfolios, which are not always developed for the purpose of assessment or accountability. My track keynote at the Assessment Institute in Indianapolis on Monday, October 26, is on "Balancing the Two Faces of E-Portfolios." Those two faces are:  the "portfolio as workspace," a formative approach to support learning with feedback for improvement; and the "portfolio as showcase" of achievements, often used for summative assessment, accountability, or marketing and employment.  I am concerned with the "opportunity cost"* of using ePortfolios for summative assessment.
*opportunity cost: the alternative you give up when you make a decision…the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action

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Friday, July 31, 2009


David Warlick's ePortfolio features

David Warlick wrote about The Next Killer App? (e-portfolios!) in his blog, where he outlines a very nice list of features for eportfolio assessment. My response to his blog and the very interesting comments that followed:
I applaud your list of features, which exist in one form or another somewhere on the internet. The challenge is putting them together into one system without making it very complex. I have experience with a lot of the commercial and open source e-portfolio systems, and the learning curve/ease of use is a challenge. In my blog– –I am discussing a lot of the issues of e-portfolios for learning. I have seen e-portfolios in teacher education programs move from stories of deep learning to checklists of standards/competencies. There exists a lot of confusion about e-portfolios: are they reflective journals? or are they assessment management systems? I believe the current collection of commercial tools were developed in response to the NCATE 2000 Teacher Education Program Standards. The problem with ePortfolio tools today is their genesis in higher education. There are very few tools that were created specifically for K-12, and especially usable by primary students.

After the last NECC, I wrote a blog entry ( where I discussed ePortfolios and the new Accountability Systems discussed in the Obama Education Plan. There needs to be a wider discussion of the implementation of the e-portfolio process in K-12 schools, that is not tool-specific, but provides educators with a range of Web 2.0 technologies to support BOTH student learning and institutional accountability. Right now, I advocate using separate tools to meet these disparate purposes, because I believe that the capability for student personalization and creativity always takes a back seat to data collection and aggregation in these all-in-one systems. My blog entry on Which ePortfolio Tool? ( outlines some of these issues. I also discuss “Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolio” on my website and in conference presentations and keynotes: (I believe we need to separate the workspace from the showcase; the process from the product; the learning portfolio from the presentation portfolio.) David, your work on Classroom Blogging is, for me, the foundation of a reflective Learning Portfolio.

Let’s keep up the dialogue. I think some of the best thinking on ePortfolios is happening in New Zealand, where they have published several interesting White Papers, and they are addressing the issues from the students’ learning needs. They have developed a very interesting e-portfolio model ( that includes a database to store artifacts or links to documents stored anywhere on the Web. Such a database could be used to organize all of the artifacts for use in a portfolio (regardless of the tool to be used to construct the presentation portfolio). With the Internet, the process is really one of hyperlinking and, as I learned from Hall Davidson at NECC: “All you need is an EMBED code!”

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Friday, July 24, 2009


Conversation with Teacher Educator

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with a teacher educator from a college near me. Several years ago, they had adopted one of the commercial tools but just recently gave up on it. Instead they have their students sign up for accounts so that they would own the site after they graduate. I also pointed out the fact that blog content follows an interoperability standard that allows them to transfer their content to another blogging system, should they want to. He had read some of my website (but not this blog) and decided that student choice and creativity were more important than data aggregation! He noticed immediately a change in students' attitudes toward their blogs compared to those who used the rigid commercial system.

We also talked about confidentality and the ability to password-protect individual entries or the entire site. I like the ability to document learning over time in tagged blog entries and then construct pages around specific themes (outcomes/goals/standards). I just wish WP would automatically generate permanent pages with aggregated entries based on tags... but that is a topic for another day.

When asked about how they are managing the data aggregation, he said they are using the gradebook function of the college's CMS to collect faculty evaluation data. We are planning to meet next month to talk about their process.

This discussion reminds me of the discussion held at the NCEPR meeting earlier this week. When talking about technology challenges, more than one person mentioned "rigid" systems, either home-grown or commercial. Once again, the needs of institutions for data aggregation often overshadows the importance of student choice and voice, especially in how the visual presentation truly represents the learner's own vision and creativity. This Teacher Ed program has figured out how to balance the needs of the institution with the needs of their teacher
candidates... who just might want to replicate the process with their own students... with tools that are free and available in schools.

Follow-up: The teacher educator, David Wicks of Seattle Pacific University, gave me permission to share his FAQs about WordPress and his blog entry where he discussed their decision to adopt WordPress, a process he calls bPortfolios (b is for blog).

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Thursday, July 16, 2009


ePortfolios and new Accountability Systems

I was doing a search on Google Scholar this week, using the terms "electronic portfolios in elementary education." I came across the following abstract for an article ... the title of the article really hit a nerve with me: Will Mandating Portfolios Undermine Their Value?
Mandating portfolios on a system wide or statewide basis may destroy one of their greatest assets: allowing students to reflect on their learning and feel a sense of hope and control. Once standards are defined by an outside authority, teacher-student collaboration is minimized and the importance of students' own goals and learning assessment diminishes.
-- Case, Susan H. (1994) Will Mandating Portfolios Undermine Their Value? Educational Leadership, v52 n2 p46-47 Oct 1994
This quote underlines the challenge we have with mandating portfolios: how do we maintain student engagement and ownership? Then, again, if there is no extrinsic motivator or mandate, where is the intrinsic motivation to reflect on learning, especially when there are so many competing priorities in our students' lives? If only we could capture the motivation behind social networks to facilitate reflection on learning! That is the place where students reflect on life, albeit most often with a more social, less academic focus.

From my brief longitudinal review of the literature, it is obvious that the research on portfolios focused on K-12 schools in the 90s, and switched over to higher education since 2000. Perhaps the reason focuses on two factors: No Child Left Behind (2001) federal legislation changed the focus of assessment from the K-12 classroom to statewide standardized testing for high stakes accountability; and NCATE 2000 accreditation requirements for Teacher Education programs required establishment of Assessment Management Systems to document teacher candidate achievement and program improvement. In 2002, the Chronicle of Higher Education also declared that ePortfolios were the "next big thing" in IT... and college students provide an easily-researched population for faculty with research and publishing requirements.

While the direction for the renewal of NCLB has not been finalized, there are indications that a broader definition of assessment will allow multiple measures of achievement, supporting more formative, classroom-based assessment, which will make portfolios more popular in K-12 schools. Maybe the portfolio pendulum will move back toward K-12. President Obama made the following statement in his March 10, 2009 speech on Education:
And I'm calling on our nation's governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.
Wouldn't an electronic portfolio help a student showcase these 21st century skills... especially creativity? The Obama Education Plan contained the following statement:
Develop better student assessments that allow teachers and parents to identify and focus on individual needs and talents throughout the school year. Technology can help get information about student performance to teachers and parents in real time, and support ongoing efforts to improve student performance in an area of weakness and support student success in areas where the student shows particular interest or aptitude.
Shouldn't an electronic portfolio be one of those formative assessment tools, allowing a student to showcase their successes... and empower them to assess their own work? I advocate an ePortfolio that is student-centered, emphasizing student ownership and "voice" (as highlighted in the NZ report in my last blog entry). There are other tools that can be used as institution-centered data-collection systems. I hope these two approaches won't get confused... or combined. Otherwise, K-12 ePortfolios will look like many of the ePortfolios produced in Teacher Education programs today, which are, to quote Hartnell-Young and Morriss, "heavy with documentation but light on passion."

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Sunday, May 31, 2009


Google Sites on Reflection and Assessment

I am developing two more Google Sites with resources to support different processes in ePortfolio development. Earlier I announced a Google Site on ePortfolio Surveys, since I have been receiving requests for surveys that can be used in ePortfolio implementation studies.

The two new sites that I am developing are:
I have chosen to develop these pages in Google Sites, so that I could invite other educators to assist with the development of these resources. Educators may contact me to be added as a collaborator on any of these sites.

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Friday, January 30, 2009


Balancing 2 Faces of ePortfolios

Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios

I am working on a new diagram and document that focuses on the two major purposes of ePortfolios in (primarily) higher education, and will discuss the difference in strategies and tools, much of it discussed in other entries in my blog. I've transfered the working version into a GoogleDocs file, and invite co-authors who are interested in working on these ideas. This is also the theme of an upcoming keynote address that I will be making next fall.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008


ISTE's Debate on Portfolios replacing Standardized Tests

Are Digital Portfolios a Realistic Alternative to Standardized Testing? ISTE’s magazine, Learning & Leading with Technology, wants your opinion. If you would like to share your thoughts on this topic, reply to Paul Wurster ( with a 25–50 word response by July 15. They are going to select 6–8 of the best comments they receive (attributing them with name, affiliation, city, and state) and publish them in the September/October issue of L&L. Not sure? Read the opinion of two other education professionals in the June/July edition of Point/Counterpoint in L&L on the Web.

The second paper referenced in my previous blog entry contained a reference to a January 2006 article by Kathleen Blake Yancey in Campus Technology: "An Exercise in Absence... Notes on the Past and Future of Digital Portfolios and Student Learning." She makes excellent points about student learning and engagement, the importance of reflection, and some cautions about portfolios:
In Portfolios in the Writing Classroom, Catherine Lucas identified three that are as relevant for digital portfolios as for print. First, she notes that portfolios can be "weakened by effect," asking "Can . . . [a] spirit of exploration remain central to the use of portfolios as they become more commonplace?" Second is the "failure of research": "The danger here is that those who cling to the illusion that only what can be measured or counted is worth doing will find the effects of portfolios . . . not only resistant to measurement but initially resistant even to definition." Given the scale that digital technology makes possible, her last caution, co-option by large-scale assessment, is perhaps the most prescient. She notes that if we are not careful, portfolios will become merely a new vehicle used to perform the old task, with the result that portfolios will become standardized-with common assignments and restrictive learning conditions. Should this happen, Lucas says, portfolios "will be just as likely as other standardized tests to limit learning by restricting curriculum to what is most easily and economically measured."
I am concerned that the positivists, those advocating the use of portfolios to replace standardized testing, are having a major impact on mandatory portfolio implementation in some states. It reminds me of Lee Shulman's [in Lyons (1998) With Portfolios in Hand] five dangers of portfolios, and specifically "perversion"
"If portfolios are going to be used, whether at the state level in Vermont or California, or at the national level by the National Board, as a form of high stakes assessment, why will portfolios be more resistant to perversion than all other forms of assessment have been? And if one of the requirements in these cases is that you develop a sufficiently objective scoring system so you can fairly compare people with one another, will your scoring system end up objectifying what's in the portfolio to the point where the portfolio will be nothing but a very, very cumbersome multiple choice test?" (p. 35)
These articles (and the Shulman chapter) provide a more student-centered view of portfolios in education. At NECC by contrast, I talked with at least one technology vendor selling the "e-portfolio as standardized-test-replacement" and two classroom teachers who focused on a more student-centered approach to electronic portfolios (see my last NECC blog entry). I actually think we need both. Portfolios best support learning and formative assessment; standardized tests are best for institutional accountability. One can inform the other, but not replace it. When I write my 25-50 word response, I'll post it here in my blog.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008


Learning about ePortfolios

Last week, I added a new page to my website: Learning about Electronic Portfolios. I converted the "open source" MOSEP course, created by the Salzburg Research Forschungsgesellschaft under a European Commission grant, into HTML format (I found their wiki hard to navigate, and impossible to link to specific pages within the course). After I finished, I discovered the PDF version of their course materials online, but it is still impossible to link to specific lessons in the course! I also posted the course that I have been constructing about Web 2.0 Tools for Lifelong & Life Wide Learning. The course includes "Portfolio Pointers" on how to use the different Web 2.0 tools to construct an online portfolio "mashup".

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Monday, May 05, 2008


Harvesting Gradebook

I am at the ePortfolio conference in Montreal, and thought I would add an entry to my blog about an article that I am referencing entitled, "The Future of Web 2.0" which was published in Campus Technology on February 27, 2008. This was an interview with Gary Brown, Director of Washington State University's Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology. This quote is especially appropriate for using Web 2.0 tools within the context of assessment.
Right now at WSU, one of the things we're developing in collaboration with Microsoft is a "harvesting" gradebook. So as an instructor in an environment like this, my gradebook for you as a student has links to all the different things that are required of you in order for me to credit you for completing the work in my class. But you may have worked up one of the assignments in Flickr, another in Google Groups, another in Picasa, and another in a wiki. Maybe you've also made some significant contributions to Wikipedia. So, I need a gradebook where I have the link you've provided me, rather than a copy of the work, and the gradebook should be capable of pulling in all of these various sources.

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Friday, December 14, 2007


The ePortfolio Hijacked

This article, written by Trent Batson in Campus Technology on December 12, 2007, discusses the differences between ePortfolios and assessment/accreditation management systems. I've been discussing these issues in some of my web-based articles, conference presentations and blog entries since 2003. Hopefully the word will spread that LEARNING can be a powerful use of ePortfolios, not just accountability. Thanks, Trent.

Somehow, we need to get back on track with the metaphor of "ePortfolio as Story" and not only "ePortfolio as Test" or we will lose a powerful tool for reflection and lifelong learning. The challenge we have is accommodating the strong pressures for institutions to produce tangible evidence of achievement for external audiences (accreditation and government agencies), so that faculty and students can also focus on the internal audiences (small, private, personal) to realize growth over time. I am concerned about the "opportunity cost" (the value of the benefits forgone) in the current focus on accountability portfolios. How can we find a balance?

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Saturday, November 24, 2007


BEST Portfolio

This video on YouTube was posted by the Connecticut Education Association (the teachers' union) about the Connecticut Beginning Educator Support and Training (BEST) Program and so it has a specific point of view. The comments after the video give a different perspective. Still, the video and the comments show the consequences of a portfolio used for high stakes accountability. No mentoring? No feedback? The basic principles of portfolio development in education are being violated. I wonder if these teachers will ever use portfolios with their own students after this experience? Another example of taking a powerful tool for learning, and ruining the potential through narrow implementation to meet accountability mandates. This is another example of what Lee Shulman calls perversion of the portfolio process.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Correspondence on Digital Archives & ePortfolios

I received another message from Mike Caulfield in reference to a previous dialogue that we had:
Recently there’s been a rather vigorous discussion in my part of the blogosphere about what we’ve been calling the “Inverted LMS”

The idea is pretty simple – let students blog in wordpress or another blog (as in your portfolio examples) and let them tag specific entries with a “portfolio” tag. Then use an RSS aggregator to pull those entries into the institutional blog, where they can be categorized organized and saved for institutional assessment.

A friend at Univ. Mary Washington has been looking into this arrangement for making multiple classes out of single student blogs (although not for eportfolio, yet)[Tech details here]

The LMS is “inverted” because rather than creating spaces for classes and filling them with students, he starts with the student as the atomic unit, and through category tagging and aggregators build the class piece – class or course is an attribute of something a student says, rather than the box in which they say it…

The neat thing about this is that the students can truly own their own reflective space, and only cede a portion of it as a portfolio. This encourages the student to see the portfolio piece as just a part of a larger ongoing process of reflection and story-telling. And it allows them to do it in a space they own – one that stands outside arbitrary divisions of class, subject and school vs. work vs. personal interests.

Anyway, I’d be glad to hear your thoughts on it. As you can see, one of my main concerns intersects with yours – that we make this process student-centered, not assessment centered, and that we develop this as a habit in them, not as an assignment.
First, there is nothing wrong with assessment, as long as it is student-centered, or benefiting student learning. But too often, the term is mis-understood, and used to mean "evaluation" or "accountability" or another purpose that is more institution-centered. A student doing self-assessment is engaged in a powerful process. Rather than calling your idea an inverted LMS, why not call it a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) or personal learning space. I discussed this briefly after the New Zealand ePortfolio Conference. As I look at how (mostly young) people use MySpace or FaceBook or most blogs, they are often using these online spaces not only for social networking, but also for identity production. I also received another message today from Nathan Garrett of Woodbury University a Claremont graduate student, who was commenting on my blog entry and Digital Archive for Life paper:
On a theory level, I have been heavily influenced by Donald Schon’s view of the reflective practitioner, and have been making my way through Dewey’s work. I am particularly interested in the “learning to be” part of education, helping new students to understand the way a practitioner thinks in their discipline.

At heart, I am interested in the development of systems to connect people and allow them to express themselves. I am particularly interested in distributed systems loosely coupled together that, as you put it, “allow a thousand flowers to bloom.” I see a lot of potential for technologies like RSS and open ID to aggregate and distribute people's identities. I think that one of the largest issues surrounding distributed systems is control and safety; how do we let users control their own identity in a truly distributed system? My own research at Claremont has shown that students deeply care about having the ability to limit access, but also have an imperative to establish themselves by making their work better known. Experience with my own families’ blogs and early attempts at photo sharing have really highlighted this issue for me.

Ultimately, I'm trending towards the view that the system we will end up with will use RSS to expose content, tags to organize it, and open ID to selectively share content with certain people. The organizing systems would be crucial, and probably needs to be open source for broader adoption (and easily copied or imitated by commercial companies, whose competition and adoption would be crucial).
The challenge I see is raising the awareness of the potential for using these more open systems, and to provide models that show how they work in practice. I can see this working well in higher education, but my current interest is in K12 schools and in families, where the concern for security is paramount. We need more research at all levels of human development, to validate some of these theories.

Yesterday, I purchased the Freedom Writers DVD. I had seen Erin Gruwell last February at a conference, so I knew the story and had watched the video many times on my cruise and on some flights this spring. But I was able to focus more on the commentary and the underlying meaning of this movie. Erin Gruwell's students used writing as a tool for liberation and self-identity, first in their hand-written journals and later in the computer lab. They didn't call these journals "blogs" because they weren't online (at least not in the movie) and there was an emphasis on anonymity. However, that same process is experienced by many young learners, as they use many different types of Web 2.0 technology for self expression. This movie provides an example of a talented teacher who challenged and channeled these writing efforts to a positive outcome in these young lives; it shows the power of reflection and storytelling to change lives.

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Monday, February 26, 2007


Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) for e-portfolios?

I attended the annual conference of the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) last weekend in New York City. I went to many presentations on the program that focused on e-portfolios. What I heard continues to distress me: teacher educators are most often talking about using portfolios for collecting data for reporting and accreditation. I was the discussant in a wonderful presentation by the faculty of the University of Wisconsin Madison, where that was not the case. Their presentations focused on a scaffolded model that helped teacher candidates reflect on their growth and change as they progressed through the program. However, at 7:45 on a Sunday morning, there weren't a lot of people attending. In one of the "portfolio as data" sessions, I asked about the role of reflection. In another, I commented about the importance of students telling the story of their own growth in their own voice. It made the data-happy folks very defensive ("the stories come through the data"). WRONG! The stories come from the students own voices! I am more and more convinced that the full balanced story of portfolios is not being told in Teacher Education. There is so much attention being given to the data collection, that there is not a lot of energy left to tell the stories.

At the same conference, I attended several sessions that focused on Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK), which:
...attempts to capture some of the essential qualities of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted and situated nature of teacher knowledge. At the heart of the TPCK framework, is the complex interplay of three primary forms of knowledge: Content (C), Pedagogy (P), and Technology (T). See Figure above. As must be clear, the TPCK framework builds on Shulman's idea of Pedagogical Content Knowledge.
I think a lot of the problem with the implementation of electronic portfolios is that they are being implemented without TPCK. There isn't a lot of knowledge about the pedagogical content of using portfolios for learning; the administrators and data managers are implementing electronic portfolios (that are really used as assessment management systems) with full knowledge of data and statistics but without full knowledge of the theoretical underpinnings and value of using portfolios to support student and teacher learning.

We have many faculty who understand these issues, but see the implementation of portfolios in conflict with their prior understandings of how portfolios help students learn. I am also concerned that we are not implementing portfolios in teacher education that models how teacher candidates will use them when they get their own students in their own classrooms. Many students see portfolios as a hoop they need to jump through, to give the institution data needed for accreditation, and not something that will help them as professional educators. That was NOT what I saw in the UWM presentation; their model was supported by both the faculty who spoke and the few students that were there. I wish that model could be shared more widely. They need to tell their story!

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Monday, November 27, 2006


Learning to Learn Portfolio Model

I just found this Learning to Learn Portfolio Model developed by Ian Fox, the Principal at Bucklands Beach Intermediate School, Auckland, New Zealand. This model provides a wonderful framework for thinking about portfolios in schools: Metacognitive Development, Assessment to Improve Learning, and Development of Home-School Links. His online paper, Learning to Learn in the 21st Century, provides further explanation of this model and how it is implemented in his school.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Model of Portfolio Differences

I spent last weekend in Boston with Evangeline Harris Stefanakis, where we set up plans to collaborate on several projects, including a Symposium entitled, "Researching Electronic Portfolios in Schools: The Role of Teacher Professional Development" that was just approved for the next American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference (to be held in Chicago on April 9-13, 2007). We also wrote a paper responding to a recent news article about portfolios. Here is a brief excerpt from our paper:
The Nov 15, 2006 EDWEEK article headlines “Reacting to Reviews, States Cut Portfolio Assessments for ELL Students”. What a reactive mistake!!! It’s not about portfolios instead of state tests—it is about portfolios and state tests!!!
Dr. Stefanakis published the book, Multiple Intelligences and Portfolios, which contained a diagram which placed portfolios along a continuum of Learning and Accountability. We took that same diagram and added my chart on differentiating between portfolios used for learning and those used for accountability. I'm calling it the Stefanakis-Barrett Model of Portfolio Differences (between Learning and Accountability).

After discussing these differences, and the research behind the Assessment for Learning model, the article ended with the following:
We have an obligation to our ELL students to provide them with assessment strategies that will help them improve. If we don’t give all of our students the knowledge of how they can succeed, based on analysis of their own work that they can understand and use to improve their own learning, we are indeed failing them.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006


A Trojan Horse for ePortfolios?

I am currently teaching an online course on ePortfolios. In response to one of my articles, one of the participants raised the issue of developing a portfolio culture, and how to get a school district to adopt ePortfolios. I think he identified the real issues we face when implementing portfolios: how do we create a portfolio culture in a learning community? That question goes along with our approach to assessment: how do we adopt a system of assessment that emphasizes as much formative as summative assessment? In our accountability-driven system, there is a temptation to use more summative than formative methods. We can aggregate numeric data very easily; multiple choice tests are much easier to score. Portfolios are hard work. I think a mandated portfolio could be successful, as long as the implementation focuses on student learning (the story approach), rather than institutional accountability (the checklist approach).

I think the problem is that the predominant experience of educators is with these more summative (behavioral?) approaches, rather than the constructivist paradigm, which is where portfolios really began. Very few educators have experience using portfolios in their teacher preparation, and even now, I see a lot of incompatible uses of portfolios implemented in teacher education programs: the model of portfolios implemented with student teachers is not compatible with how their students would use them in schools. We aren't modeling appropriate practices.

How do we break this cycle? I recommend having administrators and teachers develop and maintain their own reflective portfolios, and create a collaborative environment where portfolios are used for collaboration and professional development, not only for high-stakes evaluation purposes.

This brings up a much larger issue... change. I published a web page called Professional Development for Implementing Electronic Portfolios where I include my recommendations, a discussion of the "Adoption of Innovations" (the Change Process) and a preliminary look at the competencies (both Portfolio and Technology Skills) to implement electronic portfolios. You will find some Resources for Professional Development as well as Recommended Professional Development and Readings... a graduate degree's worth of reading!

One thing I learned when I did my own dissertation research (on how adults teach themselves to use personal computers) I found that there is a simple formula about change: the benefits of a change must exceed the cost of that change, whether real or simply perceived. I think we will eventually reach a "tipping point" on the adoption of ePortfolios, but it will take a lot of small successes, with both grass roots advocates and top-down support to make it happen. But if there are enough of us who believe in the portfolio process, who are willing to model promising practices, and who are willing to tell our stories, then I think we will see some real change.

I once wrote in an article that stated, "Perhaps ePortfolios can become the Trojan Horse for integrating digital storytelling into the curriculum." What is the Trojan Horse for integrating ePortfolios into the curriculum? I think it is the evidence that we can collect that will show how portfolios can help improve student achievement, based on the model of formative assessment for learning. There is a research base from the Assessment Reform Group in the U.K. (Black & Wiliam) that supports this assertion (as I referenced in the article). I am also encouraging one of my colleagues on the East Coast to report her research, where the implementation of ePortfolios with ELL students in middle schools in New York City has led to increased test scores. According to her, the ePortfolios make it obvious to teachers where their students needed to improve, so that they can focus their remediation efforts. When her research is published, I will be the first to post it on my blog!

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Thursday, June 29, 2006


New ePortfolio articles

I just came across a few new articles on ePortfolios, mostly from the U.K. and Canada:

E-portfolios in post-16 learning in the UK: developments, issues and opportunities - A report prepared for the JISC e-Learning and Pedagogy strand of the JISC e-Learning Programme by Helen Beetham, e-learning consultant.
The report provides a brief overview of current e-portfolio developments in relation to both the management of assessment evidence within programmes, and the development of a repository of evidence of lifelong learning progress and achievement.
Engagement with Electronic Portfolios: Challenges from the Student Perspective by David Tosh, Tracy Penny Light, Kele Fleming and Jeff Haywood in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology -
Abstract: Much of the evidence and research available on the use of e-portfolios focuses on faculty and institutional perspectives and/or consists mainly of anecdotes about how useful the e-portfolio has been to learners. While it is generally agreed that e-portfolios have great potential to engage students and promote deep learning, the research that has been conducted to date focuses very little on student perceptions of value of the e-portfolio for their learning. If students do not accept the e-portfolio as a holistic means with which to document their learning in different contexts and more importantly, agree or wish to use the e-portfolio as an integral part of their educational experience, then the potential impact the e-portfolio will have on learning will not be realised. This paper highlights four themes arising out of research that is underway within an international framework of collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, the University of British Columbia and the University of Waterloo.
Electronic Portfolios for Whom? - an Educause Viewpoint by Javier I. Ayala, Portland State University
The literature doesn’t discuss e-portfolio use to meet student needs and concerns but to support administrative efforts to solve long-term curricular issues
Becta's View: E-assessment and e-portfolios (pdf)
This document provides a short introduction to e-assessment and e-portfolios, how they might develop, and why Becta strongly believes that they will support engagement and achievement in learning.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006


High School Portfolios in the Pacific NorthWest

How do we create mandatory high school portfolios and still keep the qualities that make a portfolio a portfolio (and not something else, like an assessment management system)? How to we create student-centered portfolios within an institutional context? I recently received an inquiry from a student teacher in British Columbia which made me think about these issues. I have posted my response (too long to include in a blog entry).

In addition to the high schools in British Columbia, where high school students begin a portfolio in Grade 10, the State of Washington will be providing access to an electronic portfolio under a Student-Centered Planning program funded by the 2006 Washington Legislature. In this context, it looks to me like the portfolio is both for helping implement the Franklin Pierce School District's Navigation 101 model curriculum as well as to document student achievement.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006


Linking ePortfolios and Student Achievement?

I received the following request by e-mail:
Recently I became interested in e-portfolio and its implementation in my Small Learning Community (SLC). However, I need data/research that can support my belief that e-portfolio can improve student achievement in all areas. I have visited your sites and others and done some researched but the info i have attained is not specific enough to persuave my colleagues. If you could, please provide me with some specific research regarding student achievement. Thank you.
Here is my response:

You did not mention the educational context for your question. Elementary school? High School? College? In any case, I am not aware of any research that specifically ties e-Portfolios with improved student achievement (assessed, I assume, with standardized test scores). However, there is substantial research that supports the use of formative, classroom assessment (assessment FOR learning as opposed to assessment OF learning) with increased student achievement. Look at the meta-analysis conducted by Black and Wiliam in the U.K.:
Also, the Assessment Reform Group:

That type of formative assessment is well facilitated using a portfolio for that purpose; a portfolio used in classroom-based assessment is more of a communication tool about student learning than an instructional strategy.

I am doing a research project right now on using portfolios in high schools, but we are not looking specifically at student achievement. Rather, we are looking at student engagement, motivation and collaboration using technology, which should impact on student achievement. I think it is problematic to tie student test scores directly with the use of electronic portfolios, since you are really crossing different pedogogical paradigms. And there are too many other intervening variables in the process. You really need to look at other effects of electronic portfolios. Standardized testing only addresses a limited type of student learning; portfolios can be used to document a broader range of student learning.

There may be other research being conducted at this time, but it is too early to make any conclusions. I would be interested if anyone knows of any of these studies.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Assessing Personal Portfolios

Today I received the following e-mail message:
Our Teacher Education dept. is having students keep one portfolio according to INTASC standards and then a second one that the students will organize and create for themselves. We have rubrics created for the first portfolio, but are wondering what you would recommend concerning how we would assess the portfolio they create for themselves.
Here is my response:
Why would you need to assess a portfolio that the students create for themselves? Why not have the students self-assess their own portfolio? They should have set some goals for their own portfolio. Did they meet those goals? How would they improve it? How will they update their portfolio as their "living history of a teaching/learning life?"

You know, then we treat a personal document, like a student's own portfolio, like any other assignment (such as assessing it), then they tend to have that same type of attitude toward it... just another assignment, or hoop to jump through (like their INTASC portfolio). Their own portfolio should be theirs to assess. If anything, you assess their self-assessment. Of course there will be some students that only work for a grade, and won't put much effort into anything that "doesn't count." Sadly, they are a product of our extrinsically-motivated education system. So if you must, only assess it as completed (Pass or "Not Yet"), with no quality indicators, other than those determined by the students themselves. Hopefully, they can be shown that their portfolio is meant to be their own "story" of their journey to become a professional educator. And we hope that in their own portfolio, they are modeling a lifelong learning strategy that they will share with their own students.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Education in a Flat World

In doing a Google search on Thomas Friedman's perspective on education, I came across a Press Release from the U.S. Department of Education with remarks by Margaret Spellings, US DOE Secretary, to the National Association of Manufacturers Meeting in DC, September 28, 2005. She quotes Friedman's concerns that "people won't even acknowledge that there is an education gap emerging and that there is an ambition gap emerging and that we are in a quiet crisis." She goes on to point out the efforts of:
states measuring our children's progress each year in reading and math, and by focusing on each student, and on each group of students, we can discover where they need help before it's too late.
The problem with these annual tests is that they do not give the results in a timely-enough manner so that changes can be made in the "teachable moments" that Spellings refers to earlier in her speech. She also reiterates Friedman's concerns:
As a nation, we have no more important task than to help our children develop academic skills, and character, and a little ambition if we are going to succeed in this flattening world...

But the long-term solution is to make sure that every member of our rising generation has the education and skills to succeed in the 21st century. The education gap, the achievement gap—the quiet crisis—will cast a very long shadow over our future if we do not summon the will to stay competitive. And competitiveness begins with education.
Competitiveness also begins with imagination and innovation. Spellings also provides examples of school districts who have achieved their "No Child Left Behind" goals, but does not provide any details. I wonder how many of those goals were achieved through mind-numbing drills that achieve short term gains in the reading and math skills measured by standardized tests, but do not address the kinds of competencies that will lead to innovation and success in a Flat world... those right-brain abilities identified by Daniel Pink (discussed in my August 15 blog entry): design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Portfolios, not standardized tests, can document those abilities. If only our education leaders would put as many resources into classroom-based, formative assessment FOR learning as they do into state-wide summative assessment OF learning! Then, based on the work of the Assessment Reform Group from the U.K., researchers Black & Wiliam and the Assessment Training Institute's Rick Stiggins, we would see more student engagement and improvement of their own work.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005


E-Portfolios and NCLB

I received an e-mail today with the following questions:
What is the connection between electronic portfolio usage in schools and NCLB compliance? How do I persuade teachers, parents, and school administrators to embrace electronic portfolios at the district level?...Do you know of any resources that detail the connection between e portfolio usage and adherence to NCLB?
I responded with the following: You ask some interesting questions. I am curious why you want to persuade teachers, parents and school administrators to embrace electronic portfolios at the district level? For what purpose? There are many ways to implement electronic portfolios, and according to Activity Theory, the instruments (or tools) have a major impact on the outcome of the process, as does the purpose. Are you looking for an electronic portfolio, or an assessment management system? They are different tools, with different goals and outcomes. One is student-centered, the other is institution-centered.

Keep in mind that virtually all of my experience with e-portfolios has been in Teacher Education/Higher Education. My sense about electronic portfolios in K-12 schools is that the emphasis on portfolios has diminished since the passage of NCLB. Although some states use them for high stakes accountability, I still see paper portfolios in general to be a classroom or school-based implementation. I believe that the purpose for their use has a great deal to do with their effectiveness to support student learning. I also believe that to use e-portfolios effectively, the schools need to meet the ISTE Essential Conditions as a pre-requisite for implementation. Just on the basis of access to technology and skilled educators, many schools could not support the effective implementation of e-portfolios.

I suggest that you also read the White Paper that I wrote for TaskStream that is also on my website. You might also read the paper that I wrote with Joanne Carney entitled, "Conflicting Paradigms and Competing Purposes in Electronic Portfolio Development" submitted to Educational Assessment, an LEA Journal, for an issue focusing on Assessing Technology Competencies, July 2005.

The real issues around e-portfolios have to do with the purpose for assessment: assessment of learning (summative) or assessment for learning (formative and classroom-based)? In my opinion, high stakes portfolios are killing portfolios for learning; that is, portfolios used for accountability are not student-centered and are mostly despised by both students and teachers (see my blog entry of February 11, 2005). However, e-portfolios used as assessment for learning, to provide the type of feedback that supports student reflection and improvement of learning, have the potential to engage students in their own self-assessment. Some e-portfolio systems are also assessment management systems, and some are work flow managers that effectively facilitate feedback between students and teachers. I just wrote an entry in my blog about just this issue and its relationship to transformational ICT.

That type of system has the potential to support assessment for learning which Rick Stiggins proposes can increase student test scores at least one-half to two full standard deviations. In addition to Rick Stiggins and Anne Davies, I draw on the work of the Assessment Reform Group in the U.K. and the meta-analysis of Black and Wiliam to guide my thinking on the role of portfolios to support Assessment FOR Learning.

While we are not directly studying the relationship between e-portfolio usage and the accountability requirements of NCLB, the REFLECT Initiative will be studying the role of electronic portfolios in learning, engagement and collaboration through technology. This research project, sponsored by TaskStream, is the first national research project that seeks to answer a series of questions about the use of electronic portfolios in high schools (primarily). We are not only providing tools to students, but providing professional development to teachers around issues of student engagement, assessment for learning, project-based learning, effective implementation of technology, digital storytelling and reflection to support deep learning.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005


A Week on Vancouver Island

For the last six days, I have been on Vancouver Island, participating in a Symposium on Assessment for Learning sponsored by Anne Davies of Classroom Connections International. I participated last year in a different capacity, but this year, I came with a project to complete in this "hothouse" environment. It has been an excellent transition to my new role in K-12 education. The week also takes me back to summer sessions in Santa Barbara with my graduate program: intense, rejuvenating, high task but also high touch. I realize now that I miss those opportunities for intense learning, that I came for one reason, but am leaving with other perspectives. I realize how much I get out of these experiences with people who share similar philosophies and values. Of course Kingfisher Lodge is a lot different from LaCasa, but both places now provide many pleasant memories.


Monday, May 23, 2005


Accountability and Portfolios

I am posting this message that did not get sent to the AAHE eportfolio listserv before it was shut down. I was responding to this message sent by Trent Batson from Rhode Island:
... My sense of the eportfolio phenomenon in the US is that the assessment/accountability end of the spectrum is where most of the money is right now. My own hope from the push toward assessment-management is that these systems will get eportfolios in place on many campuses and then other uses will be discovered
Trent, I agree with your statement that e-portfolios are being adopted because of the assessment/accountability needs of institutions. The challenge with that scenario is that we are turning off a lot of students (and perhaps also faculty) in the process because of high stakes accountability. Perhaps formal education is validating Lee Shulman's assertion that one of the five dangers of portfolios is "perversion"! As he says in Nona Lyons' book (1998) With Portfolio in Hand,
If portfolios are going to be used, whether at the state level in Vermont or California, or at the national level by the National Board, as a form of high stakes assessment, why will portfolios be more resistant to perversion than all other forms of assessment have been? And if one of the requirements in these cases is that you develop a sufficiently objective scoring system so you can fairly compare people with one another, will your scoring system end up objectifying what's in the portfolio to the point where the portfolio will be nothing but a very, very cumbersome multiple choice test? (p. 35)
At the IRA conference earlier this month, I got a round of applause for the statement, "High stakes accountability is killing portfolios for learning." In the drive to use portfolios as assessment OF learning, we are in danger of losing the power of portfolios to support reflection and assessment FOR learning. I'm starting to collect stories about student rebellion against this approach, like the college student in a midwest university who ran for student body president on a platform to get rid of the campus-wide assessment portfolio. Then, there are high school students in the Pacific Northwest who built a bonfire and burned their mandatory graduation paper-based portfolios (eSchool news quoted me on this story as the opening of their article about the TaskStream research project.... Of course they didn't quote me on the other story about the high school student who offered a $50 reward to recover her lost writing portfolio.) I tell both of those stories in more detail in the TaskStream White Paper.

I also think purpose is inextricably linked with process (per Activity Theory) and the tools tend to be developed to support the primary purpose. In my incomplete survey of different online tools to construct e-portfolios, it was obvious to me that the tools tend to favor one approach over the other. Those tools that purport to be more "assessment management systems" tend to provide an institution-focused structure that makes it much easier to "score" but more difficult for the learner to tell their own story of their learning. There were some systems that I tried where I could not create the portfolio that I wanted... I was forced to use a pre-set template. For me, the bottom line is "ownership" - and I was pleased at the ePortfolio conference in Vancouver, B.C. last month where the general consensus of the participants and presenters was that learners owned their own portfolios. Based on that statement, the tools should support that ownership in every way possible. I am finding that those systems based on an online database to capture assessment data provide far less creativity in appearance and organization than other tools. So I am making a plea to educational institutions for balance in the purposes for implementing e-portfolios, and to the software developers for more creativity and flexibility in the presentation tools.

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Saskatchewan Learning

I just received notification about a new resource posted online at the Saskatchewan Learning Website:
A JOURNEY OF SELF-DISCOVERY: Facilitator's Guide to Reflection and Portfolio Development [PDF]
This guide has been developed to support facilitators as they lead learners through a process of thinking about what they know and can do (reflection). Through involvement in these activities, learners identify the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they have developed, and create evidence of their learning. These general activities are intended to be adapted by facilitators to meet the needs of any group.
This is a great resource for those facilitators who help learners with self-assessment in preparation for PLAR portfolios (Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition).

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Friday, February 11, 2005


A High School Inquiry

I recently received the following inquiry from a high school student from Kentucky:
I am a student in high school. Why is it manditory for me to make a proficient on my portfolio for me to graduate? I have all of my credits to graduate, but if I make lower than an proficient I don't get to graduate.
Here is how I responded:

I am so glad you wrote to me. I'm sure other high school students have the same questions. I shared your message (anonymously, of course) with a group of educators who help students develop electronic portfolios. Here are some of our collective thoughts. Your question raises a number of issues. My first question is whether you raised these concerns with your teachers, and what their response was.

My second thought is that your portfolio should be a representation of who you are through samples of your work. High graduation represents a significant accomplishment in your life that provides evidence that you are capable of doing many things [reading, writing, math, etc.] and that you are now ready for the world of work or further education. I'll bet there are four levels that your portfolio can be judged: Distinguished, Proficient, Apprentice, Novice. If you are a senior and don't know why your work should be the best you can make it, or rated at least Proficient, some people might say that you are not ready to graduate.

It is not really enough in today's climate just to jump through the hoops. Schools must build a culture of evidence. No longer is society content to accept the school's word that students are well educated and prepared for college or career. Schools must provide evidence that they are doing what they say they are doing--that their mission is, in fact, being fulfilled--that students really do have the skills and knowledge base they claim they have. I think the ePortfolio is the best means of providing evidence that students have met the school's requirements and state standards.

Would you rather spend a day taking a series of tests that just make you nervous, don't help you learn and only assess how well you can remember a lot of facts or solve a lot of problems, most of which are irrelevant to your life? And if you don't pass those tests, you have to keep taking them until you do pass? Isn't it much better to carefully and reflectively develop a portfolio that showcases your strengths and your growth over time?

If done with the right attitude, your portfolio can be useful for you to show to an employer or use in a college admission interview. It is also something that you can look back on later in your life, to remind you what high school was like and how much you have learned since you graduated!

Make your portfolio your own by showcasing those things that you are most proud of, even if they aren't done for school assignments. I hope you are allowed to individualize your portfolio, to put in pictures and maybe even some audio and video clips (that's why I like electronic portfolios!). Remember, you are telling us a story, and not just any story. Your portfolio is meant to be your story of your life over the last four years as well as the story of where your life might be going during the next four years: tell it with pride!

Good luck!
Many thanks to members of the eportfolios Listserv on Yahoo who shared their thoughts with me, as well as the Mead School District's Draft Presentation Guidelines for their Senior Culminating Project.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005


Launching the REFLECT Initiative

I am at the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) where today we unveiled the REFLECT Initiative, a research project to assess the impact of electronic portfolios on student learning, motivation and engagement in secondary schools. REFLECT is an acronym that stands for Researching Electronic portFolios: Learning, Engagement, Collaboration through Technology (I LOVE it!). This research project will be underwritten by TaskStream and I am the Project Director. The website explains the project and the application process.

I am really excited about the possibilities that could result from this project. It will be a meta-study of a lot of smaller site-based studies. The real benefit of the project will be an 18-month online professional development program for the teachers involved in the project. I will have an opportunity to modify my existing distance course to meet the needs of the participants in each site.

So, this is my mission once the PT3 grant is over in March. When I was approached by the TaskStream team about this two-year project, I had to think seriously about how this project would affect my objectivity about electronic portfolio tools. However, the team has been very sensitive to my concerns, and the study participants could compare the use of TaskStream with control groups of students who use other "common tools" to create their e-portfolios (or paper-based portfolios, or no portfolios). This is also effectiveness research, not market research.

Here is a picture of the booth on the Exhibit floor.

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Friday, October 22, 2004


Digital Divide and NCLB

In this entry, after a trip to Texas I expressed my frustration over the gap that is widening between the experiences of so-called "low achievers" who are forced into a very behaviorist mode of learning, when the high achievers in more affluent districts are engaged in more creative activities. When they called the bill "No Child Left Behind" they couldn't be farther from the reality that is happening now: those children who are being subjected to all of this drill and testing (assessment OF learning, not assessment FOR learning) are being deprived of the type of education that truly lights the fire of learning, rather than filling their "buckets" of knowledge. I am worried that in the name of NCLB, more children will be left behind the creativity gap.


Sunday, August 22, 2004


Olympics Reflections

I'm sitting here watching the Women's Marathon and remembering other recent Olympic events I'm struck with the similarities with the issues of e-portfolios and accountability. As I talked with a colleague about the issues at her school, I realized that we were talking about the e-portfolio development process as both a balance beam and a marathon. The balance beam represents the narrow path we traverse, between the needs of the institution for an accountability system to document students' assessment OF learning, and the needs of the learner for a way to tell the story of their own learning, and to use feedback on their work for their own development. It is also a marathon, where the learners need to pace themselves, conserving themselves for the long run, so that they don't burn out before they meet their goals. This metaphor was very vivid today, with the British woman, who kept up with the leaders for the first 20 miles, but then broke down and did not finish, whereas the American woman ran her own race, turning on the speed at the end of the race, coming from behind to win the Bronze medal. It looks like I have another metaphor to add to my website.


Friday, August 20, 2004


Assessment Symposium

If school districts are looking for good professional development to design programs of assessment for learning, I highly recommend the symposium sponsored by Dr. Anne Davies of Connect2Learning in Courtenay, British Columbia. I was invited to be a resource person at this symposium last July (and discussed it previously in this blog). I just found out that next summer the dates will be Friday, July 22 - Wednesday, July 27, at the Kingfisher Resort, a little piece of heaven on Vancouver Island. From last summer, I thought those who attended as part of a team got more out of the symposium than those who came by themselves, although it was a great experience for everyone.

I spent a lot of time reading and reflecting after my week on what Doug Snow called "Assessment Island" and I realize how much I gained from that experience. I had discovered the work of the Assessment Reform Group in the U.K. in my own web search in preparation for ISTE's last Assessment and Technology Forum in June, where I started emphasizing the assessment "OF and FOR" learning distinction. I realize now that I only understood the concept on a surface level. The days that I spent at the Symposium helped me to start internalizing that concept.


Monday, July 19, 2004


Day 3 Assessment Workshop

After spending more time on Sunday working on my latest paper, and adding more ideas on Assessment FOR Learning, I have shared my new chart with others. I am trying to compare portfolios used as assessment OF learning with portfolios that support assessment FOR learning. Today I am sharing examples of e-portfolios and digital stories with participants in the workshop. The feedback I am getting is very positive. Teachers see the advantages of digital storytelling and portfolios used as assessment FOR learning. I'm not sure this distinction is used in higher education.


Saturday, July 17, 2004


Day 2 Assessment Workshop

After the second day, the fog is beginning to clear. I won a copy of Anne's book on classroom-based assessment, which I plan to read this weekend. I also received an e-mail from a colleague about a new article posted to the ERADC website about blogging in e-portfolios. Since the authors quoted my article on "Electronic Portfolios as Digital Stories of Deep Learning" I decided that I had better finish it. So, I took a few minutes and polished it a bit. It still needs some more work, but from the readings at this meeting, I now had the link to Rick Stiggens article that explains the assessment crisis and the difference between assessment OF learning and assessment FOR learning. I can now work on adding that piece to my presentation to the Florida deans and directors next week.


Friday, July 16, 2004


Assessment FOR Learning Workshop

I am participating in a very interesting workshop on Assessment FOR Learning led by Dr. Ann Davies from British Columbia. The process is very engaging and the ideas that are being discussed are enlightening. I was so pleased when the first resource person, Dr. John Gardner from Ireland, presented the Assessment for Learning model from the UK, the one I found online as I was preparing for the Assessment and Technology Forum in June. It is almost as if there is serendipity in the air. We even received their CD-ROM and a printed copy of the "sunrise" chart on Assessment for Learning.

I had an opportunity to make a short presentation on international perspectives on electronic portfolios. But mostly I talked about my concerns about the direction that e-portfolios are taking related to high stakes accountability and I presented my "balanced" model. It was delightful to get to know Doug again, after years ago and his work on the Scholastic Electronic Portfolio. I am so pleased that he has the same concerns that I have. I am looking forward to the next four days.


Saturday, June 19, 2004


ISTE Assessment & Technology Forum

Today was ISTE's 3rd Assessment & Technology Forum that I coordinated as part of the PT3 Catalyst Grant that I wrote on behalf of ISTE. It was the best one that we did with the smallest attendance. Oh, well. I think we have established a good planning team, and we have an opportunity to continue working together. But I am going to propose that the format change. We started two years ago in San Antonio, with the first Forum, where we focused strictly on a Gallery Walk of electronic portfolios. Because we advertised the session as Assessment and Technology (and not just electronic portfolios) we received some valid criticism (like "there are other approaches to using technology for assessment than e-portfolios.") So last year in Seattle, we focused on a broader range of assessments, and continued that approach today. But we also lost an opportunity to delve more deeply into electronic portfolios.

I am going to pull together the agendas for the last two international electronic portfolio meetings where I have presented in the last year. I think it is time for the U.S. to sponsor a meeting that focuses on e-portfolios in the U.S., especially in K-12 and Teacher Education (ISTE's base). Educause and the NLII have held several meetings over the last three years, and have additional meetings planned at higher ed conferences over the next six months. There is no organized meeting on e-portfolios in K-12 education. I think it is time for some leadership in this area. I am wondering if there is interest in such a gathering over one or two days prior to the next NECC in Philadelphia.


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