Tuesday, February 23, 2010


ASB India

I am working on my TEDxIndia presentation on Thursday in Mumbai. I've been in India for a week, and it has been a spectacular trip, both visiting the American School of Bombay, and spending the weekend in Delhi and Agra (including a visit to the beautiful Taj Mahal!). It has been fascinating to see what can be done within a 1-to-1 laptop program, beginning in 3rd grade. I have been meeting with a variety of teachers for the last week, answering questions about ePortfolios, and trying to demystify the process. This is a PYP elementary school, and the students have been maintaining paper portfolios for quite a while, so adopting an electronic portfolio is natural transition in their 1-to-1 program.

I've been working with some of the teachers over the year, with short web/audio conferences on a monthly basis, and I am excited to see what the 3rd grade students have achieved using Google Sites. They have set up pages for each content  area using the Announcements page type, adding entries on a regular basis. One teacher says some of the students are making entries on their own, without prompting. The school videotaped those students talking about their portfolios. Many of their comments were priceless! I am hoping they will post the video online, so that I can link to it.

I am preparing for my TEDxIndia talk. The narrative is posted as a GoogleDocs document, and the slides are posted to SlideShare.
I would love some feedback on the ideas about how the boundaries are blurring between Social Networking and ePortfolio Development, and the need for more intrinsic motivation, based on Dan Pink's book, Drive.

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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 WordPress.com 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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Thursday, February 05, 2009


MySpace Founders on Charlie Rose

I enjoyed the video clip of Charlie Rose's interview with the co-founders of MySpace, conducted on Tuesday night. They claimed that there are 125 million visitors a month to their website. Of particular interest to me at the end of the interview was their response to Charlie's question, "Realizing that you're not a philosopher, why is it so compelling for so many people?" Chris DeWolfe's response:
A lot of it is about the ability to express yourself. So if you look at your MySpace Profile, you have your music that you're listening to, you have the colors, you have the background, you have the videos. So, I look at your Profile, if you have one, and I can get to know you pretty quickly. It's almost as if you invited me over to a dinner party and you had certain music playing, and you had certain kinds of furniture, and you invited a certain group of friends, I would get to know you very quickly. So, I think it's an online representation of who you are, which is really fascinating, and it's a great way to stay in touch with people, and it's a great discovery mechanism. And there's no other place and no other way to really do that.

Tom Anderson (the other co-founder) added: I think a lot of it has to do with timing, too; that we came out right at the right time when digital cameras were on the rise, and people wanted to come in. People weren't exactly ready for something like MySpace a year or two earlier, so timing really helped us in being there to give people what they wanted.
The issue of personal expression is the major challenge with many of the ePortfolio systems that are in use in formal education today. It is fascinating to contemplate the role of social networks to build what I call "Your Digital Self" online (EIFeL calls ePortfolios "digital identity"). There are many capabilities missing from the current social networks that we need in institutional ePortfolios. Some of the most current ePortfolio systems (Elgg, Mahara, Epsilen) have blogs and built-in social networks, but most of the commercial and open source tools lack the capability for the level of personal expression found in MySpace or Facebook. As DeWolfe described the "discovery mechanism" which is learning, it is interesting to think about creating "Academic MySpaces" (that aren't blocked on most school networks!) that would engage students as much as the current crop of social networking sites. Engagement just won't be a factor until we can incorporate those elements of personal expression.

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