Wednesday, March 24, 2010

5.3.2: Wikis in the latest JOLT

The latest Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT, 6[1]) is now available online (not a dedicated link - to the latest issue only). Three articles on wikis further the conversation [1 PDF] [2 PDF] [3 PDF]... but not, admittedly, by much! A pity that none of them consider learning outcomes using an experimental approach, which, I am convinced, the literature regarding the use of wikis in higher education actually requires. We have far too many of the 'What did students think?' evaluation; what we really need is an answer to how well did students learn? The studies also have small response rates and discrete surveys... which is not atypical in much e-learning research. This has the unfortunate consequence of results being highly contextualised and very fragmented.

It is perhaps indicative that we tend to give e-learning tools a go from our enthusiasm, rather than from a consideration of the lessons already learned; the literature review is performed after the evaluation to provide a context for what we did rather than what we will do. This approach is perhaps understandable from the standpoint of encouraging innovation, but it is a poor basis for research. I have no doubt that the authors of these papers learned a lot. As a reader, I'm left a little disappointed!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

5.3.3: The Electronic Portfolio Student Perspective Instrument

Article: Ritzhaupt, A.D., Singh, O., & Seyferth, T. (2008). Development of the Electronic Portfolio Student Perspective Instrument: An ePortfolio integration initiative. Journal of Computing in Higher Education 19(2), 47-71.

Ritzhaupt et al (2008) describe the development of an instrument designed to measure student perceptions of ePortfolios. The Electronic Portfolio Student Perspective Instrument (EPSPI) was tested on a sample (n=204) college of education students. Based on the ESPSI, three subscales were found to determine student perspectives toward ePortfolios: learning, assessment, and visibility.

Some points of interest to me:
  1. Ritzhaupt et al (2008) cite Meeus et al (2006) as suggesting two reasons for the popularity of ePortfolios in education: the contemporary bias toward constructivist pedagogy, and gains made in the accessibility and usability of ICT.
  2. Respondents to the survey (and therefore the agents of its validation) were students using the ChalkandWire eportfolio system (at a cost of "less than" $US50, with renewal options at half the cost per annum...!)
  3. The student perspective should be the basis of ePortfolio implementation (or at least an important consideration). Ritzhaupt et al (2008, p.52) remark that "no standardized instruments have been developed to capture this critical information".
The EPSPI was based on an extensive literature review, which identified four domains (learning, assessment, employment, visibility) and four primary stakeholders (students, administrators, faculty, employers). It's goal "was to capture critical information related to student perspectives and intended uses of ePortfolios to aid faculty and administrators in the decision-making process" (2008, p.54).

The inital instrument had 40 items, and underwent expert review and field testing (n=22). Each item also underwent testing through a 'cognitive interview' with three representatives of the population of interest, to ensure clarity. Eventually 34 items were decided on, and the resulting survey was made available as a Web form. Two hundred and four college of education students responded (no population number is provided).

While the survey certainly helped to validate the ESPSI, the actual impressions from students toward ePortfolios were less than impressive:
  • Results indicate "that respondents from the sample may not perceive their ePortfolios as a meaningful learning device" (2008, p.56)
  • "Only 19% of the respondents believed their ePortfolios would be beneficial to securing employment" (p.59)
  • "Fifty-three percent of the sample indicated they would not use an ePortfolio to aid the employment process if they were the employer" (p.59)
  • "More than half of the respondents suggested that they would not showcase their ePortfolios to friends (61%) or family (60%)" (p.59).
  • In open ended responses, "More than 25% of the respondents [n=92 who gave open-ended feedback] mentioned that faculty did not offer help with using ChalkandWire(c) and did not appear to understand the program themselves".
  • Other qualitative feedback included "negative comments about personal investment in time and money, comments indicating predominantly negative attitudes toward use of technology, and feelings of lack of choice and control" (p.64).
Phew. Not flattering - but, then again, not necessarily an inherent problem with ePortfolios as a concept. It may well be that the poor responses here were to do with implementation - and here is where the ESPSI may let itself down. It seems to measure student perceptions without a consideration of the implementation context. The authors identify this themselves (2008, p.66):
The purpose of the ePortfolio initiative appears to be a key issue for successful integration. For the administration,the system was implemented as an assessment management tool. This raises the question of student versus organizational control... the authors believe that that the low subscale means are representative of user resistance to system change and poor system integration.
The ESPSI instrument is available here. Personally, I see it as a positive step; I am in favour of standardised instruments as they enable comparative studies and can provide insight into good practice. What concerns me about the ESPSI is that it is a measure of student perspective rather than the effectiveness of implementation. It is here that the work of Joyce et al (see previous post) is particularly useful... there is scope, I believe, for an instrument based on their five roles.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

5.3.3: Meta-cognitive development through ePortfolios: A school evaluation

Article: Abrami, P.C, Wade, A., Pillay, V., Aslan, O., Bures, E.M., & Bentley, C. (2008). Encouraging self-regulated learning through electronic portfolios [Full text HTML]. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 34(3), np.

Abrami et al (2008) describe an evaluation of ePEARL (the Electronic Portfolio Encouraging Active Reflective Learning) application, developed for school use. ePEARL has been specifically designed to facilitate self-regulated learning and the development of meta-cognitive skills, based on a three-part model (quoted here):
  • The forethought phase includes task analysis (goal setting and strategic planning) and self-motivation beliefs (self-efficacy, outcome expectations, intrinsic interest/value and goal orientation). Tasks involved in the forethought phase are: set outcome goals, set process goals, document goal values, plan strategies, and set up learning log.
  • The next phase, the performance phase, includes self-control (self-instruction, imagery, attention focusing and task strategies) and self-observation (self-recording and self-experimentation). Tasks involved in the performance phase are: creation of work, and learning log entries.
  • Finally, the self-reflection phase includes self-judgment (self-evaluation and casual attribution) and self-reaction (self-satisfaction/affect and adaptive-defensive responses). Tasks involved in the self-reflection phase are: reflection on work, reflection on process, and awareness of new goal opportunities.
The evalaution of ePEARL use involved 62 teachers and approximately 1200 students. It was hoped that teachers would apply ePEARL using the self-regulation model of forethought, performance, and self-reflection. Unfortunately results were less than optimal:
  • The teacher survey (n=21 respondents) indicated that teachers were not using the application frequently enough (most using it 5 to 8 hours per month, well short of the requested 12 hours per month);
  • There were few positive differences between pretest and posttest scores (though the positive effects were in items of interest such as "students identifying strategies for achieving their goals; students documenting the processes they used when working on tasks; teaching students to identify strategies for achieving their goals; students using portfolios to demonstrate their strengths; students using portfolios to identify areas needing improvement");
  • Teacher focus groups indicated that teachers did not think their students capable enough to partiicpate in the self-regulation process (particularly the 'forethought' phase), not all teachers understood the term 'reflection' in the same way, and not all students were comfortable/able of providing efective feedback to one another;
  • A sample of student portfolios (n=66) "did not reveal widespread or extensive use of the tool. The majority of the portfolio pieces were reading responses, stories and poems, language arts presentations, social science or science projects, and music and art projects".
While the findings conclude with the paragraph...
However, on occasion, there were teachers who implemented EPs extensively; in these cases, teachers used ePEARL in both creative and practical ways. As a result, student portfolios in the classroom of these teachers were often richer, and demonstrated that students can learn self-regulation skills in order to improve their work and become better learners.
...specific results for these 'occassions' are not provided.

I can't help wondering if this project suffered from implementation flaws. Reading between the lines (and from the first paragraph of the conclusion) I suggest that:
  1. Teachers were asked to use ePortfolios in a way that might have been foreign to them, asked to apply a prescribed learning approach that not all thought was appropriate.
  2. Students were asked to apply themselves to a learning methodology that they were either not capable of participating in, or else were not supported in because of 1. above.
  3. The application itself was designed to facilitate a specific learning process (the self-regulation model). As a combined result of 1. and 2. above, this made the application itself inseperable from the process.
It seems as though to some teachers the ePortoflio was a peripheral experiment, rather than an integrated and central element of teaching and learning. It will be interesting to, as the authors conclude, "Stay tuned" with what follows.

As an addiitonal comment, the survey used instruments called the 'TLSQ' (Teaching and Learning Strategies Questionnaire) and 'SLSQ' (Student Learning Strategies Questionnaire). Both look to be pre- and post-test instruments customised to the K12 sector.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

1.1, 5.3.4: Linking two posts together

Two great pieces in my Google reader account this morning, which I originally thought to comment on separately:
  1. The latest VLENZ (no.166), outlining the promising development of linking an open source MUVE (OpenSim) with Second Life; and
  2. a post from Tony Bates, "Will lecture capture replace asynchronous distance learning?" in which he (rightly!) criticises plans of one US provider's plan to facilitate distance education through recorded lecture.
At first I thought these were worthy of separate comment (indeed, they are!) But then I started to wonder whether it might be better to use one as the lens for commenting further on the other. The VLENZ piece is concerned with advances in technology and what it might enable technically, whereas Bates' post looks at what is possible technically and how it has been applied to learning.

In e-learning we need both advances in technology and a self-conscious approach to how that technology is applied for the purposes of teaching and learning. MUVEs emphasise interaction, 'presence', synchronicity, simulation, activity within a virtual environment where resources can also be freely shared. The 'video capture' initiative described by Bates emphasises access, the view and explanations of the expert, the ability to watch, listen, and revise.

However most academic learning takes place through the reflection and deliberation. It is only insofar as these activities are supported that either might be considered truly educative. As Bates indicates, there are volumes written on the effectiveness of asynchronous distance learning. We have substantial insight as to what rests within the 'black box' of distance education. The challenge is to draw on those lessons that they might inform how we apply new technologies; both the VLENZ and Riverside cases are both generally concerned with 'distance education', which has a considerable literature and a very mature practice. My concern is that fully immersive MUVEs might supercede the deliberate exchange that might take place through, say, online discussion boards - which are by nature more reflective: "Hey, let's all meet in the virtual forest. We don't need those old bulletin boards anymore!"

I remain convinced that MUVEs will find their place as an extremely important addition to the distance educator's toolset - but I have reservations about synchronous virtual exchange being somehow inherently better than asynchronous discourse. It is here that Bates' critique provides a good check-point for the technology; just because it can be done, doesn't mean it should be done. Maybe MUVEs could make lecture rooms redundant and lead to more collaborative and situated learning. We just need to ensure that we don't overlook any advantages that are inherent to less 'wizzy' solutions in the process of transfer, or assume that we need to learn lessons about pedagogy from scratch.

I'm excited about the activities of the VLENZ group. The link between SL and OpenSim should be celebrated. But we should also be thinking ahead about the potential contribution such technologies might make. By considering - deeply - what we already know about effective education, we can save ourselves a whole lot of unneeded learning and mistakes later.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

5.3.3: Good things take time

Article: Wickersham, L.E., & Chambers, S.M. (2010). ePortfolios: Using technology to enhance and assess student learning [Full text PDF]. Education 126(4), 738-746.

Wickersham & Chambers (2006) report on a post first-semester evaluation of a programme ePortfolio implementation (n=26, masters level secondary teacher students). Using a 13 question Likert scale survey and two open-ended questions, they found the following:
  • Students had not made the connection between the use of an ePortfolio and the potential for enhanced self-knowledge, and knowledge and skills transfer. In fact, students were almost evenly divided in terms of a positive, neutral and negative response on the ePortfolio's usefulness.
  • Students did report an improvement in their technology skills however most commented in the open-ended questions that the technical interface was the greatest barrier for them.
This is a useful study in that it clearly demonstrates that ePortfolio use must be purposive, and that its benefits (realised through reflection and the gradual building of a collection of artefacts) take time to be appreciated by students. Wickersham & Chambers (2006, p.744) state that
What was learned from all results is the need to be more effective in helping students make that connection [between the ePortfolio exercise and their own development], and to integrate the ePortfolio concept firmly within the program.
Good things, says the cheese ad, take time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolio implementation and the threshold concept

Article: Joyes, G., Gray, L., & Hartnell-Young, E. (2010). Effective practice with e-portfolios: How can the UK experience inform implementation? [Full text PDF]. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26(1), 15-27.

Joyes et al's (2010) paper won a best paper award - and it's not difficult to see why. It's authority and groundedness are very clear, as is its significance for ePortfolio practice.

After an overview of ePortfolio activities within the JISC (e-portfolios are one of five main areas of activity) and an overview of the importance of ePortfolios, the authors provide five key roles for the successful implementation of ePortfolios in whatever setting.
  1. The role of purpose - "For successful implementation, the purpose/s behind the use of the e-portfolios must be aligned to the particular context" (p.22). The authors emphasise that ePortfolios cannot be understood outside of the context in which they are used.
  2. The role of learning activity design - "There must be a conscious design and support of a learning activity/activities suited to the purpose and the context" (p.22).
  3. The role of process - "The processes involved in the creation of the e-portfolio in the particular context must be understood and both technical and pedagogic support needs to be provided" (p.22).
  4. The role of ownership - "The e-portfolio processes and outcomes need to be owned by the student. This view leads to considering portability, choice of tool (use of their own phone, camera, audiorecorder, Web 2.0 application, for example)" (p.23).
  5. The disruptive nature of e-portfolios - "E-portfolios are potentially transformative and as a result are disruptive from a pedagogic, technological and an institutional perspective because they tend not to fit exactly within existing systems". Naturally, this means that ePortfolios are best implemented in a systematic way.
Joyes et al (2010) go on to note that, to many experienced ePortfolio users, the five findings above "may seem quite naive" (p.23). However they raise a very interesting point based on this observation - there is a threshold of knowing that the experienced have, but which the uninitiated lack:
The threshold concepts approach recognises that developing understanding is a developmental journey, both intellectually and experientially, but that once the threshold is achieved the perspective of an area is changed forever. Thus guidelines/ guidance will only make sense to a stakeholder if the threshold concept is understood and the preconceptions resolved. Is this why the wheel has been invented so many times in the e-portfolio area? (2010, pp.24-25).

Indeed, it may well be why the wheel is so constantly reinvented. We e-learning practitioners tend to avoid informed practice, letting our enthusiasm for the tool prompt us to action. As a result, we frequently miss the easy and important lessons lying on the sruface of literature. Articles such as this by Joyes et al (2010) demonstrate the very real importance of keeping up with developments in journals.

5.3.4: SLENZ project evaluation

Over to the SLENZ blog for an overview of the evaluation report (full report available in PDF). It is a little disappointing that the recommendations apply to how to apply future virtual world projects, rather than an analysis of actual effectiveness - though many comments provided in the report give valuable insight.

Well worth a read - and the student and teacher accounts provide plenty of food for thought. In particular, I take this away (from p.47):
In both subprojects, participants commented both on learners’ identification with their avatars, and the fact that working through their avatars in role-play situations enabled them to practice skills with a lesser degree of emotional inhibition. Thus students at MIT reported overcoming pre-interview anxiety by carrying out practice interviews in the build, and Midwifery students felt freer to practice scenarios with a peer in world than they would do under the eyes of their colleagues and tutors in the classroom.
So, there is a promising niche for these tools... I remain convinced that Second Life has a good part to play in education, provided its strengths can be exploited. The SLENZ project has helped to identify - and exemplify - various of those strengths.

Monday, March 8, 2010

5.3.3: Teaching ePortfolios and emotion

Article: FitzPatrick, M.A., & Spiller, D. (2010). The teaching portfolio: Institutional imperative or teacher's personal journey? Higher Education Research & Development 29(2), 167-178.

FitzPatrick & Spiller (2010) interviewed faculty who completed a teaching ePortfolio as part of a PG Cert in Tertiary Teaching at a New Zealand university (Waikato - my BMS alma mater!) What prompted their investigation was the discovery that preparing the ePortfolio was a highly charged emotional experience for some of their students.

The ePortfolio task required participants to prepare
a single document in which they were asked to present both summative information about their teaching achievements and reflections on their experiences and development as teachers. After they had finished their teaching portfolios, these participants wrote personal narratives about their experiences of compiling a teaching portfolio (2010, p.172).
The difficulties had by participants were twofold:
  1. Reflecting on one's abilities and experiences as a teacher is inevitably an emotional process, and
  2. The ePortfolio task was designed to result in both an outcome suitable as a professional folio and a space for personal reflection.
While most participants reported satisfaction at having completed the ePortfolio task (my favourite participant quote - "My portfolio somehow defused my worst mistakes - they lost their sting and instead became merely parts of a bigger picture", p.176) there was some confusion over who its audience was. Preparing a professional CV-type portfolio is a very different task to keeping a reflective journal. As a result of this feedback, the ePortfolio task has been adapted.

The two difficulties participants had are probably not surprising. I recently finished King's The handbook of the evolving research of transformative learning based on the Learning Activities Survey and was surprised to find in it a model relating to professional development for online learning. 'Fear and uncertainty' for staff is the first step in King's transformative model. If the professional development relates to one's identity as a teacher, an emotional response is to be expected (and FitzPatrick & Spiller draw on some very interesting literature in their discusion relating to this). The second difficulty, that of intended audience and scope of the ePortfolio, is worth storing away as an important lesson. While some ePortfolio applications permit multiple views that mean different views can be created for different audiences (yes, Mahara is one of them...), others permit only a single presentation of information. In the latter case, the end audience is a vital determinant of what is appropriate... your intimate reflections on the lessons you learned from your most recent teaching disaster may not impress a potential employer as much as the half-million dollar research grant you were awarded. Both are important to an educating professional of course, but one is more private. To close with the words of FitzPatrick & Spiller (2010, p.177):
While the emotions aroused in the compilation of the teaching portfolio were mixed, there were some recurrent themes. These related themes can be broadly categorised as uncertainty generated by the multiple purposes of the portfolio task and emotional destabilisation experienced in the process of taking stock of oneself as a teacher. Generally, the period of emotion accompanying 'strong commotion of mind' (Geisel & Meijers, 2005, p. 425) culminated in a sense of reaffirmation of the self as teacher. Some of the participants' ways of managing the stock-taking process, such as using metaphor, can be seen as strategies of self-protection in the light of the fact that the portfolio could also be a public record of achievement. As Kelchtermans (2005) argues, the presence of intense emotions signals that something of vital importance is at stake; in this instance it appears to be about traversing the jagged and uneven terrain of the path towards self-knowledge and growth as a teacher. We argue that this journey should be allowed to be a private one undertaken only with the support of invited companions and a trusted guide. It is not a story that should be recounted for official scrutiny.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolios in a K12 setting

Article: Blair, R., & Godsall, L. (2006). One school's experience in implementing e-portfolios: Lessons learned. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education 7(2), pp.145-154.

Blair & Godsall (2006) report on the use of an ePortfolio tool embedded within a (US) school CMS (Course Management System = VLE or LMS). The article discusses ePortfolio implementation in the K12 context.
Among the lessons:
  • Train teachers first - and have them train students. Blair & Godsall (2006, p.148) note that "Because teachers had a good working knowledge of the technology and were enthusiastic, when they presented their e-portfolio projects to their students, the students were not only quick to undertand the technology, but also quickly shared in teachers' enthusiasm" (and 163 students were involved!)
  • Use the ePortfolio as a work space. Student ePortfolios became a focal point for work-in-progress, peer-review, and resource collecting.
  • Have teachers develop their own ePortfolios. Naturally this increases teachers' own competence with the software, and also gives them opportunity to consider the use of ePortfolios from a more informed perspective.
Blair & Godsall (2006) evaluated student use of an ePortfolio drawing on their group of 163 students:
  • 64% find the process "easy".
  • Images were the most frequent document types added to ePortfolios (n=121), followed by Word documents (113) and PPT files (104). Of the other types, there were 39 audio files and 24 video clips.
  • 54% preferred the thought of a final test over a semester-long ePortfolio project.
  • Students were "somewhat noncommittal" about using ePortfolios to apply for jobs (73%).
Blair & Godsall (2006, p.151) remark that "Students can easily produce e-portfolios, but cannot make the conection between production and application". This arguably has more to do with educating the students than it does with any inability of the ePortfolio itself. In this study we have a wonderfully transparent look at how year 11 students view ePortfolios: fun; good as instruments for personal expression; but if they mean more work for assessment, well, give me the test!

The actual evaluation instrument used by Blair & Godsall consisted of seven yes/no questions, three LIkert scale questions, and a list of file types. It is unfortunate for the purposes of ePortfolio research that there is no single instrument that is widely applied.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

5.3.3: The AeP - significant work in the Australisian area

Article: Hallam, G., and Creagh, T. (2010). ePortfolio use by university students in Australia: a review of the Australian ePortfolio project. Higher Education Research & Development 29(2), 179-193.

Hallam & Creagh (2010) introduce the Australian ePortfolio Project (AeP), with a specific emphasis on the first part of the project (started in 2007). The project has already released its first report (2008, PDF or contents page), and Stage II is also now complete (report forthcoming).

The purpose of Stage I (in brief) was to "examine the diverse approaches to ePortfolio use by students in Australian universities in order to consider the scope, penetration and reasons for use of of ePortfolios as well as to examine the issues associatedwith their implementation in higher education" (p.181). Stage II worked toward building a community of practice and established a conference (the next conference is planned for early November, 2010).

The article provides a valuable introduction to the work done for the AeP, which is of foundational importance to ePortfolios in Australasia. The Toolkit is particularly impressive, leaving practitioners with no excuse for not embarking on informed practice. Links to further reports (such as the VET E-portfolio roadmap) within the AeP Web site reveal the considerable work being done in the Australian context.

The Stage I work summarised in the article consists of a selection of primary research informed by a thorough literature review. Findings indicate that ePortfolio activity in the Australian university sector is (or was?) patchy and somewhat fragmented - even within individual institutions. Teachers, managers and HR/professional development personnel have different expectations from ePortfolios. Student surveys compared expectations with experiences (for new students working with ePortfolios), and a separate survey and post-interview with students already working with ePortfolios.

Among the issues identified by Stage I include the need for cooperation across stakeholders to coordinate ePortoflio excpectations; the need for interoperability standards; and the requirement for faculty to link "learning activities, assessment and learning outcomes" (p.187).

The report/paper identify four future scenarios:
  1. A national ePortfolio model (government-owned and driven).
  2. A locally driven model (centred in the HE sector, but "aligned with cross-sectoral interests", p.189).
  3. A Web 2.0 model (student-centred selections of social-networking tools).
  4. A zero action model (the status quo).
My impression from the Ministry-sponsored document "Celebrating learning" is that the New Zealand scene is likely to follow future 2, with the Ministry providing a set of requirements (or, perhaps, 'guidelines') to coordinate interoperability.

The paper concludes with these words (2010, p.191):
There is immense scope for further research into and analysis of the impact and potential of ePortfolios in higher education, so that a better understanding can be developed about many aspects of ePortfolios, such as the diverse dimensions of knowledge construction, student attitudes, new teacher roles, employer expectations, eLearning-supported pedagogies, emerging technologies, interoperability and so on.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2.1, 1.4.1: Not change resistant? Where's your Dvorak?

Image from Wikipedia.

I'm finishing Diamond's Guns, germs and steel, and his mention of the Dvorak keyboard got me thinking about the diffusion of e-learning. Only yesterday I was talking with a colleague about e-learning and diffusion, and the usual talk about the change resistance of faculty ensued.

I think we need to adopt a more empathetic approach to faculty and the reluctance some have to e-learning. So, here's a question to all you e-learning enthusiasts: Are you using a Dvorak keyboard? The QWERTY's history is such that we have no real reason for it nowadays; it was originally designed to ensure that the letters of a manual typewriter did not hit one another (and, today, we tend to clean our keyboard trays rather than untangle our letter keys).

A Dvorak keyboard layout is actually superior to the more entrenched QWERTY we all know and love/hate so well. The Dvorak has many advantages over the QWERTY (including less likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome). It is possible, eventually, to type faster using a Dvorak and free online tutorials are available. There are many valid arguments for Dvorak over QWERTY, so, as e-learning enthusiasts not afraid of progress in technology when advantages are so clear, why have you not made the switch? More to the point, why are you not considering it...?

Your answer to those last two questions may well provide you with the basis of an empathetic response to faculty who struggle with the 'need' to adopt e-learning. Then again, this post might cause some hardy e-learning innovators, not scared in the least of progressive technology, to pry out their keys and rearrange them Dvorak fashion. If that's you, please leave a comment!

Some of these reasons for resistance to Dvorak adoption may well apply to e-learning, too.

Monday, March 1, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolios making guides, or directors?

Article: Miller, R., and Morgaine, W. (2009). The benefits of e-portfolios for students and faculty in their own words. Peer Review 11(1), 8-12.

Miller and Morgaine (2009) describe how ePortfolios can be applied at all levels of higher education, "From matriculation [that is, enrolment] to graduation" (p.8). Their work collected statements from ePortfolio users, so that the "common benefits of well-run e-portfolio programs" could be explained in the words of users themselves.

The authors' perspective on the potential for ePortfolios is nicely captured in this quote (2009, p.12):
As students enter college, most do not imagine being responsible for their own learning. They believe that, somehow, teachers make them learn or, in some cases, prevent them from learning. Many even see assignments, required courses, and exams as obstacles to get around on the way to their ticket to the future—the degree. While there has been talk for many years about professors moving from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side,” e-portfolios are developing as a teaching/learning context where this is likely to happen. The practices associated with e-portfolio—e.g., designing “authentic” assignments, using engaging and active pedagogy, periodic self-, peer- and teacher-formative assessments, and requiring students to reflect on their learning—help to move both professors and students into a teacher/learner relationship where “guiding” really works.
ePortfolios, then, have the potential to edge formal education toward a less didactic form of education. The benefits they cite from respondents seem to confirm the role of ePortfolios in:
  • encouraging metacognition;
  • helping students to link their learning experiences to course outcomes;
  • assisting students to perceive the integrative nature of formal education outcomes;
  • providing a flexible platform for learning activities across a student's learning journey;
  • helping students come to "the very powerfuil realization that going to college is about more than the degree" (p.10).
I particularly like this quote: "Reflection is like panning for gold, finding the valuable nuggets from among the gravel of day-to-day campus experiences" (p.10).

The shift to 'guide on the side' is explicitly stated in the quotation taken above however the accounts from faculty themselves imply a more directive role (from 'guide on the side' to
'director setting the vector'...?) Student comments mentioned the value of structured expectations and one specifically credited her professor as making valuable and directive suggestions... on p.11 the article concedes that "Faculty, of course, are responsible for designing and assessing the assignments that may be included in students' e-portfolios". So, perhaps the term 'guide' in this sense needs to be understood in the context of students exploring a landscape whose landmarks are already established.

The article is recommended as a good introductory commentary on the potential for ePortfolios.