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.

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