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ePortfolios: Hot Once Again

My recent conference itinerary:

ePortfolio conference - March 28 at Eastern Connecticut State University, co-sponsored by NERCOMP (Northeast Regional Computer Program) and the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC). It was "sold out."

ePortfolio conference -  April 9 in Newport, RI, co-sponsored by IBM and RINET (Rhode Island Network for Educational Technology). It was focused on the statewide ePortfolio requirement for high school students in RI but drew attendees from around the country.

ePortfolio conference - April 11 at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, NY, co-sponsored by the New York Times, planned originally for 150 to 200 attendees it but got close to 600.

Not only were these conferences all within a 2-week period of each other; they were all within a 160-mile-wide region, and all receiving more attendees than planned. What's going on? People are realizing that:

 - ePortfolios are not one thing, but many things, and can be applied for purposes in all academic activities. "ePortfolio" is a multitude of similar-function applications all sharing a name.

 - All campuses need at least one and perhaps many ePortfolios of varying capabilities.

 - ePortfolios are a native technology for Web 2.0 and the semantic Web.

ePortfolios have infinite capacity and potential to "academize" the Web because they are based in learning and assessment theory and are not primarily management tools (even though they do manage data). Primarily, they are learning spaces, and the Web is all about new learning spaces.

The learning management system may seem like the quintessential academic technology application, but instead the ePortfolio is. Both will be transformed by the distributed nature of the Web (data and functionality residing in multiple places), but the learning management system will start to lose its identity as a unified system when it is distributed to operating system functions or Web functions, while ePortfolios will retain their identity even when distributed because ePortfolio is glued together and its development guided by learning theory.

ePortfolio is the learning technology of this age.

There is no institution of higher learning in this country that lacks some kind of ePortfolio. Why, then, is there not the Blackboard of ePortfolios?

Precisely because of the nature of ePortfolios. Since ePortfolio technology varies across a much broader spectrum of technologies and purposes than do learning management systems, any company or open source community would need an equally broad spectrum of separate applications to dominate the market. That hasn't happened yet.

But, Web 2.0 may change that market equation. An ePortfolio for learning can be constructed to use Social Web technologies as a coherent set of learning experiences. As these technologies begin to reside in a multitude of Web sites, the ePortfolio at a campus needn't support all the functionalities, but can simply serve as a way into the ePortfolio cloud. The campus ePortfolio can be a stepping-off point for the suggested series of learning experiences on the Web: It can channel, aggregate, archive, and analyze.

ePortfolio thinking and theory is behind this vision. The Web is in this case "the field" and learning is then experiential and exploratory and authentic. This Web-based ePortfolio experience is integrative, collaborative, persistent over time, and owned by students. Yet, the campus still "owns" the ePortfolio portal and assessment database.

This ePortfolio concept will lead to a distributed ePortfolio that can easily evolve, quickly adapt, allow for individual learning design, yet still address the reporting needs that higher education institutions must meet for accreditation purposes.

We don't hear, at these ePortfolio conferences now, "what is it?" any longer, but "how can we do it?" And, in the long term, the Web is the way to do it.

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