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ePortfolios – Bridging the Gap Left By CMS

Trent Batson, Ph.D.,
Director, Information and Instructional Technology Services
University of Rhode Island
Chair of the Board of The Open Source Portfolio Initiative

While CMS's are now ubiquitous, they have not fundamentally changed the patterns of centuries -old teaching and learning. Classrooms or labs are still officially certified as the locus of almost all student learning; lecture still dominates; students are still assumed to be the recipients of knowledge rather than its creator. Credits toward a learning goal are still based on seat-time.

Where in current classroom practice is the promise of IT to change the structure of knowledge transactions in our society? For faculty and researchers, research, authorship, the dissemination of information, communication, and commerce have been revolutionized. Yet, the classroom remains the same, albeit with more ways to enhance the lecture.

Perhaps we've been waiting for this moment: ePortfolios do have the potential to fundamentally alter teacher-student knowledge transactions. For one thing, ePortfolios recognize that students own the products of his or her own learning. They provide the system to fully build out an outcomes-based curriculum. They also assure that life-long learners will have a persistent repository to showcase and track their personal growth.

ePortfolios and the Learner's Role in the New Structure of Knowledge

Information technology in academia has led to new thinking about how humans create knowledge through conversation, collaboration, and research. Now, with ePortfolios, students can begin to play an interesting new role in these knowledge transactions spawned by IT.

Electronic Portfolios have emerged as the horizon application in academia. But, although course management systems are already functionally defined, ePortfolios are not. ePortfolios were traditionally only course-based but now are used most commonly for purposes of accreditation in schools of education or certification of standards in the professions The next step appears to be installing ePortfolios as an enterprise-wide academic application, serving all the traditional and cutting-edge ePortfolios purposes:

· Encouraging reflective practices
· Supporting rubrics-based outcomes assessment for accountability
· Providing a rich student-development and advising environment
· Including co- and non-curricular student work in students' records
· Extending support and continuity for life-long learning
· Promising more consistent and easy articulation between programs on one campus or between campuses
· Including students more fully in the teaching-learning equation
· Providing faculty with evidence of teaching excellence in the form of actual student work specifically related to learning goals in an outcomes-based syllabus

Reflective Practices – The Genesis

In their paper-based incarnation, portfolios were file-folders containing student work in a course over one semester. Keeping the work in one central file accessible to student and teacher allowed both to re-visit the work later in the semester for assessment and revision. Work that students had lost perspective on in week 3 of the semester when they did the work could be re-visited with fresh eyes in week 10.

The Web allowed for a more efficient and universally accessible repository than paper-based file folders. But the focus on single-course reflective practices did not change substantially with static Web pages.

Broadening the scope of ePortfolios with Web accessible databases

The database backend for Web sites provided the spark for the ePorfolio revolution. It is now not surprising for entire campuses to contemplate a campus-wide portfolio implementation. In Minnesota, the promise of a portfolio in every pot (every citizen having a portfolio) has been brooked.

Cautions Regarding ePortfolios Implementation

· A full description of standard functional requirements for an enterprise-wide ePortfolios platform is still a month away [scheduled for limited sharing on Jan. 25 at NLII]; ePorfolio data standards and the tool portability profile are a few months away; at the moment, few people would claim to have a definitive definition of an ePorfolio.

· Vendors are no more confident about that definition than their customers.
· Still, dozens of ePortfolios systems are available; most do not interoperate, and thus ePortfolios, ironically, are not portable to another system.

· ePorfolio large-scale implementation is curricular as well as technological; thus implementation may be a two-year or longer process.

· Whatever ePorfolio system you acquire or are using now probably won't be the system you will be using in two years.
· No one has a fully-defined method for preserving portfolio hierarchy for a lifetime, although some universities are contemplating just such a promise; even guaranteeing access to the raw bits of data 50 years from now is assuming a predictability in IT development that we've not experienced, yet.

How to Fulfill the Promise of ePortfolios?

In the best of worlds, ePortfolios will indeed augment life-long learning, bridging personal and professional learning, and also K-12, higher education, and continuing education. But, the challenge to establish international standards for tool interoperability, and particularly for hierarchical portability of ePorfolio structure, is only partially understood, much less its solution. Will the tool portability profile be a major step? How about peer-to-peer storage? Or the IMS Global Learning ePorfolio data specification? Or something not even imagined yet.

Despite all the caveats, the ePorfolio in academia is the academic application silver bullet. The ePorfolio legitimizes out-of-classroom learning. Course management systems don't recognize it. We need to pay attention.

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