C-Level View | Feature

ePortfolio — The LMS for Students?

A Q&A with Trent Batson

ePortfolio technology has evolved over the years — or maybe it's more accurate to say that the understanding of eportfolio and its application, or eportfolio practice, is still evolving. How will eportfolio find its place and differentiate itself among education technologies? Trent Batson, president of AAEEBL, the eportfolio field's professional association, comments on the current understanding of "eportfolio".

Mary Grush: What is the confusion about the term "eportfolio"?

Trent Batson: Since eportfolio technology can support so many institutional purposes, and so many student purposes, confusion about the definition of "eportfolio" is widespread. What is it? Some may say it's a way to track student learning toward learning outcomes to support a re-accreditation process; others might say it's a way to enhance the advising relationship; and still others might say it's a way to engage students more fully in their learning process. Or a way to get a job, or to develop identity.  

The list can go on. How can one technology have found so many uses?

Grush: Who's working on clarifying the term "eportfolio"?

Batson: AAEEBL, the professional association for the eportfolio field, has taken up the challenge. For 10 months, members of AAEEBL (The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning) have held seminars on the topic of "What is ePortfolio?" That topic quickly evolved into "What is the ePortfolio Idea?" And, now, 65 authors and researchers within AAEEBL are writing The Field Guide to ePortfolio, to be published by AAC&U later this year.

Note that we are using the singular version of the word "eportfolio" to indicate it is a field of study and not just a technology.

Grush: Is there one specific way of thinking about eportfolio that captures current eportfolio practice?

Batson: Consider the LMS as one way to conceive of eportfolio. This is one way to think about eportfolio — as a learning space — though it's only a starting point to understanding eportfolio.

Perhaps the most important aspect of eportfolio to keep in mind here is that it is a student-owned learning space that persists over time and is identified with the student, not with a professor or a course, but the student herself. The implications of having a student-owned space in the academic part of the institution is more revolutionary than it might seem at first.

Grush: How is that revolutionary?

Batson: Student ownership of a learning space in the teacher-student interaction is revolutionary because it is saying the student is an active agent in her own learning process. And that space supersedes just one course or one instructor — it is a record of learning over time and after graduation.

Grush: Why is this change in the student-teacher interaction helpful to the student?

Batson: The rhetoric of teaching and learning reveals that the action words mostly give primacy to what the teacher does. This rhetoric talks of "delivering" learning. It implies that the students are being "done unto" instead of "doing." It talks of "content" as if the knowledge in a field or subject is done and that the student therefore has no option to add to it. In the equation of "teaching and learning," only one half of that equation involves agency.

Yet, it is now clear from the overwhelming weight of evidence about how adults learn, that student agency is a sine qua non of learning. Without agency, students don't have a stake in their own learning, nor is there a challenge for them to do anything other than remember (but not think).

Grush: If the student becomes an active agent in this context, does that diminish the role of the teacher?

Batson: The teacher needs agency, too, but not so as to supersede that of the student. A course might ideally be structured so as to have the teacher agency come forward for a time and then have the student agency come forward. There is no field of learning that couldn't benefit from this course structure.

ePortfolios make student agency concrete and explicit. Students can learn out of sight of the instructor, but capture evidence of that learning so that it can all count and be visible.  

Grush: So let's get back to the notion of the LMS, given what you just said about the student-teacher relationship, and the implications about agency. How do you relate eportfolio to the LMS?

Batson: Faculty and students use the LMS for many functions in the teaching-learning dynamic, but it is always clear at any moment that the LMS is an institutional space. The LMS has become indispensable to manage the academic function of the institution.

The student LMS — their learning management system — is their eportfolio. If faculty and administrators can understand that important concept, and design uses of eportfolios with that concept in mind, some really good things can happen. Maybe even some institutional change.

Grush: What's the main difference, then, between the traditional, institutional LMS and the idea of the eportfolio as the student's LMS?

Batson: The big difference is that eportfolios have many, many faces and uses, whereas the LMS essentially has only one face.

The LMS — to generalize grandly — says, "The legacy teaching-learning ecology is here to stay." The eportfolio says, "Are you sure?"

[Editor's note: AAEEBL is a professional association with numerous ways to interact with the community, learn about eportfolio, and contribute to the field. Visit AAEEBL's Web site, www.aaeebl.org to learn about its resources and events. Trent Batson can be reached at trent@aaeebl.org]



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