Saturday, November 20, 2004

UBC e-Portfolio Conference

Yesterday I provided the keynote address at the University of British Columbia's e-Portfolio Conference. The theme of the conference was "reflection is not a mirror, it's a lens." I modified my presentation from France and Montreal by adding new ideas on reflection, especially as it relates to the work of Jennifer Moon, James Zull, McDrury & Alterio (the storytelling researchers from New Zealand) and the foundational thinkers: Dewey, Habermas, Kolb, and Schön. It was exciting to be able to explore these ideas, and to share my own synthesis of the literature on reflection, before I related these concepts to digital storytelling and blogging.
Supporting Reflection in Electronic Portfolios: Blogs, Wikis and Digital Storytelling
This presentation will focus on the role of reflection in electronic portfolios and the tools for scaffolding reflection: blogs, wikis, digital stories and built-in forms. The presentation will cover a brief overview of the literature on reflection and learning (Schon, Dewey, Moon), including some new perspectives on storytelling as reflection on experience to improve learning (McDrury & Alterio), and the role of reflection in brain-based learning (Zull).
It was such a pleasure not to talk about assessment and accountability; it was so refreshing to focus on deep learning supported by reflection. I had a full hour for my presentation, and included more digital stories; it was nice not to feel so rushed, like the half hour that I was allowed in Montreal and France. Following my presentation, there were three panels: three faculty members from UBC sharing their experiences with reflection for transfer learning; three researchers discussing The Learning Landscape (David Tosh, Tracy Penny Light and Helen Chen by video conference); and a wonderful student panel. I understand that video of all of the presentations will be online soon.

This was the first e-portfolio conference that I have attended in the last three years that included the learners' voices. It was very validating to hear these students talk about their e-portfolio experiences. There were many ideas that the students expressed that echoed some of my concerns:
  • the commercial tool they used (iWebfolio) was easy to learn but not very creative...not something they would want to show to an employer
  • they questioned (resented?) receiving marks for their reflections... they much preferred a "pass/no pass" approach to evaluation
  • they needed extrinsic motivation to do the portfolio initially, but were starting to see the value in the process

These are challenges that the field needs to address: how to motivate learners to engage in the types of folio thinking that support deep learning. From those students, it was apparent that many were writing their reflections to meet the requirements of the assignment, to get the highest mark, not to really learn from their experience. Many wrote what they thought the faculty wanted them to write, not what they really felt. Perhaps that is another dilemma to add to Joanne's list: the motivation dilemma. These students mentioned that, in their busy lives with many other courses, they only wrote their reflections because it was required for a mark (an extrinsic motivator). Without that requirement, they would not have engaged in the reflection on their own (no intrinsic motivator), even though they got a lot out of the process when they were done. One student indicated that if an activity is not graded it is not valued. What does that say about the impact of evaluation on learning? I know this is the reality of schooling, and these comments came from adult learners who were very articulate. What does that say about trying to get adolescents to reflect on their learning? I think it calls for strategies that are more engaging for young learners. The process of reflection could become the process of filling in blanks on a web-based form. That just doesn't do it! We can do better than that! I think that is why my message about reflective digital storytelling is so well received.

1 comment:

Tadeusz Lemańczyk said...

Hello, Helen! You are quite right -- learners' motivation is crucial. It is crucial not only to their ePortfolios but also to their Internet activity as a whole. They have to feel that their Internet efforts yield a profit. Of course, the marks are only an educational substitute for their real profit. Our own profit brought in from our own ePortfolios would be an irreplaceable example to them. ;-)

I share your hope that video of all of the "e-Portfolio Conference: Reflection Is Not a Mirror, It's a Lens" presentations will be online soon. It is a very valuable medium. For example, thanks to such short videos as the ones preserving previous e-Portfolio Conference at the University of British Columbia, namely "Electronic Portfolios: More than a 21st Century Resume" we can catch such details as that one present in Susan Kennedy's "Manager, Student Transitions Branch" ( -- between 00:00:15 and 00:00:25). :-)

With kind regards,