Monday, June 06, 2005

eFolio Research Reported

I was finally able to view the April 14 MNSAT telecast of their Satellite Broadcast, “Electronic Portfolios for Lifelong and Lifewide Learning: Research and Practice.” The content focused on the research that Darren Cambridge completed about the eFolio Minnesota project. Darren surveyed 500 of the 30,000 users, and did in-depth interviews with 20 portfolio developers. His findings, as he reported them in the telecast, are further support for developing electronic portfolios for lifelong and lifewide learning. His definition of the roles of portfolio learning:
Portfolio learning is lifewide in the sense that it tries to facilitate learning that happens not just in the classroom, not just in formal learning, but in the workplace and in family life. It is lifelong in the sense that learning is something that happens throughout one's life, through different stages of life, not just within a particular academic program, but from cradle to grave.
The MNSCU eFolio Minnesota tool is an online environment in which the individual is provided 3 MB of online storage, and the purpose for the portfolio is determined by the owner, although when used in an educational environment the initial purpose may be prescribed. Even so, the telecast described examples of the system allowing layers in the portfolio for different audiences. The website describes it as:
a multimedia electronic portfolio designed to help you create a living showcase of your education, career and personal achievements. All Minnesota residents, including students enrolled in Minnesota schools, educators and others can use eFolio Minnesota to reach their career and education goals.
In the teleconference, I found Darren's findings with the adult portfolio developers in Minnesota to be very encouraging. I see no reason why these findings wouldn't also apply to K-12 students. As he said,
"...what we learned about how people are introduced and supported: the need for a group of peers working together and real audiences to bounce ideas off of in the experimental stage where the portfolio is beginning to form and to take shape is very important. And then looking at the interface of the personal and the professional that has been shown to be so important to the sense of ownership and integrity of the portfolio; that it's not something that's handed to you by an institution or by the government, but that it's something that you've made that represents you as a full human being."
Peter Rees Jones from Leeds University in England was also on the telecast. He reported on some of their experience in building linkages between the world of work and the world of formal education. His statement about learner ownership is also important:
"It is clear that there is a relationship between where people have a sense of ownership and the success of an eportfolio project. Where people have that sense of ownership they do engage with it [the portfolio] and they will use it regularly. "
As I develop the research design and professional development activities for The REFLECT Initiative, these findings will be shared as central to the policies and practices of implementing portfolios in high schools. The finding about the sense of ownership is one that I have addressed before, but now is validated by some of the research. When Darren Cambridge says, "This works!" I hope policy makers will pay close attention to what "this" is: the learner-owned model that the eFolio Minnesota project has implemented with a focus on the individual, not on the institution. These findings further validate my concern that we cannot lump all electronic portfolios in one basket: a rich description of the conditions of implementation is critical to understanding the results.


Jeremy said...

Hi Helen,

Just at a glance, this appears to be what I might call more "keener research" on e-portfolios. Yes, a small majority of reflective souls will always embrace these tools and do great work with them...but does that mean that anyone else will care or benefit from these large-scale initiatives?

So he talked to 20 super-keeners out of 500 keeners? What about the 25,000 others who have poked around and done little with it, or jumped through assignment hoops...or the thousands of other eligible users who will never see the point? It seems like we sometimes forget about the masses and just hope that they'll eventually come along for the ride.

Helen Barrett said...

But that is the change process! Change starts with innovators and early adopters. I haven't read the full report, but I think the 500 was a random sample. This report is formative evaluation data; it is too early to call it summative. What I got out of Darren's findings as well as Peter Rees Jones, were the success factors to inform implementation. I also didn't write about the requested changes to the system: "findability" in search engines, more space for audio and video, and more control over design.

Jeremy said...

Yes, it may be the start of a change process...but in the current buzz over e-portfolios many of us seem to be assuming that everyone will enjoy the same benefits as the initial keeners.

I don't see it as much different than the blogging phenomenon. Blogging for its own sake (self-directed) will not appeal to most people, even though there may be millions of people who love it. Assigned blogging in schools will force everyone to jump through the hoops, but they won't be getting the benefits because they're not engaged -- they're not choosing their topics, building an authentic network, etc.

I fear the same fate for e-portfolios that are pushed by universities -- they'll just become meaningless excercises for most participants. We're excited about them because we see how great they can be for the motivated minority, but we can't expect those benefits for everyone once we try to cram it into the industrial model of schooling.

Give the students complete freedom (and lots of storage space), and the institutions will suddenly get very scared -- what about security, harrassment, inappropriate content, etc, etc, etc?

Helen Barrett said...

Philosophically, I agree with your concerns about the implementation of mandatory accountability portfolios. But the Minnesota eFolio is unique among most of the customized systems that I looked at last fall. It has no assessment system built in, which makes it less vulnerable to those institution-centered portfolios that you criticize. In fact, one finding of the study is the importance of ownership and the individual-centered focus.

My fear is that others will read into the study that "e-Portfolios work" but assume that applies to ALL e-portfolios, without looking closely at the purpose and metholodogy and details of implementation. That's why I am getting ready to study implementation of electronic portfolios with high school students. We will document those details and should get some pretty honest feedback from students and teachers.

Pete Hubbard said...


I'm going to be lazy and not research all of your work to understand your last statement, and ask that you elaborate on it either here or in a new post: "... These findings further validate my concern that we cannot lump all electronic portfolios in one basket:..."

Jeremy said...

Sounds good, Helen. I appreciate your insight and optimism. Not sure why I was feeling so cantankerous when I read the post earlier...

I'm looking forward to seeing your research -- always a pleasure.