Saturday, May 15, 2010

Another misunderstanding of term "electronic portfolio"

Thanks to Kathleen Wilbanks' tweet today, I read Michigan’s Public Policy Reaction to The Race to the Top. Here is the third paragraph, referencing electronic portfolios:
The increased availability of data to teachers, parents, students, administrators, colleges, and employers is hoped to improve instruction and heighten learning experiences for students. These reforms could include but are not limited to the creation of an electronic portfolio containing the test scores, performance records, and grades of each student and teacher as well as the amount of access to the system (with proper privacy settings) to researchers in order to quickly evaluate and replace failing systems. These reforms also focus on linking individual teachers and individual students regardless of their spatial proximity. In Delaware, a state discussed further later on, The Education Association placed a significant amount of value on the development of a data system that would track student performance from pre-school to college and/or career. The hope is for teachers and administrators to become aware of at-risk students before the student drops-out or becomes "unreachable".
The goals as stated here are very important. However, in my opinion, what is described here, this tracking of performance ("test scores, performance records, and grades of each student"), is an assessment/accountability system, that they are calling an electronic portfolio; but this model is far different from a student-centered electronic portfolio that is a learner's own digital footprint, or their story of their own learning over time. I wish we could be much clearer about the difference between these two paradigms. When "electronic portfolios" are define with institution-centered terminology, the importance of a student-centered process (collection, selection, reflection, direction, presentation) seems to be ignored. How do we raise the awareness of the larger community that there is another side to electronic portfolios? How do we show that an electronic portfolio can be a space for students to explore and showcase their interests, purpose and passions? In the U.K., an electronic portfolio can also include a learner's personal development plan (PDP). I am just asking for a balanced perspective when using the term, or to at least recognize the multiple purposes.

8 comments:

Brian D-L said...

Electronic portfolios, like "learning outcomes assessment," get filtered through many accretions of historical debris. Both need much clarification, that people are not grasping at (or throwing away) purported renditions of either for dead-end reasons.
In the process, I would suggest that "student centeredness" also needs much critical scrutiny. It can be a pitfall as detrimental as any other, if it sacralizes "student input" over effective assessment by professionals. Self-selected, self-reported, self-reflected collections of artifacts still call for professional assessment by educated professionals who have gone before in the learning adventure.

Dr. Helen Barrett said...

Again, I disagree with the assumption that the only purpose for an electronic portfolio is assessment. There are multiple purposes for developing electronic portfolios, not only formative assessment or summative assessment/ accountability, but also for personal development planning or, reflection on learning, or showcasing skills for potential employment, or... This is part of the challenge that I am trying to address: understanding the diversity of these multiple purposes more broadly. As I have said many times, the term "electronic portfolio" needs to include a modifier that describes its purpose: electronic learning portfolio, electronic employment portfolio, electronic assessment portfolio, etc. Each purpose has a distinct audience and ethos, or underlying assumptions that inform the beliefs, customs, or practices of portfolio implementation.

Brian D-L said...

But Helen, You seem to be unduly splitting "assessment" from "personal development..." etc. Just as you are suggesting people are misunderstanding eportfolios, you seem to be limiting the idea of 'assessment' to a much narrower definition than is called for.
Assessment, after all, is (and can be) inter-subjective self-reflection, for many, simultaneous and varied purposes. Even the "summative v. formative" dichotomy doesn't do the question real justice.
At the same time, people seem to be sacralizing the "student centered" nature of eportfolios; there are, after all, 'standards' that we in higher education use to assess whether students "get it" or not-- not all collections of self-reported artifacts (e- or otherwise) are of equal value in the learning process.

Dr. Helen Barrett said...

I am drawing on Peter Ewing's two paradigms of assessment: assessment for improvement and assessment for accountability: National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) has published an occasional paper by Peter Ewell which outlines these two paradigms. Your comments come from a higher education perspective, and the quote in my blog was from the perspective of K-12 education, where accountability is currently measured by standardized tests. Some think these tests should be replaced by e-portfolios, which I believe will overshadow the powerful use of e-portfolios to support assessment FOR learning (Black & Wiliam, 1997). The e-portfolio tools we have today are not sophisticated enough to allow learners to maintain ownership/engagement/choice over their e-portfolios while enabling the collection of data at the level validity/reliability required for accountability. I've been advocating for separate systems: one for learners to tell the story of their learning (and get feedback) and another to collect data from assessors about achievement. In today's environment, there is an opportunity cost of favoring one approach over another, and the institution's data always seems to take precedence over student voices.

Brian D-L said...

I will look forward to further discussion about this at the July conference. As you suggest:
"The e-portfolio tools we have today are not sophisticated enough to allow learners to maintain ownership/engagement/choice over their e-portfolios while enabling the collection of data at the level validity/reliability required for accountability." And yet many an institution is excitedly rushing toward eportfolios with the sense that they will be the magic key "accountability" demands.

At the same time, I would suggest that education ("higher" and otherwise) lags in its imagination of the possibilities right now available to us through the very tools that make mashups, web2.0, unstructured data analysis, and so much more possible (with and beyond e-portfolios). And higher education is not too far behind k-12 in its heading in a wrong direction with this.

Dr. Helen Barrett said...

I propose that the institutions that are "excitedly rushing toward eportfolios with the sense that they will be the magic key" (for accountability) are turning off a whole cohort of students to potential of the portfolio process, in the name of accountability. I mentioned the opportunity cost in this whole process. I want to keep the learner at the center of the process, not the institution, nor the technology. And I will be challenging the audience with these issues in my keynote presentation in July.

Brian D-L said...

I would suggest, that to "keep the learner at the center of the process" can not be accomplished effectively by assuming a false dichotomy (either "student" or "institution"; either "assessment" or "students' self-reporting." etc.) E-portfolios might be nice, sophisticated collections of artifacts, but they are just that-- reified collections of artifacts; and as a good archaeologist can tell you, a nice collection of artifacts that isn't collected carefully with attention to as much 'context' as possible, remains a nice collection of relatively mute artifacts.
Students don't automatically know how to collect their 'learning artifacts' without someone who has gone before them in the learning process, to help them engage in careful self-reflection. This is where I would suggest we keep visible the "teacher" *with* the student, at the center of the process (assessment, as some have suggested, being a matter of "sitting beside" rather than simply measuring for accountability)
This teaching/learning process doesn't do away with "teacher" (expert, professional) but entails an inter-subjective process of teacher and learner. This ought to be reflected both in "assessment" and in "learning portfolios," or we've succumbed to the false dichotomy.

NVQnow said...

I am initially leaving a short note to check that my comment will be published before I expand in more detail.
Since I have been involved in developing and working with e-portfolios over the past five plus years I have watched these discussions about what is an e-portfolio with waning interest.
There is nobody who would claim that electronic portfolios are just for assessment. However if there is no possibility that the learner can easily use the content within an e-portfoio can be used for assessment, by which I mean that the learner/individual can use the content to demonstrate their skills and knowledge, then you are inevitably faced with question of So What? It was a question that Serge Ravet grampled with in a memorable paper a few years ago.
Furthermore who is to say that assessment limits creativity. I know of many people who use e-portfolios in a highly creative way even when the end 'product' is to do with assessment.
It is time this tired argument, with its tired and unnecessary semantic nuances is put to bed.