Monday, May 16, 2011

Why isn't there more E-Portfolio Development in K-12 schools?

I received an email today from a graduate student who wants to study the implementation of e-portfolios in the transition of special education students from high school to college or to work. She attended the Council for Exceptional Children International Conference this Spring in Washington, D.C., and learned in a pre-session class that currently there are few school districts who are actually using the ePortfolio process. In the limited research she located only 2 school districts who are actually using this, and 3 states/coalitions who are in the process of initiating the process within their states. Through her contacts with CEC's Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT), they indicated that no one is using this process. Why? My response to her:

I could articulate my "hunches" based on my prior REFLECT Initiative research in high schools. Several years ago, I did a Google Scholar literature review on K-12 portfolios (paper or electronic) most of it from the 90s. My observations: since No Child Left Behind passed in 2001, the use of portfolios--paper or electronic--has declined dramatically in K-12 schools in the U.S., based on the research that has NOT been published. Here are some of my educated guesses for the many reasons:
  • Time - There is a perception that it takes a lot of time to implement e-portfolios. Teachers are overwhelmed with teaching, "test prep" and other school reform issues, and portfolios don't have as high a priority as other learning strategies.
  • Access to the Internet - There aren't enough computers or other digital devices (and a high speed LAN/WAN) required to access the Internet for web-based portfolios. I worked with one rural school district with limited Internet access, but had a 1:1 laptop program in their secondary schools. They had problems with consistent software, and strategies for storing portfolios on local servers. A lot of these problems could be solved with a cloud-based solution, if they had good high speed Internet access. I think these problems will be solved soon, especially with a "Bring Your Own Devices" approach. You might check out my last blog entry.
  • Knowledge of and experience with portfolio learning - A lot of teachers do not have experience with using portfolios, or have their own e-portfolios (developed using tools appropriate for K-12 students), so there is not a knowledge base or personal experience to draw upon.
  • Teacher Technology Competency - Even with enough access to technology, unless teachers are willing to learn along with their students, there is often a reluctance to teach with unfamiliar tools. And the average teacher won't let students use technologies they don't know how to manage... and a lot of schools block many of the social networks that I think students use on a daily basis in portfolio-like ways (collecting digital evidence in image, audio, video, text; sharing accomplishments, etc.)
  • Fear of CIPA and COPPA and concerns about student privacy. Perhaps that is because most of the students are under 18.
  • Confusing/Conflicting Purposes - There are a variety of purposes for implementing e-portfolios: learning/reflection/process, employment/showcase/career development, assessment/accountability, transition. Sometimes there is a confusion in WHY e-portfolios are being implemented. See this cartoon.
  • Underlying philosophy of learning - While portfolios initially came out of a constructivist model of learning,  there are some educational institutions that do not endorse that theoretical approach,  emphasizing a more behaviorist paradigm (my evidence: our national obsession with standardized testing, especially when used for high stakes accountability)
  • Lack of trust in teacher judgement of students' self-assessment.
  • Vocabulary (a portfolio by any other name is...) - students are creating websites that resemble showcase portfolios, or are regularly writing in blogs that resemble reflective journals... but these activities are not recognized as components of portfolio learning.
  • Too much emphasis on product (presentation/showcase of learning outcomes) and not enough on process (facilitating conversations about learning).
I find that, for the most part, learning e-portfolios are a classroom-by-classroom phenomenon; assessment e-portfolios are a district or state implementation, but often lack student engagement; employment/showcase e-portfolios are often created by tech-savvy students, often using social networks. One exception is the Navigation 101 program in Washington state: "a life skills and planning program for students in grades 6 through 12. It aims to help students make clear, careful, and creative plans for life beyond high school." The program includes a portfolio, but it is usually a 3-ring binder.

All that being said, I believe a portfolio can be a powerful tool for metacognition, building a positive digital footprint, establishing a conversation about learning, as well as showcasing achievements, planning for a preferred future, exploring purpose and passions. As I said in a recent blog entry, "If we want student engagement, I believe e-portfolios should be stories of deep learning, not checklists of competencies."

Are there other barriers to the implementation of e-portfolios in K-12 schools? Are there strategies that we can use to overcome these barriers?


Unknown said...

Thanks so much for this post. It serves as a roadmap of the pitfalls.

Ray Tolley said...

Hi, Helen,
I totally agree with you about 'checklists'. However, here in the UK most schools have a VLE (MLE) of some sort or another and often assessment tools are connected to the MIS within the VLE - so the ePortfolio does not need to have a fully blown checklist system.

Almost all school VLEs in the UK offer some sort of ePortfolio but true ePortfolio practice varies considerably. Through the Home Access initiative many parents can see their child(ren)'s work over the VLE at home.

The biggest issue for me is that of transition - and few teachers have thought this through.

But, as you rightly point out, one of the greatest pitfalls is that of pedagogy. Until such time as teachers really know, own, use and understand ePortfolios and use a variety of strategies I do not think that much will change in teaching and learning.

ePortfolios are not of much use to the 'chalk and talk' teacher. What we need is more inspirational teachers who can see the value of the ePortfolio to assist collaborative and reflective practice.

Best Wishes,
Ray T.

Simon Grant said...

One of the conclusions, of people in the UK that I talk to, echoes what Ray has written here. One could say that the teachers / educators don't build on the potential for transfer between different stages of life and learning. I wrote a little on related topics in 2 posts:


They are angled towards the interoperability agenda (of course, being written by me) but I do think they contribute to some consensus about what the problems are.