Saturday, January 29, 2005

Researching Electronic Portfolios

I can now publically reflect on the launch of this new research project, and a major transition in my life, from a member of the faculty of the University of Alaska Anchorage (on loan to ISTE for the last three and a half years), to an independent consultant (with one primary client, right now). A year and a half ago I left the security of a tenured faculty appointment, to complete the ISTE PT3 grant project. I knew I wasn't going to live in Alaska any more, so this move was appropriate. As soon as the PT3 money runs out, I will officially retire from the University (probably next month!). I am both excited and a little apprehensive. This is a huge project we have launched.

When TaskStream approached me about doing the research, I had to do some soul searching about what this meant for me and my work on electronic portfolios. Those who know me know that I have long been an advocate of using common desktop software tools to construct electronic portfolios. However, my study this fall, looking at the many strategies to construct online portfolios, documented in this blog, raised my awareness that the tools were not as important as the process. I would have conducted this research for anyone. However, the fact that TaskStream approached me first, and their vision was not to conduct market research, but to look at the effectiveness of the portfolio development process in secondary student learning, motivation and engagement, made me willing to take on a leadership role for this first-of-a-kind research. An important part of the program will also be an 18-month online professional development program for the teachers involved in the project. I also think my attitude toward customized systems in general will help me maintain my objectivity.

As I looked at the huge task of researching the impact of electronic portfolios on student learning, I realized that we needed to hold some variables constant or we would not be able to determine which factors led to the outcomes. As I look at prior research and Activity Theory, I recognize the constraints that the technology tools can impose. For novice computer users, the technology can be an imposing barrier. By using a single tool that doesn't require a lot of technical skill, we can focus on the real goal of the project: student learning, engagement and reflection, not HTML coding, hyperlinking and design. I am hoping that TaskStream will add more options for creativity in design to their tools; but our goal is to get students to collect (create their digital archive), select the key pieces, reflect on their growth over time, project their future goals, and respect their work through sharing with a wider audience.

I am hoping that this project provides a seed for more future serious research about portfolios for learning (not just for accountability) and that we can show how the development process can lead to enhanced student self-esteem. (Of course, how to research that outcome will be a challenge!) I am looking at my "post-retirement" years as an opportunity to give back to the education community, in the spirit of Erikson's "generativity" stage of life.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Launching the REFLECT Initiative

I am at the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) where today we unveiled the REFLECT Initiative, a research project to assess the impact of electronic portfolios on student learning, motivation and engagement in secondary schools. REFLECT is an acronym that stands for Researching Electronic portFolios: Learning, Engagement, Collaboration through Technology (I LOVE it!). This research project will be underwritten by TaskStream and I am the Project Director. The website explains the project and the application process.

I am really excited about the possibilities that could result from this project. It will be a meta-study of a lot of smaller site-based studies. The real benefit of the project will be an 18-month online professional development program for the teachers involved in the project. I will have an opportunity to modify my existing distance course to meet the needs of the participants in each site.

So, this is my mission once the PT3 grant is over in March. When I was approached by the TaskStream team about this two-year project, I had to think seriously about how this project would affect my objectivity about electronic portfolio tools. However, the team has been very sensitive to my concerns, and the study participants could compare the use of TaskStream with control groups of students who use other "common tools" to create their e-portfolios (or paper-based portfolios, or no portfolios). This is also effectiveness research, not market research.

Here is a picture of the booth on the Exhibit floor.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Breaking the Silence

I realize that I haven’t written anything in my blog for almost month. I could say it was the Holidays, but I think the real excuse is a busy travel schedule and a computer that is still acting up. But this too shall pass. Next weekend I will order my new laptop. Last week I was at MacWorld and saw the new announcements. I want the new iLife05 software. There was no announcement about new Powerbooks, but I can no longer be patient. Two month of intermittent freezing is enough.

During the first week of January, I was in New Jersey and New York. Lots of planning for the spring and my new work after my grant is over… which I’ll discuss when it becomes public in less than two weeks. I also get to help plan a Digital Storytelling conference at Kean University in June. We will be putting together a resource DVD on Digital Storytelling for all of the participants. I also led a digital storytelling workshop at another university. It is always fascinating to see what the participants can produce in just two days using iMovie4. There were the personal stories that brought a tear to your eye… I wasn’t sure several of the participants would get through their audio recordings without crying. Then there were the quasi-documentaries. A successful two days.