Sunday, August 28, 2005

EPortfolio New Zealand

I decided to participate in the ePortfolio New Zealand conference that will be held in Auckland on December 12-13, 2005. It just delays my departure from "down under" by three days. That conference follows e-portfolio meetings in Adelaide (December 1-2) and Brisbane (ASCILITE conference on December 4-7 and Queensland University of Technology ePortfolio Symposium on December 8-9).

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Whole New Mind

Last week, I bought (and read completely on a cross-country flight) Daniel Pink's new book. A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. As the inside cover states:
A groundbreaking guide to surviving, thriving, and finding meaning in a world rocked by the outsourcing of jobs abroad and the computerization of our lives.
Pink refers to the "left-brain" dominance of the Information Age which needs to be balanced with the artistic and holistic "right-brain" dominance of the Conceptual Age. Pink points out three factors that are fueling this change: Abundance, Asia, and Automation, and that right-brain thinking has become a critical component of successful companies who must compete with lower-priced workers from Asia. He outlines six essential high-concept, high touch aptitudes or senses that will be essential for success in the near future, and some are already essential in this age of outsourcing (excerpts below from pp.65-67):
  1. Design (not just function) - "It's no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestyle that's merely functional. Today it's economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging."
  2. Story (not just argument) - "When our lives are brimming with information and data, it's not enough to marshal an effective argument... The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative." [and he uses digital storytelling as one of those examples!]
  3. Symphony (not just focus) - "What's in greatest demand today isn't analysis but synthesis--seeing the big picture and, crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole."
  4. Empathy (not just logic) - "But in a world of ubiquitous information and advanced analytic tools, logic alone won't do. What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others."
  5. Play (not just seriousness) - "Ample evidence points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games, and humor."
  6. Meaning (not just accumulation) - "We live in a world of breathtaking material plenty. That has freed hundreds of millions of people from day-to-day struggles and liberated us to pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.
Pink makes the point "...back on the savanna, our cave-person ancestors weren't taking SATs or plugging numbers into spreadsheets. But they were telling stories, demonstrating empathy, and designing innovations. These abilities have always comprised part of what it means to be human. But after a few generations in the Information Age, these muscles have atrophied. The challenge is to work them back into shape." (p.67)

I will continue his discussion of Story in a later blog entry. Dan Pink's book goes along very well with Friedman's book, but provides much more practical suggestions about how to make the transition (something he calls a "Portfolio" of strategies at the end of each chapter on the "six senses").

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

E-Portfolios and NCLB

I received an e-mail today with the following questions:
What is the connection between electronic portfolio usage in schools and NCLB compliance? How do I persuade teachers, parents, and school administrators to embrace electronic portfolios at the district level?...Do you know of any resources that detail the connection between e portfolio usage and adherence to NCLB?
I responded with the following: You ask some interesting questions. I am curious why you want to persuade teachers, parents and school administrators to embrace electronic portfolios at the district level? For what purpose? There are many ways to implement electronic portfolios, and according to Activity Theory, the instruments (or tools) have a major impact on the outcome of the process, as does the purpose. Are you looking for an electronic portfolio, or an assessment management system? They are different tools, with different goals and outcomes. One is student-centered, the other is institution-centered.

Keep in mind that virtually all of my experience with e-portfolios has been in Teacher Education/Higher Education. My sense about electronic portfolios in K-12 schools is that the emphasis on portfolios has diminished since the passage of NCLB. Although some states use them for high stakes accountability, I still see paper portfolios in general to be a classroom or school-based implementation. I believe that the purpose for their use has a great deal to do with their effectiveness to support student learning. I also believe that to use e-portfolios effectively, the schools need to meet the ISTE Essential Conditions as a pre-requisite for implementation. Just on the basis of access to technology and skilled educators, many schools could not support the effective implementation of e-portfolios.

I suggest that you also read the White Paper that I wrote for TaskStream that is also on my website. You might also read the paper that I wrote with Joanne Carney entitled, "Conflicting Paradigms and Competing Purposes in Electronic Portfolio Development" submitted to Educational Assessment, an LEA Journal, for an issue focusing on Assessing Technology Competencies, July 2005.

The real issues around e-portfolios have to do with the purpose for assessment: assessment of learning (summative) or assessment for learning (formative and classroom-based)? In my opinion, high stakes portfolios are killing portfolios for learning; that is, portfolios used for accountability are not student-centered and are mostly despised by both students and teachers (see my blog entry of February 11, 2005). However, e-portfolios used as assessment for learning, to provide the type of feedback that supports student reflection and improvement of learning, have the potential to engage students in their own self-assessment. Some e-portfolio systems are also assessment management systems, and some are work flow managers that effectively facilitate feedback between students and teachers. I just wrote an entry in my blog about just this issue and its relationship to transformational ICT.

That type of system has the potential to support assessment for learning which Rick Stiggins proposes can increase student test scores at least one-half to two full standard deviations. In addition to Rick Stiggins and Anne Davies, I draw on the work of the Assessment Reform Group in the U.K. and the meta-analysis of Black and Wiliam to guide my thinking on the role of portfolios to support Assessment FOR Learning.

While we are not directly studying the relationship between e-portfolio usage and the accountability requirements of NCLB, the REFLECT Initiative will be studying the role of electronic portfolios in learning, engagement and collaboration through technology. This research project, sponsored by TaskStream, is the first national research project that seeks to answer a series of questions about the use of electronic portfolios in high schools (primarily). We are not only providing tools to students, but providing professional development to teachers around issues of student engagement, assessment for learning, project-based learning, effective implementation of technology, digital storytelling and reflection to support deep learning.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Work Flow and the Flat World

As I finish the first TaskStream-sponsored regional workshops for The REFLECT Initiative, I've realized that this particular customized system is more than an online digital archive, electronic portfolio and assessment management system. It is really a "work flow" manager, handling the flow of work from students to teachers and assessors. This whole idea of "work flow" in classroom-based assessment has not been emphasized enough. As I see the interconnectedness of the tools, I get a glimpse of an environment that has the potential to streamline the teaching/learning/assessment process. These are the types of tools that have revolutionized global business.

I've been wanting to make a blog entry about Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat. As Friedman says, "the global playing field is being flattened" by the effective use of a variety of information and communications technologies. His book is subtitled, "a brief history of the twenty-first century." He outlines the ten flatteners that are revolutionizing the global supply chain of services and manufacturing since Y2K. His MITWorld Real video conference, recorded May 16, 2005, provides a good synopsis of his book, but I highly recommend reading the entire 473 pages. It is a fascinating look at the global economy where our students will need to compete in the future.

When I was at NECC, the head of the George Lucas Education Foundation recommended that all educators read this book. Friedman's chapters on education, that he calls "The Quiet Crisis" and "This is Not a Test" should be required reading of all teachers, principals, superintendents, parents... all of the stakeholders in education. He discusses some dirty little secrets, like the Numbers Gap (the low percentage of science and engineering degrees in the U.S. compared to India and China); the Ambition Gap (declining work ethic and career goals); and the Education Gap (not enough students in the pipeline with sufficient preparation for science, math and computing careers).

What does educational work flow management software have to do with the global economy? The challenge for education is to adapt to using information and communications technologies (ICT) to help narrow these gaps. It's not enough to just put computers into the hands of students and teachers. Businesses found that the presence of computers did not, by itself, make the difference; their productivity didn't increase until the underlying work flow and processes were revolutionized/re-engineered/transformed by ICT. Friedman's book is full of these examples in business. The challenge for us in education is to find those flatteners, before it is too late, when we can no longer afford it. The potential exists for using technology to provide all stakeholders with just-in-time information about student learning and achievement, while also providing an environment where students can track their own progress, assess their own work, and tell their own stories with pride through their online portfolios. Perhaps these tools could be one powerful flattener in education.