Monday, May 20, 2013

The "E" in E-Portfolios Does Not Stand for "Easy"

Relics of the past?
Photo from
When I did my education degree back in 2001, we were required to create a portfolio. For many years after I continued to add student work or other items to my portfolio. When I was hired as a long-term supply, my district had implemented the use of portfolios, although the implementation was very standardized with every teacher receiving a binder to create their portfolio. It was not taken very seriously. And for good reason. For practically every job interview I did, no one asked to see my portfolio. I would offer it, and I think once they told me to leave it behind and pick it up the next day. I highly doubted anyone looked at it.  

The article "Conflicting Paradigms in Electronic Portfolio Approaches" discusses the different, and sometimes conflicting, views of the e-portfolio's purpose. I think within my experience with the traditional paper-based portfolio the stage of being conflicted over the portfolio's purpose did not even develop, because it seemed like there was no initial agreement on what potential purposes might actually exist. Portfolios just appeared to be the thing to do because they were in fashion. 

If memory serves me correct, the idea of using a portfolio for reflection was not a high priority. I did collect and select and even celebrate in my portfolio. But reflection and projection were not major components.  

I still have my portfolio, and from time to time, I stuff some student work in it. Naturally, squirrelling away examples of student work has decreased since much of that work has gone digital. I never really considered transforming my portfolio into an online version. But it does, obviously, make sense. My traditional portfolio sits collecting dust, but at least an online one has the potential for some people to check it out.

In some of my classes, my students use a course blog and many times they will use the same blog from grades nine to twelve, collecting the work they do from different courses. I always encourage them to keep their blog and consider using it as a way to showcase their work and their development. The article on e-portfolio approaches discusses the principles of deep learning and how e-portfolios can support deep learning. Certainly from my own experience with my students, the blogs they create to collect their work do involve "developmental" and "self-directive" and have the potential to be "lifelong." Perhaps if I could show students my own e-portfolio my encouragement for them to save their own online work would hold more weight!

The article also quotes Kathleen Blake Yancey who has stated her belief that "learners should be the 'information architects' of their own portfolios." I think that is important. The positivist portfolio, I would argue, will become contrived and students will not feel they have much ownership of it when "the meaning is constant across users, contexts, and purposes." It may make the portfolio easier to assess, but it will lack the opportunity for learners to construct meaning. Moreover, it will not display the journey and the process each learner has taken as would be the case with a constructivist portfolio. 

The article "Are Electronic Portfolios a Good Idea for Teacher Education?" explores some of the benefits and disadvantages of e-portfolios. In two studies, one disadvantage that did come up was the issue of time. E-portfolios are work and take time to develop. Further, as in my case, transforming an existing traditional paper portfolio into a digital one can take a lot of time and effort.

Yet it would appear that this time is well spent. The video "What About E-Portfolios" divides the components of the e-portfolio into four areas: The Learning, Transition, Assessment, and Presentation. In the learning component, the video discusses reflection. It states that reflection is not something that teachers always do with their learners. This is very true. Additionally, one essential part of reflection is feedback from the learner's peers and educators. The video mentions the use of blogging for this purpose, which makes perfect sense. Many people in different walks of life, blog on a daily or weekly basis about their work and life experiences. The blog, as a web log, is very well suited for the reflection of an e-portfolio, and I would argue that many blog platforms now offer probably enough features to allow a user to not only use it for reflection but also to display their products of learning as discussed in the video.

E-portfolios should be an opportunity for learners to showcase their work, but they should also be a venue for them to reflect and display their educational journey and their growth. It should be a place where they can celebrate what they did today, and it should also be a place where they can be challenged to continue that educational journey into tomorrow. 

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