EPortfolios: Making Connections and Understanding Technology Trends
In this digital world, we are constantly moving at a rapid rate. Information is literally at our fingertips twenty-four hours a day. We no longer need Yellow Pages to find someone’s number or address. We no longer need Encyclopedias for research. We no longer need to print out maps from MapQuest before starting an unfamiliar drive. However, there seems to be a disconnect between the changing technologies and the foundation of our country: our education system. Ken Robinson wants us to start an education revolution. He believes that because everything is so different, we need to literally start from scratch (TED, 2010). While many of us agree, that is quite a lofty task set before us. It brings us to ponder: where do we begin? The best way to approach this daunting transformation is to begin with the research. We need to look at the trends occurring over the past few years to see where we have come and to infer where we are going. We, as educators, want to disrupt the patterns set in place for hundreds of years and start fresh.
Implementation of EPortfolios
The newest generation of students has grown up with unlimited access to technology. Because of this, students have a pretty positive outlook on its use (Dahlstrom, Brooks, Grajek, & Reeves, 2015). As well, faculty in schools across the board have a similar interest in the use of technology in the classroom, but interestingly the overall use of it is relatively low (Dahlstrom, Brooks, Grajek, & Reeves, 2015). According to the 2015 ECAR report,surveyed faculty claim they would utilize technology more if there was more research based evidence on its impact on student learning (Dahlstrom, Brooks, Grajek, & Reeves). This is exactly what a learning ePortfolio would combat. In a school where technology is available but underused, an ePortfolio could be a helpful transition into the world of digital literacy. The implementation of the ePortfolio would be complicated, but there is plenty of research to support its effectiveness. Andrew Marcinek from Educause (2014) stresses the importance of finding a strong balance between technology and a strong educational design. Because technology has become an entire category of literacy, it is essential that educational systems adopt it into its classrooms. An ePortfolio would do just that. Marcinek validates technology use (and therefore would support the use of an ePortfolio) because he believes it is “vital that we promote and encourage a love of reading across all formats—along with a facility for questioning, analyzing, discerning and synthesizing with other media” (Marcinek, 2014). Perhaps the most important note he makes is that “it’s not about how many apps we integrate, but about providing our students with the best access and opportunities to contemporary learning resources” (Marcinek, 2014).
It is important to discuss how an ePortfolio should and should not be used. The least effective way to use one would to be to house assignments and create a digital folder of work; this would create an assessment ePortfolio. We would like to implement a learning ePortfolio, where students take control of their education and apply their knowledge in a new way. Students would be required to reflect on their learning, make connections across curricular topics, and build upon its uses as the years go on. In this sense, a disruptive innovation would be created. Randall Bass explains that “e-portfolios can be powerful environments that facilitate or intensify the effect of high-impact practices” (Bass, 2012). Bass is part of a research project that hypothesizes a four-mode success model of ePortfolio implementation: “institutional needs and support; programmatic connections (departmental and cross-campus, such as the first-year experience); faculty and staff; and, of course, student learning and student success” (Bass, 2012). He stresses the importance of viewing the ePortfolio from a variety of ways as well: “as a technology; as a means for outcome assessment; as an integrative social pedagogy; and through evaluation and strategic planning” (Bass, 2012). Essentially, Bass is arguing that ePortfolios or “Personal Learning Environments” cover many aspects of the learning process and are not just present for assessment and compilation of assessments.
EPortfolio Desired Outcomes
To be more specific, the goal for having students create learning ePortfolios is for students to build one that goes beyond having a website where they gather their assignments for class. In her article “3 Keys for Successful ePortfolio Implementation” Sharleen Nelson (2011) writes, “E-portfolios can be used to do more than just demonstrate student progress toward standards. They can also allow students to show who they are as individuals, while also providing a means for tracking a student’s growth from kindergarten all the way through high school and beyond.” In order for this implementation to be effective, students need to understand what is being asked of them as they create and develop their ePortfolios over the four years they are in the high school. It is also important for teachers and administrators to have the appropriate expectations and understand that this is not just an ongoing “project.” This is important because “research has shown that schools that incorporate portfolios as a teaching and learning initiative typically have more success than those that view them primarily as a technology project” (Nelson, 2011).
It is equally important to teach students what it means to reflect and how to reflect on their learning and growth. This is where students reflect on their individual learning process, which helps foster ownership of the ePortfolio. Not only can students see their growth, but so can their teachers, parents, or even colleges where they are applying. David Nigiuidula states, “another great feature of e-portfolios: Educators can assess not just current student work, but also student development over time” (Nelson, 2011).
Identifying what students should include in their ePortfolios, and how to assess student learning through the ePortfolio, can be difficult. According to the article “Demonstrating and Assessing Student Learning with ePortfolios” (2005), since the early 2000s, many higher education institutions have implemented the use of ePortfolios in a variety of ways. Many of the colleges in the study were using ePortfolios to enhance student learning, which is our goal as well. The plan for Owen J. Roberts High School is similar to those of the colleges in that it is meant to serve two different purposes: “to enhance their learning by giving them a better understanding of their skills…and…to meet academic [personal] and career goals”” (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005). The article discusses how Alverno College uses their ePortfolios by having their students self-assess and reflect on their coursework, which helps students identify patterns, strengths, and weaknesses, and ultimately develop a goal or strategy for improvement (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005). Later in the article they review their findings from St. Olaf College, where they focus their ePortfolios on four habits of mind: integrative thinking, reflective thinking, thinking in community, and thinking in context (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005). Using something like this would be beneficial for high school students because it shows them that the context of their ePortfolio is not just to earn a grade for a course, but rather it is to help them develop as thinkers and learners.
Some colleges, such as John Hopkins University, use the ePortfolio in place of “a rigorous master’s thesis process” (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005). As seniors, students could use their ePortfolios in a similar way in English classes as a culminating senior project. No matter how the ePortfolio is implemented and assessed, it is important to consider that “it takes time to build a solid culture in which large numbers of faculty and administrators adopt [learning] e-portfolios” as well as “the nature of the e-portfolio” (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005). It is for these reasons that technology trends have influenced the need for an ePortfolio system.
Technology Trends and the EPortfolio
Because the world we live in currently is instant, incorporating learning ePortfolios in education helps to mimic this. As our younger generations continue to grow, it is obvious that students need timely feedback and results to increase motivation. The reason for this swelling need is technology, and traditional ways along with traditional businesses “will be disrupted if they can’t find a way to compete with convenience” (Contstine & Lynley, 2015). There is a large range of internet growth available for education as seen in the chart below from Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report. Consumers and businesses have almost entirely been impacted by the Internet, yet education sits at 25%. Another reason learning ePortfolios would positively affect students is because it will be even more prevalent once they move on as consumers and workers.
(Constine & Lynley, 2015)
There is also a significant shift in teens as their preference for visual information steadily increases (Constine & Lynley, 2015). The learning ePortfolios provide students with both textual and visual options and “expand on the repertoire of techniques…to demonstrate learning…[which] can lead to increases in self-confidence and achievement” (Nichols, 2013). Some students may choose to reflect through blog posts while others may wish to create videos. This is an opportunity to prepare them for what is to come while providing them with the instant feedback, personalization, and convenience their generation desires.
In Meeker’s 2014 and 2015 reports, a rise in mobile usage is evident. Implementing the learning ePortfolios also caters to this trend, and using WordPress specifically does as well. It is incredible to think that “mobile [usage] accounts for 25% of all Web usage” (Lunden, 2014). WordPress has a free, easy to use app that would increase the convenience of accessing and adding to portfolios. This is obviously significant for students and teachers, but it can also help parents become more actively involved and aware of their children’s learning (Nichols, 2013). This increase in mobile usage is often thought of as a distraction, but giving students a more convenient way to work on 21st century communication skills through their mobile devices increases engagement.
Another interesting shift is the idea that we are in the Second Screen Era. While watching TV, 84% of mobile owners are also using their devices (Lunden, 2014). With this in mind, once the ePortfolios are implemented students could comment on one another’s blog posts, reflect on their own learning, or blog about various topics while relaxing on the couch in front of the TV. The likelihood of participation also increases for educators and parents because of these trends. WordPress, like most technology, is user-friendly, “and any willing person can learn how to effectively create and maintain a digital portfolio” (Nichols, 2013).
In Horizon’s 2014 and 2015 reports, both identify similar trends and challenges in K-12 education. Of these trends and challenges, several stand out. The first is a shift from students as consumers to creators, “as learners are exploring subject matter through the act of creation rather than the consumption of content. A vast array of digital tools are available to support this transformation in K-12 education” (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, and Freeman, 2015). This trend is identifiable in students creating learning ePortfiolios using the digital tool WordPress. Many educators believe that this will lead to deeper engagement for students as they become authorities on topics through research, writing, and production (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, and Freeman, 2015). This shift is only able to occur through creating authentic learning opportunities, which is a challenge identified in both the 2014 and the 2015 Horizon reports. This can be done through using learning strategies that incorporate real life experiences, technology, digital tools that students are already aware of, and collaboration with members of the community (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, and Freeman, 2014). This will be a challenge that learning ePortfolios can address because students have the ownership to build their ePortfolio in ways that are of interest to them based on their studies at school and personal interests.
Lastly, in 2014 the Horizon report identifies an increase use of hybrid learning designs, and in 2015 the trend moved to an increasing use of blended learning. Owen J. Roberts High School has already been using blended learning for a variety of courses, and the learning ePortfolio course is one that can function in a similar manner. The 2015 Horizon report also supports using learning ePortfolios because personalized learning results in more engaged and self-directed students as students are able to master content at their own pace through online learning (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, and Freeman, 2015). Undoubtedly, the trends and challenges addressed in the 2014 and 2015 Horizon reports are ones that support the incorporation of a learning ePortfolio for students at the high school level.
Requiring students to create and maintain a learning ePortfolio throughout their high school careers addresses many current needs and trends. It helps to increase the Internet usage in education, thus better preparing students for the business and consumer world that awaits them, and it caters to the rising trend in mobile device usage and the desire for more personalized, convenient learning opportunities. This addition to Owen J. Roberts High School will improve digital literacy for students and faculty, provide individualization and ownership opportunities, and better prepare our students for the evolving digital world that awaits them.
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