Friday, March 14, 2008

Case Studies of Electronic Portfolios for Learning

This is the first in a series of posts describing some work funded by Microsoft. We are posting in this format to invite reader comment and trackback. The work described below is an example of a learning portfolio, and this post is our problem statement.

Nils Peterson, Theron DesRosier, Jayme Jacobson, Gary Brown


We have written about students’ changing technology proclivities and the changing landscape for Learning Management Systems (LMS) in this Microsoft white paper for EDUCAUSE 2007, in JOLT, Innovate, this blog, and in this interview). This document begins a case study of learners who use electronic portfolios to advance their learning. It does not explore uses of electronic portfolios as “showcases” of best work. The latter uses are facilitated by ePortfolio tools in several of the common LMS products and in several widely used Student Information Systems whose common trait is to facilitate institutional assessment, not learning.

The kinds of uses of ePortfolios we are examining are closely aligned with Personal Learning Environments (PLE). What we are finding in the cases that follow are users implementing what is suggested in Scott Wilson’s Future VLE diagram; an ad hoc, assemblage of Web 2.0 components (the term "Worldware" applies to the components). (Scott refers to a “VLE” (virtual learning environment) which might be either a personal or institutional learning environment. For our purposes here, read Scott as proposing a PLE.)

One of the questions we are exploring in this work is the potential of Microsoft SharePoint 2007 MySite Subsites (WSS) to serve as the central building block in Wilson’s Future VLE, a hub for the learner, and potentially a collaboration and/or presentation space for the learner or learner and segment of the community.

In this document, we prefer to retain the term “portfolio,” rather than PLE, for these activities because we want to connect to a body of literature on portfolio practices, including the commonly offered mantra: collect, select, reflect, connect and project (into the world). We draw a sharp distinction between the learning portfolio discussed here and the “showcase” or summative portfolio, especially when the creation of the portfolio is at the request of a third party for summative assessment purposes.

We also prefer the portfolio language to that of PLE because we value the learner consciously leaving a ‘learning trace’ as they work on a problem in the space, and we see the capturing and sharing of that trace is an important part of documenting learning. A recent employer poll supports this bias for richer documentation of learner skills. Some of our interest in this work began by documenting the learning trace that is evident in Hotz’ blog of his collaboration to unlock the iPhone.

In addition to Hotz, we have been examining electronic learning portfolios created by students and professionals at Washington State University, conducting interviews of them, which were captured with audio recordings, white board diagrams and/or both.

Several themes arise from studying these cases:
  • Learning portfolios have a goal, or problem to solve;
  • They adopt strategies that are public;
  • They are implemented in multiple tools and spaces where collaborators are already present, or can be expected to congregate;
  • They understand Social Capital, and the portfolio practitioner seeks to develop and leverage it;
  • A key use of Social Capital and a reason to work in public is to develop an assessment community that can provide feedback and insights;
  • The portfolio, especially its repository strategies attempt to facilitate reflection and synthesis to move the learner (and community) from information to idea to action;
  • Users of Learning Portfolios work in multiple modes, including the arts, to convey their synthesis and call to action.

Other posts in this series can be found in this blog, under the tag Learning Portfolio.


Nils @ WSU said...

When does a 'learning portfolio' begin or end?

Nils Peterson said...

How is a showcase portfolio not solving a problem (such as creating a resume to get a job)?

Nils Peterson said...

We are talking about portfolios that are more than assessment management engines for the institutional purposes. We are seeing learners that are working outside/inside the university in portfolios that are larger than the credentialing activities.

Gary Brown said...

It occurs to me that perhaps the distinction between a showcase and learning/working portfolio might be drawn by articulating distinctions not in the ePortfolio but in the problem. The problem a showcase ePortfolio solves relies on the summative judgment of someone who is external to the portfolio and most likely has not been involved in the workings of the learning portfolio (though maybe influential in determining next steps in that ePortfolio). A learning/working portfolio, on the other hand, engages external agents in the process of solving the problem (though the workspace will not likely be entirely "contained" in the portfolio workspace.

Gary Brown said...

The advantage to naming the "learning" portfolio rather than the "working" portfolio is the phenomenon that one might not learn when working. The advantage to the notion of a "working" portfolio is that it perhaps more fully engages a broader community of professionals within and beyond the educational institution. A working portfolio also tends to connote an ongoing project or activity. A learning portfolio connotes ones reflection, as in thoughts after reading Thoreau...

There are advantages in thinking of both, but problems adding a third category.