Blogs and ePortfolios and Assessment: Thinking Out Loud

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Three recent moments–reading my spring semester teaching evaluations, reading Lanny Arvan’s post on LMS, and participating in a lively and stimulating discussion with Pete Smith ( UT-Arlington) and Jan Marston of the DULAP program, and Barbara Sawhill of Oberlin College on her languagelabunleashed skype show— have me considering the relationship between blogging, ePortolios and evaluation in my classroom. And while I have used the term portfolio to describe our blogging, I’m not sure I will in the future, for I don’t want my students or anyone else confusing what we’re doing with blogs as solely filling the traditional role of a portfolio, that Scott Wilson in his eportfolio PPT describes as “a collection of artifacts that say something about the subject.” (Slide 8) . Now, I’m no expert on ePortfolios (see Scott Wilson or Helen Barrett, who in her white paper on “Researching Electronic Portfolios and Learner Engagement” writes:

…an educational portfolio contains work that a learner has collected, reflected, selected, and presented to show growth and change over time, representing an individual or organization’s human capital. A critical component of an educational portfolio is the learner’s reflection on the individual pieces of work (often called “artifacts”) as well as an overall reflection on the story that the portfolio tells.

Also complicating research and literature regarding portfolios in education is the fact that there are many purposes for portfolios in education: there are portfolios that center around learning, assessment, employment, marketing, and showcase or best work. With so many purposes for portfolios it becomes clear that the term “portfolio” should always have a modifier or adjective that describes its purpose.

Cautioning against eportfolios being turned into static vessels for deposit of artifacts only, she and others emphasize the importance of reflection and of storytelling in the making and content of eportfolios.

Explore, too, the TenCompetence site from Europe or the excellent paper, “Creation of a Learning Landscape: weblogging and social networking in the context of eportfolios” written by David Tosh and Ben Werdmuller in 2004 as they worked on ELGG, the open source learning landscape platform. What they describe is what I am after:

It can be argued e-portfolios are more valuable when used continuously throughout a course as an integral part of the learning experience, as opposed to a reporting mechanism used after the main body of learning is completed. To affect this, there are three important aspects a system would need to encompass:

• Reflection – the student can map out his or her thoughts on a course, a piece of work, or more general experiences.
• Communication – the student can communicate his or her reflections to other students, staff, tutors and lecturers.
• Sharing – the student can give selected other users access to their digital objects. Learning is not as effective in isolation; there is a great deal of discussion involved in traditional courses, and this would need to be reflected in any electronic learning aid. The importance of linking together people, ideas and resources cannot be overestimated.

It’s a complex series of possibilities, this ePortfolio phenomenon, and one that Lanny touches upon when he thinks about what his institution needs in a robust, flexible, responsive LMS–should there be a way to evaluate the group as well as the individual? My response to LMS will have to wait for another post, but that he brings up blogs in the same breath as LMS and assessment means that I can no longer use such terms as portfolio when I talk about our blogging, as casually as I have in the past.

In my classrooms blogging is about organic, emergent possibilities, a fluid weaving of the group’s and the individual learner’s many stories –to try to articulate this narrative as a portfolio of any kind perhaps limits blogging by asking it to be one thing only–something to present, assess, evaluate, collect, select. Blogging with learning communities not so much captures that which traditional learning portfolios do: snaphots of a student’s work at given intervals and often in relation to specific competency benchmarks, but as Pete said during the skypecast, by weaving these moments into a larger tapestry, builds a linked, richly textured conversation with the self, the work, the learning community and the world by including and valuing just about everything created in conjunction with the course (images, text, podcasts, digital stories–informal and formal, drafty as well as polished, conversations with the group as well as individual work. We don’t do much selecting, if selecting means keeping drafts and failures off the blogs–we do selecting through the tagging, the naming, the categorizing of the posts) .

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