Promoting Eportfolio Design to Faculty

Having read and discussed “ePortfolios and Faculty Engagement: Measuring Change Through Structured Experiences” with Dr. Doukopoulos, I would like to continue building on the promotion of eportfolio design for the Auburn English Department.  This summer’s eportfolio workshops for non-tenured instructors teaching core composition, which Dr. Doukopoulos and Dr. Lesley Bartlett arranged and conducted, went well, and Dr. Doukopoulos and I hope to follow up soon on that by gauging our peers’ response to the workshops and the concept of eportfolio.

I think that to promote and engineer an eportfolio design that meets the needs of our particular department, that is, its faculty and the students it serves, I’d like to see five things.  I’d like to see an opportunity for one or more persons experienced with teaching through eportfolio to address the assembled faculty at one of our regular meetings.  This should be a chance to clarify what it is and what it isn’t and to explain how incorporating this design need not radically alter any teacher’s larger goals, but rather, it would only foster those goals. I’d like to create a website specifically devoted to explaining how one might go about structuring an eportfolio design, either around an existing course or for a new one, and why this is a sound pedagogical idea.

I’d like to expand our department’s one-year-old Teaching Circles, which currently focus on the training of graduate teaching assistants, to incorporate eportfolio design and implementation   It might also be a good idea to encourage more of the faculty to create their own professional eportfolios, which would give experience to those whose lack of it might discourage them from risking eportfolio in the classroom, while also promoting the accomplishments of the department.  And, finally, we should create a chance for instructors and students who have experienced eportfolio to gather together to discuss how the design is working for them and how it might be improved.

Literature Course Redesigned for Eportfolio

In just over a month I will be participating in our Biggio Center’s Summer Course (Re)Design Seminar in order to design a core literature course that incorporates a group eportfolio assignment, if not, in fact, a larger eportfolio design.  There may be a way to bring together some, if not all, of my current assignments into the eportfolio, but for the moment I am imagining a single group assignment as a key component of the active learning environment, and to that end I am asking myself these questions:

How will the eportfolio assignment groups be selected?

Should I determine something about the strengths, weaknesses, and the interests of my students before I assign them to groups? Should I let them self-select?

When will these groups be set up?

If I wish to assemble the groups based on their academic profiles, how much time will I need to gather information or impressions about their capabilities and personalities? I also need to think about how much time the groups will need to complete this assignment satisfactorily.

How much time in class will be spent on eportfolio work?

Obviously, some time will need to be spent on explaining what an eportfolio is in our context, and I will want to explain my expectations, but will they need any class time devoted to workshopping the group eportfolio?

Will they present their work in class?

They already will have a final examination, and so I cannot have their final exams be eportfolio presentations, but, then, should I set aside a day to showcase the finished product?

How will eportfolio topics be made? How will they be chosen? From a bank of choices?

Because I am thinking of this as an extended project over many semesters, if not, in fact, over many years, broader topics such as the Enlightenment, Baroque music, the Africa diaspora, would be quickly exhausted, but if I could assign narrower topics within these broader fields, then it would be more likely that the project could be extended indefinitely. Then I would need, I believe, a bank of very narrow eportfolio topics each semester that would be relevant to that semester’s assigned texts and theme.

How specific must eportfolio topics be?

This will require much more thought and planning.I could, for instance, create potential topics by cross listing categories like cultural periods, geographic regions, and art forms, e.g. folk music of Asia during the seventeenth century, landscape painting in England’s Romantic era, or Native American mythic figures represented on pre-Columbian pottery. But even these are only likely to be starting points.

How will I amass student eportfolio assignments?

If I continue to think of this as an open-ended project, and if I want an uber-site where this information and analysis could be collected, then should I ask students to create eportfolios on platforms of their choosing, assemble the links to their sites and weave them into a site I make on a platform I choose in order for future students to see models of class expectations and to have a resource to supplement their own study in the semester when they’re taking my course?

What grade weight will I assign the group eportfolio?

Apart from the issue of creating more grading work for myself, do I want to assign a higher weight percentage to a collaborative project given the issues, real or imagined, that may turn up over the course of the semester? I’m thinking a lower weight percentage would be more appropriate, but not so low as to de-incentivize the assignment

How will I incorporate peer assessment into the eportfolio grade?

Peer assessment has to be part of the process in anticipation of unequal contributions to the group assignment. Ideally I want something specific, but simple, and I would want to incorporate the peer assessment, perhaps by inserting an average of the peer scores into the assignment’s grading rubric.

Will platforms be optional? What will be the central platform?

At this point, I can’t see any choice except to make the eportfolio platform optional, but I will need to investigate further to determine the best platform for the ongoing uber-site. My experience is primarily with Wix, but I have some experience with WordPress, whose look I prefer, and I have as yet little experience with the other platforms.

How will I reduce the temptation to plagiarism?

I certainly don’t want to create a clearinghouse for cribbed papers.To reduce this probability, I will want to engineer the assignment’s reflective elements and other specific details into a unique, recognizable project that would have limited application outside of assigned context.

What will be the individual components and artifacts of each eportfolio?

My initial thoughts are to approach the literature eportfolio as I have the composition eportfolio, that is, to have a minimum number of required artifacts for each portfolio.  But I may want to specify certain types or numbers or combinations of artifacts since there will be several students, at least, working on each single eportfolio.  I would want each contributing member to include a required reflective text, and additionally I would want some combination of images, embedded videos and/or audio, pdfs, and links.

What do I want them to learn from the eportfolio assignment?

For the individuals in their individual groups I could see this improving their information literacy, their meta-cognition, their critical discernment, their ability to collaborate, and their knowledge of historical and cultural context. Specifically, I would expect them to recognize the interconnectedness of ideas and disciplines, to recognize that neither literature nor any other pursuit happens in isolation.

How will the eportfolio assignment fit in with the rest of the course?

I think the most direct way to have this assignment work towards the overarching themes of the course is to specifically design the required components of the course, and most especially the reflective writing, to address the larger themes. This may also require adjusting the course object to incorporate the educational goals of the eportfolio assignment.


Alternatively, I may have the students work on smaller, individual eportfolios and then have them in their groups assemble these into the group’s eportfolio before passing this along to me to incorporate into the uber-site.  Quite a bit more to figure out.

Grading Reflective Writing

Monica Kennison’s “Developing Reflective Writing as Effective Pedagogy” focuses on educating nursing students, but, of course, the questions and insights posed in her article I believe relate to our efforts in first-year composition.  In many ways it reiterates the positive outcomes expected of reflective writing by its proponents, particularly the idea that a portfolio review of a student’s work over time helps the student be aware of her “tremendous growth throughout…the program” (310).  The question it raised for me, however, and I have seen this addressed elsewhere, is does grading reflective writing “inhibit students from acknowledging and learning from mistakes, a significant aspect of improving practice” (310)?

I can understand how freshmen might believe that acknowledging their difficulties might just be drawing the teacher’s attention to the weaker part of their writing and jeopardizing the grade they want, and, conversely, they might think that highlighting their improvements might do the opposite.  In effect, would grading interfere with the honesty and accuracy of the reflective writing, undercutting its effectiveness pedagogically? Given that eportfolio design relies rather heavily on reflection, skirting the grading issue is difficult.  My rubric for my students’ reflective assignments includes the category “reflective detail,” but that doesn’t address the counterproductive self-consciousness and self-censorship produced by attaching a grade to the work.  If first-year composition were just about sound syntactic and grammatical construction, then I would hardly need to be concerned, but as it should involve ethics and ethically assembled content, I’d like to mitigate this effect of assigning grades to reflective assignments.

Reflective Writing: Authentic or Constructed Identity?

In “Performing the Reflective Self: Audience Awareness in High-stakes Reflection,” Jen Ross’s argument, as her article title suggests, is that because the reflective writing done in an academic setting is usually assessed by an assigned grade, that this writing, like other kinds, becomes high-stakes for the students who become extremely aware of the grading reader and, then, this awareness undercuts the “authenticity of the reflection,” or, as she rephrases it later, the voice of an authentic self. As a case in point, Ross describes how students may filter their remarks because the teachers grading the work are “potentially vulnerable to implied or explicit criticism of their teaching” (227). In short, it seems to me that her survey of interviews and other research, as well as her own interviews with students and teachers, is meant to dispel the notion that reflective assignments reveal an authentic self with an authentic voice.

Of course, if that is what teachers are looking for, then I can’t help but agree, but then I don’t think there is “an authentic self,” or at least not one publically or maybe even privately accessible. Insofar as the article reminds us of our students’ audience awareness (which we generally encourage our students to possess anyway), then it’s a helpful caviat, but even Ross acknowledges that this awareness may affect students’ writing in many different ways and not always negatively. I would say, in fact, that Ross still seems to advocate reflective writing as a good pedagogy: “Where students were clear about assessment criteria, and secure about how they would be applied, the assessment of high-stakes reflection could be seen to be quite straightforward” (224). The upshot for Ross would seem to be that reflective writing shows us our students constructing an identity rather than revealing to us some essential identity, a result which is not necessarily either inaccurate or dishonest, but is certainly something teachers should expect and account for.

Teaching Reflective Writing

Although many years ago I required composition students to keep writing journals, with mixed results, otherwise I haven’t often made reflective writing a part of the course.  Students might reflect on their writing, their subjects, and their choices in conference with me, or even occassionally in online discussion posts, but before this semester I had not made it an integral part of the course.  One effect of this is that I haven’t had much experience with teaching students how to write reflectively, particularly in an academic setting.  To that end, I’m reading a few articles on reflective writing as a teaching method, starting with Mary Ryan’s “Improving Reflective Writing in Higher Education: A Social Semiotic Perspective.”


Distinguishing academic reflection from the non-academic, Ryan points out that the sort that we compose in academia has a “conscious and stated purpose” and that it makes the learning evident.  For it to be active learning, which is certainly important for me, it needs to be deep and to be critical, in which case the reflection becomes a transformative experience for the writer.  “The social purpose of academic reflection,” Ryan writes, “is to transform practice in some way, whether it is the practice of learning or the practice of the discipline or the profession (103).  For me, this seems to involve teaching them to note as much detail in their observations of themselves and their world as is reasonable, but then to interpret these details in a meaningful way; teaching them to use first person and reflective phrases like “it seems to me,” “I wonder if,” “I think,” or “I would like to know;” and teaching them to recognize their own assumptions and how those affect their perceptions of themselves and the world.

A Pedagogical Richter Scale for Earth-Shattering Experiences

Transformation Rubric for Engaged Learning: A Tool and Method for Measuring Life-Changing Experiences

Is an article authored by Emily Springfield and Anne Gwozdek from U of Michigan School of Dentistry and Andrew P. Smiler, of Evaluation and Education Services, LLC. It’s published in the latest edition of IJeP.

In brief, they argue that although higher ed is proficient at assessing competencies, it lacks the tools to asses “affective aspects of learning, such as changes in perspective and identity.” Their rubric is both a tool and a method of measuring “a program’s impact beyond competency attainment”.

The authors begin by describing the online, E-Learning, dental hygienist program that led to the problem the rubric attempts to solve: the need for a tool to measure the “personally transformative” learning from the traditional assessments of competencies (64).

The next section, “Need for a Rubric,” is an inspiring description of the program based on the powerful testimonies of its students that “Something special” is happening in it. Their curriculum asks student to compose self reflections often and the final project is to compose a meta-reflection on all the reflections they made throughout the program. The response to that method seems to be where the magic is happening based on their students’ testimonies:

Students say of the program “it changed my life” or “I see the world in an entirely new way now.” Even mature students—those in the E- Learning Program are coming back to college after an average of 7 years in professional practice—with personalities not generally given to exaggeration, report that “This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” and “I didn’t really understand at first but after the last round of reflections, I really started to get it why we are doing all these extra things.” (64)

This article is a powerful resource for gathering data on high impact learning/ teaching practices. The most useful and interesting content is where the researchers describe their coding process for developing the rubric. Although labor intensive (developing and applying the rubric), the value is immediately apparent as the researchers explain in detail their reasoning and convincingly argue for their assessment themes: Confidence, Pride, Skills, Perspective, and Identity, as well as the types of deliverables that might best be assessed: eportfolios, self reflective essays, exit interviews, open ended survey questions, online threaded discussion questions, etc.

Here’s an example of the questions used to gather the data from Table 1:
Focus Group Questions Used in the E-Learning Program
The focus group data used to develop the coding rubric had the following questions:
•    Did you have any a-ha moments?

•    What do you see as the role of reflection in your profession moving ahead?

•    Do you notice differences between yourself and the people you work with vis a vis reflection?

•    Can you identify something you do differently as a result of being reflective?

… (68)

There’s a lot more included in the article detailing the steps and process of implementation.

We should consider using this tool as we engage in this curricular change in FYC. We can use it to measure where students are now in the current system and how eportfolio practice affects student perception on learning. Implementation will take more than simply copying the survey questions, but I think designing a plan to implement it to gather data over the next 3 years would be a wonderfully worthwhile mechanism for assessing the value of the eportfolio in FYC.

“We Wouldn’t Call Agronomy ‘Shovel’ “: Trent Batson on renaming the eportfolio

Trent Batson, (aka Godfather of the eportfolio) has a blog on the AAEEBL website.

(AAEEBL (“able”), the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning, serves as a professional association dedicated to supporting educational leaders committed to educational transformation relevant to 21st century learners.  We are best-known for promotion of eportfolios as a high impact practice that encourages learners to reflect on their learning and to learn more deeply as a result of their reflection process.)

A few days ago he posted an entry bemoaning the name “eportfolio” and arguing for a new acronym, PEBL:

Portfolio Evidence-Based Learning (PEBL)

He mentions many of the same complaints about the name (its multiplicity of meanings and the way the term limits understanding to a piece of technology rather than a process of learning)  as I did in my last post, and several more important ones I didn’t think about.

He also makes a case for his new proposed term: PEBL

One of his main concerns is that the new name reflect the concept of evidence based learning and stay true to its both-a-process-and-a-product roots:

“But, as we consider our nomenclature, we probably don’t want to eliminate “eportfolio.”  Using only “evidence-based learning” as our actual academic and research field, would cut away our eportfolio roots and make us seem just one more of dozens of x-based learning movements.  Our community, and AAEEBL, are unusual – maybe unique – in championing both an approach to learning and the technology that enables it.  This is why I think we might want to consider “Portfolio- Evidence-Based Learning (PEBL).”

He goes on to assert that the field known as “eportfolio” is an oddity in educational circles, but changing the name to PEBL will connect the community more solidly to a “tradition of constructivist learning varieties”. In his mind, the term Evidence is the lynchpin of the acronym. He makes two claims in assertion of this:

first, a much fuller, more detailed, multi-modal set of evidence of unmonitored work to link to disciplinary concepts, and, second, access to a personal collection of such evidence gathered over time to integrate.  Making connections to previous ideas and discoveries is at the core of learning.”

I don’t fully understand what he means by “unmonitored work to link to disciplinary concepts.” It seems to me this is a bit reductive, or at least oversimplfied, as it prioritizes the action of “Linking” rather than “Reflection.” In fact, although I completely support his call to re-name eportfolio and his reasoning, I’m not sure I’m sold on his proposal. Although “PEBL” does sound a lot better than “eportfolio”, I’m not convinced that “EVIDENCE” is the crucial thing to name.

After all of the research and examples we’ve looked at over the past couple months, I think it is REFLECTION that describes the value of this pedagogical (constructivist) approach. To me, his arguments for the term “Evidence” beg the question of how/why the term “Portfolio” is necessary as the leading letter of the acronym. What is the distinction to be made, in other words, between “Portfolio Evidence”? Portfolio, to me, is an intentional collection of evidence (i.e. artifacts). In other words, the “PE” in “PEBL” is where the term fails in my mind to convey what Batson describes as a crucial distinction.

I understand why the word “Portfolio” itself would be useful in that it would like the new term to the old, but it reads as an awkward appendage: Portfolio Evidence Based Learning. Either we read it as an adjective (although, again, this causes confusion because the Evidence is not “portfolio evidence” but rather “learning evidence” that is collected in a portfolio) or as a double noun (Portfolio & Evidence based learning does not make sound linguistic or pedagogical sense either).

In the last paragraph we get a final argument and here I think is where more conversation about the nomenclature needs to happen: “PEBL is a theory itself – evidence used on behalf of developing the metacognitive aspects of reflection and integration – that also adds enormous dimensionality to existing learning theories and practices.”

PEBL is a better name than eportfolio, but it does not denote its own theory in an intuitive way. To be clear, I think the real failing of eportfolio as a term is the ugliness of the word–that overly-trite digital portmanteau makes it seem dated and corporate–and the fact that it does not describe its own value. (For example, every time I talk about eportfolio integration in FYC and our research project, people shrug and say “Well, just have them create an eportfolio in first year composition.” The problem is not a misconception, but an oversimplification that the term itself causes.)

I think a new term is needed but I’m not sold on PEBL. It fails in the same way the old term does. I think a term that is of use to educators must incorporate one/all of the following terms that Batson has to use to describe the value of the theory behind “PEBL”: “Meta-cognitive” “Reflection” “Integration” other conceivable synonyms for conveying the key process at the heart of portfolio learning: “Constructed Learning” or “Meaning Making” or “Creative Combination”

The more I think about it, the more I return to the acronym I came across (and discussed in an earlier post: Thoughts on “Fostering Integrative Knowledge”) in a study done by the University of Michigan: KIPP (Knowledge Integration Portfolio Process). Every word in that acronym moves the definition forward and makes sense, without redundancy, of its value to all stakeholders. In other words, it does what Batson calls for and it sounds like a sounds like pedagogical practice. The only thing lost is that it is not as easily used as a noun in a sentence: “My students are working on their KIPPs.” Maybe we would say “…their KIPP projects”? I don’t know. What are your thoughts?