“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?


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

  1. I generally agree with your comments, Lindsay, particularly with the problems of the label “eportfolio” and with Batson’s attempt to expand (rather than refine in my opinion) the label. Two things never solve problems: violence and acronyms. I like the idea of calling it reflective learning that you bring up because you’re right; the reflection, while not the only factor, is probably the key factor in this approach. Metacognition might also work, but it sounds more pretentious than reflection. If I were renaming it, I think I’d try to hit on its association with active learning if I could.


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