One of the tools that teachers and students alike either seem to love or hate are ePortfolios.  Like most tools, I think they can be used to great benefit in teaching and learning but they also have a number of ways they can be completely ineffective.  I was writing a short narrative the other day to describe how we attempted to design the SERVE Living Learning Community ePortfolios and I thought I might share via the blog since it is well in lines with “augmenting human intellect,” Ted Nelson’s ideas, etc… My description is discussing more of the “ideal possibility” – while I hope that some of the students from SERVE would believe the eP has helped them in integrating knowledge, I know there is much room to grow to make it happen.  I think one of the biggest challenges with any of these tools (such as the blog, or ePs, or…) is that sometimes the learning curve, or some of the tricks required to consistently use the tool, can distract from the intended use.  For example, if the system is too “clunky” and students have too difficult of a time uploading assignments and navigating/customizing the pages, the tool may never be seen for its full potential.

Have any of you had good or bad experiences with ePortfolios?  Have they helped with collateration at all?  Augmenting your intellect?

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In a recent article on “Fostering Integrative Knowledge through ePortfolios,” the authors proposed six-dimensions of integrative knowledge and learning that put words to some of the key principles that were more implicit than explicit in the SERVE ePortfolio development.  These principles (Peet, Lonn, Gurin, et al., 2011, p. 12) are:

  1. Identify, demonstrate and adapt knowledge gained within/across different contexts (i.e., the ability to recognize the tacit and explicit knowledge gained in specific learning experiences and the capacity to adapt that knowledge to new situations);
  2. Adapt to differences in order to create solutions (i.e., the ability to identify and adapt to different people, situations, etc., while working with others to create positive change);
  3. Understand and direct oneself as a learner (i.e., the ability to identify one’s prior knowledge, recognize one’s strengths and gaps as a learner, and know how one is motivated to learn)
  4. Become a reflexive, accountable and relational learner (i.e., the ability to reflect on one’s practices and clarify expectations within oneself while also seeking feedback from others)
  5. Identify and discern one’s own and others’ perspectives (i.e., the ability to recognize the limitations of one’s perspective and seek out and value the perspectives of others; and
  6. Develop a professional digital identity (i.e., the ability to imagine how one will use current knowledge and skills in future roles and how one will create an intentional digital identity)

 

Perhaps one of our greatest challenges (in life, if not just in civic engagement) is to process how one’s strengths and passions might best be contributed to the world.  It is not about drawing a line between technical expertise/job and charity/community, but rather in exploring how pieces might all align such that vocation is the natural cultivation of both individual and collective.  The dimensions cited above help students begin to explore this process.  Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the ePortfolio as used in the SERVE LLC is in its ability to allow collection, reflection, and connection between seemingly distinct, disconnected experiences.  This is described in Nelson’s “Computer Lib/Dream Machines” as collateration – the “creation of such multiple and viewable links between any two data structures” which Nelson suggests is “general and powerful enough to handle a great variety of possible uses in human intellectual endeavor, and deserves considerable attention from researchers of every stripe” (Nelson,  1974) It is this idea that becomes so inspiring with ePortfolio use in SERVE.  Instead of thinking that one’s training for engineering and one’s passion for community service are like two separate lives, the ePortfolio allows for these many different ideas to be presented and connected simultaneously (“collateration”).  Just as hitting “shuffle” on Words with Friends can instantaneously lend insights or connections into that 100-point word, so too can a student understand her/himself in some new, more integrated way as a result of the iterative ePortfolio process.

 

Nelson, T. (1974). Computer lib/Dream machines. Self-Published.

Peet, M., Lonn, S., Gurin, P., Boyer, K. P., Matney, M., Marra, T., Taylor, S. H., & Daley, A. (2011). Fostering integrative knowledge through ePortfolios. International Journal of ePortfolio, 1(1).  Retrieved from http://ww.theijep.com/articleView.cfm?id=39