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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Powerful, Rich efolio experience



Recently I received an e-mail from someone working to justify efolios for preservice teachers at a college. Here was an excerpt of the letter:

"Thank you for writing me back...I did write an introduction to the manual which lists the student benefits of creating an online portfolio. My professor has been trying to convince all instructors of ... [removed to protect privacy] how they can also benefit by having their students create online portfolios. I would like to list in my introduction, instructor benefits as well because I am sure that there will be some who see my manual. Hopefully the manual will help my professor in that area as well.

What are the benefits to you, as a teacher, in having your students build online portfolios. I'm sure it saves your desk from being piled sky high with completed assignments, but what other benefits are there? I have attached the introduction to my manual for you to read if you get a chance. Maybe it will give you an idea as to where I am going with this. I don't have to include instructor benefits. I just thought is would be a great addition. If you have the time, it would be great. Either way, I appreciate you!"


I had a quick response as follows.

"I believe efolios are beneficial for the following reasons:
  • It provides a central repository for collecting the digital artifacts that are samples of student work in one location.
  • It provides a location that students can show to potential employers.
  • Selection of the primary artifacts requires reflection and higher level thinking as students justify their selections and why the artifact selected distinguishes itself from other work.
  • It provides meaning. The portfolio doesn't go on the shelf to gather dust... I see students add to it later. I think in fact, students should move to a point in college where all artifacts from all courses are on one page with students selecting one or two major artifacts from each course. This provides a method of remembering salient information from each course as well as quantifiable output."
But I knew someone who knows so much more about e-folios than I. Efolios like anything can be a "slap a link up there" kind of mindless experience or can be a rich, meaningful learning experience such as technology SHOULD be providing.

So, I asked my friend Dr. Shepard, who is in the midst of some powerful efolio research to share her reflections. I am quoting her as follows with permission:

Hello ***,
Vicki sent your email to me because I am currently doing research on the power of efolios for assessing program standards in teacher education. In Georgia, all teacher education programs must demonstrate that their students are meeting the elements of their conceptual framework in three areas, and almost all programs require students to create efolios to meet state standards.
  • teacher candidates must demonstrate that they have strong personal skills each area (critical thinking, communication, diversity, content, professionalism, classroom management and discipline, technology, life-long learning, and pedagogy are the areas for the CF for the program I am studying);
  • teacher candidates must demonstrate they can create materials for each element of the CF for learners in public schools;
  • teacher candidates must demonstrate they have taught these lessons, and that the students they taught learned something and were able to perform these skills (e.g. students in the public schools had to use critical thinking skills in activities they did, and the teacher candidates included these student work samples in their efolios).
The power of the electronic portfolios are many. I won't repeat Vicki's excellent list, but add a few to it.
  1. Reflection is the core of learning. efolios allow students to reflect on what they are learning and express this as they justify the inclusion of artifacts in their efolios. I always gave grades on the reflections, as well as on the artifacts used.
  2. Storage -- for universities that have to keep evidence their students are meeting the outcomes for their programs, electronic files store in virtually no space, where three-ring notebooks take yards and yards of book shelf space
  3. Having key work samples in one place allows students to reflect on their growth and development throughout their program. Seeing progression over a couple of years is powerful, and enables students to demonstrate growth.
  4. If you use powerful tools like Wikis, your professors can provide feedback on the efolio, so there is a record of input and responses.
  5. Critical thinking is central to learning, and an efolio requires that students demonstrate thinking, decision making, problem solving in their work samples.
It is important to think of efolios as reflective tools rather than places to collect artifacts. I have seen some universities that use efolios for students to put samples of their work in one place, and the students do it in a week or two at the end of their program. This makes efolios a collection of materials, but not a educational experience.
I believe efolios should be an ongoing part of the educational process where students and faculty are engaged in the process of developing the efolio together. Every class should require that students post to the efolio and justify their selection, along with demonstrating how they are meeting the program outcomes. Faculty can assign grades to the development of the efolio to emphasize that it is a part of the learning process.
Congratulations on moving in this direction. It sounds like you are looking forward to the use of technology for learning. I would encourage you to look at wikis for the process because they are so flexible and record everything that takes place throughout the history of the development of the efolio. They are much easier to use than Word, and they require no software on the part of the students. There are also a lot of software packages on the market now for student use in developing efolios -- LiveText comes to mind, and for $89 students get a 5 year license to develop their efolios and universities get permanent access to the efolios.
Universities run into problems when they require one version of software for a project, especially with the new free software for word processing, Corel, and other word processing programs that aren't compatible with Word.
I wish you well in your project. It sounds like you are about to effect positive social change in your university. Good for you.
Regards,
MaryFriend
MaryFriend Shepard, Ph.D.
Coordinator Ph.D. Specialization
in Educational Technology
Walden University

Such meaningful dialog couldn't be wasted on my inbox. How about you, what is your opinion of efolios and how do you use them?

What is the difference between a "links only" efolio and a powerful reflective efolio?

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