Courtesy of Mark Baston from his Flickr web site
Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (Understanding by Design) hold that the development of goals and assessments (the ‘backwards design’ model) prior to crafting syllabi and classroom activities is essential for effective learning to take place. In addition, they suggest collaborative design, sharing and regular feedback from peers as well as from students, in order to make appropriate adjustments to instruction and curricula. Their work has had a significant impact on K-12 education and as evidenced-based learning outcomes become part of the higher educational landscape, it will be increasingly important for us to consider how, what and why we assess our students, our programs and our peers. In this session we’ll look at some examples of ePortfolios: a holistic, summative approach exemplified by St. Olaf’s Center for Integrative Studies and a formative, longitudinal approach as reflected in UCONN’s ePortfolio system. We’ll also see what several authors have to say about the impact of digital repositories and just as importantly, how they predict scholarly activity will be assessed in the next decade and beyond. A decade during which information abundance will markedly change scholarly authority, in many ways reflecting an Understanding by Design approach.
This week’s readings included some very interesting articles. I was struck by Trent Batson’s definition of ePortfolios as a “cultural application,” capable of bridging the gap between informal and formal learning. If I am not mistaken, he considers it to be a sort of online journal in which students may trace and compare their own thoughts over a period a time. This definition, along with the emphasis on the mixed use – leisure and non-leisure – of the ePortfolios, led to the formation of a question in my mind: what exactly differentiates the ePortfolio from, on the one hand, an old-fashioned diary/journal and, on the other, from Facebook? While the latter part of my query remains unanswered (I would assume a certain sense of appropriateness), I understood former when I went to Katie Shaw’s site at St. Olaf’s College: the ability to display online her work on Sequential Art and Literary Narrative – two fields close to my heart – demonstrated to me the potential that the ePortfolio held for the circulation of one’s work, especially amongst those working in the same field. I found the very notion of a Center for Integrative Studies fascinating: if Uconn does not have such a center, I strongly suggest it create one, where students from a wide array of majors would be able to post the results of their studies and efforts.Jensen’s article was also very instructive although he does rely too much on the premise that engaged participation will filter out “crap” and convey a greater richness to online resources. His overview from Web 1.0 to 3.0 was particularly eye-opening, especially his statement that 2.0 is not YET a source of scholarly communication but 3.0 may one day substitute current methods of peer review and tenure. I do wonder about the diffusion of scholarly materials online: at the moment, Googlebooks allows one to read but not download or even print texts. Granted this may be still a relic of Web 1.0 but authors and publishers eventually must overcome their reservations regarding their the publication of online resources according to the criteria of Authority 3.0 that Jensen describes. The eventuality of the disappearance of scholarly publishers in two decades’ time has as its foreshadowing the pre-release of Radiohead’s most recent album ONLY online and for free. Lastly, Jensen’s description of Photosynth could not but call to my mind the futuristic holodecks of Star Trek fame.On the other hand, I must admit that Spurlin’s article left me less than enthused. She honestly admits the impossibility of determining the impact of technology on student learning, given the many variables involved, and she does bring up the extremely valid point of how technology should be employed for the general benefit of our students and how to incorporate technology into classroom. These points, however, are lost in a purely academic question concerning the distinction between assessment (student oriented) and evaluation (faculty oriented). Spurlin complicates matters with a series of odd statements, for instance that assessment is about aggregate information – i.e. “students as a group” – which perplexed me because it implicitly denies the status of group to faculty members. Moreover, she further confounds the reader in my opinion with the statement:“When you assess how well students learn at the course or academic program level, you don’t typically ask about the connection between how the information was taught and how well the students learned ….If faculty find that students have met the [course] outcomes, they don’t ask how the material was taught.” (p.7)
Clearly, if this were true, then there would be no student evaluations at the end of each semester. Lastly, her definition on page 6 of students’ “measurable components” which should help with learning practices and principles – the determination of their backgrounds, their technological skills, their demographics and their learning styles – are for all intents and purposes impossible to measure for any group larger than 30.
Just like Felice, I was struck by Trent Batson’s definition of ePortfolios. By saying that an ePortfolio is “not a higher education application” but rather “a cultural application” Batson challenges the classic idea one has of an ePortfolio and imagines a future when people will be using these tools beyond the field of higher education. As a matter of fact, Batson states that “the big market is going to be everyone having an ePortfolio, whether they are in college or not.” Although I agree with the fact that ePortfolios could bridge “the gap between informal learning and formal learning”, I am not sure I fully agree with the way Batson envisions the future of these tools. In fact, even though many people “like to collect things”, I just cannot imagine people using them “in their leisure time,” or “for fun”. By definition, I believe that an ePortfolio should be related to the work or the specialization of a person. If, as Batson seems to suggest, ePortfolios are to become like an online journal (as already pointed out by Felice) we will simply end up having another kind of tool, something that resembles more blogs, Facebook or other similar applications. Regarding Katie Shaw’s website at St. Olaf’s College, I once again agree with Felice, and I must say that I have also found the very notion of a Center for Integrative Studies fascinating, and very useful to allow students “to demonstrate the meaningful relations among the different kinds of work they do.”