Guest post on eportfolios

A while back I made the unusual move of tweeting to ask for suggestions about what to blog about: 

I received some nice ideas but haven’t managed to sit down and write anything yet. I got the following suggestion/question from Benjamin Stewart: 

I told him that I didn’t have too much to say on this topic and wondered if he might be interested in writing a guest post on the blog. He graciously accepted and his post is below.  I thank him for taking the time to share his thoughts on this topic and for giving me (and hopefully you, dear reader) some things to think about. 

Benjamin (whose bio appears at the end of this post) is interested in scheduling a public chat (like a Google hangout or something like that) on the topic of eportfolios. He has a colleague who would also be interested in joining the discussion. If you are interested please contact Benjamin on Twitter or by leaving a comment below. I will now turn it over to Benjamin…

It´s all about evaluation. In formal education, evaluation is simple yet complex. It´s simple in that most would agree evaluating English language learners (ELLs) includes assigning grades based on what they know and can do and is an obligation a teacher has to the profession. It´s complex in that trying to pinpoint how and what to evaluate, when to provide an evaluation, and why to provide it in the first place are likely to generate a wide range of perspectives. Understanding terms like testing, formative assessment, summative assessment, peer assessment, self-assessment, and dynamic assessment can quickly reveal the importance of context (i.e., group sizes, resources, etc.) when trying to narrow down what student evaluation is and how to apply it. Similarly, when to evaluate (or assess) a learner can vary as well: before, during, and/or after a performance; in class and/or outside of class; individually, in small groups, and/or a whole group; etc. Finally, the purpose of assessing English language learners can be influenced by industry or government (e.g., standardized, high-stakes testing), institutional policy (e.g., predetermined, internal standardized exams), and individual learner goals (e.g., getting a job).

Assessment for learning, or formative assessment, in the English language learning classroom underpins the educative experience from a learning standpoint while assessment of learning provides vital measurements of student outcomes. Depending on the situation, institutions may have a particular course book, adhere to a particular method, or invoke mandatory exams that on the face of it, appear to go against reaping the benefits of a more formative-focused approach to learning. But assessing for learning can happen despite having other forms of evaluation that are more summative in nature by finding ways to include both in the overall learning design. One way to incorporate both formative and summative assessments is by employing eportfolios in the classroom, or portfolios that are co-created between learners and the instructor and shared publicly online. Thus, eportfolios provide the means of conjoining and assessing various types of work.

Learner eportfolios

Generally speaking, eportfolios can be described as being either transformative or representative.  Transformative eportfolios reveal how the ELL´s knowledge, skill development, and disposition (KSD) grow over time.  For instance, including different writing samples in an eportfolio can show how iterations improved throughout the course which can also be combined with audio commentary from the learner related to improvements in specific aspects of writing such as unity, coherence, and cohesion.  Representative eportfolios, in contrast, showcase the KSD of the learner by featuring the individual´s best work.  Whether transformative or representative, eportfolios are a means for both formative and summative assessment, testing, peer-assessment, self-assessment, and dynamic assessment depending on the learning design;  objectives of the course; teacher preferences; and learners´ wants, needs, and preferences. The way in which an ELL eportfolio is assessed will depend on the instructor, learner, and course objectives.

Rarely is a single approach to assessing learner eportfolios warranted. Eportfolios for a general English class typically will be distinct from those in other kinds of English classes such as English for specific purposes, business English, English for academic purposes, and content and English language learning, or CLIL. Moreover, assessing a learner eportfolio as part of a requirement for a course is not always the same as assessing the same eportfolio for purposes that extend beyond the course syllabus. That is, ELLs may have particular reasons for designing an eportfolio related to future academic or professional goals which  may require guidance on the part of the instructor but also may not be necessarily a requirement for the class. An instructor should refrain from any lock-step approach to learner eportfolios both in terms of design and feedback.

In addition to adapting and adopting an approach to assessing learner eportfolios, deciding on the types of artifacts to include in an eportfolio will vary as well. Some artifacts to consider include essays, recordings of performance tasks, recognitions or acknowledgements from teachers or schools, slide presentations, audio/video presentations, poems, and case studies to name a few. Depending on whether the eportfolio is transformative or representative, the teacher and the student usually come together in deciding on what artifacts to include. The goal is to assist the learner in becoming a better decision-maker as to what artifacts to include and how to organize the eportfolio in a way that represents the individual as a competent and maturing professional. A learner eportfolio becomes a celebration of what the learner knows and can do and is presented in a way that can potentially lead to some future benefit, whether academic or professional. The best interest of the learner is forefront as the intent is to have the learner assume more responsibility over the eportfolio as evidence of personal growth and academic achievement.

Point of reflection: As an instructor, how will you assess learner eportfolios in a way that not only motivates learners to share their work openly online, but also adhere to an overall school culture and allow learners to engage with the community at large?

Instructor eportfolios

Much like learner eportfolios, instructor eportfolios can also be transformative or representative, or some combination of both. An instructor eportfolio serves as ongoing evidence of one´s professional KSD for the purposes of better job opportunities in the future and connecting with other teacher practitioners in growing one´s personal learning network (PLN). Understanding one´s PLN provides the basis for open, ongoing professional learning that can directly and indirectly impact future job opportunities.

A good place for instructors to start when thinking about how to organize a professional eportfolio is to refer to various professional organizations. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is dedicated to high quality teacher preparation and offers strategic goals and objectives around current issues related to education. Other organizations worth referring to  when organizing a professional eportfolio include: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), among others. Associations more related to the teaching and learning of English as an additional language include the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and the Modern Language Association (MLA). A review of the various associations generally reveal a congruity with the following standards which can assist in organizing one´s eportfolio:  the KSD of the educator, the sharing of course content, evidence of student outcomes, professional leadership, professional learning, and professional qualifications. The kinds of artifacts to be included in one´s professional eportfolio will be based on these standards as decided upon by the educator.

The kinds of artifacts may be similar to those of a learner eportfolio but also may include additional types.  Cambell, Cignetti, Melenyzer, Nettles, & Wyman (2010) suggest action research; awards and certificates; educational philosophy; curriculum plans; interviews with teachers, students, or parents; journals; peer critiques; rubrics; and research papers. Herrera (2016) offers an example of an instructor eportfolio that includes a professional bio, courses taught, tutoring services, and important links for students and other educators. Although an instructor eportfolio will likely include different types of artifacts than that of a learner, the instructor is in position to model exemplary practices when it comes to the design and usability of cultivating a unique professional eportfolio.

Point of reflection: How might you create and maintain an instructor eportfolio as an extension of your own PLN that fosters ongoing and transparent professional learning?

Spaces

What makes portfolios electronic is that artifacts are shared both openly (i.e., publicly) and online. Two good websites for hosting an eportfolio are Weebly and Wix, which both offer plenty of free services and flexibility for the novice website designer. Weebly has mobile applications available (aside from normal editing from one´s desktop computer) that make it easier to modify content from an iPhone or iPad whereas Wix offers greater flexibility in positioning content within a webpage. Other hosting options include Wikispaces and Google Sites. Regardless of the site, choose an option that allows easy uploading of PDF documents, audio files, video files, slides, etc. so that one has more options for personalizing the types of artifacts to be shared with others.

By way of example, a group of pre-service English language teachers taking a third-semester composition class were given the option to choose between Weebly, Wix, Wikispaces, and Google Sites for collecting artifacts for a representative (showcase) eportfolio. The artifacts were to include assignments related to the objectives of the course (mainly texts), but could also include artifacts related to prior and concurrent subjects in the bachelor´s degree program in English language training.  Learners had never created a website before, but quickly began personalizing their public space with virtually no assistance, choosing to use either Weebly or Wix (See example 1, example 2, example 3, & example 4).  At the time of this writing, all students only included composition assignments (i.e., texts) to their eportfolio, but were encouraged to continue managing their eportfolio in subsequent classes and even beyond the bachelor´s degree program as a way to become better prepared entering the workforce.

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Conclusion

Learner and teacher eportfolios offer situational learning opportunities that can occur both within formal educational situations as well as within professional contexts. This bridge between formal and informal education comprises of the assessment of student outcomes by making the evaluation of KSD more transparent. By making assessment more open and ongoing, the ELL begins to see concretely how life-long learning can become more purposeful. At the same time, instructors can not only use eportfolios for growing their own PLN but also to model exemplary behavior for their learners as daring, sharing, and caring professionals. To define what an eportfolio is to understand its purpose and how individuals interact with each other because of the eportfolio. An eportfolio is consistently a result of prior engagement and at the same time a direct cause for future engagement.

Point of reflection: What role does an eportfolio have in terms of cultivating your own personal learning network that ultimately defines your own personal approach to open, ongoing professional learning?

 

Author’s Biography: Benjamin holds a PhD in curriculum and instructional leadership and a master’s degree in education, curriculum and instruction: technology. He is a full-time EFL teacher educator and researcher at the University of Aguascalientes with an interest in researching personal learning networks and language teaching and learning.  His website can be found at www.benjaminlstewart.com

 

 

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