The dark side of higher ed’s ePortfolios-what really happened

The evolution of the ePortfolio from inspiring to an EAP—and whether or not it will survive.

Pre-dating the widespread use of blogs and personal websites, the 1990s era ePortfolio inspired storytelling about lifelong learning and everything that entails: formal schooling, personal reflection, career planning, presentations of evidence to assist in life transitions, and snapshots of abilities and character. This generalized use–the ability to do many things reasonably well–made the ePortfolio a likely candidate for long-term survival.

But this did not happen.

Going to the Dark Side

The ePortfolio became a tool of higher education’s accountability movement as accreditation agencies began to focus on quality institutional improvement. These previously innocuous agencies were quickly dragged into the insurers of quality assurance at best and at worst consumer protection. What used to be routine ten-year spans between accreditation reaffirmations soon became five. Some institutions must run the gauntlet annually to address deficits that invariably have something to do with weaknesses in assessment planning and outcomes tracking.

The EAP Inauspiciously Emerges

So, rather than the ePortfolio evolving into an all-purpose species, it became a specialized one. In only a few years, the ePortfolio morphed into a convenient drop box to collect high value assignments.

It was then adapted further to provide an embedded assessment interface, including scoring analysis and output, targeting institutional assessment and accreditation. It had become something new: The ePortfolio-enabled Assessment Platform (the EAP).

The early ePortfolio was an obvious choice for this evolution. It was already viewed as a personal, web-based publication medium for learners to document their personal change over time. This would make it much easier to sell to stakeholders as a good thing. Many implementers, working very hard and in good faith, thought that the EAP and the ePortfolio would become close cousins and the dream of demonstrating student learning would be realized.

The actual implementation of the EAP had some negative effects.

(Next page: Negative effects of the new ePortfolio; a silver lining?)

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