Monday, 9 July 2012

Balancing competing formative and summative ePortfolio purposes

Electronic portfolios are becoming increasingly popular in the education landscape as their value in enriching learning and assessment opportunities are realised. Improved technology in the classroom increases their accessibility, and the ability of students to document digital stories of deep learning. ePortfolios provide holistic measures of learner competencies supported by a  differentiated and reflective learning environment.

The Ministry of Education has identified eportfolios as an innovative tool towards enhancing learning for all students and has incorporated digital portfolios in New Zealand’s national education strategy.  Their provision of Mahara’s myPortfolio software for all schools widens available learning platforms and allows students to learn in ways intuitive to many digital natives. However, while learners and educators are exploring the potential of the eportfolio as a tool for learning they are challenged when applying the multiple purposes of portfolios. Pedagogical issues related to the application of eportfolios have hindered their more rapid adoption.

In today’s 21st Century learning landscape eportfolios are ideally suited to support  the development of formative assessment processes as the predominant measure of learning  to develop reflective life-long learners while new pedagogies must be applied towards summative assessment tasks and purposes so as not to distract from the process of learning. A balance must be found between the often competing interests of formative and summative assessment to create portfolios of learning reflective of their owners’ knowledge development and voice. Eportfolios provide new opportunities for learners. They may be used for formative processes or as a summative product however these purposes are often in conflict. To negotiate a balance, formative portfolios must develop reflective learners. Learners must have ownership over the process of learning with minimally invasive summative elements embedded within them. When created according to a constructivist model, eportfolios unfold as organic learning stories rooted in the past while providing links towards a future of lifelong learning.