January 22, 2017

E-portfolios, Sakai, and ‘new paradigms’

Batson, T. (2012) The Wait is Over: The LMS and the ePortfolio Merge to Serve a Culture of Learning Campus Technology, May 16

In this article, Batson argues that Sakai’s OAE (Open Academic Environment – formerly Sakai 3) reflects a new paradigm of online learning, moving from an instructor-led to a learner-led environment based around its e-portfolio capability.

However, surely this will depend on how instructors choose to use it? A true learner-focused environment is likely to include more than one proprietary set of tools. See ‘Designing online learning for the 21st century‘ for an alternative view.

New journal on e-portfolios

an e-portfolio

Virginia Tech’s Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER – not to be mistaken with the much more famous Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research at Athabasca University) has established a new International Journal of ePortfolio.

The first issue will be published during the summer of 2011.

For further information on the journal see:

Batson, T. and Watson, C.E. (2011) The Student Portfolio is the New Book: New Practices, Profession, and Scholarship Campus Technology, February 2

The ‘myth’ of e-learning

Photo of student on lawn with laptop

Batson, T. (2011) The Myth of eLearning: There Is No ‘There’ There Campus Technology, January 19

This stimulating blog about e-learning challenges the idea that the ‘electronic’ part of e-learning really changes teaching:

‘we find that there was and is no revolution, just a gradual shift in emphasis toward certain kinds of existing learning experiences….Distance education is not, and never should be considered, a replacement of traditional on-the-ground learning….The glitter is off the for-profits, distance education is an oxymoron, and the real revolution (so to speak) is in discovering the learning opportunities on campuses as they exist.

Batson then goes on to argue that the important change is a move to more authentic learning using technology, such as e-portfolios:

Many institutions are already moving toward more authentic learning and assessment; many faculty members are adopting problem-based learning and more experiential learning.

His basic argument is the need to make greater use of other learning opportunities on campus as well as those in the traditional classroom.


I always find Batson’s blogs interesting and stimulating and usually I agree with his views on the use of technology on campus. But I didn’t realise how campus-focused he is. In this blog, he is undervaluing good quality distance education, which has since the first online courses focused heavily on collaborative and experiential learning. I agree that distance education should not replace campus-based teaching for those that need and want it. However, it is a mistake to equate all distance education as merely content delivery, just as it is to argue that all campus-based teaching is now interactive and experiential.

Furthermore, many learners either cannot or do not wish to attend campus on a regular basis, particularly lifelong learners, who often have already had the full campus experience. The challenge for instructors now is to identify not just the students who will benefit most from online learning, but in the campus context, what is best done face-to-face when much can be done online just as well and more conveniently for learners.

This requires rethinking the design of teaching to exploit the benefits of both. On this I think Batson and I agree. But it doesn’t make e-learning a myth or distance education an oxymoron.

Designing campuses for e-learning

The Barber Learning Centre, UBC

McCrea, B. (2010) Remaking the College Campus Campus Technology, August 5

This article focuses on Glasgow Caledonian University’s Saltire Centre, the centerpiece of learning and student services. The Saltire Centre includes a 600-seat learning café, 400 computers, and 250 laptops that students and faculty can borrow and use wherever. WiFi is available throughout the building, where students can work independently in carrels, study in small groups in the learning café, or converge for some fresh air on the building’s rooftop terrace.

The article goes on to describe similar kinds of centres in universities in the USA, such as George Mason University, Virginia Tech and the University of Central Florida. The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at the University of British Columbia could also have been included. The article includes an interview with Curtis Bonk who states:

“New buildings must be constructed in a way that factors in how learning is fostered in an environment where myriad technologies are integrated,” said Bonk. “Getting there means universities will have to rethink how they spend money on construction, technology, and student support.”

The article ends with the comment:

Expect that transformation to take place slowly as universities and colleges realize that building bricks-and-mortar to house traditional, lecture-type classes is no longer enough to support the tech-savvy student.


I think learning centres such as those mentioned are excellent and certainly the Barber Learning Centre at UBC is heavily used and much appreciated by students and faculty alike. However, the thinking is still limited to upgrading classrooms and building a single central learning centre around the library. If technology is to be fully integrated, we need to think about the whole campus differently.

We will need a much wider variety of learning spaces in every academic area, depending on their specific needs. We should stop thinking of traditional classrooms and laboratories and start designing new campuses from scratch to fully integrate learner-controlled, faculty-controlled and administration-controlled technology. Building new or retrofitting existing large lecture classrooms and even smaller face-to-face seminar rooms and wet labs is anachronistic. We have too many of them already. What we don’t have are enough learning spaces that enable truly blended learning.

The first step is to get the institution to accept the need for the strategic use of technology for teaching and learning. Once that step is taken, architects, administrators, instructors and students then need to sit down and think through the implications of using technology for teaching and learning for  the design of campus facilities, accepting that a great deal of the learning will be done off campus or in student residences. This has to be linked to new designs for teaching and learning. Trent Batson has highlighted the fact that existing campus facilities such as traditional classrooms really drive the use of learning technologies. It should be the other way round – we should be designing facilities to meet the way we want to use technologies for teaching and learning.

UBC's Irving K. Barber Learning Centre

e-portfolios and ‘legacy’ assessment

Batson, T. (2010) The testing straightjacket Campus Technology, July 7

Fusch, D. (2010) Integrating e-portfolios in your assessment strategy Academic Impressions, July 16

Chen, H. and Light, T. (2010) Electronic Portfolios and Student Success: Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Learning Washington DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities

Trent Batson provides a critique of existing testing practices, with their emphasis on memorization, and suggests that e-portfolios provide a more authentic form of assessment. David Fusch interviews Tracey Penny Light, of the University of Waterloo, who offers several steps for integrating e-portfolios into an instructor’s assessment strategy.

Helen Chen and Tracey Light have just published a short handbook (44 pp) that ‘presents an overview of electronic portfolios and ways individuals and campuses can implement e-portfolios to enhance and assess student learning, recognizing that learning occurs in many places, takes many forms, and is exhibited through many modes of representation. It is organized around eight issues central to implementing an e-portfolio approach: defining learning outcomes; understanding your learners; identifying stakeholders; designing learning activities; including multiple forms of evidence; using rubrics to evaluate e-portfolios; anticipating external uses of evidence; and evaluating the impact of e-portfolios. This work is illustrated through multiple campus case study examples.’