Throughout the 1990s, educators working in alternative schools explored the use of individual learning plans as support for at risk students and reluctant, returning adult learners (Crichton, 2005; Crichton & Kinsel, 2002). These early learning plans were strictly paper based. Each student had her/his own cardboard folder that contained goal personal statements, benchmarks, course process, and personal information (e.g., interests, preferred learning styles). Samples of completed work were included in the folders so students could see their improvement/progress. By 1998, there was interest in exploring the potential of technology to improve the paper portfolios, noting improvements in multimedia authoring and Internet access. It was found that electronic learning plans, complete with collaborative journals, showed promise (Kinsel, 2004). This chapter suggests that ePortfolios that draw on content from personal eJournals extend those early learning plans both in concept and impact on learning.
In many ways, electronic journals and portfolios are a natural extension of individual learning plans as they encourage authentic ways for individuals to demonstrate his/her growing understanding of a content area and a developing sense of self through demonstrations of learning. Sparks (1999) suggests that rich and meaningful learning opportunities should provide a bridge to the future by helping students to learn how to learn, “… so they can keep up with the rapidly changing world” (p. 20). This is consistent with the early work of Goffmann (1959, p. 20) who states, “We come into this world as individuals, achieve character, and become persons.” The development of a positive sense of self appears key to learner success, and it must be recognized that it is something that individuals must create for themselves.
Initially, the rationale for the development of an individual learning plan was predicated on the understanding that
… the development of a complex, multi-faceted sense of self can increase student achievement and self-confidence. Individualized learning links the personal and social identities of students with the academic curriculum, mapping a pathway to activities appropriate to the needs and goals and the development of an increasingly complex sense of self (Crichton & Kinsel, 2002, p. 143).
The theoretical framework for the use of early paper-based learning plans was anchored in activity theory (Vygotsky, 1994), encouraging learners to think about what they want to do, how they learn best, what supports they need, and what their prior learning has afforded them. To engage this type of thinking, the natural evolution into electronic learning plans included an interactive, personal journal area where the learner and facilitator could communicate about experiences, successes, and failures, and generally document and reflect on the learning experience. This journaling area was designed to support the notion that learning must start at a personal level, and then gradually progress to the public and applied levels (Crichton & Kinsel, 2002).
In recent years, the literature (Barrett, 2003, 2005; Fox, Kidd, Painter, & Ritchie, 2006; Jafari & Kaufman, 2006) is rife with discussion about the value of portfolios (both paper and electronic) for educational purposes. Described by the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative as “a collection of authentic and diverse evidence, drawn from a larger archive representing what a person or organization has learned over time on which the person or organization has reflected, and designed for presentation to one or more audiences for a particular rhetorical purpose” (Barrett, 2005, p. 5), portfolios typically serve the purpose of assessment for learning, narrative of discovery, and tools for reflection. This, and the literature that follows, informed the initial design of the ePortfolio initiative shared in this chapter.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Learning Plans: A learning plan is in two parts. It is designed to make, much more explicit, the expectations of all parties (particularly student and Research Institute) in an attempt to avoid misunderstandings. In addition, students are required to keep much more detailed records of their activities as part of their research degree programme, which will help the RI better to monitor progress and become aware of any potential problems ( http://www.keele.ac.uk/gradschool/learning.htm ).
Authentic Learning: An approach that encourages students to explore, discover, discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant and interesting to the learner. Sometimes referred to as problem-based learning.
Demonstrations of Learning: Opportunities for students to show what they know rather than simply being evaluated using standard exams.
eJournals: Electronic journals that allow multiple users to post comments within a secure, blogging environment. Other social software can be used, but in this chapter, DRUPAL, an open source blogging software, (http://drupal.org/) is used.
ePortfolios: An electronic portfolio, also known as an ePortfolio or digital portfolio, is a collection of electronic evidence assembled and managed by a user, usually on the Web. Such electronic evidence may include inputted text, electronic files, such as Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF files, images, multimedia, blog entries, and hyperlinks. EPortfolios are both demonstrations of the user’s abilities and platforms for self-expression, and, if they are online, they can be maintained dynamically over time. Some ePortfolio applications permit varying degrees of audience access, so the same portfolio might be used for multiple purposes (Wikipedia, 2007 AU6: The in-text citation "Wikipedia, 2007" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).
Pre-Service Teaching: Typically called teacher preparation, it is a program within a college or university focused on the preparation for teachers, primary for the K-12 school environment.
Open Source: Open source is a set of principles and practices that promote access to the design and production of goods and knowledge. The term is most commonly applied to the source code of software that is available to the general public with relaxed or nonexistent intellectual property restrictions. This allows users to create software content through incremental individual effort or through collaboration (Wikipedia, 2007 AU7: The in-text citation "Wikipedia, 2007" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).
Reflection: The initial act of reviewing and thoughtfully considering previous actions, events, and contexts as a form of constructive inquiry and personal growth and development.
Digital Divide: Digital divide refers to the gap between those with regular, effective access to digital and information technology, and those without it. It encompasses both physical access to technology, hardware and, more broadly, the resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen. In others words, it’s the unequal access to some sectors of the community to information and communications technology, and the unequal acquisition of related skills (Wikipedia, 2007 AU5: The in-text citation "Wikipedia, 2007" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. )