By Jim Shimabukuro
One of the award winners for the 2011 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award is a paper written by six Seattle Pacific University professors, David Wicks, Andrew Lumpe, Henry Algera, Kris Gritter, Helen Barrett, and Janiess Sallee. The title is “bPortfolios: Blogging for Reflective Practice” (Sloan-C, 18 Oct. 2011), and the “b” in “bPortfolios” stands for “blogs.”
The use of blogs as eportfolios, in and of itself, is not especially new. Individual teachers in the field have been doing it for years. However, the fact that this move is being made by a large group of programs in a college of education – “undergraduate teacher education, Masters of Arts in Teaching, Masters of Teaching Mathematics and Science, and Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction” – and that the movement is outside the campus e-silo is definitely a radical departure from business as usual. In the last few years, blogs have been available in most LMSs (learning management systems), but the SPU group is emphatic about using WordPress, an “open” blog environment that’s freely available to everyone.
Here are some reasons they cite for their choice of an open blog service:
- “Basic WordPress accounts are free of charge.”
- The portfolios promote and support “autonomy,” i.e., “Students have ownership of their personal content management system.”
- Students can use the portfolios across an entire “degree program” for “numerous on-campus and online courses and/or during … field experiences.”
- The portfolios promote and support “social interaction,” i.e., “Students share their learning reflections in an open format.”
- Students can “continue to maintain their site upon completion of the program as their individual accounts are not registered on a university server.”
- The portfolio is “stored in the cloud (WordPress.com).”
- The portfolios are “highly cost effective” and sustainable: “The university can focus its time and efforts on improving instruction and student support for the bPortfolio rather than allocate funds and personnel to web-hosting, software upgrades, and software support, etc. in the bPortfolio project.”
SPU’s movement away from the confines of closed campus systems to the open web is a sign that colleges of education – or at least this college of education — are beginning to expand the role of 21st century teachers to include independence and empowerment in making technology-related curricular and pedagogical decisions. In this scenario, teachers and students are firmly in charge, and IT staff and resources are clearly in a support position to facilitate rather than dictate.
Prior to 2009, SPU “was using a commercially available electronic portfolio system. In addition to being rather costly, this system did not enhance aspects of critical reflection …, was cumbersome, and was perceived by students and faculty as a hoop to jump through in order to graduate.” The SPU education programs had the foresight and courage to not only recognize that the open web has many powerful and cost-effective resources but that the expansion of the students’ personal and social learning environments into the worldwide web is ultimately educative.
Although the paper doesn’t mention how bPortfolios might transform the students’ practice once they’re in the field, I can imagine that, as teachers, they won’t hesitate to expand their students’ personal and social learning environments to include freely available yet powerful social networking services on the open web.
As I said earlier, the use of open web blogs by individual teachers isn’t new. In fall 2008, my English department colleague at Kapi`olani Community College, Lisa Kanae, introduced me to the freely available Blogger. She used it to enhance her F2F (face-to-face) instruction and encouraged students to create their own blogs to share multimedia projects. Until then, I was using webpages and a standalone bulletin board system on our college’s server for my completely online classes. I preferred these to the LMS that the University of Hawaii system was supporting at the time.
I immediately saw the potential for blogs as replacements for clunky webpages and began experimenting with them for organizational and professional development publications. In the summer of 2008, I moved my online courses from webpages to WordPress blogs and tapped into the college’s LMS for discussion forums and mass emailing services. At the same time, I asked my students to create personal blogs for their drafts. These served as eportfolios that students set up and controlled. I also asked them to log in to their classmates’ blogs to review drafts and provide constructive criticism.
Thus, each eportfolio provided an ongoing record of a student’s progress from draft to draft, along with peer comments progressively pointing out strengths and weaknesses. From both a teaching and learning perspective, the eportfolios are a dynamic medium.
In my system, college, and department, my blog-based approach was and is neither officially recognized nor supported. I consider this a blessing since visibility might have meant opposition. Thus, I have had to create my own resources to help students develop, maintain, and use blogs. This wasn’t much of a problem since Blogger is simple to set up and use. I encourage my students to use Blogger rather than WordPress because it’s less complicated.1 However, I use the latter for my blogs because it’s much more powerful.
The use of WordPress and Blogger for teacher and student publications and portfolios is a highly sustainable, cost-effective, and educative practice. It expands the students’ e-learning environment beyond the walls of the college to include the worldwide web. Sloan-C, and especially SPU, are to be congratulated for taking this bold step toward re-empowering teachers for the 21st century classroom.
1 Update 22 Nov. 2015: Not long after publishing this article, I switched completely to WordPress for student blogs.
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