|Teaching and Learning Forum 2005 [ Refereed papers ]|
Graduate School of Education
The University of Western Australia
E-learning platforms such as Web-CT and Blackboard are typically viewed in higher education contexts as a convenient, economical, and flexible way of integrating new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in teaching and learning. However they can also reinforce traditional transmission approaches to education as mere repositories for content and in terms of related 'add on' uses of online interaction as a substitute and not just a supplement for face to face interaction. On closer inspection it is clear that relevant educational design principles are required to effectively integrate ICTs and, in particular, to harness their 'new learning' implications. This paper will focus on the model of 'activity-reflection e-portfolios' developed initially for a teacher education context and extended to include a range of templates applicable to a very wide range of teaching and learning contexts. Such a model will thus serve as an example of: (a) an integrated approach to ICTs in teaching and learning which can be adapted to different purposes and various ICT programs as well as 'new learning' methodologies; and (b) a perspective useful in evaluating merely 'add on' uses of ICTs in education. However, its primary interest and significance perhaps lies in its encouragement of the learning process as both a teaching and assessment strategy, and therefore its connection to various 'new learning' approaches such as problem based learning, authentic assessment, and collaborative knowledge building.
This paper outlines one model which attempts to outline in actual practice and not just as theory or wishful thinking a productive convergence between (a) educational designs which encourage yet assess the formative process of learning itself and (b) the powerful educational implications as well as technological possibilities of new Information and Communication Technology tools and media. In other words, the model discussed here is an integrated approach - conceived, developed, and refined over a long period of teaching based action research - to using ICT in teaching and learning in terms of an activity-reflection cycle as a key to better linking theory and practice as well as technology and pedagogy. The innovative and applied use of 'electronic portfolio' here as a learning and assessment design and strategy is distinct from typical models using this term which tend to refer primarily to the use hypermedia formats (ie. primarily either the Web or CD) for either mere learning repository or professional profiling purposes (Selding, 1997; Cambridge, 2001; Baron, 2004) - although such uses of the terms may also be linked to a performative approach to encouraging the learning process (eg. Campbell, Nettles, & Melenyzer, 2000).
The 'activity-reflection e-portfolio' model also represents an exemplary focus for discussing a convergent 'hub' for connecting, implementing, and developing the various constructivist or student centred implications of new learning technologies (Jonassen et al, 1999). The activity-reflection e-portfolio thus exemplifies a strategy for teaching and learning which is consistent with Laurillard's dialogical framework for the use of educational technology in university teaching, Schon's (1987) model of reflective practice in educational design, and Light & Cox's (2001) conception of the reflective professional in higher education. In place of traditional dichotomies of theory and practice, and also typical delineations of either skill or information acquisition in relation to applied knowledge, it advocates a view of applied knowledge grounded in both initial familiarisation or practice and also critical reflection. The activity-reflection e-portfolio might be approached as both a general strategy and also as a particular educational tool. As a general strategy we define this model as: a learning and assessment strategy which integrates the tools and processes of ICTs but also at the same time encourages, reflects, and gauges students' progressive learning, self evaluation and reflective practice.
In contrast to a traditional linear conception of skill acquisition and a hierarchical one of information acquisition, the e-portfolio promotes learning as an activity-reflection cycle leading to more effective and applied connections between theory or procedures and practice (and various other related top down vs. bottom up imperatives of education). By focusing on the use of ICTs in education as a general literacy rather than as a discrete set of skills or processes, the learning and assessment activities which make up the e-portfolio function as a guided but open ended 'journey' to engage and overcome the initial and inherent 'thresholds of temporary frustration' which are inherent in the use of technological tools as well as the very transformations which make up the learning process. In short, ICTs extend oral and verbal literacies of human communication and information access in terms of new digital media which lend themselves to a focus on both lower order competencies and higher order generic skills such as problem solving, collaboration, and transferable applications.
The transformative stages of the activity-reflection cycle further imply a theory of activity based learning which lends itself to ICT integration as well as more effective learning links between content and process, thinking and doing, and also formal education and social context. Thus, as Figure 1 indicates, the e-portfolio frames learning in the context of a threefold process of initial familiarisation (naive/activity phase), procedural or theoretical explanation (critical/ reflective phase) and specific application (dialogical/ transformative phase). Thinking is grounded in doing, and content (ie. information or skills) is likewise linked to a primary emphasis on process. In this way a resulting orientation of 'applied knowledge' and 'reflective practice' is just as relevant to critical or conceptual modes of learning and theorising as practical or technical types of learning. Such an understanding represents a dialogue or interplay between individual performance and social knowledge.
The key to effectively designing an e-portfolio as a convergent learning and assessment strategy lies in encouraging effective student interaction with theory, procedures or content in terms of linking this with either practical experience or transferable contexts of application. Where ICT is concerned, the learning focus should be on transferable functions and generic applications - instead of merely focusing on unique procedures or specialised tools in a vacuum. Learning activities should be appropriately designed to introduce, integrate and apply ICT skills and knowledge in relation to a curriculum or project purpose. It is also important to design appropriate 'focus questions' for learner reflection which encourage substantial engagement and thinking.
If integrated into an assessment scheme especially, learning activities may also encourage much more effective participation in the learning process as well as provide a focus for grounding reflection in practice. ICT supported learning activities are ideal for producing artefacts which can be linked to an e-portfolio to provide both discrete and overall practical indicators of the learning process to complement, inform, and exemplify related critical reflections. The e-portfolio allows flexibility for various permutations of the interplay between formative and summative assessment as well as links between practical performance and critical or applied knowledge construction. Such artefacts may be assessed in terms of a pass-fail competency linked in turn to a graded reflection, or where appropriate graded in terms of a relevant criteria or rubric. For instance, the evaluation of web page or multimedia projects may be intrinsically subjective in many respects yet appropriately related to objective criteria in other respects. Also, just as it is not enough to know the basic skills of using a search engine to embody an effective information literacy knowledge, so too a bookmark file artefact of a search strategy provides a crucial complement to any reflection about a general or specific information search strategy. More content focused learning activities might typically involve reflection activity artefacts.
There are many models of ICT learning activities at primary and secondary school level which provide a useful indicator of a 'generic structure' (an anatomy of the related learning, inquiry, and knowledge building processes): (a) relevant and applicable also to higher education contexts and (b) sufficiently simplified (eg. as compared to the typical use of problem based learning examples, cases and scenarios in higher education). One such example which exemplifies inquiry based design is that of Webquests [http://webquest.sdsu.edu/webquest.html]. Contexts for searching out, evaluating and making use of authentic information from the Internet may include either an actual real life situation or a hypothetical scenario, and might further involve role playing, problem solving and collaborative teamwork in the pursuit of some required outcome or performance such as a report or presentation (see Figure 2). Webquest tasks may involve an initial or on going task, and also may have a single lesson or longer term project focus. In relation to some particular context, Webquests might also revolve around the posting of one or more reflection questions.
|1||An authentic or imaginary situation/context/problem|
|2||What will learners need to do as the purpose of initial interaction (solve a problem, address some issue or challenge, etc)?|
|3||How will this provide a pretext for specific learning outcomes in a chosen subject and re: main learning objective?|
|4||Provide an overview of key stages or steps of activity|
|5||What is the main ICT supported learning focus and what additional resources needed for this activity?|
Although such a structure has various applications for higher educational contexts, its main relevance lies in promoting a dialogical framework where problem based learning 'contexts' are also designed in terms of topics, questions and issues for critical reflection on one hand, and exemplary 'artefacts' of learning, inquiry, and knowledge building processes on the other. As indicated above, disciplines and knowledge areas such as medicine, science and law have productively embraced 'problem based learning' models - a fundamental approach for connecting both interactive and inquiry based learning design. More succinct, focused and applied ways of doing this would encourage innovative and applied aspects of the learning process across all disciplinary areas (especially across the divide between more process and content focused knowledge areas) with the added bonus of an integrated approach to ICTs in teaching and learning. This is especially the case in terms of the use of 'reflective' activities which are a central function and aspect of the activity-reflection e-portfolio model. E-portfolio critical reflections may be either directly or indirectly related to learning activities - as well as constituting a kind of activity in itself.
Both synchronous and asynchronous modes of virtual mediation and interaction through computer mediated networks represent a kind of hybrid between informal conversation and formal writing. In part because of this, unless there are effective designs which can harness the power of online forums to encourage and promote reflection and collaboration, responses may tend to be of the more superficial and opinionated kind. Like all use of ICTs for learning, designs for educational forums represent virtual functions of teaching, learning and knowledge interaction which can either be treated as an add on substitute for or a more integrated supplement for the learning process. And the fact that the learning and assessment focus must shift from mere quantity (and reproduction) to quality (and active construction of knowledge) is exemplified by how - just as in conversation (and in Socratic modes of teaching) - one succinct and strategic question or statement in an online exchange can be more powerful than thousands of words.
Many of these dilemmas and issues can be productively transformed from problem into opportunity with the kind of approach exemplified by the activity-reflection portfolio. This approach encourages a more focused and structured use of various types of forums to engage learners in reflective, collaborative and inquiry based ways. Instead of having to hunt out individual learner contributions in large forums (like needles in a haystack), various contributions can be either collected or synthesised (even in 'cut and pasted' contexts of response to a specific thread). This would then also allow the kind of more holistic approach to evaluation or even assessment which is really needed to both encourage and fairly recognise the quality of responses. Used strategically, regular responses can also be the basis for a synthesising essay or assignment of some kind as well as linked to the learning process of educational projects and problem based learning inquiries. In such ways the activity-reflection e-portfolio can usefully complement other modes of leaning and assessment.
The particular concept of 'critical reflections' used here as the most recommended mode of using web forums for reflective responses is neither a mini-essay nor a short opinionated discussion. It is a semi-formal written response (usually 350-500 words) to relevant focus questions grounded in context and preferably linked to either concrete examples, typical case studies, an actual process of learning or a specific academic reference. In this way critical reflections should attempt to ground processes of knowledge inquiry (ie. conceptual probes), self evaluation, and various kinds of critical analysis in reflective practice - and encourage responses which reflect higher order learning and knowledge construction and not superficial opinions or mere information transmission. In short, ideas discussed should relate to practical experience and, where also appropriate, be supported by appropriate references and well-informed arguments. In this way, critical reflections represent an applied mode of thinking grounded in practical or ideational 'doing' which goes beyond the learning of mere information or skills. As individual performance, critical reflections may provide the basis for a social construction of knowledge in terms of subsequent dialogue and discussion. Figure 3 outlines the generic modes of critical reflection - the key learning focus for reconciling formative and summative assessment in the e-portfolio model.
|1||Critical reflection on a practical activity or about the use of a practical skill or concept|
An example of a practical activity might be the use of an internet search engine to find relevant links for a chosen and refined topic. Instead of merely re-describing the typical steps in this process, you might relate a 'reflection' discussion about key stages of this process to your actual experience of developing, applying and refining a search strategy - with particular emphasis on how some of the obstacles faced and overcome gave you new and practical insights about the process undertaken.
|2||Critical reflection on a stage or process of learning development|
An example of this kind of reflection might relate to either: (a) a developmental stage such as an initial design concept map or a later flow chart or storyboard; or (b) the collaborative exercise of developing a web page or educational resource. If (a) then you might discuss the possibilities versus limitations of the particular model developed - perhaps with reference to either an initial idea or the projection of a final product. If (b) then perhaps you might compare the advantages and disadvantages of collaborative efforts in terms of actual experiences related to a particular stage or a general process.
|3||Critical reflection about a topic, concept or issue|
This kind of reflection may not require connection to first hand practical experience but asks you to demonstrate an effective effort to think about, to explore and to develop a particular topic, concept or issue. It may be connected to a particular reading provided. If not, then you might yourself make some relevant connection to a particular references or general debate. It may also be useful to refer to relevant examples from common knowledge or someone else's experience or research (as well as your own).
Figure 3: ICT integration and generic modes of critical reflection
Implied in the distinction between these three basic types of critical reflection is a notion that some topics of learning and knowledge building are grounded more in applied 'contexts' and 'processes' of generic transferability and others more in the similarly transformative understanding or interpretation of 'content'. Thus the typology above lends its to distinct options which may more relevant in some areas of knowledge or for specific learning purposes.
Figure 4 outlines the example of an e-portfolio project based learning template for hyperlinks customised for an actual course focusing on multimedia development. The final product provides the convergent focus for reflections about the various stages, elements, and artefacts of the learning process about multimedia tools on one hand, and multimedia design on the other. The organising focus of (and the idea for) the project itself was developed in the context of a series of process elements - concept mapping, flow charting, and storyboarding. Together these activity artefacts were just as important as the final product for assessment purposes since they reflected the process of learning as well as development. While the project and its planning elements were developed in pairs as a collaboration, the reflections and seminar items constituted an 'individual performance' which complemented but could be distinguished from the collaborative element. Likewise, the individual reflections were posted to online web forums as a basis for ongoing sharing and discussion of ideas in the course. This is in contrast to how Web discussion forums often promote vague and opinionated interactions around the online posting of mere content.
Although beyond the scope of the present discussion, it is also perhaps useful to point out that activity-reflection e-portfolios (potentially) involves an associated interface design requirement to organise interaction beyond the function of a mere repository. This design requirement exemplifies the function of narrative and metaphor for organising knowledge interaction in a way which contrasts with the traditional linear and hierarchical approaches to the learning process and knowledge construction.
|1||Introductory or advanced ICT skill and knowledge acquisition|
|2||ICT in education subjects (e-learning; instructional design, educational technology subjects, ICT foundation courses, etc)|
|3||Project based or problem based learning approaches|
|4||Specific subjects or content|
The activity-reflection e-portfolio might thus be applied to a range of different types of learning. It represents an approach which encourages students to be more active, reflective and innovative learners in potential or actual contexts of application, in contrast to learning as the mere acquisition of information or skills in isolation on one hand, or as privileged abstraction and theorising in a contextual vacuum on the other. The e-portfolio has further been outlined above as a convergent hub also for a series of related notions linked to a view of the constructivist or learner centred implications of ICT in education (project based learning, authentic assessment, collaborative learning, etc.). To the extent that it provides a design strategy for framing the learning process and effectively integrating ICTs in education, it is a model which exemplifies the implications, possibilities and requirements of 'new learning'.
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|Author: Cameron Richards is a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at UWA. His previous academic positions include the Queensland University of Technology, Singapore National Institute of Education, and the Hong Kong Institute of Education. He has researched and published widely about the practical as well as cultural and conceptual challenges and implications of effectively integrating ICTs in education.
Dr Cameron Richards
Graduate School of Education
The University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009
Tel: +61 8 6488 3353 Fax: +61 8 6488 1052 Email: Cameron.firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Richards, C. (2005). Activity-reflection e-portfolios: An approach to the problem of effectively integrating ICTs in teaching and learning. In The Reflective Practitioner. Proceedings of the 14th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 3-4 February 2005. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/refereed/richards.html
Copyright 2005 Cameron Richards. The author assigns to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.