ePortfolios as a Means of Facilitating and Recording Learning Progress
Another promising way of collecting evidence of learning and record-keeping is via the use of ePortfolios. Tynan’s (2015) AR project focused on this type of platform. It began from the observation that intermediate and upper-intermediate EFL students often believe that they do not improve much in terms of their level of language ability during their course of study. Tynan designed an intervention that involved the creation of an ePortfolio by the students throughout their time on their EFL course. As Tynan (ibid.) clarifies, in the context of his project, “the ePortfolio is a learning portfolio created by students in the form of a website. It contains digital artifacts and links to artifacts that the students have created. The ePortfolio showcases students’ speaking, writing, and reading skills both from tasks set in class and activities that the students have identified as useful for their own progress in specific areas of language learning” (p. 55).
In particular, the teacher had to create clear individual learning goals for the students based on information from documents such as each student’s independent learning plan, the student’s initial outline of their needs, and the like. The goals were then finalized through discussion and agreement with the student. Next, the teacher assigned projects that utilized digital tools and helped achieve the goals assigned, agreed criteria for these projects, and provided feedback time. The teacher also supervised the student in creating and monitoring the ePortfolio. For their part, the students would create the ePortfolio and complete the projects with a digital tool. They would also keep a record of what they did to achieve their goals and upload a link to the item they produced with a description of what it was. Finally, they would also provide self- and peer-evaluation.
Besides the learning goals, the ePortfolios included a My Progress and My English section. The “My Progress” was a learning diary which had reflections on what they had learned that week, what they needed to focus on, and what they had achieved. The evidence of what they achieved in terms of language production was situated in the “My English” section; the evidence was in the form of links to digital items, or the items themselves with a description of what the task was and what the created item evidenced (Tynan, 2015, p. 57). The AR data collection involved both qualitative (interviews with learners and teachers) and quantitative data (Likert surveys). Tynan found that the majority of students agreed that
the ePortfolio made them think about what they were learning and also think about their objectives realistically ... and [given] that the ePortfolio gave them evidence of their progress. In their open-ended responses, many also reported that now they have more awareness of what they have learned.
(Tynan, 2015, p. 58)
As this AR project demonstrates, ePortfolios are a promising platform for the purposes of not only showcasing samples of work but, more importantly, of collecting evidence of learning, record-keeping, and raising awareness of learning progress among students.
Evidence and records are obviously useful in making decisions about teaching and learning. However, what is considered to be a cornerstone of LOA, unanimously by all LOA frameworks discussed earlier, is timely, feed-forward, constructive feedback (see, for instance, Carless’s 2007 third LOA principle, Lam in Chapter 6 in this volume, and Turner and Purpura’s (2016) learning and interactional dimensions of LOA). Appropriate feedback can make a critical contribution to learning, and it is conceptualized in mainstream educational literature as information given to the learner, which they can then use to narrow the gap between their current and desired stage of learning (Black & Wiliam 1998a; Hattie & Timperley, 2007). A good deal of scholarly attention has focused on the technical aspects of giving feedback, and how effective different feedback techniques are in promoting learning. For example, SLA research has sought to discover which types of input promote greater uptake after feedback is given, with some studies pointing to the effectiveness of corrective feedback in improving performance (Schmidt, 1994; Hulstijn, 2005; Long, 2007), whereas other experts have disputed its usefulness, for example, in writing (Truscott, 2007). More recent studies have focused on contextual and affective factors that impact feedback uptake (Lipnevich et al., 2016) and on providing guidelines for effective feedback in the L2/foreign language learning context (Gebril and Brown, 2020).
As well as the pivotal role of the teacher in proving feedback, the central role of the learners themselves in the feedback loop is also widely acknowledged (Oscarson, 1997; Boekaerts et al., 2005). As a result, peer- and self-assessment are viewed as important parts of the feedback, reflection, and learning cycle, with research showing that peer- and selffeedback leads to improved performance (e.g. Mawlawi, 2011, for writing). Good examples of how teacher-, peer-, and self-assessment support the learner can be seen in Heath and Malecka’s AR portfolio project discussed later in this section, as well as in Campbell and Thorpe’s (2017), Mangion and Stokes’s (2017), and Fleming and Barnhoorn’s (2017) AR projects discussed in the next section on autonomous learning. In addition to feedback, Jang and Howard’s AR study below illustrates the value of feed-forward via awareness-raising of common errors to feed-forward before students performed a writing task.
Finally, the literature on feedback clearly shows that effective feedback that substantially boosts performance is the one that focuses on how learners performed tasks and processes or how they can explicitly or implicitly work towards self-regulation of learning (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). The AR projects and examples of feedback discussed in this and the next subsection all concentrated on this type of feedback. To sum up, the notion of feedback is a defining element of LOA in the classroom, in which properly applied feedback guides learners in stages toward further learning.