The Knowledge Management Research Group

Personal Learning Portfolios: Folio Thinking


  • Media Technology/KTH (Handberg)
  • ILU/Uppsala (Gustavsson)
  • ALM/Uppsala (Backlund)
  • Linguistics/Uppsala (Borin)
  • SLL/Stanford (Chen & Nash)

Problem Description

In short, this project strives to solve the problem of "fragmentation of purpose" within the student populations of Sweden and the United States. The term "fragmentation of purpose" refers to the notion that faculty and academic advisors increasingly feel that the 21st century student experience lacks coherence. The problem of coherence can be traced to a lack of individual student attention by professors and advisors, and is exacerbated by increased use of large lecture classes and the broadening of selection of majors and courses offered to students. This is coupled with several demographic phenomena in the US and Sweden. Within the US, a predicted shrinking of the student body over the last 15 years has not occurred. On the contrary, student enrollment in post-secondary institutions has risen at an alarming rate in both Sweden and the United States. Since 1990 the Swedish university student population has doubled without a concomitant increase in number of professors. This increased rate of enrollment, coupled with a non-concomitant increase in the professorate and a perceived fragmentation of learning suggests that we should strive to solve the problems of:

  • Risk of fragmentation in the learning career of the student.
  • Low degree of reflection in the learning process due to a vanishing learning history on the part of the student.
  • Decreasing student motivation.
  • Lack of efficiency in how students handle information.
  • Low level of reuse of information and knowledge by students.
  • Bad or absent meta-data system to help students manage their knowledge.

Proposed Solution

We intend to solve this problem by creating a partnership of three universities (KTH, Uppsala, Stanford) to prototype and build a next generation learning portfolio, along with an appropriate curriculum of practice designed to serve core and extended students. This learning tool and the accompanying practices will instill the notion of Folio Thinking within six testbeds in Sweden and the United States. Operationally speaking, Folio Thinking is a set of behaviors and a mindset that leads to four ultimate outcomes:

  • Improved student problem finding and solving.
  • Greater meta-discursive analysis (Students conceptualizing their own learning).
  • Increased student self awareness.
  • Increased awareness of others' ways of thinking.

How will we reach these goals? We intend to reach them via a set of inter-related strategies which include the development of guidelines for how students will engage in Folio Thinking, with the guidance of trained elder students at each testbed and the involvement of testbed faculty who will channel their course activities in a fashion that will support the use of an electronic portfolio.

This project is enhanced by our co-development approach. We will test our ideas and theories at the same time as we develop the requirements for an electronic portfolio technology.

In short, project faculty in the testbed universities will provide encouragement to and guidance for their students to channel their course work and student products into a prototypical learning portfolio. Both the students and the elder students will be trained in the methods of Self-Coaching, the successful personal coaching model developed by Dennis Matthies of the Microsoft Corporation (formerly of Stanford University) and Monica Worline of the University of Michigan and implemented in the Stanford Learning Lab's Learning Careers project. In its simplest terms, Self-Coaching is a working model of learning through experience and requires both active and reflective engagement with the students' own experience of learning. In the Learning Careers project, Self-Coaching has facilitated the personal reflection that brings the most benefit to students engaging in the process of developing and maintaining a personal learning portfolio. During the first year, the elder students will help the students track their own behaviors so that, consistent with the notion of co-development, we will have a better understanding of student habits and practices around the use of portfolios. This will not only inform the development of a more refined pedagogical approach but also the development of a more refined portfolio prototype.

Our theory of change (that is, our theory of how and why this initiative works) suggests that when students are exposed to: 1) faculty who recognize the importance of creating a learning portfolio that tracks a student's academic and personal development over time; 2) elder students who support and guide reflective activities; and 3) a portfolio tool that is easy to use, there will be an increase in the students' relational thinking across disciplines as well as a well-documented path of the learning process. In addition, students will, we theorize, possess a greater motivation and incentive to share and reuse the knowledge and experiences they have captured over time. Furthermore, we also believe this process will lead to design information on how students actually use portfolios and data about how such tools can enhance conversations about knowledge. In the end we are provided with improved software and improved knowledge about not only the tool itself but also the ultimate learner outcomes noted above regarding conceptualization and awareness. This initial theory of change will be refined at the proposal stage and at the initial funding stage, yielding a map of the "program logic" of the project and the identification of the "evaluand," (the focused subject to be evaluated). Formative and outcome evaluation methods and indicators will be set based upon the theory of change agreed upon by all members of the Folio Thinking project team.

What will the Project Deliver?

The project will deliver guidelines and practices for universities to implement Folio Thinking at different levels of scale and in different disciplinary and geographic settings (as evidenced by the testbeds). In terms of tools, the project will deliver, by the end of year one, a research-based, co-developed prototype of an electronic portfolio which supports the pedagogical notions valued by the project participants. In year two, with renewed funding, this tool will be refined and developed into a robust product for dissemination outside the research testbeds.

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