Iceberg with top about one-third the size of bottom
ePortfolio,  Professional Development,  Reflective Practice

Comprehensive Learning Records and ePortfolio Model: the Tip of the Iceberg

Comprehensive learning records (CLRs) make a big promise: document life-long student learning in a certifiable way that goes beyond the traditional transcript and into capturing skills and experiences that are currently not well-represented. Like a career ePortfolio, a CLR highlights not only academics but the skills that are gained through academic and co-curricular experiences. The primary difference? CLRs provide a tracking system that creates a controlled, digital product, similar to badging, which is certified by educational entities whereas UNE ePortfolios provide a dynamic digital presence that is built and curated by students to serve a variety of purposes.

Off the cuff, the CLR makes sense, but as with all new technological advancements, integration into University ecosystems as well as into pedagogy will take time, resources, and guidance to yield the promised outcomes. Higher education institutions will need to standardize not only the CLR within their organization but across the field, as with a transcript. So, will CLRs be the end of “padding the resume,” (or even writing a resume) that is not certified by an accredited organization? How does one measure the success of a tool like a CLR for all the stakeholders? Will categorizing student experiences justify the expense of college degree to students? Will employers better understand majors based on the CLR? Will universities be judged by the CLR? Will students better understand their skill set and career path choices when they complete their degree? Will colleges accept more transfer credits? Maybe in the future, a CLR will do all of those things, but in the present, a robust UNE ePortfolio can provide the structure for students to determine their skills, share their experience, and make connections to demonstrate their learning.

What may be included in a CLR?

According to 1EdTech, “The CLR is a standard way to describe and share learning-related plans, achievements, skills, and milestones over a person’s lifetime. An individual will have multiple CLRs, one from each learning organization. It’s the common standard that makes CLR records interoperable, and because the records are in digital form, they can be protected from unauthorized change and verified.” Thus, the CLR would likely be a series of CLRs throughout a person’s lifetime, similar to a series of transcripts, but in a digital form that could be standardized and verified. Most traditional transcripts do not include certified sets of skills or co-curricular involvement, so the CLR could offer a deeper look into a learner’s experience. In some ways, the CLR appears to serve a degree in the way that a set of program outcomes serve a major, except with the potential to include links to artifacts as digital badge might. This standards-based structure is familiar in K-12 public educational settings with grades and standardized tests being the common measurements used by higher ed admissions.

Since the concept of a CLR is relatively new, the expectation of what composes a CLR may not be well known yet. The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AARCO) has been developing guidelines and best practices since 2017. An AARCO 2018 report (2) defines the CLR in more detail: “The AACRAO Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) Data Integrations Workgroup has identified the following information as components that could comprise a CLR:
⇒ Student academic record
⇒ Learning outcomes (also called skills, competencies, etc.)
⇒ Learner artifacts (dissertations, thesis, certificates, work product, etc.)
⇒ Academic program requirements, outcomes, faculty vitas
⇒ Student employment history (and associated evidence of work performance)
⇒ Student activities (role, responsibility, accomplishments, etc.)
⇒ Internships
⇒ Research activities
⇒ Service learning projects, civic engagements, honors activities
⇒ Licensures and certifications
⇒ Volunteer activities (role, responsibility, contributions)
⇒ Portfolios
⇒ Study abroad experiences and evidence of cultural competency.”

Many of the participating AARCO universities are large, including Stanford and University of Maryland, with considerable resources for faculty development, IT departments, and an investment in the technology to create and integrate CRLs. Institutions should consider the resources needed to create a robust CLR versus a CLR’s most basic version: a digital transcript that can be read by AI/employers and judged to be credible.

How is CLR content different or similar to UNE’s ePortfolio content?

Most of the potential CRL components may be similar to UNE ePortfolio content. For example, UNE’s Nursing students incorporate competencies and regularly reflect on/include

  • experiences that underline their cultural competency with a variety of populations
  • evidence-based collaborative research projects
  • connections between classroom learning and their field or SIM experiences
  • a resume section that highlights preceptorship experience, employment history, and sometimes study abroad experience, club membership, or service learning.

In other common UNE portfolio examples, Education majors include artifacts to match state standards as evidence for teaching certification. Some capstone courses include ePortfolio use to highlight student growth and metacognition as well as including a resume and curated collection of projects. UNEportfolio sites are dynamic, so building often includes sharing, revising, and curating. These sites have potential for a wide audience: classmates, professors (from a variety of classes), professional staff, and those outside of UNE such as potential employers or grad schools. Thus, the content may be similar to CLRs, but the CLR appears to be a product likely to be shared on completion of a degree and to a limited audience, whereas the ePortfolio site allows for sharing at any time and with any audience since it is a website.

Who designs and owns the content?

Will students own their CLR content? One key differences between a CLR and a UNE ePortfolio is that UNE’s ePortfolio sites are student-designed (not standardized) and the content is uploaded and organized by the student. With hands-on support from the DigiSpace@SASC team, UNE students learn basic web-building and choose the design of their site (including customization of theme, color palette, and featured content). Although some academic programs may require certain components to be incorporated from particular courses, students ultimately have control of the content of their site. The CLR would have to be owned by the University whereas the content of the UNE ePortfolio may be downloaded and maintained on a student’s own site. Unlike other ePortfolio software, UNEportfolio is built using WordPress open-source software. WordPress software is used to create one-third of ALL sites on the Web, and it can be installed on a free or low-cost website with the student’s choice of hosts. Other large-scale educational ePortfolio software requires subscription, such as DigiCation ($20/month to host a student’s stand-alone ePortfolio site or by University subscription). For Canvas ePortfolio content, the school subscriber appears to maintain content control and ownership. Although students can download content into a zip file, it is unclear if they can easily upload to a website.

The ePortfolio model with the CLR could appease future employers who want a more standardized “report” that can be read and interpreted like an SAT score (ex. Lipscomb University’s sample CRL certified 9 Leadership experiences, 18 Communication experiences, 17 Interpersonal experiences, etc.). Another type of report, the Perdue University Experiential and Applied Learning Record, included a timeline of categorized experiences such as Leadership and Research, documenting hours (or semesters) and also explicitly stated that “students do not personally enter any information into this record.” UNE ePortfolio content does not have a University certification and is not currently standardized by design or content. The use of reflective practice allows students to make their own connections between content and skills, potentially every semester, as they work toward completing their degree. An important advantage in this process is that a UNE ePortfolio site requires agency from the learner, particularly during curation, when students make the choices, highlighting the content, experiences, and skills that they perceive as valuable.

Another advantage is that students demonstrate the competencies through their reflection and/or artifacts, which may be multimodal, allowing a viewer to watch the presentation, see the brochure, or hear the student speak about their experience, whether that site visitor is a professor, classmate, or potential employer. The audience can be wider, allowing students to become more comfortable sharing their work and giving and receiving feedback. The lack of standardization allows students and visitors to use the media that is favored in their field. For example, a Communications major may use ePortfolio to demonstrate the ability to blog, create effective social media posts, compose an audio or video presentation, or share a research paper. Because reflection is central to ePortfolio, students not only share work samples but also may share their perceived learning from an experience.

The CLR creates the University validation and perceived most valuable skills while the UNE ePortfolio demonstrates the student’s choice of their most valuable experiences and skills. The University does the scaffolding of providing the opportunity for student learning and assessment, but if the student cannot speak to their skills or to the importance of experiences in their learning, they may not have fully considered the overall value of their higher education. As in society in the past decade, institutions of higher learning have come under scrutiny (as have many other established American institutions). Reflective practice and ePortfolio building offer an avenue to put student agency and learning at the core of the higher educational landscape; a CLR may be a robust transcript constructed mostly by the University to demonstrate the value of the degree beyond listing courses and grades.

Learning more about CLRs has made me revisit the value of my own degrees. How does my 2001 MEd serve me today, for example? Looking back at my transcripts or chunky three-ringed binder containing my capstone project with its many graphs, student surveys, and analysis, I think the greatest value was going through the process. Much of the content I learned when earning my degrees is now outdated and even then was far less important than the skills that I practiced in earning my degrees. So it makes sense to me that a university should offer more than a traditional transcript to demonstrate learning, but if student choice – not only of content but also design and organization – is not at the center of the collection, students are less likely to recognize the value of their UNE experience. They are not used to valuing learning that is not measured by a test/grade. What do they think they learn from co-curricular experiences or a semester abroad? CLRs show promise in bringing us closer to a more robust representation of a the value of a college degree, but they also seem, by design, to be focused less on student learning and more on listing and categorizing by the University.

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