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The ePortfolio as an Alternative Credential
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The ePortfolio as an Alternative Credential

An ePortfolio or other form of alternative credential may present a fuller picture of an individual's competencies, skills and experiences than a traditional degree or diploma credential.

Colleges and universities have a monopoly on learning credentials. The college degree remains the gold standard of achievement and preparation for employment for good reasons: tradition, comparative quality, standardization and accreditation.

But what does a college degree really say about the earner? It says the earner has fulfilled the requirements for the credential (degree) as determined by the faculty and overseeing board. That credential is validated by the accreditation status of the institution and other important factors such as institutional brand, faculty status, even the physical institution itself. In other words, the traditional credential of the college degree says more about the institution that granted the degree than the individual who earned it.

Diplomas are out of context; or, rather, they exist solely within the context of the granting agency, thus providing little evidence to an employer that the learner has the specific skill set and understanding to succeed in the workplace and providing a depersonalized perspective of an individual’s interests and accomplishments. In a flexible portfolio system controlled by the learner, there are multiple contexts, including the institution, the individual, the environment, the workplace, etc. An alternative credentialing system such as an ePortfolio or badging system can personalize a traditional credential and allow learners to showcase specific competencies.

Here are a few things to consider when developing an alternative credentialing system:

1. An alternative credentialing system showcases specific competencies

Competency-based education focuses on discrete components of learning (skills, experiences, knowledge areas) that provide a granular view of learner accomplishment through connecting course concepts to visible demonstrations or ‘artifacts’ of learning. Alternative credentials such as ePortfolios and badges showcase competencies with associated evidence that can be used by the learner to display marketable skills and experiences.

2. The learner has control of the portfolio

Unlike the form and message of a college degree, a portfolio can be manipulated and modified by the learner for specific purposes or audiences. Certain components of a portfolio can serve as job aids, presentation vehicles, or records of growth in specific areas.

3. Badges work best when part of a portfolio

Badges recognize and showcase skills and knowledge gained inside or out of the traditional academy. They help personalize an individual’s learning trajectory, promote lifelong learning and display specific competencies. They function best as part of a portfolio of work that includes curricular competencies and institutional experiences.

4. Alternative credentials can be both inward and outward facing

Used inwardly, they provide motivation for the earner, a clear pathway for success, a sense of accomplishment and a record of achieving course, program or degree competencies. Used outwardly, they can represent the earner to employers, institutions or certification bodies. Both functions of a portfolio have merit and should be used synchronously.

The traditional credential of the college degree and the alternative credential of the portfolio or badge can work in concert to present a more complete record of a learner’s competencies. While a college degree carries the value of tradition that relies on the name and reputation of the institution for validation, the strength of an alternative credentialing system lies in the granularity of information and the evidence of accomplishment that focuses on the learner as an individual. When used together, a learner will be able to showcase a personal and specific record of achievement.

Instituting an alternative credentialing system demands careful consideration of instructional design, competency-based learning and portfolio design. Systems such as the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure and organizations such as HASTAC and AAEEBL provide starting points for those interested in exploring alternative credentials.

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6 Responses to The ePortfolio as an Alternative Credential

  1. Eugene Partnoy Reply

    2013/08/13 at 9:49 am

    I’ve been keeping up with all these discussions about ePortfolios and badges and the like, and it always comes down to one question for me:

    How is this different from a transceript/resume?

    Other than giving it a fancy name and some fun images, what have we changed from the system we have now?

    It seems to me that competency-based education is eradicating the need for these badges by integrating workplace skills into the college transcript. And resumes do everything an ePortfolio does, with the added bonus of employers having the chance to see what skills prospective employees think their past experiences have led them toward.

    All in all, I’m confused and underwhelmed.

    • James Branden Reply

      2013/08/13 at 1:56 pm

      Actually, eportfolios can be very useful as they are customizable to specific audiences. They give individuals the opportunity to emphasize particular skills that a more general credential, such as a degree, does not always cover. E-portfolios can be especially helpful for students early in their careers, who may not have a lot of formal work experience to draw from, but who have demonstrated the required skills through volunteer and life experiences.

      I think you would be hard-pressed to find an employer who wants to see a prospective employee’s transcript.

  2. Chuck Schwartz Reply

    2013/08/13 at 1:19 pm

    I agree with Wisser’s arguments regarding the value of e-portfolios and badges. I also agree this type of alternative credential is more effective in conjunction with a traditional credential (e.g. degree) because the latter comes from a trusted, proven source. When a student pays for a degree, he or she is really paying for the granting institution’s seal of approval. Without that, it’s difficult for the student to be taken seriously when looking for jobs or applying for graduate school (though that could change in the next few years … )

  3. Francis Beyer Reply

    2013/08/13 at 4:21 pm

    E-portfolios can be very useful as they are customizable to specific audiences. They give individuals the opportunity to emphasize particular skills that a more general credential, such as a degree, does not always cover. E-portfolios can be especially helpful for students early in their careers, who may not have a lot of formal work experience to draw from, but who have demonstrated the required skills through volunteer and life experiences.

  4. Cindy Chao Reply

    2013/08/14 at 9:41 am

    It will be interesting to see if e-portfolios catch on as a type of alternative credential individuals obtain prior to enrolling in a traditional program. Perhaps badges and e-portfolio competencies can be transferred into credits through a program similar to PLA.

  5. Susan Farber Reply

    2013/08/14 at 10:15 am

    This discussion is vital as higher education is starting to redefine itself due to outside forces and paradigm shifts in our society.
    I concur with Chuck Schwartz in his suggestion that a portfolio “in conjunction with” a degree from an accredited institution may benefit degree earners, job seekers, and professionals.

    I teach an online graduate course in Medical Education, where medical educators create an e-portfolio to document their professional role, work and growth.
    If we are to expect students (undergraduate and graduates) to create dynamic portfolios, then we may need to create guidelines and a network of mentors who can offer constructive critique and suggestions.

    It seems useful to create an accessible database or site to house these guidelines, across a range of professions (teachers, social workers, medical educators, business managers or entrepreneurs, etc) where portfolios and reflective practice guiding professional decisions establish the foundation for the future growth of these professions.

    This is another example of how the roles of higher education faculty are morphing. I welcome a discussion of how faculty are compensated (full time or adjunct) for this mentoring or advising work.

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