Can Technology Prevent the Education Bubble From Bursting? A Dialogue with Trent Batson

Jun 29, 2011

The latest buzz in the higher education blogosphere has been about an 'education bubble.' Talk of this purported bubble has been fueled by dissatisfaction with rising tuition costs coupled with the inability of recent college graduates to secure jobs due to lack of relevant workforce skills. Dr. Trent Batson believes that the innovative use of educational technology, such as ePortfolios, may help prevent the bubble from bursting.

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By Polly Peterson

Trent Batson photo by Mary Grush

In his capacity as the Executive Director of the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL), Trent Batson is an advocate for ePortfolios. With 30 years of classroom experience as an English professor, Dr. Batson spent the past decade designing, implementing and promoting instructional technology at the University of Rhode Island and MIT. Study.com had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Batson about the recent 'bubble talk.'

Study.com: In your article in Campus Technology earlier this month, you predicted that technology will burst the education bubble. Can you elaborate for our readers on how you see this happening?

Trent Batson: In my article about the education bubble, I seemed to be saying technology was going to burst the bubble: that was not my point. I meant to say that changes in the world caused by technology were making education as it is being 'done' now more and more irrelevant. But my real point is that changing education by using technology in intelligent ways will help to keep education relevant to the world as it is.

Study.com As Executive Director of the AAEEBL, what do you perceive as the primary contribution of digital portfolios to the student learning experience?

TB: ePortfolios contribute nothing by themselves. If their capabilities help faculty members realize that they can redesign their courses so that students can become active learners, then the portfolios have helped improve learning. It's only if faculty and administrators design learning so as to take advantage of portfolios that any value results.

Compare this model to, say, what contribution a car can make for student mobility if there are no roads. The car is useless. The same is true of ePortfolios - the educational enterprise must be redesigned to allow them to realize their potential to transform learning.

Study.com What advice do you have for professors who want to use technology to help their students become workforce-ready?

TB: The Web, the Internet, databases, Web devices that collect data, ePortfolios and multimedia beg for faculty to rethink their learning design; beg administrators to rethink seat-time and credits; beg administrators to rethink assessment. Professors should imagine the ways in which they can have their students doing something, being active and getting involved in authentic learning related to the discipline. After thinking of these active learning strategies, check with technology support folks to see what technology arrays can enable such opportunities.

Study.com How can current college students use an ePortfolio or similar technology to help drive their own educational and professional goals?

TB: ePortfolios are most often provided by a college or university, but some AAEEBL affiliates now offer to extend your individual on-campus accounts after graduation. Keeping evidence of your best work and creating links in your resume to this evidence will help students find employment.

Study.com In your own blog, you've described how 'pedagogy' is a loaded term that should be reconsidered. How does your vision, and that of the AAEEBL, shift focus from pedagogical teacher-centered practices to more active student-centered approaches?

TB: 'Pedagogy' is the wrong term for educators to be using regarding higher education for two reasons: it refers to teaching and therefore implies a teaching-centered approach to education, and, secondly, it refers to teaching children, not adults. It's also a loaded term, associated with the behaviorist model that education has unwittingly perpetuated long after it fell out of favor with learning researchers.

The basic idea behind ePortfolios is that they have special capabilities in our new technology/Internet/Web ecology that allow students to be freed from the artificial and second-hand learning that so often occurs in the classroom and engage in 'situated learning,' learning that is situated in a context very close to real-life work.

The reason students can be freed in this way is that student work, uploaded into the ePortfolio, can provide evidence of the work done away from the classroom or away from the teacher, and that evidence can be assessed. It's as if the student remains visible to the teacher even when the student is working in the field.

Study.com Can you share an example of an innovative use of an ePortfolio?

TB: In a writing class, students can upload their drafts and finished papers along with comments made by peers and/or the teacher; the comments stay associated with the paper. When students are then offered the chance to rewrite papers that have been graded weeks or months earlier, they see those papers with fresh eyes. They then want to revise those papers because they've grown since the time they wrote the papers. Elapsed time is magic for writers: it provides perspective for the student to reflect on their changes since they finished the paper six weeks earlier (for example) and it provides the desire to revise the paper. A student seeing their own change and growth develops reflective and integrative thinking.

Study.com What are your thoughts on the current legislation under consideration by the U.S. government to assess for-profit schools and what links does this have with student-focused learning?

TB: This question is probably two questions that are tangentially linked. First, higher education, in general, has lost its way in terms of understanding the learning process. Educators talk of 'delivering' courses as though knowledge is a commodity. They talk about knowledge as content, as if knowledge is a thing and not a process.

Our terminology trivializes learning, making it seem like a simple process. For-profits pop up because of this simplification. All young people need college now, so the market demand is strong, and those seeking education are therefore easily exploited by promises of jobs that never materialize.

Learning is not as easy as educators have mistakenly led people to think. We have done a disservice to all by our misleading language. The legislation will not discover this root cause, however, but will lead only to greater financial oversight. It's hard to demonstrate the falseness of a commonly held conception, as misguided as it may be.

Study.com In your opinion, what makes a college education worth the expense and time?

TB: This is becoming a very different question than it used to be. Years ago, the answer would be that throughout life you'll do better in all ways because you have learned to think and therefore succeed in whatever you do. Now, that answer is not enough and can seem irrelevant given the cost of college and the scarcity of jobs. Now, there must also be a clear link between college and jobs that will help students pay off student loans. If colleges don't provide this link, then college won't be worth it no matter how personally enriching the experience.

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