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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Portfolio's and Health Education: The Emergency of New Learning Environments and the Nature of Learning

The emergence of a new learning environments and the nature of learning

Poor nutrition, abuse, drugs, disease, and injury are daily concerns for millions of children who lack resources and support of basic health care. Despite programs directed at improving the health of children, adolescents today are less healthy than their parents at the same age (American Cancer Society, 1998). Of concern to school health personnel is the changing function of education in society. The current transformation from industry into information services demands the educational system train children to analyze information. Whereas private interests and media utilize technology to deliver information, education has been slow in adopting this resource. Leaders in business, science, and education cite the need to develop meaningful learning experiences designed to increase understanding of complex information. (Reinventing Schools, 1998). If the needs of business and science are urgent, the need for children to become "health literate" is even more pressing if the United States is to reduce the estimated $900 billion dollars spent on health care each year (A.C.S., 1998).

According to the National Health Standards Project, Health literacy is "the capacity of individuals to obtain, interpret, and understand basic health information and services and the competence to use such information and services in ways which enhance health". (ACS, 1998). Four characteristics were identified as essential to health literacy:

critical thinking and problem solving ability, responsible and productive citizenry, self-directed learning, and effective communication skills.

The changing need of health and education has resulted in a search for techniques appropriate to a new learning environment. According to the U.S. Department of Education, educational reform "calls for a shift away from organizing instruction around short blocks of time devoted to lecture…toward an emphasis on engaging students in long-term meaningful projects". Technology is valued as a tool for educational reform, with the vision of "technology supported constructivist classrooms" (Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1995). Technology plays an increasingly important role in education as computers evolve from computational devices used for "number crunching" and "drilling' to communication tools capable of providing "individualized" instruction via multi-media, e-mail, and immediate feedback on performance.

The ability to direct learning by controlling the pace, direction, and content of instruction offers exciting learning opportunities. By allowing non-linear progression and "instant" access to information in written, auditory, and simulated environments, computer assisted instruction affects how students learn (Owston, 1997). The ability to utilize technology as a teaching strategy while accurately assessing progress is of concern to many school personnel.

One technique capable of enhancing the potential of technology is the electronic portfolio. The use of a portfolio as a teaching tool and alternative assessment instrument is not new for education (OERI, 1995) or school health; "Portfolios…occur increasingly in K-12 classrooms, pre-service teacher education, and university initiatives to enhance teacher effectiveness of faculty" (Cleary, 1997). During the past decade, school health has revisited the use of portfolios as a viable method of demonstrating student learning in outcome-based education and professional preparation (Cleary, 1993; 1997).

Traditional portfolios consisted of notebooks filled with paperwork representing weeks or months of student effort. Problems associated with portfolios; including storage, cost, handling, loss, evaluation, and time, remained problematic. Interest in alternative assessment, systemic change, and the availability of simplified software, the Internet, and computer access has revitalized interest in the portfolio as an instructional method and assessment tool (OERI, 1993). Additionally, electronic portfolios are used as professional development tools for school health educators to demonstrate teaching effectiveness and professional preparation (Cleary, 1997).

The electronic portfolio consists of elements familiar to traditional portfolios while reducing storage space, allowing video, audio, and interactive components to be included, and documenting student "growth". Additionally, electronic portfolios are easily transported across grades and even curriculum (Barrett, 1997). A correctly designed electronic portfolio identifies "the purpose to be served by the portfolio, and the specific skill to be developed or assessed…" (Arter, 1995). Additionally, students are provided opportunities to evaluate their own learning and collaborate with others while progressing toward clearly defined goals. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Department of Education cite the need for students to locate, comprehend, interpret, evaluate, maintain, and apply information and concepts (Florida Blueprint 2000, 1996). Experts in Educational Technology cite the rapid expansion of information in society as a major impetus to systemic reform…"information, world-wide, is doubling every two years…The Internet is doubling in size every year…the Web every 90 days… and use of the Web pales in comparison with electronic mail. In 1996, the USPS delivered 185 billion pieces of first class mail. In that same year the Internet handled about one trillion e-mail messages" (Thornburg, 1997). The ability to analyze and interpret information is becoming a critical skill as the rate of communication continues to increase. Not only is communication and information changing how and why people learn, but the concept of learning itself (Twigg, 1997). According to Twigg, deciding what constitutes learning invokes questions of mastery, analytic ability, communication, training, independence, and socialization. These skills, abilities, and traits require methods of facilitative instruction beyond the scope of lectures and multiple choice assessments that reward memorization of facts rather than the ability to apply information and are in keeping with the National School Health Education Standards. (Developed by The Association for the Advancement of Health Education, The American Public Health Association, The American School Health Association, The Society of State Directors of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and The American Cancer Society, 1992). The National Health Education Standards stipulate students will;

• Comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention

• Access valid health information, products, and services

• Practice health enhancing behaviors

• Analyze the influence of culture, media, technology, and other factors on health

• Use interpersonal communication skills to enhance health

• Use goal-setting and decision making skills to enhance health

• Advocate for personal, family, and community health

Enhancing communication and improving learning

Benefits of electronic portfolios are numerous. Electronic portfolio's encourage self-evaluation as learners invoke a multitude of strategies to a given problem and respond to feedback from peers and instructors. The use of multimedia provides a value effect for students who "publish" work for a "real" audience rather than one person and maximizes different learning styles by exploring creative communication with various media formats. Portfolios encourage teamwork and creative thinking by stimulating student strengths while simultaneously exposing them to areas in need of development. Peer feedback is enhanced as students interact beyond the realm of the physical classroom. Schools across the nation have taken advantage of the web to link classrooms to government, museums, and even other classroom as resources; while accessing information almost instantaneously. Portfolios are open-ended and capable of "growing" as students progress in understanding or grades. When correctly developed, portfolios are realistic examples of "real life" skills and activities. Additionally, electronic portfolios eliminate many of the storage, handling, and tracking problems associated with traditional portfolios while automating routine record keeping.

Despite potential benefits, there are issues to address before initiating an electronic portfolio project (Barrett, 1997). Because portfolio's are open-ended and designed to foster analysis, comparison, and problem solving skills there is no one right answer. Instead, skill based or qualitative competency is stressed. This can be time consuming as instructors leave the arena of lecturer and take a facilitative role in the learner's education. Learning becomes interactive as students engage in problem solving rather than passively listening and memorizing. Instructors must incorporate different learning styles as learners communicate via print, audio, video, or simulation; and assessment becomes comprehensive in nature, requiring more time than multiple choice or true-false grading. These are not small adjustments when dealing with large classrooms. Also, the initial time investment needed to develop an electronic portfolio should be realistically allotted. Research on several portfolio project programs has demonstrated that "implementation of the portfolio program required considerable time and effort" (CRESST, 1992).

Design and Technical Considerations

Actual software and hardware requirements for an electronic portfolio project are flexible. Depending on resources, an Internet capable computer and easy to use presentation software is all that is needed to begin. The first step in designing an electronic portfolio is to decide which type to use. Two types of portfolios are common, collection portfolios containing everything the student has produced, and showcase portfolio's highlighting "best work" selected by the student for display. Portfolio design reflects the purpose of the project. If tracking growth is important then a collection portfolio is preferable; if the project measures total comprehension then a showcase portfolio may be considered. The following are critical components to both forms;

• Goals and objectives clearly defined within the given topic.

• An established timeline divided into manageable portions.

• Periodic reviews and "cut-off" points to ensure timely progression.

• Specific requirements including;

• The number of entries expected.

• Feedback methods to be used: can students give direct feedback or will the instructor selectively refer feedback? Are a minimum number of feedback entries required? Are students graded on feedback? If so, how?

• Teacher prompts are essential to ensure adequate progression. Given frequently students will not spend time on the "wrong track". Teacher prompts should follow performance measures provided to the student.

• Student self assessment; periodic or cumulative?

• Mandatory performance measures including specific knowledge, skills or activities particular to the content area.

• Assessment information reflecting clearly defined expectations and relative value assigned to each portfolio component.

• How is work to be exhibited? What is acceptable? What is not?

• The portfolio should be transferable, support existing software, accessible to all users, and cross-platform (Windows/Mac).

• Provide an example of a portfolio. Ensure understanding through frequent review.

Electronic portfolios measure students ability to solve real world problems and internalize information by building on life experiences, collaboration, in-depth understanding; as such, electronic portfolio's are considered one form of authentic assessment. (CRESST, 1992; Coalition of Essential Schools, 1993; OERI, 1993; Lankers, 1998). To ensure authenticity, work should conform to the following standards:

• Activities, research, or skills focus on "real life" topics.

• Research sources include traditional ( book, journals) and non-traditional (CD-ROM, on-line, interviews) sources.

• Reputable and properly credited sources.

• Use of real-time information corresponding to grade level and comprehension.

• Interactive resources including recording, surveys, pictures, or other media.

• Collaboration with peers AND individual work.

• Opportunity for self-assessment and feedback to and from peers.

• Actual publication: print, on-line, or presentation.

• Impact potential. Does work have value beyond the classroom?

Technical considerations focus on the use of available software and hardware. Portfolios may be loaded onto a server, saved to portable storage, or "burned" into a CD. Software used in the actual presentation/publication should be "stand-alone" self-executing files, or software needed to "read" the information should be in the public domain with a link to the download site. For example, if video is used, QuickTime is a commonly available software program capable of viewing video on either a PC or Mac based computer. If the viewer doesn't own QuickTime, the software (viewer) is available as a free download. Electronic portfolio's can be self-contained if an Internet connection is not available, or on-line if access to the Internet is available. Safety, speed, and security are essential considerations for any on-line projects involving children. Several portfolio software packages are available with built-in features of interest to educators. Portfolio, a Windows based package from Synapsys software, allows multimedia integration for students and assessment rubrics that automate assessment, while Grady Profile from Aurbach & Associates stores exhibits of work while providing a checklist of learner outcomes and report formats. Other programs are available for specific needs. For example, Performance Plus from National Computer Systems has scoring rubrics, automated reports, and I.E.P. modules with goal statements and skill tracking. Although not true portfolio packages, Hyperstudio, PowerPoint, ClarisWorks, and other common educational software titles provide a foundation for portfolio presentations but lack rubric construction and report support.

Future Trends

As the need to analyze and use information increases, the merger of education and technology will continue. Palmtop computers, distance education, the second generation of Internet (Internet II), virtual libraries, real-time interaction, and simulated learning are developing trends. It is imperative students know how to use technology in order to access information in the digital age, but access without comprehension is of little value. New methods of assessing student learning, developing meaningful learning experiences, and influencing participation is needed. The electronic portfolio stresses analytical problem solving techniques while providing health education a means to influence the delivery, assessment, and understanding of school health consistent with National Health Education Standards.

Although most electronic and traditional portfolios are used as supplemental instructional units, widespread applications of science and math portfolios demonstrate promise. For example, a Science Portfolio is now an optional part of the Golden State Examination for high school students in California and Certificates of Mastery efforts are in effect in several states (OERI, 1995; Arter, 1995). Widespread application of portfolio based instruction and assessment for health education requires consideration of several potential issues including; guidelines for the use of educational technology to meet National Health Education Standards, the adoption of minimal technology competency criteria and development of subject mastery guidelines.

Designed correctly, technology can make health education more accessible to a variety of learners and learning styles (OERI, 1995), foster "survival skills" for a lifetime of accessing, analyzing, and using health information, promote dialog and provide inclusive communication (Twigg, 1997) while supporting the National Health Standards.



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