A New Culture of Learning with ePortfolios

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How might we create the best possible learning environment for our students? What kind of skills, knowledge, and capabilities will our students need to thrive in the twenty-first century? 

With an increasing abundance of ready-made knowledge, and answers so quickly available to anyone able to touch a button, should we continue to simply teach the right answers? How might we better educate our students to search for the question? In creating a culture of inquiry, questions not only open up thinking, they can also direct and focus our thinking.

In this new century we have ubiquitous access to technology and social networking resources like never before. In the twenty-first century, how do we cultivate the imagination? As stated by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown in  A New Culture of Learning,

The trick is to figure out how to harness these new resources, which make play, questioning, and imagination the bedrocks of our new culture of learning

(Thomas and Brown, 2011, 20)

It is now possible to create a classroom environment that invites students to use technology as a tool for connecting subject matter and method. ePortfolios playfully cultivate the imagination of our learners by giving them an authentic space for choice, and provide greater opportunities for ownership of learning. The EP promotes collaboration once artifacts have been constructed, showing our learners that they have an audience, and a voice.

According to Haraipnuik, Thibodeaux, and Cummings, creating significant learning environments (CSLE) for students provides experiences of choice and ownership, while expressing their voice in an authentic way (COVA). Using CSLE+COVA is not a linear step by step process, but rather a synergy to be adopted as part of an ongoing learning mindset.  (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, and Cummings, 2018)

The ePortfolio creates a sense of community that embodies play and imagination. The EP could even BE the play needed with our curriculum. If children learn best by doing, as research suggests, the ePortfolio can provide the platform for doing. Using ePortfolios creates a learning environment that provides the most significance in the twenty-first century.

ePortfolios Foster Inquiry

Thomas and Brown posit that as children encounter new places, people, things, and ideas, they use play and imagination to cope with the massive influx of information they receive. John Dewey said that imagination is the medium of appreciation in every field. That the engagement of the imagination is the only thing that makes any activity more than mechanical. And now, even more so than in the early 1900s, the engagement of our imagination is crucial.

You don’t learn unless you question.

Joi Ito, MIT Media Lab

As we use ePortfolios to create a culture of inquiry rather than of finding the right answers, questions not only open up thinking-they also direct and focus it. In Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question, he points out that as our collective knowledge grows-as there is more and more to keep up with-the amount that the individual actually knows is smaller, therefore minimizing the value of the answer.

What if questions were more important than answers? What if the key to learning were not the application of techniques but their invention? What if students were asking questions about things that really mattered to them?

(Thomas and Brown, 2011, 81)

The ePortfolio can create  motivation to learn and provide a set of constraints that make the learning meaningful. This could come in the form of a blog post, or an “Inquiry” page open for collaboration. Students, after listening to class read aloud or independent book choices could write their own questions, assessing each other. 

Reading should not only be about finding the right answers, but making connections and stirring up inquiry. Would we read differently if we were thinking about what we wanted to ask rather than what would be asked of us? If we read in a creative way, does it force our brain to work differently? Can our brain make connections that it otherwise might not WHILE reading, enabling greater comprehension? As we encounter more and more ready-made knowledge, should our very practice of reading and teaching reading become more analytical?

“Wikipedia allows us to see all those things, understand the process, and participate in it. As such, it requires a new kind of reading practice, an ability to evaluate a contested piece of knowledge and decide for yourself how you want to interpret it. And because Wikipedia is a living, changing embodiment of knowledge, such a reading practice must embrace change” (Thomas and Brown, 2011, 47).

How do we know what’s true? More than ever, we should teach our readers to question what they read. Teach them to question everything. The freedom to ask questions touches on giving our students a voice, and freedom to exercise it in their ePortfolio. 

Challenges of Implementation

Using the concept of inquiry, I have asked my campus to join me in implementing ePortfolios on my campus next year. Fifteen staff members will be a part of our first campus EP Pilot Team implementing this innovation plan for using ePortfolios.

Some may view this plan as “one more thing”, but my established relationship with them and ability to communicate vision in a passionate way will have a positive impact on learning communities on my campus. I plan on sharing my ePortfolio as an example, and working side by side with my colleagues as we establish our wildly important goals. 

My perspective on using ePortfolios to create a more significant learning environment will positively impact instructional design in my community. It will positively affect academic quality, assessment & evaluation of learners.  


Thomas and Brown invite us to imagine an environment where participants are constantly measuring and evaluating their own performances, even if that requires them to build new tools to do it. What might happen in our classrooms if we provide the opportunity for our learners to use the tool of the ePortfolio for questioning and working together and learning? 

The ePortfolio can foster inquiry, create a collective, establish tacit knowledge to provide a more significant learning environment. The ePortfolio authentically provides choice, ownership, and voice to twenty-first century learners. 

If you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things-then change is something that becomes an adventure. And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running!

(Berger, 2014, 28)


Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: Macmillan.

Harapnuik, D.K., Thibodeaux, T.N., & Cummings, C.D. (2018). Creating significant learning environments through choice, ownership, voice, and authenticity. Creative Commons.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.