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Faculty Action-Research: Applying Learning Pattern Theory to an E-folio Initiative

Module by: Patricia Ann Marcellino, Susan Eichenholtz, Adrienne Sosin. E-mail the authors

Summary: This action-research paper focuses on the efforts of faculty to introduce a standards-based electronic portfolio (e-folio) requirement to aspiring educational administrators at a private university in New York over a 24 month period. The e-folio initiative was established for multiple reasons, including illustration of students’ progress throughout the educational leadership program, assessment of their work and improvement of program quality. In this standards-based e-folio, students demonstrate competencies in leadership. Various instructional approaches were utilized to coach the 40 aspiring administrators in e-folio construction. E-folio products (n=83) were compared to a standardized rubric. Analysis of the data (quantitative and qualitative) resulted in several instructional changes and improvements, which were derived primarily from the application of an advanced learning system known as the Let Me Learn Process® (1996; 1998).



This module has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and sanctioned by the National Council of the Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a scholarly contribution to the knowledge base in educational administration.

Introduction and Background

Portfolios are viewed as an effective tool for demonstrating and evaluating a student’s mastery of a particular area of study. In K-12 teacher education courses, portfolios are often recommended to encourage self-reflection and the learning that accompanies reflective activities (Cohen & Wiener, 2003). Students learn to collect samples of their work over multiple semesters, reflect on their choices and annotate what the work demonstrates. Lankes (1995) distinguishes between different types and purposes for portfolios, i.e. developmental, planning, proficiency, showcase, admissions, and employment portfolios. An increasingly important pedagogical reason for transforming portfolios into electronic or digital portfolios (e-folios) is that the process of constructing the e-folio demonstrates proficiency with technology.

Barrett (1998) and Gibson and Barrett (2003) discuss how e-folios are subject to the technological choices made to support them. If the equipment allows, there is opportunity to either individualize or standardize digitized versions from different media (for example, photos, audiotapes, and videotapes). The scanned documents, pictures or, video artifacts provide evidence to support claims of experience and thereby, competence. A growing number of vendors offer platforms for e-folios that provide tools for importing artifacts and support developing e-folios with user interfaces. These platforms also provide tools for evaluation and aggregation of assessment results. The choices that are made about platform technology influence the outcome and shape of the candidates’ products. Students’ technology skills and facility with computer-based projects are important factors in the construction of e-folios and the success of an assessment system (Montgomery & Wiley, 2004). However, resistance and frustration from students can stymie initiatives. Attitudes toward the experience of constructing e-folios, therefore, become important considerations for faculty.

In multiple disciplines, including educational administration, e-folios can be linked to the national standards in the field (Balch, Frampton, & Hirth, 2006; Hauser & Koutouzos, 2005; Strudler & Wetzel, 2005). Various types of evidence can be compiled into e-folios and linked to national standards, including assignments (written or technological), critiques, papers, presentations as well as recommendation letters, resumes, and honors. Introducing aspiring administrators to the national standards in the field is becoming part of the recommended knowledge base in educational leadership programs (Creighton, Harris, & Coleman, 2005). As technology continues to be integrated in schools and classrooms, the principal is viewed as the technology leader (Creighton, 2003). Aspiring administrators, therefore, need to acquire fluency with technology and digitized media in their leadership preparation programs in order to become familiar with e-research (Anderson & Kanuka, 2003) and to learn how to incorporate technology into instructional programs in K through 12 schools as educational leaders.

Portfolio assessment has been increasingly adopted by educators in reaction to requirements for national accreditation (Ahn, 2004; Green, 2005; Strudler & Wetzel, 2005). The accreditation process requires assessment checkpoints and standards-based criteria so that competency levels reached by candidates may be demonstrated. Portfolios, therefore, serve as sources of evidence used in justifying individual progress as well as programmatic accreditation decisions (Hauser & Koutouzos, 2005). The unwieldiness of portfolios and the need for handling and storing them provides justification for digitizing what would otherwise be contained in a binder. Digital media provide indefinite storage, accessibility, and support of a searchable database of exhibits.

According to Eastin and Larose (2000) (cited in Anderson and Kanuka, 2003), up to two years’ experience may be required for students regarding developing the expertise for Internet use, e-research and technological prowess. Anderson & Kanuka (2003), however, maintain that students acquire Internet skills and related Internet self-efficacy at vastly different speeds depending on their learning style or motivational preference. They do not think that “two years of use is a prerequisite to doing effective e-research” (p. 11). They write:

Some of us, for example, seem to have a learning style or motivation preference that makes us predisposed to enjoy the challenges associated with the types of learning experiences found on the networks. Alternatively, others of us find learning these skills to be an arduous task. (p. 11)

Anderson and Kanuka (2003) advise that an “investment in time most often results in serendipitous returns – much of which will have application in later networking tasks” (p. 11). The construction of a high quality e-folio may be considered one of those serendipitous returns.

At a private university in New York, educational leadership and technology faculty sought to initiate a standards-based e-folio requirement in an educational leadership program. This action-research study representsthe efforts of the faculty to implement this standards-based e-folio over a 24 month period of time. The standards-based, e-folio requirement was established for multiple reasons, including illustration of students’ progress throughout the educational leadership program, assessment, and improvement of program quality. Various instructional approaches were used to coach 40 candidates in e-folio construction. Subsequently, e-folio products (n=83) were compared to a standardized rubric and analyzed within the theoretical framework of learning pattern theory (Johnston, 1996, 1998) in order to improve the instructional process and the materials used by faculty.


The purpose of this study was to apply learning pattern theory (Johnston, 1996, l998) in the development of a standards-based, e-folio requirement in an educational leadership program.

Learning pattern theory was applied in the development of instructional materials in order to improve the instructional process and the outcome of the e-folio products.


Understanding instructional and student factors need to be considered when an e-folio is instituted as a standards-based requirement. The experiences of the faculty and students described in this action-research study may provide information that could be supportive in shaping implementation of standards-based e-folios in leadership programs.

Theoretical Perspective: Learning Pattern Theory

The faculty’s goal was to introduce the e-folio requirement so that students would be able to perform positively in the construction of the e-folio. Various theoretical frameworks were explored for applicability to learning (Marcellino & Sosin, 2005; Sosin & Marcellino, 2005). Subsequently, the constructs of the Let Me Learn Process® provided the theoretical framework for the faculty to implement the e-folio requirement so that students performed positively and to their satisfaction. Johnston’s (1996, 1998) model of learning patterns rests on a theoretical foundation that features interactions based on: cognition (thinking), conation (processing), and affectation (feeling) capabilities. These operations interact within each of four diverse learning patterns namely, sequence, precision, technical, and confluent (for in-depth explanation, see the Let Me Learn website:

The learning patterns of the students were assessed through the application of the Learning Connections Inventory© (LCI) developed by Johnston and Dainton (l997a, l997b). The LCI is a 28-item self report instrument with Likert scale (1-5) questions and three open-ended questions; scores range from 7 to 35 in each of four categorical areas. The LCI has been nationally and internationally validated and has test-retest reliability (Learning Connections Resources Website: well as content, construct, and predictive validity (Johnston & Dainton, l997a, l997b).The LCI quantitatively and qualitatively captures the degree to which an individual uses each of the four learning patterns (Pearle & Head, 2002). Learners may use patterns first, use them as needed, or avoid them.

A learner utilizes the four patterns in different interacting combinations. According to Silverberg (2003), students are representative of four patterns of learning, namely:

Sequential: the process of organizing, planning, seeking order and consistency;

Precise: the process of using information and words, detail-oriented, seeking confirmation of what is valid, right, and/or true;

Technical: the process of practical, active, autonomous problem-solving;

Confluent: the process of generating ideas, reading between the lines, and making connections, comfortable with taking risks, trying and failing and trying again, seeking to do it “my own way.”

Johnston (l996, l998) maintains that by informing students of their patterns of learning, they can use that knowledge to address learning tasks with greater intention, thereby achieving positive results in terms of assessments of performance and interaction with other learners. The choice of Johnston’s learning pattern theory as a theoretical framework was based on its adaptability to individual needs and differences. In this action-research study, learning pattern theory enabled the faculty to come to a better understanding of their students’ experience in e-folio construction. Students were introduced to Learning Pattern theory and the LCI in the (School) Leadership course, which was sequenced in the first year of a student’s entrance into the program. The faculty members who taught the course were cognizant of the learning pattern scores of their students.


This paper addresses assessment and support issues based on the 83 e-folios submitted by the 40 educational leadership candidates over the 24-month period of time. The e-folios that supply the data used in this study primarily consisted of course papers and professional items, annotated with the candidate’s reflections on the learning process. The faculty also introduced candidates in the program to the professional standards expected of them on a national level (National Policy Board for Educational Administration/Educational Leadership Constituent Council [ELCC], 2004). Students’ artifacts and reflections in the e-folio were linked to each of the seven ELCC standards.

The e-folios were constructed utilizing PowerPoint (Montgomery & Wiley, 2004) or personal web pages. Unfortunately, a majority of these aspiring administrators were not familiar with the software environment they needed in constructing their e-folio products. To scaffold the creation of the e-folio, an introductory technology course was embedded with instructional support. With the first cohort of students (n=10) required to complete the e-folio, some initial problems were evident to faculty. Even though students seemed initially positive in their approach and attitude toward the e-folio initiative, a majority of the students stated afterward to instructors that they had insufficient direction, demonstration, or support to construct their e-folios.

After the initial course in which the e-folio was introduced, students needed additional support (materials and instruction) in completing the e-folio at succeeding checkpoints (midpoint and capstone) or assessment levels. With the second cohort of students (n=9), faculty developed a specialized orientation session for students in the construction of e-folio development to support students in technological development. Preliminary results from the third cohort (n=21) showed that students became dissatisfied with the outcome of the products, overwhelmed with the requirement and even “angry” with the additional work required in the development of the e-folio. It became apparent to faculty that an on-going review and evaluation of the e-folio requirement and improvement to their faculty action-plan was necessary.

Participants, Methods, and Assessment


There were 40 aspiring administrators who submitted 83 e-folio products to educational leadership faculty at two primary assessment levels, namely, transitional (midpoint) and final (capstone). There were 10 participants from the first cohort of aspiring educational administrators, nine participants from the second cohort, and 21 participants from the third cohort of students. Each cohort added an additional iteration to the action-research study. Among the 40 students, there were 31 females and 9 males participating. A majority of the students were categorized as diverse (n = 21) with the largest diverse group being African American (14 females and 3 males). In addition, there was one Asian female, one Hispanic female and two Hispanic males; the rest of the students were Caucasian (15 females and four males). The participants taught in K-12 schools and used various levels of technology in their professional lives. Students began the e-folio initiative with different levels of technological experience and different preferences in their learning patterns.

Methods and Assessment

This action-research study uses both quantitative and qualitative methodology (Bogdan & Biklen, l998; Mills, 2003) to study the evolving e-folio process in an educational leadership program at a private university in New York. The e-folios were assessed using a standard rubric at two programmatic levels, namely, the transitional level (midpoint of the program) and at the capstone level (before graduation from the program). Rubric scores were within a range from 0 to 100%. Ratings on the rubric ranged from distinguished or proficient, to basic or unacceptable (See Appendix A for the e-folio rubric). In order to better understand the students’ experiences, information from their LCI patterns was considered. The lead learning pattern scores of the 40 students were analyzed. After the e-folio products of the first cohort (n=10) and second cohort (n=9) of aspiring administrators were assessed, learning pattern theory was applied by faculty in order to develop supplementary materials and techniques for the third cohort of candidates (n=21) to perform positively in the final construction of their e-folios.

In attempting to apply the four learning pattern categories to e-folio assessment, quantitative analysis of the data consisted of the application of descriptive statistics in regard to the lead learning patterns of individual students and analysis of the e-folio products using criteria defined by the rubric. Analysis was also conducted to ascertain whether there was a correlation between a student’s lead learning pattern score and the score assessed on the e-folio rubric. Qualitative action-research methods used to triangulate the quantitative data included observations, field notes, and selected interviews. As changes were made in the content or construction of the e-folio requirement, reactions of the faculty and the 40 students were documented.

Results, Findings, and Discussion

Initially, there was a disconnection between the students’ products and the faculty’s hopes in the implementation of the e-folio requirement. Several students in the third cohort especially were dissatisfied with the e-folio requirement and they made their dissatisfaction known at the transitional assessment level both in the e-folio products they submitted and in their verbal feedback to faculty. With the changes that were implemented by faculty at the final assessment of the e-folio of the third cohort of students, there was a vast improvement in the e-folio products. Faculty and students indicated satisfaction with the results of the e-folio products after improvements and supportive techniques derived from the application of learning pattern theory (Johnston, l996, l998) were implemented.

In this study, faculty sought to develop an understanding of the e-folio process from the students’ perspective so that they could redesign or refine the e-folio model. According to Mills (2003), instructors who engage in action-research try to improve their teaching and the learning of their students. Analysis of the data resulted in several instructional changes and improvements, which were derived from learning pattern theory and the lead learning pattern preferences of these aspiring administrators. A quantitative analysis of the data indicated that there was no correlation between a student’s lead learning pattern score and the score assessed on the e-folio rubric. But when a qualitative analysis of the data was applied, several themes and patterns were apparent (Miles & Huberman, l994). These were:

Theme 1- Positive Reaction to the E-folio

Positive data toward the use of technology in illustrating a candidate’s progress, included the candidates’ actions to incorporate various types of multi-media into the e-folios and enthusiasm in designing a unique technologically standards-based product. For example, one student commented, “I think the e-folio is a great tool to get a prospective employer’s attention.” Another stated, “the electronic portfolio is a perfect tool to demonstrate growth and development.”

Theme 2 – Negative Reaction to the E-folio

Negative responses by candidates regarding e-folio construction, included complaints and resistance to the e-folio product as an additional programmatic requirement, comments that indicated misunderstanding regarding the purpose of the e-folio and evidence of weaknesses in technological knowledge concerning the construction of an e-folio. A student stated, “I felt overwhelmed at the thought of being forced to complete something, which seemed foreign.” One student vehemently claimed, “my time is valuable and this e-folio is a waste of my time.” Seven students in this program submitted unacceptable e-folio products and were required to re-submit products that were at least at the “basic” range (according to the rubric at above a 50% score) in order to proceed with advancement in the program.

Theme 3 – Problems with the Technology and the University Infrastructure

Problems surfaced regarding the university infrastructure (i.e., failure of equipment and lack of training). Students indicated that they needed additional training with technology in order to align their computer system with the university’s computer system. A student stated, “there is a need to solve and streamline the linkage problem using PowerPoint when linking artifacts, standards, and reflections.” In fact, many students experienced technological problems with linking their artifacts directly to the standards. Another stated, “The mechanics of saving, transferring, and structuring data on disk needs to be streamlined. The mechanics of deleting file names is complicated and time consuming.”

Theme 4 – Insufficient Instruction and Access to Instructors

Insufficient instructional demonstration, directions, support and follow-up for the e-folio initiative and access to instructors was a concern of many students. One student wrote, “I enjoyed organizing my work in an electronic portfolio with the following exceptions: portfolio development should be a separate course at the beginning [of the program].”

Theme 5 – Faculty Application of Learning Pattern Theory

The LCI administered to the leadership students as part of their studies revealed that the first cohort of students were individuals who primarily used technical reasoning at a Use First level (LCI technical mean score was 30.5). This group submitted e-folio products, which were mostly at the proficient level. Several students improved their e-folio products between the transitional assessment to the capstone assessment, however, others did not make substantive improvements because their e-folios were satisfactorily rated at the transitional level.

The second cohort of students was primarily composed of students who used their Sequential learning pattern at a “use first” level (LCI mean sequence score was 29.6). At the transitional assessment, four of the students submitted e-folio products that were rated at the distinguished range and three at the proficient level. This second group of primarily sequential learners seemed to spend more time on their products. This group benefited from the demonstrations of the products submitted by the first cohort of students. They appeared to easily follow the initial directions supplied by faculty. Because there were only nine students in this cohort, instructors could supply tutorial help on an as needed one-on-one basis. At the final assessment, only two e-folios were rated at the distinguished level with four at the proficient level. One student’s e-folio was rated “unacceptable.” This student was given tutorial support before submitting another e-folio product. Two students in this cohort decided to take additional time to complete their coursework and so the final assessment of their e-folios is still pending. The e-folio products at the final assessment were rated 77.1% in regard to the first cohort and 80.57% with the seven students in the second cohort.

With a larger group of students in the third cohort (n=21), dissatisfaction was evident at the transitional assessment. At the transitional assessment, the mean score of the first cohort of ten students was 77.7%; with the second cohort of nine students, it was 75.3%. But at the transitional assessment of the third cohort of 21 students, e-folio products dropped to a rating of 70.04%. Considering that students enrolled in this educational leadership and technology program to improve their technological skills as well as their leadership skills, it was surprising to note the negative attitudes and resistance of some students toward the e-folio initiative. More surprising were the six e-folio products from the third cohort that were rated “unacceptable” with an average score under 50%.

Students from the third cohort were primarily sequential learners (LCI mean sequential score of 29.4) and precise learners (LCI mean precise score of 27.1). Sequential learners needed step-by-step directions; precise learners wanted to produce a “perfect” product. Applying learning pattern theory led to the conclusion that students became dissatisfied when they did not have the tools at their disposal or the detailed instruction to produce such products. Because these students were high in sequence, like the second cohort of students, they needed more time to construct their e-folio products. They felt pressured by the time demands of constructing the e-folio. In addition, because there were 21 of them, faculty could not render additional tutorial instruction on an as needed one-to-one basis. Therefore, data analysis showed that additional instructional support, materials, and tools needed to be constructed that would appeal to all the learners in this cohort. These instructional changes and improvements consisted of utilizing materials, tools, and techniques that would appeal to the lead learning patterns of the students.

Instructional improvements included:

1) A comprehensive step-by step handbook that would appeal to the sequential learner, which was the primary group of students in the third cohort (LCI mean sequence score was 29.4). This document included various examples, common questions, and answers in regard to e-folio construction and several sources and websites for additional examples.

2) E-folio demonstrations and tutoring sessions conducted by instructors who were technology specialists. This appealed to the precise learners, who represented the next group of learners from the third cohort (LCI mean precise score was 27.1). All instructors in the program were asked to support students by revising their syllabi and recommending artifacts or assignments in their courses for the e-folio requirement. This would allow students to engage in an evolutionary process of e-folio construction with faculty input throughout each course in the program.

3) Re-evaluation and improvement of the assessment rubric (precise and technical learners were especially satisfied with this change). Technical learners had a mean LCI score of 27.5, which was lower than the first cohort’s LCI technical score of 30.5. The original rubric was too detailed; it contained 11 measurement areas. In addition, more emphasis was placed on the technological components of an e-folio rather than the academic components (Popham, 2006). The updated rubric balances both technology and academics in six areas, namely: selection of artifacts; annotations and reflections; relationship to the seven ELCC standards; technology; composition and mechanics; and overall impression.

4) Illustration, demonstration, and showcasing of e-folio products that were positively assessed. Exemplars were especially appreciated by the sequential learners, the precise learners and the sole confluent learner in the cohort who had a lead LCI confluent score of 27. Faculty asked students to formally give permission and sign permission documents regarding their approval for e-folio demonstration, posting to the Blackboard network or a faculty website and showcasing the e-folio products in the program.

The changes outlined were implemented prior to the final assessment in regard to the third cohort of students. This final assessment revealed a mean rubric rating of 88.21% on 12 e-folio products assessed at the “distinguished” range, five at the “proficient” range, and two at the “basic” level. Students (19 out of 21) were satisfied with the results and the improvements that had been initiated by faculty. Two students in this cohort also decided to take additional time to complete their coursework and so the final assessment of their e-folios is pending. The following table illustrates the number of participants in each cohort, the e-folios assessed, and the final results of the assessments:


From a faculty perspective, there were program improvements in courses and curricula that resulted from the e-folio requirement. As faculty members continued to assess the e-folio products, it became apparent that students were linking assignments from specific courses to the seven ELCC standards. There were some courses and course assignments that were rarely chosen or featured by the students in their e-folios and linked to the ELCC standards. When students were questioned, they stated that some course assignments and courses did not seem to lead to their own growth and development within the program. This realization caused faculty to re-assess their course offerings and the assignments within their courses. As a result, faculty began to update their course offerings and re-write curricula.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The faculty action-plan (Mills, 2003) based on this action-research study now allows faculty to concentrate on the remaining issues in implementing and assessing e-folio products. Issues that are still under consideration by the faculty include:

1) Continued faculty improvements based on students’ learning patterns.

2) Improvements in program curricula and courses.

3) Piloting another network approach to e-folio construction to meet the needs of aspiring administrators and the need for an NCATE/ELCC approved accreditation system. Some vendor products allow instructors to develop the basic template, thereby, lessening the time demands upon students, and the need for individual initiation that was required for e-folio products utilizing primarily PowerPoint or Web construction in the development of e-folios.

Research Significance

The experiences of the faculty and the 40 aspiring administrators described in this action-research study may provide information that may be useful in shaping implementation of e-folio initiatives in other educational leadership programs at other universities. Even though the e-folio model developed by the faculty is still evolving, aspects of it could be adapted by faculty who seek to adopt a standards-based e-folio assessment system. In addition, the experiences of the faculty and students in this study may render support to those who seek to develop their own e-learning in regard to learning pattern theory and differentiated instructional models.


Ahn, J. (2004). Electronic portfolios: Blending technology, accountability and assessment. The Journal, 31(9), 12-14.

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Appendix A: Rubric for Educational Leadership Program (EDL) Electronic Portfolio (E-Folio)

Table 1
CRITERIA Distinguished4 points Proficient 3 points Basic 2 points Unacceptable1-0 points
Selection of ArtifactsPoints: Rich selection of high quality artifacts and work samples drawn from leadership (EDL) program coursework plus professional work. Creatively provides complete and rounded picture of candidate strengths. Representative selection of high quality artifacts and work samples drawn from leadership program coursework and professional work. Satisfactory picture of candidate strengths. Adequate selection of artifacts and work samples drawn from leadership courses, professional work. Partial picture of candidate strengths Artifacts are of inadequate number or quality. Inadequate picture of candidate strengths.
Annotations & ReflectionsPoints: Annotations, reflections articulate; Reflections illustrate the ability to self-critique. Annotations consistently & accurately explain artifact. Inconsistent or brief annotations. None or an insufficient number of reflections.
Relationship to 7 ELCC StandardsPoints: Clearly achieves each of the 7 ELCC standards. Generally achieves each of the 7 standards. Relates to 7 standards, but Inconsistent. None or insufficient standards achieved.
Technology Points: Technology & Media use exemplary: Photographs, graphics, sound and/or video create interest; Creativity and original ideas enhance content in an innovative way. Proficient use of technology. Media uses demonstrate originality. Some attention to including technology. & media. Technology use inadequate. Media inadequate.
Composition & MechanicsPoints: Attractive visual organization of information. Layout use of white space & composition enhances the readability of text. The text has no errors in grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Appropriate visual organization. The text is attractive in most places. Minor format changes would improve readability. The text has very few errors in grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling requiring minor editing and revision. Difficult to read; inappropriate organization. Formatting tools under- or over-utilized. The text has (4 –6) errors in grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling requiring major editing and revision. Very difficult to read. Layout is distracting and obscures the content. The text has many (>6) errors in grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling requiring major editing and revision.
Overall ImpressionPoints: Qualities include interesting, creative, detailed, thoughtful, self-reflective, unique, etc. All of the distinguished qualities, less compelling. Inconsistent in quality. Overall impression low quality.

Total Points: ____________Equates to: ___________ Assessment: 1 2 3

Evaluator _______________________Date: ____________________

Student Name: _______________________ Date: ____________________

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