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Module 7: ePortfolio: From Programmatic to Systemic Change 


When Jean Piaget describes the adaptation associated to a learning process through which awareness of the outside world is internalised he identifies two types of changes: assimilation and accommodation. In assimilation, what is learned is incorporated without changing the internal structure of previous knowledge; the representation of the world remains structurally unchanged. In accommodation, what is learned creates a dissonance that requires a change in the structure to be fully assimilated — think of the battles of the Roman Catholics against Heliocentrism!

It is the same kind of difference between programmatic and systemic change. A programmatic change with ePortfolios can be found in the use of ePortfolios to support an existing process, e.g. replace a dissertation with the presentation of an ePortfolio. A systemic change is about changing the structure of a curriculum, the structure of the organisation and/or its processes, e.g. removing grades and tests, learning through projects rather than disciplines, etc.

If learning is a combination of assimilation and accommodation, then a learning organisation should demonstrate its ability to combine programmatic and systemic change. Systemic change for the learning organisation is no more an option than accommodation is to the learning individual. The ability to recognise the need for and implement systemic change is the sign of a healthy learning organisation.

So some of the key questions one ought to ask are: do ePortfolios call for a simple programmatic change or is a systemic change required to fully benefit from the ePortfolio promise? Do ePortfolios loose any of their virtues when squeezed into the system as it is? Could ePortfolios be used as transformative agents, creating the conditions for systemic change?

These are some of the issues that you will have the opportunity to address in this module.

Remark: there is no need to start with programmatic prior moving to systemic change. Systemic change can be planned at the start of an ePortfolio project.


Objectives of the module

At the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Perform a critical analysis of an actual ePortfolio implementation using SWOT analysis

  • Plan a systemic change based on the outcomes of the SWOT analysis.

Warm up questions

  • Does your vision of ePortfolios entails a systemic change?

  • Do ePortfolios loose any of their virtues when squeezed into the system as it is?

  • Do ePortfolios call for a simple programmatic change or is a systemic change required to fully benefit from the ePortfolio promise?

  • Is your organisation ready for a systemic change?

  • Is a systemic change at organisational level enough? Should it be cross-organisational? Territorial?

  • Could ePortfolios be used as transformative agents, creating the conditions for systemic change?



Systemic change is change that affects all aspects and levels of the educational processes. It influences and is influenced by all the stakeholders included in that process (employees/students, staff/teachers, administrators, etc) as well as technology, policies, economy etc.

Many educators seek to promote sustainable systemic change to support new teaching and learning initiatives. However, many fail. Why? How can we limit the risks of failure?

ePortfolios are becoming essential tools for personal development planning (PDP), managing continuing professional development (CPD), gaining accreditation for prior learning (APL) and career management. ePortfolios are now a central element in some national learning policies, as in Wales, England and Netherlands, or regional policies as in Queensland, Minnesota and French regions. Beyond the educational sector, ePortfolios have now reached the employers recognising their potential in recruiting, developing and managing competencies.

Yet, we are very far from:

  • A seamless infrastructure across public services, educational and employment services, putting individuals and their ePortfolios at the centre of the architecture of ePortfolio-based services.

  • All citizens having a digital space where they can collect and exploit the fruits of their professional and personal experiences, find the services to plan their lifelong learning journey, manage their employability and the construction of their identity.

  • Making the recognition of non-formal and informal learning, competencies, human and social capital the central axe of the design and implementation of ePortfolio infrastructures.

Achieving these goals would require systemic changes, starting by breaking the information and power silos embedded within current institutions.

Being aware of the need for systemic change, and the obstacles to achieving them, what should practitioners do?

Stages of Systemic Change

This section is an extract from (source: The Stages of Systemic Change by Beverly L. Anderson

Six stages of change characterize the shift from a traditional educational system to one that emphasizes interconnectedness, active learning, shared decision making, and higher levels of achievement for all students.

The six stages are:

  1. Maintenance of the Old System: Educators focus on maintaining the system as originally designed. They do not recognize that the system is fundamentally out of sync with the conditions of today's world. New knowledge about teaching, learning, and organizational structures has not been incorporated into the present structure.

  2. Awareness: Multiple stakeholders become aware that the current system is not working as well as it should, but they are unclear about what is needed instead.

  3. Exploration: Educators and policy-makers study and visit places that are trying new approaches. They try new ways of teaching and managing, generally in low-risk situations.

  4. Transition: The scales tip toward the new system; a critical number of opinion leaders and groups commit themselves to the new system and take more risks to make changes in crucial places.

  5. Emergence of New Infrastructure: Some elements of the system are operated in keeping with the desired new system. These new ways are generally accepted.

  6. Predominance of the New System: The more powerful elements of the system operate as defined by the new system. Key leaders begin to envision even better systems.

For Roberto Josep, Purdue University and Charles M. Reigeluth, Indiana University, Systemic Change: Conceptual Framework includes six major aspects that are important for any systemic change process to succeed:

1. broad stakeholder ownership,

2. systems view of education,

3. evolving mindsets about education,

4. understanding the systemic change process,

5. systems design, and

6. learning community.


Case study of systemic change

School leadership for systemic improvement in Finland. A case study report for the OECD activity Improving school leadership. Source

Culture: trust, cooperation and responsibility Systemic leadership is also cultural leadership (Deal and Peterson, 1999). It involves inspiring, stimulating and supporting people to strengthen commitment, raise aspirations and improve performance through shared beliefs and purposes expressed in common practices and ways of life (Leithwood et al., 2006).

Organisational cultures can be strong or weak, collaborative or individualistic, trusting or suspicious (Hargreaves, 1994). A key task of leadership is to create strong and positive cultures that motivate and mobilise people to achieve the organisation’s purpose.

At the heart of the human relationships that comprise Finland’s educational system and society is a strong and positive culture of trust, cooperation and responsibility. From the classroom to the Ministry of Education, this trinity of terms was reiterated to our visiting team many times as the key factor that explained performance, problem solving, improvement and accountability.

In terms of complexity theory, Finland, like its emblematic corporation, Nokia, is a self-correcting, complex system in which negative deviance is rectified through participation and interaction rather than public exposure and intervention.


Planning systemic change


  • vision - organization has clear ePortfolio vision, to-be state,

  • motivation - organization has desire to change,

  • commitment - there is commitment of staff,

  • engagement - there is support from key stakeholders,

  • resources - organization is able to ensure all necessary resources and policies to mandate, support and manage the change,

  • readiness - organization is open and ready for new challenges.

  • public and political support

  • networking

  • teaching and learning changes

  • administrative roles and responsibilities

  • policy alignment

Processes involved in launching a new initiative:

  1. Assess the organization readiness for systemic change

  2. Define the magnitude of change

  3. Raising Awareness of the benefits of systemic change

  4. Getting the commitment of key stakeholders (leaders, scholars, staff, learners etc).

  5. Co-designing the change (people, processes, technologies, funding, etc.)

  6. Getting and activating the resources. Monitoring progress.

  7. Reviewing the outcomes based on data collection.

  8. Planning improvements.


Reading material:

  • Achieving sustainable systemic change: An integrated model of educational transformation. Many educational communities seek to promote sustainable systemic change to embed new teaching or structural initiatives. However, many also fail to build strong staff engagement with the change process and its consequences. This paper reports on a research study undertaken for Scotch College in Perth, in which the factors that can influence change were examined. The paper provides an overview of the major factors which can enable or impede effective change.

  • Systemic Change: Conceptual Framework. This paper provides a conceptual framework for a systemic change process. The conceptual framework is comprised of key ideas that have emerged from the authors’ experiences in facilitating change in school districts, and from a review of the educational change literature. The framework is intended to serve as a tool for creating and sustaining a successful systemic change process. The authors first present an argument for the need for systemic change. They then ground the conceptual framework within the soft systems and critical systems thinking literature. Finally the authors present each element of the conceptual framework for a systemic change process.

  • The Challenges of the ePortfolio as a Multidisciplinary Assessment Instrument. In this example you’ll see the case when ePortfolio is being used for programmatic and professional development assessment of senior-level undergraduates.

  • Scaling Up ePortfolios at a Complex Urban Research University: The IUPUI Story. Here you learn about another ePortfolio initiative where ePortfolios support student development, integrative and experiential learning, assessment of learning outcomes, and professional showcase.

  • Assessment and Feedback. Institutional Story. JISC. Here you’ll learn about the FASTECH (Feedback and Assessment for Students with Technology) project who is focused on enhancing feedback and assessment processes on 15 undergraduate degree programmes at Bath Spa University and the University of Winchester through the use of technology. The project has recruited Student Fellows to participate in research activities, generate ideas, develop case studies, write blogs and attend and present at conferences.

  • Fill out the Change Readiness Survey and distribute it to other members of your organization. Collect and analyses results (average & percentages) to see whether your organization is ready for change.

  • Do maturity review using the matrix to define your current maturity level, and to identify level of maturity you want to achieve.

  • Do a SWOT analysis of your organization (or from already developed case study in module 2) and draw recommendations for actions to be implemented for systemic change.

  • Publish the outcomes of your analysis and invite comments from other members of the organisation (and the community).

  • Based on the received comments, revise the plan.

  • Write a short reflective narrative on the whole process (readiness for change, maturity level, and planning the action using the SWOT analysis).