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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Does Education need e-Portfolios?

I was recently asked to provide an article for a local newspaper. It set me thinking...

There is an increasing interest in educational circles about the use of e‑Portfolios. What are they and how do they help learners?

There are presently at least 35 different VLEs or Learning Platforms available to schools and LAs, many of which have some form of e‑Portfolio embedded within them. It is recognised that these e-Portfolio systems do make a valuable contribution to a child’s planning, collaboration and reflection.

However, all of these educational benefits can usually be attained through the school’s Learning Platform. So, what’s so different about an e-Portfolio?

The fundamental purpose of an e-Portfolio is that of communication and thus self representation. Whether in terms of reflection, planning, collaboration, getting feed-back from others or running polls or surveys the e-Portfolio is that private place of both contemplation and self expression. Yes, it can be used to display one’s CV but at the same time it can do so much more, with a variety of rich media, for a variety of audiences, all at the same time and all in an e-safe environment.

However, the ‘portability’ of an e-Portfolio between institutions is not attainable between any of the different VLEs at this present time and will probably not be capable of delivering a quality solution in the foreseeable future.

In some LAs there is the potential for a Primary school e-Portfolio to be accessed from within the Secondary school if they happen to be sharing the same VLE. However, the results so far, of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ configuration, do not promise a ‘lifelong solution’, ie portable throughout school life, on to FE/HE and through to employment(s) and beyond.

Some e-Portfolio solutions:
Apart from the commercial applications as alluded to above, some schools are producing their own very limited solutions including wordprocessed files with hyperlinks or even PowerPoint presentations. Unfortunately neither of these two approaches has any real academic credibility or functionality. Alternatively, some schools do provide a limited pseudo-e-Portfolio solution but only for their ‘high-flying’ GCSE ICT classes who are taught how to write open access html-based websites.

These sites generally do not provide consistent organisation, nor the security of personal data, nor the control of audience that a true e-Portfolio can provide. As such, none of the above are solutions which the vast majority of learners, can ‘carry with them’, aged 5-95, for Lifelong, Lifewide Learning and Leisure.

‘Interoperability Gurus’:

It seems that the various interoperability groups show little concern for the maintenance of the graphical image of the e-Portfolio. In their hunt for data-handling solutions, the issue of ‘degradation’ tends to be ignored. The whole concept of personal ownership, of an ability for the learner to represent themselves, to say, ‘Look, This is ME!’ by selecting templates, fonts, images, by the way they choose to organise their e-Portfolio and embedding a whole variety of rich media is lost if degradation cannot be completely avoided.

The concept of ownership, which should start in our Primary schools, is also a strong generator of motivation to learning and is significantly enhanced by the robustness of quality graphics.

Home Access:
The provision of a good VLE, the setting up of parental accounts and the latest Home Access initiative, providing low-cost hardware, all converge towards the potential of becoming an excellent scheme, as far as it goes. However, the school’s VLE is primarily the deliverer of formal teaching and learning – and is ‘owned’ by the school.

The e-Portfolio, on the other hand, provides an opportunity for the less-formal aspects of learning to be enabled in an e-safe environment, the content of each e-Portfolio being owned by the learner. This allows for the more informal and formative contributions of teachers, mentors and peers. There are a score of functions outside of formal learning, all of which enhance formal learning. Perhaps one of the least recognised benefits of an e-Portfolio is the ability of staff to better understand a young person and their home environment through their personal diaries or blogs etc, all of which would not be seen within a conventional setting.

In Conclusion:
1. An e-Portfolio is proudly owned by the learner and ‘travels’ with the learner wherever he/she goes.
2. The e-Portfolio is the means of displaying the learner’s work to different audiences and for a variety of purposes.
3. A good e-Portfolio system can provide a trusted e-safe working environment.
4. Above all, the e-Portfolio allows the learner to plan, collaborate with others and work when and where they want – which MUST be a good thing!


Mr Lietze said...

Hi Ray

Firstly thank you for leaving your thoughts on my blog. I appreciated what you had to say and are very interested in discussing these issues with you more.

Yes there is certainly a concern in the way many are not seeing the potential of a eportfolio (EP) from 5-95. As you found from reading my post we are currently at the stage of choosing a platform for next year. Here in NZ there are a few Learning Management Systems and Student Management Systems but these are too costly and they will only be valid for a student while they are at school (5-18). We need to think bigger.

Here is a list of my current "Must Haves" as I look for a suitable platform:
- Web based (Blogging platforms??)
- Easily to use (for 5yrs - 95yrs)
- Sustainable
- Good ascetics
- Security (can be password protected)
- Allows for categories
- Teacher can moderate comments and posts
- large storage space
- Allows for export/importing to another platform

Maybe you could add to this list.

I am also interested in your product that you said you have been working with for 6 years.

I look forward to talking more :+)


Ray Tolley said...

Hi, Jamin,

Thanks for your kind response. I know that there is a lot of soul-searching about e-Portfolios in many parts of the world at this time - and everyone has different perceptions. That is why I wrote the following paper almost 18 months ago:

Universities are a blessing and a curse - they have by far the greatest ability to research, develop and publish their findings on e-Portfolios but in a strangely introspective way they seem only to consider e-Portfolios from their own needs and blow to the other 90% of society!

Here in the UK every school is required to have its own Learning Platform or LMS+MIS=VLE. This in turn means that we do not need to duplicate assessment tools which are dynamically linked to our MIS. And thus the e-Portfolio can remain a 'light' system, ie not 'hard-wired' to the MIS.

I do not think that an e-Portfolio should be considered as a type of blog - far from it - blogging tools are only one small part of the whole e-Portfolio package.

Again, you are right in your thinking that the 5-95 concept means that it cannot be held within a VLE - yes we do need to think bigger, but governments seem unwilling to think as we do.

In terms of aesthetics, I am convinced that the system must allow appropriate 'cosmetics' so that at any age the owner can feel that their site represents 'ME!'

I don't know if you've had time to look at:

but there are 5 different 'views' of the same person's eFolio as they have 'matured' (somewhat rapidly) over a hypothetical 25 year period!

I agree with you list but would add one more improvement which we have developed in eFolio, that of being able to present different views to different audiences. - What I present to my colleagues would be different to what my students might see or a potential employer!

With all respect (not your fault) the concept of exporting to a different platform is a non-starter if you consider that the graphics and layout are a significant part of your e-Portfolio. Yes, we can export and import files etc but in terms of interoperability we are a long way off and can only manage the exporting of simple data directly from one system to another and then, only if they have the same interoperability tools. (Of which there is a considerable list all competing for dominance.)

Finally, I disagree with the 'great repository in the sky' concept as promoted by some otherwise intelligent people. I do not think that the 5-yr old, the less-able or dear old granny can cope with multiple storage spaces 'splattered around the universe'. The major part of file storage, during school-ages, will be held on either the school's servers or on the owner's PC or other storage devices. The e-Portfolio is therefore the place for celebrating 'best practice' at that point in time.

As the learner matures, some things will not be carried forward, other items might be archived on a home device 'just in case', and occasionally some items of 'historical interest' might be extracted from archive and re-posted. - In otherwords, I am suggesting that the e-Portfolio should not be seen as a universal pantechnicon of the good, the bad and the ugly!

Mr Lietze said...

Hi Ray

I have just spent some time on your site focusing on the e-folio UK section. I can see a wealth of experience and study here. Hence I am excited to be able to communicate with you.

I was very interested in your pdf files and the examples of your "efolio". I would like to look further at your product. Can you give me access to one student's (eg: Grade 5's) eportfolio? I would like to see how your software works in "real life" for a younger student.

One of the key reasons why I want to shift to eportfolios is to shift from a summative assessment pedagogy to a formative one. I wish to be able to teach, gain samples of student's work, upload it, COMMENT on it (what they are doing well and their next steps) and then teach, gain another sample of the student's work, etc, (on goes the cycle). Can we comment on student's work on your efolio platform? I want Parents to be able to comment as well so that their is greater accountablilty and more positive support. This is why I was looking at a blogging platform.

Now I'm trying to get my head around what you mean by "being able to present different views to different audiences". Is that like having a platform that will show one thing to one person logged in and a different "window" to another??? I would love to see a platform that can do this.

In regards to exporting content I still feel it is important to be able to do this. For example: I may have a student who leaves our school and goes to another that uses a different platform. Their data (simple or not) needs to be able to be transferred over to the new operating platform so that they can continue with their eportfolio. Don't you agree?

I look forward to discussing this with you further :+)

Thanks again Ray.

Ray Tolley said...

Hi, Jamin,

It's good to talk to a real teacher who understands both younger pupils and also has the bigger picture of what an e-Portfolio should be capable of doing.

I guess that you have looked around the on-line demos - the first one, Sophie KS1/2 is the nearest example.

What I do for people seriously interested is to arrange a demo-user account that you can play with. As it happens, the parent company with which I am working is presently doing a massive up-date of the 'back-end' and I'm waiting for the new user-manual to be supplied.

Meanwhile, we can talk in more detail via e-mail:

In answer to your question about multiple views for different audiences - I think that this is an obvious principle that suppliers do not seem to comprehend. But, as I have said to other clients, 'Have you not applied for different jobs and needed to present different views or CVs to different potential employers?'

It's just the same with eFolio. What a learner may present to their peers, possibly in their own patois, may be very different to that presented to a mentor or one's teacher in formative conversations and yet again, different to the final 'capstone' or end of year transition portfolio.

I agree with you about exporting/importing. It is a facility within eFolio, exporting to IMS ePortfolio standards. However, the export function, as with any other VLE-based solution, will only export data and files and not the neat layout and templates that is an important part of the eFolioWorld. I would much rather that the youngster, moving up to 'the big school' had the security and pride of ownership of the eFolio that he has learnet to love in his Primary school!

I am a member of several groups looking at interoperability - and I must say that 'perfection' is not around the corner for some time yet!

Much more that we could talk about, catch me any time on e-mail,


Ray T