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Monday, 24 November 2008

Towards a new 'Digital Divide'?

I’m getting more and more frustrated with the direction that some people are taking with their ‘portfolio in the cloud’ mentality. As much as I am totally impressed by the conviction of Helen Barrett and her evangelical mission to get teachers understanding e-Portfolios, I feel that this approach may actually disrupt an 'e-Portfolio for all' strategy:

I feel that there is now a serious movement towards a new digital divide, not so much about the ‘have-nots’ or 'cannot do' as this is being steadily addressed. For some time, now, the idea of the $100 laptop has challenged our thinking; the USA has had its 'No child left behind' mission; in the UK we have the 'Every child matters' policy throughout all areas of education and now the pilot schemes for 'Home Access' are upon us. So, broadband access may not be the major problem.

However, concerning e-Portfolios, the problem is being generated by those in Higher Education and Teacher Training who have the time (and intelligence) to play with a wide range of Web2.0 tools and then say ‘Isn’t it easy!’ The Digital Divide is therefore one of academic and adult elitism which fails to address the whole spectrum of Lifelong, Lifewide Learning and Leisure.

If the e-Portfolio is to be truly lifelong then it must start in our Primary schools, ideally by the 6-7 yr olds with a system that is easy enough to adopt and entails little management by staff. There is no reason to enforce children to start with one system and then ‘change horses’ at some inconvenient point of their education and repeat the disruption at each transition stage. On the other hand there are still far too many teachers and students who think that the production of a PowerPoint file is all that an e-Portfolio entails.

Here in the UK I have complained for some time about the ‘silo’ effect that Higher Education has had on the understanding of e-Portfolios. Schools on the one side of the silo and lifelong learning, particularly for the less able or disadvantaged, on the other can see no evidence of a continuum.

It seems only logical to me that there should be a national voice demanding the supply of a Lifelong, Lifewide e-Portfolio system (such as eFolio?).

Sunday, 23 November 2008

e-Portfolios with a difference?

Some of us may have seen the adverts for before. Unfortunately, for me, I have always reacted to Glogster as a bit 'childish' and therefore not my scene.

However, this e-Portfolio by a young Turkish teacher is a bit of an eye-opener:

I obviously wonder how much time this would take our students to learn (probably not much at all) and how distracting playing with the technology might be in relation to actually documenting one's work.

If anyone has other 'good' examples of using tools like glogster within e-Portfolios I'd be grateful for your contributions and/or comments!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

The danger of 'Adult' e-Portfolios

I recently came across a very attractive and accomplished e-Portfolio by Sarah Stewart, a Senior Lecturer in Midwifery in Otago, New Zealand:

She also links this well organised e-Portfolio to her blog at:

And a YouTube video:

All three are well worth looking at and reflecting upon.

However, for those of us involved in developing tools for mainstream education I really think that we must step back a bit and ask ourselves if such a tool is totally appropriate.

Firstly, in her enthusiasm for the technology, she has had to invest much time in gaining an understanding of the skills required. Is it appropriate for a generic tool to be provided to all Primary school children and expect them to get on with it?

Secondly, as an adult, she freely allows a fair amount of personal information to be publicly available. I worry that however much one might explain to children the reasons for non-disclosure of personal information I believe that schools should have firmer controls in place to ensure that no child becomes vulnerable.

Again, because, as she admits, some of her practitioner details must remain confidential - there is therefore a dilution of the validity of her 'evidence' and thus requiring a probable duplication of electronic and paper-based reports.

As my regular readers will be aware, I am very concerned about all aspects of e-Safety as related to e-Portfolios. It should therefore be of no surprise that although I am a keen proponent of Web2.0 technologies, I am firmly of the opinion that any such tools should be contained within a safe e-Portfolio environment and NOT available to the whole 'cloud' until individual students are deemed to be appropriately responsible.

Knowing how easy it is to forge official paper-based certificates, I am amused by the common suggestion of providing links to scanned-in .pdf copies of original documents. Is the UK the only country to establish a central MIAP-type repository of one's qualifications?

In terms of collaboration, Sarah does admit that her site is available for public response. However, within the school situation I would hope that there are sufficient controls in place to allow collaboration only with identified peers or mentors etc.

One of the special features of eFolio is the ability to present different representations of one's self to different audiences. How students may wish to represent themselves to their peers, using their own patois, rich media etc may be very different to that side of themselves that they may wish to present to their parents, teachers or potential employers etc.

Perhaps one of my most fundamental concerns is in relation to the research community, including the intelligent and forward-looking people such as Sarah Stewart. The publication of research papers and other reports often suggest that the ubiquitous e-Portfolio, based on 'cloud' computing is the way forward for all. Yes, it might be for the top 10% of our community. But is this the best solution for the majority of the not-so-ict-literate?

I am not thinking in terms of a 'digital divide' as such. We are rapidly moving to a stage where the 'divide' defines a much narrower group created by an 'elite' who choose to separate themselves from a broad grey area, the wider community, who are already using ICT every day of their lives. This new 'silent majority' may not want to spend time building and maintaining their own e-Portfolio systems or blogs. Certainly our youngsters in schools, those out of work, those with educational disabilities or the elderly would be better provided for with a simple low-cost system that provides the security and privacy that they may need.

Is it not time that all organisations, including the SMEs recognised the place of e-Portfolios in enhancing their workforce through a sense of 'membership', offering training and suport and providing the opportunity for self-representation?

So I return to the title of this piece and ask if there is a silo effect generated by academia which interrupts the potential for the concept of an e-Portfolio for Lifelong, Lifewide, Learning and Leisure?

Friday, 21 November 2008

On-Line Reporting

On-line reporting is perhaps one of the most powerful technologies to hit education in recent years. The establishment of VLEs in all schools has enabled universal and secure input of, and access to, data. A range of good assessment tools, indicating attainments and progress also helps. The ability to write helpful comments for the mutual benefit of pupils, parents, form tutors and the SLT, at any time and any where, has changed how we think of the ‘end-of-term’ report for ever.

But, reports, however constructive, can be seen as ‘snapshots in time’ and set in stone. However, there is also a place for informal or constructive comment - that which is personal and possibly transitory, where dialogue or even banter between mentor and student may be the appropriate way to provide personal support.

The place for this informal type of constructive
reporting or feedback is within the e-Portfolio.

For the last two decades at least, teachers have been advised not just to place a mark in an exercise book, but rather to provide appropriate feedback. However, with the progressive demise of the exercise book, vulnerable as it was, an electronic replacement has become necessary.

For whatever stage or route of study, it is increasingly essential that selected work is collated in a presentation Portfolio. And here, therefore, we have the perfect combination of facilities: the opportunity to present, collaborate with peers and obtain confidential feedback from tutors and mentors etc.

eFolio is designed for just this sort of work. They say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ Well, how much more powerful a video or other rich-media? All of this can be kept in eFolio, reviewed, commented upon etc, as one student recently commented, “I didn’t realise that my teacher cared about my work!”

Managing a large number of courses and modules needs clarity of mind. The e-Portfolio is an excellent ‘organiser’ in this context, enabling the young student to focus upon what is important in each subject, particularly when it comes to saying ‘This collection is what represents the Real ME.’

Reflection can be a very profound learning experience whereby students learn to compare what they did even several years ago with what they can do now. Why students select certain artefacts and not others, why they see something as significant for them, and possibly not their ‘best’ work, is all about understanding oneself.

As young people progress through their studies this will include time spent in studying Careers advice, Work Experience placements, PLTS, FS, and projects and possibly studying at different sites, none of which quite fit into the traditional system of formal timetabled lessons and subjects. Wherever they are their eFolio can always be accessed!

Towards the end of the course, students will have to face several situations in which they have to represent themselves, either to potential employers or applications to move on to further study at university and this is where eFolio really comes into its own!

But even then the e-Portfolio is not finished. It will become the constant companion within the very different social scene of employment or university life. At times a planner, at other times a tool for collaboration, using all the power of Web2.0 and at other times a confessional or private diary, the eFolio continues to evolve whenever and where ever one might be studying, full-time or part-time or just between jobs.

An e-Portfolio may be the ideal tool for representing one’s self. However, it is also the place where teachers, parents and mentors can get to understand the more private view of the student. Despite all the benefits of on‑line reporting therefore, the e-Portfolio

‘Gets to the parts others cannot reach’.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

When the staff get enthusiastic

It seems to me that before we can expect students to start using an e-Portfolio the staff themselves should be well-impressed with the product and should be seeing where they can use the e-Portfolio to enhance teaching and learning and assessment.

As I have said many times before, it is esential that we find time to educate our teachers so that they can start preparing resources and testing out e-Portfolio practice. The three short clips below could well provide the basis for staff training:

There are, however, several different 'levels' at which the e-Portfolio should be used:

e-Portfolios are not just a temporary academic plaything; they will become a tool to use for the rest of their lives.

The e-Portfolio can be used very effectively between the staff of a school or college to share ideas with a degree of selectivity and collaboration not easily set up within a VLE.

The e-Portfolio is begining to be recognised as the delivery system for whole-school documentation. Far superior to writing to disc, the e-Portfolio will always be up to date.

See the following links for short video-case-studies:

Individuals Communication Tool:

Instructional Power:

An Accreditation Template:

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

In response to a trainee teacher

I recently came across a challenging blog by a trainee teacher who was obviously struggling with a range of ideas and advice. To cut a long story short, here's my response:

I must say that there is a lot of GOOD thinking about e-Portfolios here but, as with many in academia, not so much thinking outside of one's own experience.

Firstly, if an e-Portfolio is supposed to be 'lifelong' and 'lifewide' it should not be used, as some institutions would have it, as a skills competency test or worse still, as an excuse for basic ICT training classes.

There is plenty of talk about 'in the sky' computing - but how does this sit with a 7yr-old or the elderly or those who are not of the top 10% of academia or those who have not got the time or skills to spend building their own e-Portfolio?

Secondly, it is the whole concept of the purpose of an e-Portfolio that some may not understand. As much as young professionals may want a medium for showcasing their work, this is only one small part of the whole list of capabilities of the e-Portfolio. On my website ( I identify some 15 distinct functions of an e-Portfolio.

Perhaps one of the most important points, for me, is that of the security of one's digital identity. Working in the schools sector it is essential that we provide an e-safe working environment for all the great things that an e-Portfolio can help students do without any fear of predation or offence.

Above all, a good e-Portfolio system allows the owner, apart from the normal organisational needs, to 'cosmeticise' the whole format in a style that shouts out 'This is ME!' Using a variety of templates, skins, fonts and avatars etc each individual e-Portfolio can look completely different but at the same time have all the functionality one needs.

Audience, is another important factor. A good e-Portfolio should be capable of presenting different 'faces' to different audiences all at the same time if need be. After one has been around for any length of time we pick up a variety of qualifications, interests, experiences and skills, all of which we might not want to present to different audiences. (Just think of applying for two very different jobs at the same time!)

Lastly, the point of longevity. It is obvious that an institutional portfolio cannot be hosted within that institution for ever. For several reasons it is therefore obvious that the e-Portfolio should be hosted externally, which, apart from anyting else, avoids problems of portability and degradation. My company offers a low-cost solution for all learners, which can be fully maintained 'between jobs' or periods of 'relaxation'.

Apologies if this looks like advertising - it is not (really!). What I do want to help clarify is the vast amount of muddled thinking about e- Portfolios and how we can help all learners, of any age, to benefit, whatever their abilities.

Kind Regards,

Ray Tolley

Who's Hijacking our e-Portfolios?

One of my earliest discoveries researching the e-Portfolio scene in UK education was quite simply everyone I spoke to had a different opinion obout what an e-Portfolios was and how it might suppport Teaching & Learning - if at all!

Rather than seeing the e-Portfolio as a tool for Lifelong, Lifewide Learning and Leisure, each sector of education seemed to think that they were the only ones for whom the e-Portfolio had any value. Thus the e-Portfolio has become, for many, an institutional tool for assessment, for PDP, for actual skills competency testing and (worst of all) just a tool for content delivery.

Worse than this, those creating their institutionalised versions of e-Portfolios seemed to think that different e-Portfolios had to be created according to a multiplicity of audiences. I sumarise many of these concerns in a second paper: Who's Hijacking our e-Portfolios? (