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Sunday, 27 December 2009

Dr Cheryl E. Ball

Photo: Dr Cheryl Ball at Hardware Ranch, Hyrum,UTUnfortunately it is not often that writers of e-Portfolio literature make me stop and think. Far too often we are invited to attend conferences to 'talk about' the possibility of introducing e-Portfolios some time in the future, ma┼łana or some sort of a 'Holy Grail' to be dreamed about, searched for but never expected to be found . The invitation by Darren Cambridge might be seen as one such example.

Not so the work of Dr Cheryl Ball. I recently came across her most impressive documentation of her work in 'multimodal composition practices in English studies' and its whole significance in relation to e-Portfolios.  As an example of e-Portfolio practice it sets an excellent standard of clarity of presentation and navigation that should be studied by any student of e-Portfolios.

However, the above is not the main reason for writing this post.  It is her clear thinking concerning the takeup of e-Portfolios in Higher Education (but which equally applies to all other sectors) which left me enthralled with her work.  I quote but a few of her challenging statements:

"I teach students how to compose rhetorically effective multimodal texts, teaching them that a text’s audience, purpose, and context correlate to the media choices they make. In my scholarly editorial work with Kairos, I perform similar pedagogical aims for scholarly purposes, helping authors craft their digital, multimodal work for the best articulation across media and modes of communication possible. The result of this pedagogical and scholarly work is a body of research built on student-produced and peer-reviewed multimodal scholarship." [extract from her 'Introduction']

In trying to understand why the takeup of e-Portfolio practice is such a struggle, Dr Ball clearly identifies with good evidences a 'chicken-and-egg' scenario that I have attempted to note in previous posts.  The academic requirements are the first part of this connundrum:

"I have been looking for examples of online tenure portfolios, and the only ones I was able to find were supplemental to print portfolios, even in fields where multimodal work is the main area of focus. For instance, a portfolio that most closely matched what I was trying to do was produced by a faculty member in Interactive Media and Design at Bradley University. ... In email conversations with this faculty member, he noted (and which many faculty in the Arts at several schools have confirmed) that the online portfolio was supplement to his print application for tenure. Making one’s digital work supplemental—especially when digital work is the center of one’s research and teaching—is often not the choice a tenure applicant would make; instead it is regulation of the tenure guidelines at one’s school, and so the choice becomes trying to institute change or ensuring one’s job. It’s not surprising that most tenure-track scholars choose the latter."  [extract from opening para 'About this Portfolio']

"Even if one allows that the document establishes that work in diverse media can meet all of our criteria for scholarship, the language elsewhere reverts to a “print-only” vocabulary. For example, in the discussion of the criteria for promotion to associate professor with tenure, the document states that “Typically, a candidate for promotion to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure will be expected to present to reviewers a book published (or at least a finished manuscript under final, board-approved contract and in production) by a scholarly press with a strong reputation (”Faculty Appointments,” 17–18; emphasis added). Throughout the document, we proposed adopting more inclusive language such as “book or equivalent body of scholarship” in order to establish consistently and unambiguously that our criteria for scholarship focus on quantity and quality, not medium. Similar changes broaden the scope of expert testimony to which we might turn when evaluating the contribution of scholarship to the candidate’s field. [extract from 'About this Portfolio']

The above is most remeniscent of the present situation at lower examination levels in the UK (eg secondary education) where examination boards will only accept prescribed formats and assessors are only comfortable with standardised layouts.

The question is, where do we start? 

As much as I have previously denigrated the HE system as being the only obvious voice on matters relating to e-Portfoloios and thus overruling any aspirations that see e-Portfolios being used differently at different Key Stages, I just wonder if we are begining to see a chink of light.  Perhaps if more people of the calibre of Dr Cheryl Ball spoke up and persuaded academia of the parity if not the superiority of e-Portfolios in assessment processes, we might just begin to move forward.  And what higher academia might begin to accept in the next 5 years or so, the rest of education might just accept within 10 to 15 years?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Naace Annual Conference!

Photo: Sandy Blackpool beech announcing Naace Conference
Just a short post.  It's that time of the year again!  The Naace Annual Conference!  The definitive UK conference for all those passionate about ICT in Education is back again with a superb programme for 2010. It brings together colleagues from all over the UK and beyond, together with key players from government and industry, and provides a forum to share best practice and exchange ideas.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Research or Introspection?

Banner of NZCARNFrom the illustrious University of Canterbury (New Zealand) I saw this impressive report entitled, 'NZCARN Research Symposium Paper on ICT'. I quote the section on e-Portfolios:

"e-Portfolios are increasingly being adopted in a range of educational settings for a variety of purposes including learning, assessment, presentation of achievement, and personal professional development (Stefani, Mason, & Pegler, 2007). In terms of learning and personal development, e-portfolios can have a key role in supporting individuals to reach their full potential by promoting the development of lifelong learning skills such as reflection, self regulation and collaboration (Lamont, 2007). The advancement of 21st century educational technologies has focused attention on the e-portfolio as a powerful learning tool, and has prompted many authorities to consider the benefits (Fox, Britain, & Hall, 2009). Fox et al. (2009) identify some additional key components of an e-portfolio, which are essential for our conception of an e-portfolio: author ownership, where the user can maintain a personal lifelong record of learning; interoperability, allowing the user to transfer their e-portfolio from one environment to another; and confidentiality, where students have the opportunity to think critically about their work and to speak openly about their progress in a secure environment.

"Mahara ( ) is a fully featured open source electronic portfolio, which was developed in 2006 by the New Zealand e-Portfolio Project funded by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission’s e-learning Collaborative Development Fund. Mahara is a web-based e-portfolio, designed for tertiary education as a learning portfolio which is constructivist in nature (Stefani et al., 2007), with the emphasis being on the ownership and lifelong learning and development of the user. Mahara was designed with accessibility, ownership, interoperability and transferability in mind, and includes collaborative and communication tools. Mahara is currently being used within teacher education programmes in Massey University, the University of Canterbury, Auckland University of Technology and Victoria University. It is also being piloted with some New Zealand secondary school students (Fox et al., 2009). The design features support ongoing collaborative approaches to action and research to which NZCA&RN aspires.

"Within the context of action research and related approaches, the e-portfolio has the potential for practitioner and researcher ownership of a lifelong virtual private space for: setting and reviewing goals; reflecting on actions, learning and progress; engaging in professional critical dialogue; disseminating knowledge; and showcasing skills and dispositions. This virtual space can be accessible from anywhere; and the user can select particular aspects to share with individuals and communities of practice. The virtual space also allows for recording emerging knowledge, skills and ideas privately until such time as they are mature enough to share with others, or be dismissed or laid aside to return to at a later date. An e-portfolio tool therefore, has great potential to enhance collaborative action and research networking, and to navigate the ‘braided rivers’ of action research approaches and ‘whanau of interest’ (Macfarlane, 2009). However it is important to note that the issues identified by Margaret Lamont (2009) when implementing ePortfolios in teacher education are also likely to apply to their use in research too. These include equitable access and development of a shared vision of purpose among the NZCA&RN communities of practice."

To me, this looks like encouragement to further introspection rather than trying to understand how Lifelong, Lifewide Learning and Leisure can be supported through an e-Portfolio. Mahara might well be a good basic tool for those in HE but what of the rest of society, for all Ages, Aptitudes, Abilities, Accesibilities and Attitudes?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Passion and Learning

Photo: A young child passionate about her work.I have just come back from 3 days of HE/FE conferences in which I heard repeated criticisms of VLEs and e-Portfolios as not meeting the needs of students. Discussions ranged from the sterility of the formats to the inability of lecturers and professors to actually understand the potential of the new technologies.

And then, next morning, I discovered this offering from Angela Maiers' presentation for K12OnlineConference09. What a refreshing change this was! This raised my spirits for the simple reason that this is what I see as the secret of eFolio. The reality of real involvement as opposed to the half-hearted efforts of our kids in the classroom that Angela refers to is at the heart of the child's ownership of learning.

As I said at one of the meetings, 'Unless all stakeholders are fully consulted before the implementation of a new technology (here talking about VLEs), unless the decision makers are educated as to the full potential of the new tools, unless they can then in turn decide how this will impact on teaching and learning, it is no wonder that the technology fails to meet expectations.'

And this is equally true of e-Portfolios. In all sectors of Education, it would appear, decision makers have failed to do the spadework of consulting with the whole range of stakeholders - and certainly do not appear to have explored how the e-Portfolio can change teaching and learning. Far too often it is the case that installations are managed by technicians who have little understanding of the future direction of education. It is essential, as Angela Maier clearly illustrates, that unless the e-Portfolio is designed (by educators) to adapt to the learner's individual passions there will be very little chance of its real takeup within education.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Schools and Parents: a New Partnership?

Graphic: page of the document showing a teacher and children.Niel McLean, Executive Director, Becta, the government agency for technology in education discusses (November 2009) how technology supports a new relationship with schools. In his introduction he writes:

"Good parental engagement is fundamental to children’s learning and closely linked to increased attainment. One of the more effective ways for parents to engage in their child’s learning is to maintain good communication with a school, learning more about their child’s progress whilst also helping to identify any development or performance issues early on."

The website is very attractive and, for those who can find it, provides a lot of thoughtful material, including the 16-page .pdf document.

Yes, school VLEs or MLEs are as essential as the Home Access Programme. However, yet again, the mention of e-Portfolios is significant by its absence. School may be one part of e-Learning and before long it is hoped that teachers will begin to realise that remote on-line access will change the ways teaching & learning is enabled.

But, as I have repeatedly said, the major part of a child's learning takes place outside of the four walls of the classroom. It is the e-Portfolio that can document all the other forms of informal, casual or experiential learning that enables teachers, parents, new school or colleges as well as employers to see the 'whole person'.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Bridge Too Far?

Photo: From FLickR by RatterrellEarlier this term I wrote an article for the Autumn issue of the CRA e-journal, 'On Reflection'. This journal is a very practical and down-to-earth commentary on real issues within FE relating to the Recording of Assessment and the whole area of e-Portfolios.

My paper, 'A Bridge Too Far?', asks questions about the feasibility of introducing e-Portfolios with FE colleges, and the pressures that this would or does raise in particular for tutors and support staff.

For those who are regular readers of this blog my conclusion to the article will not be surprising:

CONCLUSION: The e-Portfolio must not be hijacked - not by Industry, nor Higher Education, nor mainstream schools, nor adult Training Institutions, nor by the QCA, nor any VLE supplier but, more importantly, not by factions within the education system who may have a limited view of its real potential. The e-Portfolio is a dynamic, evolving and personal item of equipment for everyone and for every aspect of their studies, career development or leisure use, which should be available to all - from '5-95' - by right. How it is used by both our students and staff will vary according to college policies, learning styles, digital competencies and academic maturity. Suffice it to say that the above list of features (in the full article) should make the e-Portfolio accessible to all whatever their age, aptitude, ability, accessibility or attitude.

A bridge too far? No! But most staff need much more support to understand and adopt the above concepts and press on together with confidence.

Monday, 7 December 2009

What about the ‘forgotten armies’ ?

Graphic: Logo for Social InclusionStudents at school or college may be a considerable group of learners, but in terms of numbers perhaps they become the minority and the very cause of the problem of the 'silo of academic thinking' in terms of e-Portfolios that I am desperately trying to overcome.

Starting with some pointers from a recent conference, I present a list of those who are presently missing out from the sort of inclusion and support an e-Portfolio can provide – our ‘forgotten armies’:

1. Adults aged 55+ - an increasingly larger group of people who do not want to be excluded from the world even if their mobility or communication skills are reduced.

2. People in rural areas – what with the increasing costs of transportation, the reduction in public services including Post Offices and shops, all are increasing the isolation of communities.

3. People in areas of multiple deprivation – again, people who are self-conscious are less likely to want to communicate with others or lift themselves out of their predicaments.

4. C2DEs (ie lower potential employability) – generally not e-confident, often school dropouts or neets and not aware of how to go about self improvement.

5. The disabled and those with learning difficulties – digital technologies are not always suitable and very often good resources are hard to find.

6. The unemployed and low-income households – not always lacking in digital technologies but often not aware of their full potential eg used for job-seeking or on-line learning.

7. People affected by mental ill-health – the need to communicate, instantly, but without the challenges of f2f meetings needs to be addressed.

8. Homeless/vulnerably housed adults – in an unsecure world the ability to log on in a library, internet cafe or job-centre can provide an excellent base from which to communicate with others.

9. Itinerant workers and services personnel – as seen in recent news items about soldiers in the field, the ability to communicate wherever one is can be a very comforting and reassuring facility.

10. 'Delegators' (ie those who pass on any ICT work to others) – there is a vast army of people who always delegate even simple tasks to others. This avoidance of digital technologies needs to be overcome through appropriate support.

11. Those detained in Prison (both staff and inmates) – The risk of the misuse of ICT facilities is recognised but hundreds of thousands of inmates are missing out on educational opportunities.

When I consider the vast range of those who are missing out from what others do every day and often several times a day, I feel like some lone evangelist shouting out in the wilderness, “Turn, your life around and find a new and better way of living!

This is just an extract from a 3-page article, 'e-Portfolios - getting to where others can’t reach?'

Successful student engagement using e-Portfolios

Photo: 'Bored Students' from Dreamstime.comI was recently asked, “can anyone shed any light on the “theory” of successful student engagement using ePortfolios in the vocational area of learning?” And this was my reply:

This is not an uncommon problem, particularly with purpose-designed systems.

The issue, in my opinion is one of ‘ownership’.

1: If the system you are using is just a tool for subject delivery/assessment there is little motivation for the student to do yet more form-filling.

2: In some institutions the e-Portfolio is just used as a content delivery system as a substitution for a VLE which might not be capable of managing the tutor/mentor feedback and peer-review that an e-Portfolio should be capable of managing. And this is where, I suspect, that the popularity of Web2.0 has intruded itself.

3: It is an educationally recognised fact that the e-Portfolio needs to ‘belong’ to the learner. If there is no self-identity, no self-representation that shouts out “This is ME”, there is little chance that any but the most studious will invest time and effort in doing something that is obviously not ‘mine’ but the College’s.

4: The e-Portfolio should contain personal information that helps the tutor/mentor to better understand the learner and thus develops a better student-teacher relationship. The more information that the learner is allowed to include, including rich media, the better the relationship can become.

5: Of course, the organisation, layout and choice of pages and sub-pages, the templates chosen and colour-schemes, of avatars etc are all part of the psychology of ‘ownership’. It is quite often these very obvious presentation choices that immediately tell the experienced teacher much about their students than might be intended.

6: However, perhaps the most important aspect of the e-Portfolio is what tools are embedded to provide formative feedback, peer review, polls, surveys and comments that really begin to support the type of student activity we should be seeing in the classroom, with or without walls.

7: An obvious requirement of e-Portfolio functionality is that the learner needs to be able to control who-sees-what. A good e-Portfolio will allow the control of audiences so that, concurrently, different readers will see different ‘views’ of the one e-Portfolio.

I could go on for ages, but hope this is a start. Please check out my links on the sidebar:

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Instructional Technology in Schools

Graphic: Book cover"The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools examines teachers' use of the major instructional technologies over the last century — from the days of silent film, radio and slide shows through to the modern interactive whiteboard and the Web. It explores the reasons why so few teachers have used these technologies and why, even in today's digital world, the most commonly used classroom tools are the pen, paper and teaching board."

I make no apology for including this 'advert' as I helped in some of the discussions with Mal Lee about the evolving use of technologies in the UK. However, I have just been informed by Eurospan Limited, the UK branch of ACER Press, that they are offering a 15% discount on Mal Lee's books to educationists. The 'blurb' goes on to say:

"The book provides decision makers with an invaluable insight into the million dollar question: What is required to get all teachers across the nation using the appropriate instructional technology as a normal part of everyday teaching? Without question, student learning is enhanced by adopting these new technologies.

"Until now, research on why the majority of teachers use only the most basic tools in the classroom has been scarce. The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools examines this phenomenon and, most importantly, identifies what is required to achieve teachers' universal acceptance of instructional technologies."

About the authors

Mal Lee is an educational consultant specialising in the development of digital technology in schools. He is a former director of schools and secondary school principal, who has written extensively on the effective use of ICT in teaching practice. Mal Lee is co-author of Leading a Digital School: Principles and practice (ACER Press, 2008) and The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution: Teaching with IWBs (ACER Press, 2009).

Arthur Winzenried has taught in a wide variety of library and classroom settings, from primary to tertiary, and has been responsible for innovative developments in school ICT over a number of years. He is a frequent national and international speaker on knowledge management and is currently Lecturer in Information Systems at Charles Sturt University, NSW, Australia.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Graphic: The JISC logo.Two new documents have been published by JISC and prepared by an illustrious team headed up by Janet Strivens of the Centre for Recording Achievement, dated August 2009.

The first, entitled, 'The role of e-portfolios in formative and summative assessment practices', at 66 pages is both a helpful and informative document, despite it being published in Word format. The second, entitled, 'The Role of e-Portfolios in Formative and Summative Assessment: Case Studies of Practice' at a staggering 175 pages takes a bit of time to digest!

The two documents together make a good presentation of the state of e-Portfolios in the UK within the HE sector. The combined wisdom of the team presents a picture that cannot be ignored.

However, there are still too many anomalies and areas which need to be addressed, such as the time needed to train staff and enable them to be comfortable with this medium that might be quite different to anything that they have experienced before.

My main frustration is that over the last few years little has changed in as much as some so-called e-Portfolios still appear to be little more than a substitutionary VLE, delivering both content and in some cases assessment tools built into the e-Portfolio. Again, some institutions' criteria for assessment are more concerned with the skills required for the construction of the e-Portfolio rather than assessing the content and processes demonstrated and the attitude of the student. Questions relating to the use of Macromedia or any web-tool service, for instance, should be irrelevant to the purpose of assessment for which the tool is to be used.

The fact that most of the e-Portfolio systems are still an embedded part of the institutions' delivery is a serious cause for concern and fundamental to issues of portability and student 'ownership'. One emergent problem is that of security, whereby assessors could remotely gain access to parts of the VLE which was not necessarily part of a student's e-Portfolio. Similarly, (an old 'hobby-horse' of mine) there is some discussion about using different e-Portfolios for different purposes, whereas I would suggest that a good e-Portfolio system such as eFolio can deliver different 'views' to different audiences, concurrently, using much of the same content for different purposes.

Perhaps the key-word relating to the functionality of any e-Portfolio is 'interoperability' - and yet the topic does not appear to be mentioned anywhere in the report. Again, the report and case-studies reflect, in my opinion, a significant lack of acceptance of 'transition' and lifelong, lifewide learning as being an important part of the e-Portfolio concept.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Issues Encountered by Distance Educators

Recurring Issues Encountered by Distance Educators in Developing and Emerging Nations is the full title of a very helpful article (first pointed out by Tony Bates) from the noble body entitled, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

I must commend the willingness of authors to publish these articles for open access. There is a whole range of mandatory reading with which I must certainly catch up.
The abstract to the article, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning reads:

"This article explores a number of challenges faced by e-learning or distance educators in developing and emerging countries, provides a context for many of the challenges, and outlines some measures devised to overcome them. These educators must determine a sound rationale for employing online learning, recognize that technology is only part of the educational transformation process, address the lack of infrastructure and the cost of Internet bandwidth and equipment, counter the cultural imperialism of courseware from Western nations, deal with limited educational resources, place a greater emphasis on quality assurance systems and change negative perceptions of distance education, respond to the needs and concerns of both students and faculty, access or develop up-to-date educational resources, and consider the implementation of mobile learning. The continued growth and success of distance education in developing and emerging nations will depend on the extent to which issues covered in this article are addressed as they bear on the quality of the learning experience provided to students. "

Perhaps a further note of caution need to be defined in terms of the actual Teaching and Learning culture. Perhaps where good VLEs have not yet been established, the place of the e-Portfolio becomes even more important. And yet the very climate in the classroom may still be that of "I teach, You listen." Yes, the e-Portfolio can be a good record of a student's learning, of their competencies and interests, all of which can be part of a traditional didactic approach. However, the e-Portfolio also lends itself to collaboration and peer review which might still be beyond the experience of some teachers and lecturers.

Although 'collaboration' is mentioned several times in the paper, it is in terms of institutions' collaborative efforts related to generally economic pressures. It is therefore time that, in such organisations, teachers and lecturers re-defined their curricula in order to build upon those beneficial processes of collaboration and peer review, sharing with mentors and building upon regular formative feedback from tutors. And this, of course is where the e-Portfolio is best able to support Teaching & Learning.

Beyond the Virtual?

Image:  A lone schoolboy sat on a pile of books looking at a laptop screen.'The loneliness of the long distance runner' came to mind as I first saw this article in eSN Today. The article by Christine Van Dusen raised the vision of the 'Home-Alone' learner - and soon expelled any thoughts that I might have had along these lines. She continues:

"This static, impersonal, anti-social school experience is the image that many parents, teachers, and school administrators continue to have in mind when they picture the world of online learning, even as more and more brick-and-mortar school districts explore full- or part-time virtual education. But this image is a flawed one, experts say. Not only are most online-education programs highly interactive, with students engaging in virtual discussions with teachers and their peers as they work on inquiry-based projects and activities, but often the learning takes place within—or is supplemented by—a traditional classroom experience."

Strong communication is key to effective online learning
In the same newsletter, Meris Stansbury comments on a new research paper (Sept 2009) by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. In particular, I liked her analysis of 11 points: 'Characteristics of successful online teachers.' I commend this article as a good checklist for those involved in on-line tutoring or even those considering such a career. I list the brief headings of each of her main paragraphs and suggest that you read, reflect upon and inwardly digest the full contents of her list:

  1. Meets the professional teaching standards....

  2. Has the prerequisite technology skills to teach online:

  3. Plans, designs, and incorporates strategies....

  4. Promotes success through regular feedback, prompt response, and clear expectations:

  5. Models and encourages legal, ethical, and safe online behaviour....

  6. Has experienced online learning from the perspective of a student,...

  7. Understands and is responsive to students with special needs....

  8. Creates and implements assessments in ways that ensure validity and reliability.

  9. Develops and delivers assessments, projects, and assignments that meet standards-based learning goals:

  10. Uses data to modify instruction and guide student learning:

  11. Collaborates with colleagues; networks with others involved in online education.

For me, yes, as you might guess, this is yet another area where I would claim that a professional level and yet user-friendly e-Portfolio system such as eFolio is the perfect solution for making Distance-, Virtual-, or Home-learning a successful and enjoyable expereince for all concerned, teachers, parents, learners and peers; to name but just a few!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

On-line Learning

Logo:  On-line Colleges The above company drew my attention to some challenging statistics concerning on-line learning. Obviously, I see on-line learning as the future for all ages and strata of society. And, as I've argued previously, mainstream schools need to start thinking about how 'the school without walls' will actually support teaching and learning and to what extent the curriculum will change.

Despite the statistics being American it gives us six significant pointers for discussion and how we should be arguing for on-line provision in our own countries or localities.

Again, for readers who might not have seen some of my previous posts, the benefits of having one's own e-Portfolio cannot be over stated. eFolio meets the needs of all learners, Lifelong and Lifewide (ie whatever one's abilities).

Graphic: Man looking at a very small world in the palm of his hand. Citrix on-line also provides some very thought-provoking papers including 'Questions senior executives ask about eLearning' and 'Five Keys to getting started with interactive on-line training' and 'How to Market Training'. Again, very thought-provoking papers to be read in the context of schools and Virtual Learning.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Small-Group Collaboration

Photo:  A group of children with their teacher around a single laptopI have just come across a very useful article on teaching and learning with a particular emphasis on collaboration from eSchoolNEWS. The article is well worth reading with the proviso that one can think in terms of on-line learning instead of the scenario depicted of US schools still living in the 20th Century.

Almost every single point could be translated into 21st Century Virtual Learning using a good e-Portfolio system such as eFolio. The Author, Ellie Ashford writes:
"Everyone needs to be able to collaborate in a group, because that's how things are done in the real world. No one sits alone and works by themselves any more," said Stan Silverman, director of technology-based learning systems at the New York Institute of Technology.

Some educators believe students gain a deeper understanding when they participate in group projects.

Lance Sutton, a teacher at Westview Elementary School in Goose Creek, S.C., said: "When a teacher lectures to them, they forget; when you have kids help design something, they will remember for a lifetime."

Sutton said collaboration is "a more positive way of teaching" and addresses the needs of students who learn best in different ways, such as those who are visual learners or auditory learners. He uses an interactive whiteboard and Interwrite Workspace software from eInstruction to facilitate small-group instruction with his fifth-graders."

As much as I agree with the teaching and learning style eloquently put in this extensive article, surely it is time to encourage, even at this young age, that students work on computers attached to a VLE or at least the Internet. This way all the exciting discussions, and activities, the artefacts produced etc are recorded for the teacher to assess or for the pupils to collaborate even more effectively, to reflect upon, access from home or present to an audience.

Everything Ellie Ashford says is true, but how much more effective can collaboration be through the use of e-Portfolios!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Virtual Schooling ?

Graphic: Logo for ReViCaFollowing on from my previous post I wanted to explore with you the impact of 'Virtual Schooling' and came upon a post by Tony Bates commenting on the newsletter from ReViCa. This looks like a document that we should all be watching.

However, as a footnote to the newsletter was the link to Morten Flate Paulsen's book 'Online Education'. Although somewhat dated (pub 2003) and at 338 pages (.pdf) it is still a serious read. The following SlideShare brings out just a few of the salient points to whet appetites:

I make no excuse for quoting this academic document which deals primarily with 'Virtual Learning' across Higher Education in Europe. I believe that mainstream schooling can have much to learn from such documents. - It is just a pity that teachers in Secondary schools do not have the time to produce such works.

I quote, below, a number of key points identified as, ' Fourteen interventions to stimulate learner persistence and reduce dropouts.' Most of these points should be discussed in relation to on-line learning and virtual schools:
  1. Students’ active participation should be sought in planning remedial or introductory courses.
  2. Interviews with students while in their first year (or even before it starts).
  3. Skilled diagnostic counseling to “help each applicant to explore his aims, motivation and commitment and comprehend how they might relate to the ... [institution]”
  4. Counselling-out of high risk students.
  5. “Conditional registration ... after students have taken advantage of the counseling service, every effort should be made by the University to ensure that they are able to follow the courses they really want... Students interested in courses which entail projects should be made aware of the volume of work involved and the type of library resources required (especially remote students)”.
  6. “Counselors, academic advisors, course designers, and administrators of distance-taught programs should develop a diagnostic and remedial program to assist students in organizing their time and energy toward a successful completion of their study program”.
  7. Regulate the study load of students.
  8. Active tutorial assistance during the course. This might be provided either face-to-face or via mediated communications.
  9. Examination of students’ completed assignments to analyze students’ cognitive learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, and affective responses to the instructional materials.
  10. Provide option of longer time period for students with difficulty to complete the course.
  11. Monitor the performance of participant instructors for needs amenable to improve via in-service training.
  12. Distance education institutions should develop programs to enhance their academic status and social credibility so as to enhance student satisfaction and commitment.
  13. Concentrate resources for student advising and other assistance on the more vulnerable first-year students.
  14. Periodical redesign of courses and print (on line? -ed) materials. Cookson (1990)

Where does Learning take place?

Graphic: Venn diagram of the connections of a 'networked school'.Adults, or certainly those in Higher Education, may be free to do their learning when and where and from whom they like. However, the same is not equally true for those younger students or even adults who need some guidance.

Bob Harrison recently quoted on a NAACE forum the following from 'The Impact of ICT in schools-a landscape review-Becta 2007' :

'While this study has looked closely at the impact of ICT on how pupils learn and how this might be has not addressed the impact of what they learn or where learning takes place and whether the schools of the future will be the physical entities we have today.'

Some two years later we still do not have clear answers and probably there will not ever be one set of answers which will suit everyone. However, building upon Mal Lee's graphic of the 'Home-School Nexus' (highlighted in the above diagram in blue) and looking further to Networked School Communities, I have tried to identify most of the major influences affecting any young learner. The nature of 'Virtual Learning' and how this might impact on current school practice and 'physical entities' will be explored more in my next post.

What young people learn has been the centre of discussions and the culture of a digitally aware society has begun to impact on curriculum design in most of our schools. Whether examination boards are ready to develop new ways of assessing learning is another question altogether.

How young people learn in a digital age is still not well-defined. Despite the fact that many schools may have an abundance of digital appliances, schools may still have a large proportion of teachers who believe in the "I teach, you listen" philosophy. The problem with this is that where children attend such a mixed-strategy school, it is doubtful that either system can be successful. And, again, despite a tacit recognition of the theory of Multiple Intelligences, it is often the case that lesson after lesson the children only experience one form of teaching and learning.

When and where young people learn has been the subject of much discussion and in some cases a serious indictment of our academic culture. We tend to expect children to learn only in lesson time and do not appreciate the vast amount of 'out-of-school' time which can be rich with experience and capable of much reflection and collaboration with others outside of the immediate home-school environment. Although the following graphic might raise some questions about the quality of the research relating to students in Holland, again, it raises questions about whether tapping into the power of modern media is recognised by schools as having any real merit.

Graph: Student media use per dayfrom: CISCO Equipping_Every_Learner_for_21st_Century_White_Paper.pdf

The question is, do these figures represent total media usage by students in your country or is Holland different to other countries?

Minds on Fire?

Graphic: Front page of the Educause magazine.This morning I came across a blog from 'Supercool School' which pointed me to the Educause document
'Minds on Fire', from last year. The document is well worth reading, even if a bit out-of-date now.

What particularly attracted me was the strapline to their recommendation, "In a rapidly changing world social learning will dominate over formal education."
'How daft', was my instant response. For ages we have recognised that more sex education is taught behind the bike sheds than in the Biology labs, that 5-year-olds are taught how to say 'please' and 'thank you' not by being told that this is the accepted norm, but by the fact that parents and grandparents informally and unconsciously teach these things by regular practice between themselves and also upon the informal correction, at the point of need, of the child.

Similarly, schools recognise that they only have an input to the child's education for some 12% to 20% of their young lives. Recently, through the Home Access Programme in the UK we are supporting the need for closer contact with parents and carers in order to reinforce good educational practice. (Use the search tool at the top right column for more on the Home Access Programme.)

Nowhere is the e-Portfolio a more practical and effective tool for supporting informal or social learning and documenting the transitory and ephemeral experiences of out-of-school learning. What I would like to see in the coming months is more examples of good practice in capturing that 'butterfly' of informal learning, particularly with younger students. - Any offers?

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Informal Adult Learning

Graphic: Logo of the 'Learning Revolution' site

This new .ning site addresses yet another area in which an easily 'portable' e-Portfolio can meet a wide variety of needs. The thread started by Christine Lewis needs serious attention. I quote her opening challenge:

"Chapter 4 of the Learning Revolution white paper states that Local Authorities will work with others to provide five core elements to underpin a strong local offer of informal learning:

  • Innovation: public funds used flexibly, complementing private and third sector investment effectively, enabling learning opportunities to thrive by building new partnerships and connections;
  • Universal access: all adults able to shape and access the learning activities they want for personal development and fulfilment wherever they live, whatever their qualifications and income;
  • Targeted support: those in most financial need given greatest support. In relation to taught courses, most adults should contribute in part or in full to the cost of their learning wherever it is provided, and local areas should actively use fee collection to reinvest in extending the reach of what’s on offer;
  • Collaboration: a wide range of partners and services working in partnership, aligning funds where appropriate, to maximise the scope for offering high quality, inspiring learning opportunities, increasing choice and helping adults move from one learning opportunity to another;
  • Promotion: the maintenance of good, up-to-date information on informal learning opportunities to be freely and openly available to local communities.

Am I the only one who believes that a good e-Portfolio is the only real solution to this present debacle? It seems that Local Authorities in particular are failing to recognise that a tool such as eFolio in the UK can meet all of the above criteria. eFolio, in particular can meet the needs of those who may not be so ICT 'savy' and yet at the same time lends itself to any level of sophistication that a learner may wish for.

If any Local Authority staff are reading this, I challenge them to come up with a solution that is more cost effective than eFolio! Or better still, come back at me at:

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Quality, Choice and Aspiration

Graphic:  Front page illustration of the document.Or as the subtitle reads, "A strategy for young people’s information, advice and guidance." At 52 pages this is a serious read that all involved in the education of children should be aware of. Click here to download the .pdf file.

The document outlines yet more initiatives to be included within an already crowded curriculum. That said, it identifies issues that most schools are taking on board or have had as part of their Careers responsibilities for some years. Careers teachers and counsellors will probably shout out, 'What do you think we've been doing for the past 20-30 years? It talks, correctly about the need to help young people to be aware of the opportunities available to them and repeatedly encourages teachers, parents and students to "think outside of the box".

As the introduction says: "Young people need high quality information, advice and guidance (IAG) to help them find their way in the world and make decisions that will set them on the path to success. We want young people to access the support and opportunities they need to:
  • succeed in education and continue participating in learning until the age of 18
  • make informed choices about their careers and be prepared for the demands of working life
  • raise their aspirations and fulfil their potential
  • overcome barriers that may be preventing them from releasing their talents."
Taken as a set of guidelines, this is basically a common-sense document about communication skills, how schools and employers relate to each other, how parents and pupils are encouraged to gain impartial and appropriate advice.

Every page is about communication, BUT, as with many government documents it leaves open the question of how best to encourage processes of communication. For me, every single page is shouting out, 'Why not use an e-Portfolio?'

Friday, 23 October 2009

How many different e-Portfolios?

Graphic: Chart of 12 different e-Portfolio functionalities.I recently read an impressive document analysing the functionalities of e-Portfolios. The above graphic gives a good idea of the range of uses to which an e-Portfolio can be put. However, traditional thinking tends to underline the belief that we should use different e-Portfolios for different purposes.

To be fair to the authors, K. Himpsl and P. Baumgartner of Danube University, Krems, Austria, their article set out to identify e-Portfolio software in (then) current use and, unfortunately they were not aware of my progress with eFolio for the UK and Europe. I include their abstract, below, but for a pdf copy of their full report (7 pages), you need to register here first.

AbstractE-Portfolios are a new type of software and it is still relatively vague to determine, which functions are obligatory – that is which functions constitute characteristic features – and which functions are just optional (“nice to have“). This article describes the concept and the preliminary results of a research project which was conducted to evaluate E-Portfolio software, and aims at providing decision guidance for implementing E-Portfolios in higher education - first and foremost from the pedagogical perspective. Which recommendations can be made to an institution which now wants to implement electronic portfolios with a certain objective?

My argument is not against their well documented analysis of some of the available e-Portfolio software available to HE but of the conclusions that they come to as in the above graphic.

As any who have been following this blog will understand, I present eFolio as being the perfect e-Portfolio solution for ALL of the 12 functionalities, and much more, within the one e-Portfolio and also concurently. This is my whole point about eFolio. The developers in Minnesota have produced a system which allows the one set of artefacts to be re-purposed in a variety of ways. The learner's one eFolio can therefore present to different audiences, for different purposes, even concurrently. Furthermore, the different 'views' can visually support differing aspects of one's whole life. For instance, different audiences could see my eFolio as representing me as a Technologist, as a Human Resource manager, as an environmentalist or a charity worker and yet, at the same time, I could be collaborating with my peers concerning an article that I might be in the process of writing.

There is an inevitable implication throughout the paper (constrained by the funding system), that the e-Portfolio is only of use in Higher Education. It is thus inevitable that no mention is made of the needs of the young, the elderly, the less-able, those involved in teaching these groups or those who wish to use e-Portfolios for community or extra-curricula studies. In other-words the vast majority of learners appear to be excluded.

However, it is worth checking out the Himpsl and Baumgartner paper if only to convince one's self of how limited all the other so-called e-Portfolio applications are when compared to eFolio.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Surveys are a Whiz!

Graphic: The surveygizmo logoI tend not to promote individual products (well, apart from eFolio) and I also feel that the unexpected advertising of random products does not enhance the image of my sites. However, I was recently asked about Survey Tools and felt that I must respond.

eFolio has several very useful tools for feedback, polls and surveys, which do very well for students of all ages. However, for those not using eFolio, but possibly other blogging tools for instance, I must recommend 'surveygizmo' as my personal preferred choice.

Surveygizmo is a lite, fast-acting on-line tool which should be used by all sections of education including classroom activities, staff 'opinionaires', communications with governors, parents and employers etc. In this era of virtual collaboration surveygizmo is the perfect tool for provoking responses and leading the respondees on to follow with interest the responses of others.

As an on-line tool it is excellent. The basic version is free and has a full range of tools for the on-line graphic feedback of the real-time analysis of results etc. It is also very intelligent so that, for instance if you identified yourself as a child it can skip more adult questions. But for those who want more performance or commercial usage there are several upgrades that you can go for if you like the product. (Go on, try it, you'll get hooked the same as I did!)

Click the link below for more information:
Online Survey Tool

Friday, 16 October 2009


Graphic: The Vital logoAt the Naace Conference last week I was fortunate enough to attend the 'Soft Launch' of Vital. The £5.6 million scheme to help teachers bring technology even more effectively into the classroom now has a name, and collaboration with existing providers and practitioners is underway ahead of the programme’s much-anticipated official launch in January 2010.

Vital (Transforming Lessons, Inspiring Learning) is to be the overarching title for an unprecedented collaboration between the Open University (OU) and e-skills UK. First announced in July, Vital’s goal is to foster and develop top-class continuing professional development for teachers and other educational practitioners in England who face the dual challenge of stimulating increasingly technology-confident students, and preparing them for the ‘knowledge economy’ beyond school.

“Between now and January, we will be making good use of a number of opportunities, including this week’s Naace and Handheld Learning conferences, to set out our ambitions for Vital and explain the progress made to date ahead of the scheme’s ‘hard’ launch at BETT 2010,” says e-skills UK’s Debbie Forster, the Vital Programme Co-ordinator. “Our focus is to work alongside existing training providers and practitioners to build on best practice in this area, and with employers to identify ways for them to support the development of teachers. We also want to encourage practitioners to pre-register at in advance of the roll-out of courses from the start of next year.”

Vital responds to the needs of two types of practitioners – those seeking to exploit ICT across the curriculum, and the specialists teaching technology subjects (Computing, IT and ICT) as disciplines in their own right.

We recognise that keeping abreast of the latest developments in technology is a continual challenge. As well as supporting teachers of all subjects, a core component of Vital will be opportunities for specialist teachers to work with employers and to sample industry-level cutting edge content and facilities,” explains Debbie Forster.

The OU’s Peter Twining, Vital’s Programme Director adds: “The scheme will celebrate and promote practical solutions to the challenges that schools are facing both in terms of their broader development plans and day-to-day classroom practice. Often this will be about teachers gaining the confidence and experience to make better use of the ICT their schools already have, and encouraging the creative combination of traditional and digital technologies to create the best experiences and outcomes for pupils.”

From January, Vital will be offering six new face-to-face courses and at least three online courses. In addition, a network of nine regional Vital co-ordinators will be in place working with local training providers, schools, local authorities and employers to ensure provision is appropriate and tailored to each region’s needs.

“A key part of Vital will be to introduce new development opportunities for teachers, with the first courses aimed at addressing important aspects of the curriculum, such as how to promote effective discussion and collaboration in the classroom, using Web 2.0 technologies where appropriate. But Vital is about more than just offering courses, with the programme supporting informal peer-to-peer learning both within and across schools.” says Peter Twining. “Vital will also play an important role in researching and promoting the best CPD that currently exists. We appreciate that a great deal of excellent provision is already happening and we are busy mapping the current ICT CPD landscape and seeking collaboration with the best that’s out there. For example, where we find that a provider, such as a local authority, has a superb course available in their region we are keen to collaborate with them to extend that course’s reach to a national scale.”

“We aim for personalised learning for students, and we want the same for our teachers,” emphasises Debbie Forster. “Our ambition is to provide support that makes a real difference for specialist technology teachers and to build an ongoing commitment to continuing professional development in ICT amongst all the nation’s teachers. As well as developing specific courses where they are needed, we will also work to enable online teacher communities and networks offering mutual support and the means of sharing good practice.”

Footnote: Debbie Forster and Peter Twining were keynote speakers at the Naace conference, Hellidon Lakes, near Daventry, Northamptonshire, Saturday 10 October 2009.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

E-Portfolios in Rural Communities

Photo from: ''Adrienne Carlson has contributed the item below. Its full title should read, 'How to Raise Awareness of E-Portfolios in Rural Communities'. Of course, we have the Home Access Programme in England but that is only the begining. Having the technology is one thing, getting both teachers and learners to use it is another, as Adrienne writes:

There are various reasons teachers use e-portfolios – from enhancing their profiles to developing their knowledge and skills, it helps them improve personally and professionally as members of the pedagogic society. But their counterparts in rural communities are not blessed with the same advantage, because they hardly have access to technology let alone the wherewithal to use it on a regular basis to create, develop and maintain an e-portfolio. If we are to raise awareness of e-portfolios in rural communities, we must:
  • Introduce technology as a regular teaching tool: Since e-portfolios are linked to technology, it follows that technology must be made a teaching tool in rural communities before it can be harnessed for the purpose of e-portfolios. One way to do this is through grants and other forms of funding, but more than that, efforts have to be made to introduce teachers to technology and encourage them to use it without any hesitation. And to do this, we must teach them to use the technology with the right kind of training.

  • Train teachers to use technology: Most teachers (or anyone else for that matter) who don’t have much contact with technology are usually intimated by it. They refuse to even attempt to learn it because they are scared that they will not be successful at it. Any training program should address these issues and manage the apprehensions of teachers before attempting to teach them how to use technology as a teaching aid.

  • Introduce them to e-Portfolios: When teachers realize the value and usefulness of e-portfolios, they are more eager to adopt them as development tools. Programs must be held to prove to them the potential of e-Portfolios and show all staff how it can help them grow in their profession and update their skills as well.

  • Understand the needs of learners: The work of Eva deLera underlines the value of making distance learning more acceptable to rural learners. Just think: no personal transport, poor public transport, little contact with other learners etc are all reasons for poor retention rates. The e-Portfolio can be the means to overcome these barriers to learning and make learning actually enjoyable.
E-portfolios are a relatively new tool in the pedagogic toolkit, so it will take some time before they gain any amount of popularity in rural communities. But with persistence and time, it will slowly gain acceptance and become a tool that is used regularly and to great effect.

This guest article was written by Adrienne Carlson, who regularly writes on the topic of engineering degrees online . Adrienne welcomes your comments and questions at her email address:

Sunday, 4 October 2009

What institutions really need to know

Graphic: JISC logoI pounced upon this new article published by Glenaffric Ltd e-learning consultants as it appeared to be a comprehensive analysis of the present thinking on e-Portfolios. A quick look at the authors quoted soon gave this document an air of respectability that few who have studied the e-Portfolio scene in the UK would disagree with. The opening paragraphs looked even more exciting:

Key messages for senior managers have emerged from a three-year JISC programme on MLEs for Lifelong Learning, which funded ten multi-institutional projects working across different sectors and organisations to support student learning and progression. The work of the Programme involved exchanging data with key external bodies such as UCAS, local education authorities and large employers.

With a strong focus on the interoperability of e-portfolios across a wide range of contexts, the Programme has been able to explore the likely impact of national policies for lifelong learning upon individual institutions and their medium-term strategic planning of technological and pedagogical development.

However, reading further, I was sorry to get the feeling that nothing new was in fact said. It would appear that the authors are still arguing from a technical perspective that interoperability is the solution to all the e-Portfolio problems.

Secondly, the ludicrous position is still maintained that it is the institutions that are responsible for Lifelong Learning. I am repeatedly frustrated by reports and proposals for reports all concerned with the same introspective approach to Active Research. What I want to see is reports of learners who have left academia, taken up employment and have continued to maintain their e-Portfolios and successfully shared them with new audiences.

If children in Primary and Secondary schools can create their own e-Portfolios expecting full portability, is it not time that the FE/HE sectors asked themselves whether their institutional products will support Lifelong, Lifewide Learning and Leisure?

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Becta Schools Update - Sept 2009

For the sake of those who do not receive the Becta newsletter I have copied the following (with permission). Although the word e-Portfolio is not mentioned anywhere in the article I feel that so many of the initiatives mentioned here would benefit from e-Portfolio connectivity. I quote Niel McLean, Executive Director, Schools and Families:

Photo: Niel McLean"In this edition I’d like to draw your attention to the idea of Learner Entitlement. We are making good progress towards developing a technology-confident education system. One of the key challenges we have to address is improved teaching with technology and promoting a technology-related learner entitlement. Delivering such an offer requires schools and teachers to consider how they are going to develop their teaching through technology, and what this might mean for their learners. Working with subject and phase experts from the field, Becta has produced guidance on the importance of providing learners with opportunities to use ICT tools to support their learning in all subjects. This will assist teachers in improving the ways in which they and their learners use technology.

"In future editions we will be updating you on some of our other major areas of work, including improving parental engagement through online reporting. Take a look at our new case study videos on this theme, starting with South Dartmoor Community College.

"You can access further information on each item featured below on our website. Please contact us with any suggestions or comments you'd like to make. Do feel free to share this newsletter with colleagues who may also be interested in what Becta is doing.

Niel McLean, Executive Director, Schools and Families"

News and features

You can always catch up with our latest news by visiting the Schools website.

The Home Access Programme
For those interested in the progress of this important programme see the PowerPoint.

Learner entitlement to ICT
Pupils should be given opportunities to apply and develop their ICT capability through the use of ICT tools to support their learning in all subjects. Which are the areas of the curriculum that can be truly enriched and enhanced through the use of technology? Becta, in partnership with Teachernet, have published a series of entitlement documents written by subject and phase experts to guide teachers on making the most of ICT in these areas.

Self-review framework: Share your views
With over 16,000 schools now using the self-review framework we know it is well used. But how useful is it to you? We are conducting an evaluation of the effectiveness and usefulness of the self-review framework and want to hear your views. The questionnaire will be available until 16 October 2009. There will also be the opportunity to take part in more in-depth interviews with our researchers in due course.

A guide to the use of e-learning for Diploma delivery
Are you part of a 14-19 consortia? If so our new guide will help you to build e-learning in to the design, provision, management and implementation of the new Diplomas. As well as providing strategic advice and practical support, the guide contains real examples of how e-learning is being used to support Diploma delivery.

Professional development for teachers
Regular, timely and appropriate staff training in the use of technology is essential if it is to be embedded within curriculum delivery and support services. The professional development area of the Schools site has been updated with new resources that can help your staff get the most from technology.

Visit us on YouTube
Our new Becta YouTube channel offers video material covering a wide range of topics on the use of technology in education. The aim of the channel is to share knowledge, advice and personal experiences of learners, leaders and teaching professionals to a wider audience.

Upcoming events
Becta runs and attends many events throughout the year. These are regularly added to the events section of the Schools website.

Handheld Learning Conference
5 October to 7 October 2009, London
Becta is pleased to support this conference, which this year has a theme of 'Creativity, Innovation, Inclusion and Transformation'. There will be opportunities to demonstrate, debate and explore how mobile technologies can be deployed to enable transformational improvements in learning across schools, home, further education, training and business.

NB. All of the above originally posted on the Becta Newsletter September 2009.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Advantages of E-Portfolios in Teaching

Photo: Adrienne CarlsonE-portfolios are beginning to gain in popularity as the entire world embraces digital technology and the online way of life, but e-portfolios still have a long way to go before their full potential is realized. For those in the dark, an e-portfolio (when used in connection with teaching) is a collection of the work of someone in the pedagogical field which reflects their ideology, their views and thoughts on teaching, a list of their accomplishments and talents, the courses and classes they teach, and so on. In short, an e-portfolio for a teacher is similar to the portfolio artists carry around in order to showcase what they’ve achieved and provide a teaser of what they’re capable of. There are various advantages in using e-portfolios when you’re a teacher:
  • It’s easy to update and rectify: Any data stored in a digital format is easy to maintain because you don’t have to rewrite entire documents when you make a mistake. Updating information also becomes a piece of cake because the process is almost effortless.

  • It helps you become a better teacher: When you have a readymade package of all your work and your ideas and thoughts, it’s easier to analyze your style and refine your presentation when you have a plan for the future and work towards it. When you’re able to show others what you stand for as a teacher, you can prove yourself more effectively, especially when you’re aiming for a promotion.

  • It proves you’re tech savvy: When you show that you’re familiar with the technology used to create and maintain an e-portfolio, you prove that you’re tech savvy, a skill that many teachers lack. In today’s world, you must know and love technology if you want to keep up with all that’s happening.

  • It allows easy access to your work: When you have an e-portfolio, it’s easy to put your work online so that more people have access to it. This way, you’re showcasing your skills to a larger audience and providing yourself with appropriate exposure.

  • It allows you to use multimedia: When you’re able to include pictures, videos and music in your e-portfolio, it gives it much more depth than using just text alone. E-portfolios allow you to use multimedia to your advantage and showcase your ideas and skills with much more strength.

  • E-portfolios save space: No matter how much information you want to add to your e-portfolio, you can do so without worrying about space constraints. It’s easy to include information and events as they happen, because digital information is compact and concise.

E-portfolios are just becoming well-known as tools of the trade for teachers, as well as within some other sectors such as Health Care & Nursing. With more from the pedagogy field embracing them, they’re soon going to become the norm rather than the exception they are now.

This guest article was written by Adrienne Carlson, who regularly writes on the topic of online degrees . Adrienne welcomes your comments and questions at her email address:

Monday, 21 September 2009

What IS an e-Portfolio ?

People are continually asking this question and using generally outdated text to thus argue for outmoded Teaching & Learning styles. A recent post on this issue caught my eye, primarily from the succinct cartoon as above. The student wrote:

"I am currently researching eportfolios as part of the #H808. In my professional life as an elearning advisor I have vowed never to use the word eportfolio on its own. This is because the same word is used for very different types of system. Instead I use the following terms which I hope we will get to acknowledge and understand more as the course progresses. "

The complete post can be seen here.
My response was inevitable:
I love the e-Portfolio cartoon - it really expresses the dilemma. And this is the point: too many people have avoided the issue, like you, by disaggregating what in essence is ONE tool which can be used in a wide variety of purposes and functionalities and by a very wide range of users.

Writing with a mixed academic perspective, I was once asked who were the potential users of an e-Portfolio. At that time I listed off some 18 different users, see:

Quite simply, my plea to you is that you do not go down the route of different e-Portfolios for different purposes. Each learner has a multitude of different needs - and the e-Portfolio can meet many of these various needs through differing functionalities.

Certainly, one of the best features of an e-Portfolio is the ability to store a variety of artefacts such that they can be reused for different purposes and persona.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

What is Feedback ?

Graphic: A Traditional ChecklistFor far too long we have assumed that 'Formative Assessment' and 'Feedback' are one and the same thing. Students say "I don't want to know about the feedback, just tell me the grade I've got." Teachers, too, tend to give feedback towards the end of a project and invariably only once.

It is time that both teachers and their students began to learn a few home-truths about Formative Assessment.

I always enjoy Sarah Stewart's blog - she is a hard-working and adventurous professional and her recent blog on Formative Assessment set me thinking. One quote in particular stands out:

"As a teacher, in the past the only time I heard from students about the feedback I gave them was when they wanted me to increase their grades. Very rarely have I heard from students who have wanted to discuss my feedback so they can learn how to improve their 'performance'."

I see Formative Assessment very differently. Firstly, as a teacher I see formative assessmentGraphic: One-to-one conversation in a relaxed and undisturbed environment. as being the pre-emptive strike that ensures that we are both understanding each other. This, I hope will ensure that the student does not waste valuable time going off in the wrong direction. Secondly, I am concerned that the student should feel that I'm really interested in what he/she is doing - one visit hardly demonstrates interest. Apart from anything else, as we increasingly encourage independent investigation and lateral thinking, there is a fair chance that I may need to 'mug-up' on some areas into which I think that the student might venture. And, leading on from this, feedback is seriously NOT uni-directional. - Feedback from the student may suggest that the teacher needs to modify his/her presentation techniques or coverage of the syllabus.

Sarah referred to the University of Technology, Sydney and some very useful links to the whole discussion on assessment. For me one paper in particular made very pleasing reading, 'Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice.' A bit of a mouthful, but well worth downloading. I quote the seven principles:

Good feedback practice:
1. helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards);
2. facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning;
3. delivers high quality information to students about their learning;
4. encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning;
5. encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem;
6. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance;
7. provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape the teaching.

I've referred elsewhere to W.J. Popham's book, 'Transformative Assessment' but would again commend it here for its very clear message to teachers about how feedback can influence the work of both students AND teachers.

The argument for e-Portfolios
From the above propositions I can almost hear teachers saying, "But when have I got the time to arrange all these interviews, MULTIPLE interviews, with all my students????" And this is where the e-Portfolio enters in as the perfect solution. Teachers can 'chat' privately with their students as and when they choose, synchronous or asynchronous. Staff can access the students' work in progress and even chip in with a suggestion without the student asking. Perhaps, more importantly, the e-Portfolio allows staff to look, as it were, 'behind the scenes' and better understand where the student is coming from, in all senses of the word. And eFolio, being a 'rich media tool' is an excellent solution to the whole problem.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The New Literacy?

Graphic: Relaxed writing by the seaside.Thanks to a brief post from Leigh Blackall I read this eloquent item from Rachel McAlpine. It talks of young people enthusiastically writing away on their netbooks or laptops - and that whilst they were away on holiday! If ever there was an example of learning taking place outside of the classroom, I think that this is it!

Writing, however reflective, can still be very introspective and misses something of the point of learning as far as I understand it. Even some three hundred years ago we read of Isaac Watts putting together his great works on Logic etc by comparing the writings of two or three others and compiling a single work from the synthesis of both the other writers and his own perceptions. Perhaps, although not interactive, this could be seen as a form of collaboration?

Certainly, for today's learners, Rachel McAlpine's observations are but just the beginings of e-Portfolios as the store of fond and sometimes private memories only to be trusted by a select few. I wonder how many of Rachel's holiday writers will publish their rich gems of observation, refined by the collaboration or peer-review of others.

e-Portfolios? Let's get going!