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Friday, 30 January 2009

A Teacher's Questions

Recently, through a blog that I came across, some searching questions were asked to which I have attempted to give some answers.

Could an e-Portfolio be used by educators and learners as an enabler towards education and learning?

Very much so! I appreciate that teaching and learning varies around the world. For instance, the Americans often refer to ‘instruction’ whereas that grates a bit as sounding too didactic for UK teachers. Have a look at my slideshow for something of how education is moving in the UK.

But even with a ‘liberated’ teaching and learning environment, accessing work remotely through the VLE and having laptops at home through the Home Access programme, this sort of work can still be seen by the learner as belonging to the school – the very interface and organisation of files is ‘school’.

The use of the e-Portfolio firstly underlines the ‘ownership’ of the learning as belonging to the learner. The look of the interface in terms of colour schemes, fonts, colours, avatars and rich media etc along with web 2.0 tools and widgets all go to a representation of ‘ME’.

Secondly, the style of learning, anytime, anywhere and anyhow (ie what devices are used) lends itself to a spontaneity as opposed to the regimentation of most school timetables. In contrast to the formal classroom situation, the e-Portfolio allows for collaboration between peers from different classrooms or even different schools. So often, schoolwork has to be produced to preferred grammatical standards and layout whereas through the e-Portfolio it is possible to collaborate quickly and creatively in their own patois.

But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the teacher or other mentors can communicate privately through the e-Portfolio at a time convenient to the teacher and is more able to provide considered formative comments which is not always possible during the hurly-burly of a busy class.

Fourthly, because the e-Portfolio is seen as owned by the learner and representing their own perspectives, it is inevitable that the teacher will understand things about the child’s home life, their informal learning and experiences, their relationships etc, all of which help the teacher to better appreciate the learner’s needs and expectations.

How could one integrate e-Portfolio as evidence and records of competency and as a learning reflection tool to ensure its aims towards the achievement of life long and life wide learning goals?

I view the e-Portfolio as sitting alongside the institution’s VLE. The user’s own area on the VLE will inevitably contain a large amount of incomplete work, the ‘debris’ from short tests, work in progress etc as well as completed exercises which have been assessed and from which the learner has moved on. Within that VLE will also be a number of assessment tools and capstone assessments which will be recorded by the MIS providing support to both Real Time and end of term reporting. However, the e-Portfolio is that place in which the learner can place selected artefacts from the VLE as representing evidences of significant achievements. As W.J. Popham clearly explains in his book, Transformative Assessment, both the teacher and the learner need to understand which items are to be assessed and their significance within the learning processes. Again, reflection should not just be a matter of introspection but one of peer assessment, collaboration and reference to mentors.

Your second part to the above question, that of Lifelong and Lifewide learning, almost requires a thesis by itself. No one can predict the future so well as to be able to identify beforehand which artefacts will be significant in later life as milestones of one’s learning. As much as one might have kept old exercise books in a tin box and photographs in an album, I think that in this digital age we still need to archive ‘unwanted’ artefacts on CD ROMs or similar storage devices ‘for posterity’.

I do not see the e-Portfolio as being the ‘pantechnicon’ of all of ones learning and life-experiences but rather an open home for the time and ‘place’ one’s life has got to. Certain ‘childish’ things might be put away when other adults are our audience and yet, in another setting, time or place, it is right and proper to share our reflections with others. The whole beauty of a well constructed e-Portfolio system is that these different audiences could all be seeing different views of the same e-Portfolio all at the same time!

For some novice educators and adult learners, preparation of e-portfolio requires mentoring and development. It also takes consideration time and efforts for the learner to appreciate the importance and application of e-Portfolio.

Again, you have two implicit questions here. Yes, there are some complicated e-Portfolio systems out there that might not let you do what you want or others that require an advanced knowledge of Macromedia or others that are downright expensive which cause people to go down the DIY route. There is no need for this. A simple system such as I promote is all that is needed to present even the most mature and technical of e-Portfolio presentations.

Again, I do not think that there is any problem with learners wanting to represent themselves to a variety of discrete audiences. I believe that experience in schools has proved that even the 5yr-old can select artefacts for showcasing, for discussion, reflection and planning for future activities.

Given the emergent knowledge and complex nature of learning and the dynamic changes in the learning ecology, does it also require a continuous planning, implementation and review cycle in the e-portfolio to ensure its successful implementation and sustainability?

Yes, but that is the whole principle of teaching as I see it. We often refer to the Plan-Do-Review cycle or enhanced versions of it. The e-Portfolio is the perfect vehicle to demonstrate a collation of artefacts, including initial drafting of ideas, research questionnaires, MP3/4 recordings, photographs, a team blog, transcripts of interviews, brainstormed concept maps, along with a final report etc all dragged from a variety of sources into the e-Portfolio.

1 comment:

suifaijohnmak said...

Thank you very much for your considered response. I share with you those insights into e-Portfolio. I trust that we could all benefit from the use of e-Portfolio, as an educator and learner. I greatly value your opinions and it's wonderful that we could promote its use via different means, with the same goal in mind.