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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Buyer Beware

Procurement is a funny old business! However much one warns people to be careful it seems that buyers can so easily be short-changed. I know of an accountant who, against my advice, bought sets of swivel chairs for school use. Yes, you've guessed it, being an accountant she ordered the cheapest that she could find in the catalogues, sight-unseen. Within weeks knobs and wheels were falling off and the sponge padding started coming out of the upholstery - the chairs did not last a year. Slightly more expensive ones would have lasted years longer.

I mention this (true) story because I was reminded of it after recently reading of the frustrations of one teacher and his experiences in acquiring a VLE. Not that I'm surprised. There is a saying 'All salesmen are crooks.' But in the case of VLEs, as an unknown quantity, I can understand buyers not knowing what to ask for. My research some two years ago identified this exact same list of complaints, 'not listening', 'not delivering on time', 'lack of telephone support', etc, etc.

And that is why I am so adamant that educationists in general and certainly ALL teachers should go into the subject of e-Portfolios, knowing what they want and how it will support the sort of curriculum that they want to deliver. Over the last few months I have tried to raise some of the main issues concerning e-Portfolios. If you have any other questions, please contact my support office at

Jamin Lietze in New Zealand has been doing the sort of research that every teacher should be doing, asking questions, pushing the boundaries of his understanding so that he will eventually get what his students deserve. I take my hat off to him. It just seems such a pity that there are so few of us willing to push the boundaries of our thinking beyond what the establishment tells us is good for us!

As for me and eFolio, I am just so proud as to be partnered with an organisation that takes the trouble to listen to what teachers are thinking and can deliver solutions that meet not only curriculum objectives but also I am able to provide students with a tool that they can keep for life.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Well, wa de yer want?

Those that know it all don't ask, and those that don't know what to ask for don't ask. The curious may ask but don't often recognise nor understand the answer. It is the wise who ask, listen to the answers and ask again. As I have said to my students many times, 'If you don't ask, you don't get!'

In the world of academia it seems to me that often students are not asking the right questions and wondering why the answers obtained do not meet their needs.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of e-Portfolios. It appears that far too often technicians appear not to understand what teachers and learners actually want. Furthermore, those responsible for teaching and learning are often not aware of what they should be asking for.

As I have often said, we are in a situation where we use new technologies only to replicate previous forms of delivery. This scenario is typically illustrated by those who use digital projectors and Interactive WhiteBoards in as clumsy a delivery as when using OHPs.

Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in a recent blog that I came across, I quote:

"It is sometimes difficult to see past the technology and remember that it is used for particular purposes, in especially, for reflective practice - which is why e-portfolios seem especially popular on courses such as PGCE, nursing and medicine, where reflective practice is part of professional requirements. It seems to be a little more difficult to find a true purpose for the technology in other areas..."

My response to such sentiments will be obvious to some readers:

On reflection and why other disciplines don't use it:

Perhaps it is because other disciplines are still working by 19th Century methods?

Teaching and Learning has moved a long way since some of our Professors went to school. Even 5 year-olds are now taught to reflect on their activities. Certainly much GCSE and 'A'-level coursework requires 'evaluation'. Here is another point, 'reflection' is often taught as being about the artefact whereas the most significant parts are probably about the process and the person. I have taught for many years that the reflection or evaluation must substantively deal with 5 aspects:
  • The Product
  • The Process
  • The Person
  • The Problems, and
  • The Potential.

And I expect any user to be enabled by the e-Portfolio to demonstrate all of these. The technology should be transparent and as intuitive as any wordprocessor, spreadsheet or blog.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Formative Assessments - for whom and when?

As a teacher of many years experience I thought that I knew all about formative assessment. After all, I had been doing it for ages with Design & Technology coursework well before computers came into my life! And all of this became so much easier with my beloved network of computers.

Yes, I knew that at the start of a course I would assess what my students knew about my proposed content and activities. I was well drilled in defining 'previous knowledge/experience' in my lesson plans, and yes, I would modify my plans according to the initial 'survey'.

Similarly, at times during the course I would attempt to inform my students as to their progress and what their individual strengths and weaknesses might be. But that was about all. However, it was not until reading W.J Popham's book, 'Transformative Assessment' that I understood, for the first time, just how much I had been missing out on.

How do I know when and what to assess? Will it be appropriate to my long-term planning and booking of resources etc? Perhaps the first thing I learnt from his book is that if I was not to totally overdo this assessment thing and make myself a nervous wreck I first needed to plan when to assess in terms of my ongoing delivery, teaching and learning styles.

The second thing I learnt about formative assessment is the need for self-control. In this modern 'instant fix' working lifestyle, students would soon latch on to the fact that at any time of asking they would expect immediate answers, day in day out and every evening. 'Formative overload' would soon render any conventional teaching impossible. Yes, as soon as students discover the advantages of 24/7/365 access the system would soon overload and self-destruct.

However, the e-Portfolio can lend some sense of sanity and organisation. Instead of Instant Messaging or Tweeting, the e-Portfolio can provide a scaffold for students to follow their suggested plan for formative assessments with places for feedback as and when planned rather than on instant demand.

Understanding the collaborative uses of the e-Portfolio, it soon becomes obvious that the symbiotic relationship of e-Portfolio and formative assessment is not just to be used by students. This culture of formative assessment, as used in teacher-student relationships, can so easily be used in both departmental or whole-school assessment and planning. Similarly, the outcomes of formative assessments can be communicated through personal PDP and institutional e-Portfolios.

Once teachers and lecturers have learnt the basic skills of e-Portfolio management a synergy soon develops between students, even the youngest of pupils and their teachers. 'No one, having put their hand to the plough, turns back' from e-Portfolios. If never before, they seemlesly become lifelong and lifewide tools of learning.

Look at this list of some of the benefits of using an e-Portfolio and think about how many of these points are also highly beneficial to the mutuality of formative assessment.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

When do we start with an e-Portfolio?

Graphic: The Seven Ages of Man for e-PortfoliosFor some years, now, I have repeatedly used the image of 'the Seven Ages of Man' to try and explain something of the problem of 'multiple transitions' and have invariably used the phrase 'from 5 to 95'. Even within the 5-19 age range there are many potential transitions that can befall the learner.

However, I was recently reprimanded by one who is responsible for 'Early Years Foundation Stage' learning. He pointed out that staff in 'Early Years' had to cope with reporting on some 119 criteria as and when instances occurred - and I can see the common sense in using an e-portfolio for this type of recording. - Possibly even parents could complete instances as well as education staff?

Once on this train of thought, I reflected on Dr Helen Barrett's suggestion that Lifelong Learning is actually from cradle to grave. And one of her suggestions was that at the 'Baby Shower' party celebrating the birth of the child one of the gifts to the babe would be an e-Portfolio wherein all the milestones of baby's progress would be recorded with photographs and a checklist of dates/occurrences etc. So, which County Registrar is going to be the first to recommend instituting e-Portfolios for babies?

Friday, 13 February 2009

What can we learn from others?

For quite some time I have been following Sarah Stewart's blog see:

She is a highly competent and adventurous New Zealander working in midwifery and has recently taken up a post in Australia where she is developing some astounding work in Second Life. However, I was very impressed by a recent SlideShare presentation:

Apart from being a very useful presentation in its own right, I wonder how many other professionals in other fields are using some sort of e-Portfolio - and if they have presentations which might extend our thinking even further?

Coincidentally, I also read Kevin Brace's Midlands Eportfolio Group blog which adverted to a most interesting list of the perceptions of those involved in Work-Based Assessments:
The document was produced by Carolyn Lewis (RSC National Work Based Learning Co-ordinator) with information sourced from feedback to RSCs, The Excellence Gateway, ALP and City and Guilds.

I am conscious of, nay humbled by, the fact that there are so many of you readers out there, over 1400, from 61 countries, and counting. It therefore strikes me that there could well be good examples of e-Portfolio practice that might help our understanding and application e-Portfolios in schools.

Please be so kind as to add any suggestions either as comments to this blog or directly to me at:

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Primary Schools to celebrate Graduation?

Has no one in education circles heard of the e-Portfolio? Has no one read the definitive work of Evangeline Stefanakis, 'Multiple Intelligences and Portfolios'? Does no one in the ivory towers of government know anything about how Primary Schools operate?

It is well known that for decades children have celebrated their 'best' work and have taken folders of work off to their next school in the hope that someone will admire their achivements.

Well, now that e-Portfolios are capable of celebrating these 'capstone events' even at Primary level, is it not time that someone in government circles spoke up for the e-Portfolio as being that modern and universal solution to a whole range of issues related to pupil-transfer?

It made my blood boil to read the Guardian Article of 11th Feb, 'Primary School Graduation Ceremonies Proposed' I quote an extract:

"Primary schools should host graduation ceremonies where teachers tell children which 'special talents' they possess, a leading government adviser recommended today. Sir Tim Brighouse said too many 11-year-olds were leaving primary school thinking they were not good at anything.

"The former London schools tsar, who was made a deputy headteacher at 26, told a teachers' union conference that schools should tell children they were 'brilliant' singers, writers or inventors at the graduation ceremonies.

'Why on earth don't we have primary graduation? Why not celebrate what the children are good at?' he asked a conference on assessment organised by the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers, which are both campaigning for the abolition of the national tests (Sats) for 11-year-olds in England.

"Brighouse wants children to sit the tests at age 11 but to be told about their special talents as well just being given their results. The ceremonies should be locally organised rather than 'nationally prescribed', said Brighouse, who said too many children left primary school simply with a tag of '2a' or '3b', their level in national tests.

" 'I want kids to go into secondary schools with the confidence that they are good at something. At the moment they are going thinking they aren't good at anything,' he said."

My blood boiled, not so much that Sir Tim was asking the questions but rather that no one seemed capable of telling him that the solution is already here in the shape of the e-Portfolio. Perhaps no one dared tell him about his invisible clothes?

Monday, 9 February 2009

An end to Grades?

I recently saw a post which caught my imagination from The Daily Collegian. This is an area which has troubled me for a long time. How, exactly, will Teaching, Learning and Assessment change with the use of e-Portfolios?

I quote a section from the article:

"O’Brien added that the growing use of e-portfolios have dramatized the potential for tools other than grades to convey what students have learned.

"Other concerns with letter grades, according to O’Brien, include to potential for grade inflation to take away from the reliability of grades and the concern of consistency with grading as more students are taking courses at multiple colleges, including colleges overseas.

"Maribeth Clark, Provost of the New College of Florida, offers a system in which students must work out a contract with a faculty adviser each semester.

"The contract outlines which courses should be taught and how success will be measured. Professors contribute to a record of the student’s success, without using grades. According to Clark, at New College, dislike of the traditional student transcript is so great that the college does not even send them out. Students are in charge of sending out their own records when applying to graduate school.

"At Fairhaven College, students don’t receive grades either. They participate in a two-way evaluation process with professors for every course, and for their major and degree programs. The students evaluate their own work first, then their professors follow with their own evaluation and then the two have a much involved discussion. Many assignments also feature self-evaluation, as students complete a paper and also write about what they learned from the process of writing the paper or how the assignment did or did not work for them."

So what is happening in the UK or elsewhere?

  1. Will e-Portfolios encourage the use of the Project approach?
  2. Will we see students having to plan their own work schedules?
  3. Will collaboration actually help learning?
  4. Will 'anytime access' to teachers by pupils increase their workload?
  5. Will formative inputs from staff help in sumative assessments?

If you have any opinions or suggestions please comment!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Rose Report

Here in the UK a government commissioned paper 'The Rose Report' (on the Primary Curriculum) has just been published.

I was particularly interested in how ICT and in particular e-Portfolios might be able to assist in this revised approach to teaching and learning. I quote one opening paragraph:

"The report explores a curriculum design based on a clear set of culturally derived aims and values, which promote challenging subject teaching alongside equally challenging cross-curricular studies. Placing literacy, numeracy, ICT and personal development at its heart, the provisional model aims to secure high achievement in these vital skills for learning and life. Six areas of learning are proposed to give schools optimum flexibility to localise the curriculum and respond to children’s different but developing abilities, to provide ample opportunities for cross-curricular and discrete teaching and to help smooth the transition from the Early Years Foundation Stage to the primary curriculum. The areas of learning are shaped by the key ideas which are deemed essential to a child’s understanding."

As far as I am concerned, ICT should support and be developed in each of six proposed "areas of learning":
  • Understanding English, communication and languages;
  • Mathematical understanding;
  • Scientific and technological understanding;
  • Human, social and environmental understanding;
  • Understanding physical health and well-being;
  • Understanding the arts and design.

However more relevant to this blog: ICT is one of the central "skills for learning and life" which should be developed across the curriculum, along with literacy, numeracy and personal development.

The question about how ICT can support this required combination and how in particular an e-Portfolio strategy can be used to address these issues follows:

Use of e-Portfolios in Primary Schools
The ability of even the youngest child to select what they are proud of, to compare with others' work, to listen to suggestions, to be able to review one's activities and explain why certain procedures or processes were adopted is an essential part of learning. However, the documentation of these often ephemeral activities is not always easy to do.

The e-Portfolio is by far the best way to capture any of the above, in text, scanned images or any form of 'rich media'. So long as the e-Portfolio owner (ie the pupil) has access to the web, an e-Portfolio becomes independent of any LMS, VLE, stand alone laptop, home PC or for that matter any web-enabled device.

However, I was recently reminded that valuable information needs to be transmitted TO the Primary school from the Early Years Foundation Stage assessment regime. What with 119 stages to report on, all at different times and possibly in a different order from one child to another, the e-Portfolio is quintessentially apposite.

'Learning for Life' not only embraces those generic ICT skills which will last one's lifetime and evolve as new technologies become universally acceptable, it also has connotations of selecting and capturing those artefacts which have some enduring qualities related to learning processes which are worth keeping and reflecting upon both presently and at a later date.

Again, the e-Portfolio is most apposite in providing a medium of portability. At one time when a child moved from one school to another, either 'sideways' as when moving house or 'vertically' as in moving to 'the big school' children would take an envelope or the school would post on a parcel of exercise books and other artefacts (which invariably would not be seen by many staff). Now that much more work is done electronically, these transitions can also be performed through the learner's e-Portfolio. Sometimes called 'capstone' events, the learner has the opportunity to carefully select those artefacts which best represent 'ME'. (And they can be seen at any time, by any number of staff.)

However, the e-Portfolio also provides the site for a number of e-safe activities, such as peer review, collaboration, surveys and informal formative feedback as well as inputs from parents, carers and mentors.

Where the e-Portfolio is hosted externally and therefore is not limited by the constraints of the VLE, the young child can begin to organise one's site, selecting from various templates, skins, fonts and avatars in order to create a web-presence or 'digital self' which helps to reflect a personal self-image. See this web-page for examples of how the one e-Portfolio can evolve with the child.

Well, what do you want for an e-Portfolio?

I am aware that people from all over the world (54 countries at the last count) are watching this blog and my demo eFolio site. However, I would like to hear more from you all.

Jamin Lietze has produced an excellent 'wish-list' of what he would like to see in his perfect e-Portfolio system for his school. His list raises some interesting but conflicting challenges:
  • Can a 'free' system provide user-support, upgrades and maintenance?
  • Can one system meet the needs of the pupils in an 'all-age' school, and the needs of staff PDP etc?
  • What about parental access?
  • What issues need to be addressed concerning an externally hosted system?

Please respond - what issues do you see as needing to be resolved?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Are you ready for Digital Storytelling?

One of the most powerful uses of an e-Portfolio is that of collecting and collating snippets of rich media that will, probably or possibly be used in various presentations. The e-Portfolio has the capacity to 'Save Once, Show Many' times (or SOSM) and for different purposes.

A link (first on the list below) forcibly reminded me that I had not addressed this use of the e-Portfolio within this blog. Of course Dr Helen Barrett has been shouting this from the rooftops for ages as her pages clearly announce.

This use of the e-Portfolio, possibly as a sort of private confessional, supports a powerful form reflection, organisation of though, reviewing of expressions used according to selected audinces. I therefore commend this list to educators as illustrations of how we can use rich media to help students in writing for a purpose.

For students, I commend reviewing many of the presentations in order to absorb something of the rich culture of Digital Storytelling. Above all, do not worry about the technicalities. To begin with just write from the heart and use a few still photographs, or add a bit of 'mood music'. If you have a simple video-camera or mobile phone, just record some short clips and then dub with your voice-over. Some of these stories are very sophisticated, others are technically more simple, but remember, it is the combination of the story that you are telling and your choice of supporting media that can tell so much about you. If 'a picture is worth a thousand words', how much more powerul a whole Digital Story?

The following list shows a diverse range of materials and support:
If you have other examples that I should add to this list, please let me know!

What does your e-Portfolio look like?

Following Dr Helen Barrett's blog it worried me that her graphical representation of all of the various aspects of an e-Portfolio was beginning to get a bit too complex to be of any practical use - apart from provoking some intense discussion. In her discussion forum it soon became apparent that there are many contrasting elements both linear and cyclical. Maria lists some of the essential contrasts:

"The key concepts: process vs product, formative vs summative evaluation, internal vs external audience, inmediate vs retrospective reflection, learning experiences vs learning outcomes/standards is a welldefined framework."

I therefore attempted to create my 'Radar Diagram' and thus presenting a useful representation. I soon realised that this could be used by tutors to discuss with their students such things as learning styles or areas needing more attention etc. Students, too, could use this as a personal self-assessment exercise, comparing their results with 'ideal' results at stages throughout the course.

The obvious input for this was to create a set of questions where an individual might give a '1-10' response. Similarly, this approach could also be used to identify a whole class's or cohort's general position on this learning diagram.

I attach the spreadsheet used to generate the Radar Diagram or Map. I do not claim that this is a perfect solution and would therefore appreciate your feedback. Thinking in terms of formative assessment, the same spreadsheet could obviously be developed to assess the general understanding of the uses of an e-Portfolio for a whole class and thus meet Popham's first level, ie that of adjusting one's lesson plans to suit the needs of the class.

Monday, 2 February 2009

e-Safety and e-Portfolios

Today I was challenged by one of the blogs that I regularly read, that of John Pallister's e-Portfolios and PLTS. John has done an exceptional job in developing e-Portfolios both within his own school and in the recent MOSEP publication. I quote his item in full, for those who do not usually see his group's blog, in order to encourage some debate about e-Safety on this blog:

"While preparing for an eSafety meeting I found that I was motivated to; I wanted to; I was driven to, write this post. But that does not really make sense; I need to get all of the issues sorted out/ organised for my meeting, so why, at this stage should I share my thinking with others?

"Over the years I have read a lot about eSafety. A lot of the advice/ articles/Blogs have been brought to my attention via Twitter and the numerous on-line discussions that have taken place in a wide range of communities. I think that I have a fair handle on eSafety, so if I do a bit of research and a bit of reading, I should have something to offer the meeting. But again something is telling me to write, to Blog, to share!

"It must be because I have not really got all of the issues sorted out in my head and so feel the need to go through the writing/Blogging process to help me to sort out my thinking.

"I need to decide where I sit along the continuum of eSafety that at one end, has the walled garden, where learners are protected by a rabbit proof, giraffe proof and social software proof ‘fence’, while at the other end learners are allowed open access to all of the available resources and tools.

"Looking at the extremes; the walled garden is an attractive proposition for schools. Learners only have access to what (the opportunities) that the gardener (the teacher) thinks that the learners (the plants) need to grow (learn) and thrive. So long as the ‘fence’ is designed to keep out all of the nasty experiences, all should be well. The school (teacher) defines what should be allowed to get through the fence; the learners are safe and get on and, hopefully learn, in a ‘safe’ place. Duty of care fulfilled. Philosophy, if you do not understand it, or you are not ‘told’ to provide learners with access to specific tools, applications or experiences, do not do it, fence against it.

"3.30pm arrives, the learners are let out to roam their Personal, home based, Learning environment. There are fewer fences in sight; they have access to tools and applications that provide a wide range of opportunities and experiences. Many experiences will be positive and support their learning; some could be detractors and some could put the learner at risk. So we cannot rely on ‘fencing’ systems to protect out learners 24 hours of the day, 7 days of the week.

"Historically we have educated/taught our learners how to survive, that is, what they need to do, or not do, to stay safe in the big, bad world. We teach them the Green Cross code; we promote Cycling Proficiency; we provide information about the risks of alcohol and drug abuse and we advise them not to talk to strangers. We do not have fences along all of the pavements that run along the side of every road, we do not have footbridges over, or under-passes under, all major roads. We educate young learner to behave in a safe fashion.

"So thinking about the other end of the continuum, would it be better to provide learners with access to ‘everything’ and then ‘educate’ them in eSafety?

"If that was the chosen strategy, one challenge would be to make sure that every teacher fully ‘understood’ the potential, for learning, of the current and evolving Web 2/social tools, and that they appreciated the risks. Without this background and understanding we could not expect teachers to teach the skills and understanding that our current generation of learners will need if they are to stay safe. Somehow we would need to spend a lot of time working with teachers before we could begin to move towards ‘un-fenced’ personal learning environments. How can we do this?"

My first question would be, 'How is this done in other countries?' Does anyone have a magic pill?

Sunday, 1 February 2009

What's an e-Portfolio?

Perhaps one of the best introductory descriptions of the functionality of an e-Portfolio that I have ever read caught my attention today. It comes from Macaulay Honors College at CUNY. I quote the opening paragraph:

Think of all the work you do while you’re a student at Macaulay. Assignments for classes, projects, a thesis, essays, photography, videos, musical performances, websites, blogs, wikis, mathematical formulae, scientific research or experiments, short stories, poetry…even more. Then think beyond that. Think of the other kinds of work you also do, that might be less formal, or less “official.” Conversations with friends, interesting websites that have influenced your thinking and learning, books you’ve read on your own, places you’ve visited, souvenirs, emails…and even more than that, too.

Unfortunately, yet again, this article reinforces the approach of 'this is an HE thing'. It does not promise continuity in the big bad worlds to come, it does not question whether students have been using e-Portfolios in their previous educational institutions, pre-school or (with their parents) from birth.