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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Progress in NZ

For quite some time now I have been enthralled by the activities in New Zealand concerning their Digital Strategy. Perhaps it is the combination of the size of the population of the country and its scattered townships and diversity of cultures, but it seems to me that the country is peculiarly ready for digital change.

See 41 page .pdf report: ePortfolios - Celebrating Learning

Also see Milestone Report on the Otago Schools Virtualisation Project

As a 'world-watcher' in terms of e-Portfolio developments I have inevitably been a bit more 'vocal' than other observers or 'lurkers' and have more than once been known to chip in a few ideas of my own. Certainly, for some time their MLE Reference group has had some interesting conversations which are worth reading.

However, one such contribution by Peter Hills, in particular, is worth relaying here and, with his permission, I have interspersed a few observations of my own:

"We are part of a Collaborative schools project involving ALL year 7 - 10 schools in our city (all 4 intermediates and all 10 High Schools). 3 years ago all city schools shared the desire to make it easier for a student to go from Year 8 to Year 9 - wherever that might be. Real Collaboration in a tomorrows schools context!! Quite a coup to get all schools to agree on that as a project - and actively commit to it.

Yes, this certainly seems to be the best way to get things going - a 'shared desire' is something that I have not yet heard of in the UK!

"One of the first things bought up by the leadership group was to investigate a method to allow a student to take with them a portable set of data - so that a student could capture what they wanted from their year 8 environment (and before) and therefore go from any contributing school to any of the high schools in the city - and take the relevant information with them - eg their class books, as TTle results, samples of work, qualifications (yes some had them), videos etc etc

Sounds like the Middle School to High School transition issues we have in some parts of the UK, but Great! This is just the vision that that we need - not so much about 'data', that is already cared for by our Local Authorities - but the portability of artefacts and supporting narrative etc.

"This project has continued on for 2 years - with all schools meeting regularly to share the focus areas each is taking.

Yes, 'Rome was not built in a day' and neither can an e-Portfolio be bought in 'Just like that!'

"We used ePortfolios (part of the Editure suite) - at our high school. But students came with a mixture of stuff - some with huge amounts - some with none or little - of which most was unuseable or able to be imported. Too hard. The idea of gathering what students wanted to bring electronically was way too hard. We immediately went back to paper and dropped the formal ePortfolio idea. This was never going to work fast enough for us or effectively or equitably. Dreamers we thought.

I cannot dare to criticize the vendors of this particular MLE or VLE but is this not the sort of experience that many schools around the world have gone through? Salesmen telling us one thing but we assuming that they meant something else?

"Not wanting to be quitters we started gazing forward. Google Education Apps (documents/websites) in combination with Moodle was our winner - and we can sync them all in with our SMS/AD/LDAP etc etc. Simple. All schools in our city agreed to use Moodle as the preferred environment for students and teachers etc - and we are now running classes and mentoring programmes via Video Conferences from and for all high schools small subjects. It works.

Well, I have my own reasons for not going down the Google Apps route, but, as with the impressive work of Helen Barrett, we can only wait and see what the outcome will be.

"We are dealing with vendors, ECE, Year 0-6 and Year 7-8 and high schools, area schools PTE, Tertiaries ....and the students, whanau, families... not to mention an ageing workforce.

A class book in my day was bound blank pages - that later developed into lined pages.

Yes, I remember it well! School is just not about teaching and learning but about so many other stakeholders who need to be considered all at the same time. I just wonder how many UK institutions have considered the whole host of their stakeholders - and even involved them - when considering the introduction of an e-Portfolio system.

BUT, as Peter remarks, will the e-Portfolio be just an improvement on the blank exercise-book or will the e-Portfolio actually change how we teach and learn?

Thanks Peter!

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