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Monday, 24 August 2009

Are we Limiting their Learning?

Photo:  ‘Student in class, by foundphotosljReflecting upon some work I did two years ago, I came across the above challenging graphic. So often teachers teach in the same way that they learnt. As much as we expect our students to 'think outside of the box' so often we fail them by not doing it ourselves.

It reminds me to re-think the early ideas I obtained from Dr Helen Barrett's work on Metaphors. I respectfully list an abridged version of her collated list. For the full versions including the distinguished sources see her website at:

I therefore show this list in order to encourage readers to re-think how we can apply these concepts to the daily teaching and learning we try to encourage each day. Please enjoy:

28 Metaphors - What is an e-Portfolio?
Some years ago I discovered the work of Dr Helen Barrett and soon became enthralled with the enormous amount of work that she has done in relation to portfolios in over two decades and how it has shaped world thinking on the subject.

Rather than getting bogged down with the technicalities of security or ‘cloud computing’, rather than getting into the very personal ideas on teaching and learning, or discussing if the e-Portfolio can really be ‘Lifelong’ and ‘Lifewide’, it is worth just stopping to consider what various authorities have said concerning e-Portfolios. Helen Barrett presents a challenging list of thought-provoking metaphors from a variety of sources which I have cobbled together and in some places summarised slightly.

I suggest that it is well worth considering how all of these metaphors reveal something of the applicability of the e-Portfolio as a tool to aid teaching and learning and in particular PLTSs.

A Mirror
The mirror is a more obvious metaphor...fairly literally to ask the question how can the portfolio assist one to see oneself? (Dr. Mary Diez)

A Map
...the map image is linked to the mirror--focusing on what you see can spark the question about where you want to go next. (Dr. Mary Diez) (and, for that matter where you have come from and how far you have travelled. - RT)

A Sonnet
The portfolio, like the sonnet, is simply a form, a structure. Provided one puts quality work between the covers, the portfolio can be a structure to help an individual express meaning. (Dr. Mary Diez)

A Theoretical Act
...a portfolio is a theoretical act. By this I mean that every time you design, organize, or create in your teacher education program a template, a framework, or a model for a teaching portfolio, you are engaged in an act of theory. (Dr. Lee Shulman)

A Story
A portfolio tells a story. It is the story of knowing. Knowing about things... Knowing oneself... Knowing an audience... Portfolios are students' own stories of what they know, why they believe they know it, and why others should be of the same opinion. A portfolio is opinion backed by fact... Students prove what they know with samples of their work. (Pearl & Leon Paulson)

A Journey
... we suggest that students view their portfolios as a journey into knowing and that they write a narrative describing that journey. Our goal is to help students tell their story, a story that has a happy ending. (Pearl & Leon Paulson)

A Laboratory
The portfolio is a laboratory where students construct meaning from their accumulated experience. (Pearl & Leon Paulson)

A Test
.... portfolios that are composed of written reflections (a form of an essay) and products representative of the candidate’s skills, and performance, fall under a professionally acceptable definition of “test”. (Dr. Judy Wilkerson & Dr. Steve Lang's "High Stakes" Portfolios)

A Celebration of Learning Across the Lifespan
An electronic portfolio has the potential to become a dynamic celebration of learning that documents one’s professional development across his or her career. (Dr. Helen Barrett)

A Comparison with Financial Portfolios
A financial portfolio documents the accumulation of fiscal capital or monetary assets. A learning portfolio documents the development of human capital or intellectual assets. (Dr. Helen Barrett)

My Attic

... referred to my website as an "attic" with a lot of history/artefacts of my journey... Of course an e-portfolio is more than a collection of artefacts, but this metaphor evokes fond memories of grandparents' houses and the rich memories that are represented in the artefacts stored there. (Dr. Helen Barrett)

Campfires around which we tell our stories
"Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories," says musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson. If that be so, what tales will be shared in the flickering glow of peoples' electronic portfolios? (Dr. Joanne Carney)

My digital clone
A digital representation / extension of my self – my eSelf. (Serge Ravet)

My work companion
A tool blended into my learning / working environment. (Serge Ravet)

My butler
A service provider to one’s self. (Serge Ravet)

My dashboard
An informative display of the state of my skills and knowledge. (Serge Ravet)

My planner
A tool to plan my learning. (Serge Ravet)

My IPR management assistant
A tool to value and exploit my personal assets. (Serge Ravet)

Others from various sources (see list):

A Teenager’s Bedroom
It's their teenage bedroom, we own the house and we can say there are key things that need to be in there, but we can only stand back and watch as they decorate it in a manner that they find wonderful, and we may find hideous.

A Toothbrush
A habit of mind, something you do every day.

My tree
My electronic portfolio is my tree. In building a portfolio I see a tree of many branches with each branch being an extension from the trunk which begins with ones self and goals. As we grow, our branches grow and spread out in many directions.

A Caterpillar (or Acorn or Seed)
An emerging form... undergoing metamorphosis through personal growth... from a caterpillar to a butterfly; from an acorn to a tree; from a seed to a flower or plant

A Kaleidoscope
Just as a kaleidoscope needs light to view the endless possibilities of visual combinations of the coloured glass, a e-portfolio provides the illumination for the learner to view the endless possibilities of the potential views and connections of her/his learning experience from self to global society.

A Window
I like idea of the window working two ways (ignoring police stations, of course). Not only can others look inside but portfolios, like windows offer the chance for the portfolio author to look outside as well. In the portfolio process, reflecting and conferencing help the portfolio author accomplish this external gaze. But secondly, the owner can choose which windows people may look through by closing the blinds when necessary.

A Confessional
A place where the student can quietly and privately recount acts of commission and omission and confess such to a selected audience. It is a place of catharsis and refreshment. Upon leaving this sanctuary the student is inspired to new levels of enlightenment and endeavour. (Ray Tolley)

A Constant Companion
People often work best at the strangest of times or places. We are not all constructed like robots to think only between the hours of 9 to 5 at our office desk. The e-Portfolio is a companion or familiar friend to whom we can turn at any hour of the day or night, anywhere, anywhen. (Ray Tolley)

A Digital Theatre
It is my digital theatre - where the audience is by invitation only. (Ray Tolley)

A Festival
A family time such as Christmas or Thanksgiving when we come together, celebrate the good things in life and invariably reflect on past occasions. (Ray Tolley)

NB. For all the original sources, please see Dr Barrett's site at:

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